Saturday, December 31, 2005


It is written! The Spirit yanked me out of bed at 4:30 this morning (after nudging me awake at 3:30) and said: "It is time. Begin writing."

I came out to my living room, lit a candle under my new Julian of Norwich icon, and got to work. At a little after nine, I was able to declare that I had a draft completed. Now I'll put it away until after dinner when I'll go back and read it over and revise as needed.

But, hooray! After not being able to write it yesterday, I'd resigned myself to the idea of being holed up in my bedroom all day while D & E had fun. Now I've been gifted my whole day back.

Which means, it's King Kong day here! I'm so excited. Rain, shmain. I'm having fun anyway.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Consumer Sabbath?

The constant rain is finally starting to bring us down here. We've tried to make the most of all our indoor time together, but enough is enough. E is taking it the worst today. I think he's feeling a bit cheated out of his vacation from school--and feeling the end of it starting to press at the same time. I'm trying to bolster him up, while not attempting to talk him out of his mood. It's hard for me to let him be sad. But I'm trying.

I've planned to write my sermon today, but nothing yet. That's partly why I'm finally writing here. Just trying to get the juices flowing. I have lots of ideas. Just how to tie them down? Before I started my PhD work, I was used to preaching semi-regularly. At my own church or as a guest at other places. Now, out of the rhythm, (and into an academic one), the words come a little more slowly. I think, like here, I just need to begin.

So I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but I am considering one lately. It's inspired from an article in The Other Side some years ago. The idea is to take a year-long sabbath from purchasing anything for our home.

Sue Klassen, the writer of "Our Sabbath Year" was likewise inspired by an earlier article in The Other Side written by Rabbi Arthur Waskow called "Proclaim Jubilee." Arthur wrote:
What if we spent a year just not acquiring anything that's newer, better, faster, easier, prettier, more sophisticated, longer lasting, better designed, or--that most empty improvement--'the latest'?
I have wondered lately just how much time I consume by thinking about how to try and make things a bit better around here. It's never anything extravagant, really. But over the course of the year it adds up. And what I don't end up buying (the coffee table and rug I've imagined us needing for six months now) just uses up mental (and spiritual) energy in variously either indulging or resisting the desire.

If I knew that I was taking a sabbath from these purchases, I think I could lay some of that to rest. Stem the addiction to consumerism that afflicts me despite my desire to be free of it.

Alright, I think I'll see if I can play with E for awhile. Then turn to the sermon in a bit. It will be written in time. Of that I can be sure.


photo © Severin Koller for CC:Attribution

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


I just visited over at my dear brother's blog, and deeply appreciated his entry today. Rather than write my own, I invite you over to his place. The photo will take you there. Thanks, Bro.

Shopping Out of My League

Last night I convinced D and E to take me to Coldwater Creek to take advantage of their 50%-off sale. Their prices are way out of my range without such a sale. They're still a challenge with a sale!

But I've finally faced up to the fact that I simply don't have the wardrobe I need for my teaching position and my ministry position.

The problem (?) for me is that I've been shopping at Thrift Stores since high school, lo so many years ago. And not just Thrift Stores, but on "fill-a-bag-for-a-dollar" day at Thrift Stores. Even when that has meant having to scrounge around in the Thrift Store parking lot, where the extra cheapy items are unceremoniously dumped in piles on old sheets.

On my truly extravagant days, I venture into Target. And weigh, with a heavy heart, the possibility of paying ten bucks for a shirt.

But I've recently thought that a little extra investment might go a long way in helping my professional appearance, especially as I have some trouble with folks believing I'm over 21. (Though I'm about to turn 37!)

So off to the store last night, with my two guys in tow. I think I knew I was in trouble when D & E settled themselves in the leather couch situated cozily next to a lit, gas fireplace. I handed them our cell phone so they could play a game of chess while I wandered off into the store's vastness. I wandered back about fifteen minutes later. "How ya' doin'?" D asked.

"I'm a little overwhelmed," I admitted. "Too many choices."

My return to them had been like a satellite's return into the gravitational pull of a planet. Just long enough to send me back out with greater velocity.

Next time I returned with two sweaters and held them up for approval. I'd chosen first for price markdown, second for color and style. Both were met with underwhelming approval.

So on the next orbit, D & E joined me. This time, D picked up a few things as suggestions. I found a couple others. I steered him away from any non-sale items. He steered me away from always choosing black.

Finally, I had a smattering of options to go try on. I started heading toward the dressing room and nearly plowed into a sales person (attendant? associate? consultant?). The near collision made me disoriented, and I said uncomprehendingly, "Oh! Dressing rooms?" She pointed me back in the direction I'd been heading.

Another consultant (I like consultant best) stood at the doorway ironing shirts as she refolded them. (Yep, ironing them.) I said, stupidly I soon realized, "Do I need, y'know, a number?" She shook her head sort of sadly, as if I were some wayward peasant, "No, my dear. Just head on in."

"Oh, of course." I attempted my recovery.

I selected a stall (room? boudoir?) and set my things on the bench with the leather cushion. Just as I was about to close the door, the consultant I'd collided with inquired: "May I have your name for the dressing room?"

"Excuse me?"

"May I have your name for the dressing room?"

It was in that moment that I felt certain I would not be buying anything that night. I was out of my shoppping league.

Still, I followed through and tried on the first outfit. A beautiful tunic-shaped shirt in rich burgundy/purplish colors and velvet pants. Hmmm. I went out to show my companions. Well, I attempted to. Except the door (la port) to my boudoir was stuck. (Had she put my name on it then locked me in? Why do they lock people into boudoirs here? Is there some bell I'm supposed to ring? No, I can't be locked in!) I tried again. Pull, pull, ah! Got it!

I padded out to the guys. "Huh," said D. "They look more like pj's than I thought possible." (That had been my initial concern before I'd taken them into the boudoir.) E added thoughtfully: "Highly spiritual pj's."

I went back to my room and emerged again (after some struggle) for the second option. Also discouraging. So I went back a final time and put on my peasant's clothes and left everything else in the boudoir. The consultant was walking by as I yanked my door open. "That door sticks, doesn't it?" she offered with some pity.

It was all a lost cause for me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Identity Crisis

free enneagram test

free enneagram test

So, I'm biding a bit of time here. Lazy, rainy day. My friend S last week asked if I'd ever taken an enneagram test. I haven't, but I've always been curious. She predicted I'd be a Type 2. I took the little sampler (link above) and came out evenly between a 2 and a 5. What are you?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

A truly wonderful day.

We managed to wake up before E this morning. Got some coffee going, waited as long as we could, and finally woke him up around 7. The exclamation of joy and delight this year was, "Sick!" If someone's gift received that acclaim, it was a true hit! :-)

We opened gifts for a long, long time. Then cleaned ourselves up a bit for church. I had imagined about twenty folks showing up. A small, intimate gathering after last night's big hurrah. But I couldn't have been more wrong. Although, the feeling was intimate, there were many people there. More than a typical Sunday.

G and I had planned this morning's service to be singing, singing, and more singing. Occasionally broken up by some prayers. Basically that was it. And it was wonderful. For me, anyway, exactly what I needed. Joy. The service ended with a rockin', revivalesque singing of "Go Tell it On the Mountain!" Fabulous.

Like last night, we managed to keep the service short enough that folks stayed for quite sometime afterwards to visit with one another. It was just a delightful spirit in the place. And made all the more joyful in the relief of Advent.

After church, on a whim, we drove around downtown to see if any restaurants were opened. We found a quaint little Mediterranean Cafe with its door open. So we went in and enjoyed a fabulous meal. Shortly after they gave us our menus, they brought a large pita-like bread to the table along with a plate of balsamic vinagrette (with herbs, onions, tomatoes) for dipping. Not long after that, an additional small plate with hummus and baba ghanoush. I was in heaven before I'd even considered my meal. (Which ended up being a terrific gyro.)

During lunch, E asked: "Why did God have a son and not a daughter?" I thought about it for a bit, then simply admitted: "I don't know." Well, this opened E up to begin talking about women's equality, to speculate on the way in which religion (and the male gender of Jesus) has served to perpetuate negative gender expectations to the detriment of women. (He suggested that God should have had one of each--a son and a daughter, about six months apart. Not the least benefit being that there would be two Christmasses this way.) Then he observed how few women are depicted as heros in books. And I'm telling you, he talked for an hour straight about this--no exaggeration! We had finished up our meal, piled into the car, travelled all the way home, and gotten to our front door before he finally finished up, saying: "And now, to bring this conversation to a close, as I shall do now--women are as powerful as men, even though their bodies tend to be smaller than men's bodies when they are fully grown." My boy! (He's 7, by the way.)

When we came home again, we made some phone calls to far-away family. Then the other big event of the day was watching Fellowship of the Ring with E for the first time. He's about 160 pages into the book--which I'd required him to read before he could see the film. But he pulled out all the stops today and asked if we could watch it together "for Christmas." Since I've been dying to watch it with E anyway, it was just the thing I needed to push me over the edge. I have a distinct feeling he knew right well that would be the case.

Well, guess that's it for now. Just wanted to get a few things down before the day was gone.

Peace. Love. And Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Ally McBeal Moments

Such full days, and yet, not really much to write about. Everything gearing up for Christmas. Last minute gift-buying, wrapping, planning worship. These are really wonderful days right now. If rainy. E's last day of school was a week ago. Then it started raining. And raining. And raining. Today was the first day he was able to get outside for any decent amount of time to play hockey.

Just ran an errand to an Italian gourmet deli to pick up one last gift. When I go in the evenings, I'm greeted by a man who speaks Italian to me. It flusters me. Reminds me of my visit to Italy a few years ago when I tried to speak as little as possible, just wide open eyes. Last Friday, he greeted me saying, "Ciao!" then, in Italian as well, "How are you doing?" Then he handed me a free sample of panettone which I immediately popped into my mouth. But I suddenly realized he was waiting for an answer to his inquiry into my well being. And I was frozen in place. It didn't occur to me that I could answer in English, see? Not to mention the hunk of panettone now stuck in my mouth. He grinned and helped me out, "Bene?" Relief flowed over me. Yes! I nodded, then mumbled with my mouth still full, "Bene. Bene."

It was excruciating.

Tonight, he greeted me again. And asked, in English, if he could help me find something. In fact, I did need help, so I said, "I'm looking for the Pasta Party Basket?"

And he repeated, with a sort of exaggerated stacatto with an emphasis on the plosive 'p' sounds, not in a cruel way but as if he were utterly taken by my pronunciation: "Pasta Party Basket."

I rely on language so very much. And sometimes it utterly fails me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Long, Fierce Lament

A restless night last night. Kept turning things over in my mind. My comprehensive exams are beginning to press. When I wasn't thinking about them, I was thinking about stuff at church. And when that wasn't the case, I would turn over Christmas plans. Finally, around 4 in the morning, I took out my book and began reading, until I drifted back to sleep again. It's left me feeling vaguely unsettled today.

It is always a balance thing, especially with so many pieces to look after--the academic, church, and home. And each of those made up of numerous things themselves. When things get off balance, everything wobbles. Like an old vinyl record that's gotten warped. I watch it go 'round in a gentle wave, distorting sound. It's a feeling of unease.

Sunday was a beautiful day. The choir had the lead in the service. And their music was a real gift. The words of the music came to life this year, as I looked on what remained of our creche. I became aware that I am yearning for joy now. The hard realities represented by our creche have taken root in me. And I find my soul wants to fly.

Advent has been a long, fierce lament this year. And I feel the urging of the lament to turn to praise, as it so often does. On Sunday, as the choir sang, that juxtaposition of lament and praise was made vibrant. No gentle transition here. Heartache. Gladness.

Last night as D and I talked over dinner, I finally saw something about the creche for the first time. D was telling me how he felt as though we had created something true, not something 'edgy,' as we've fondly started referring to the creche. "What I see in that creche is all of the offense of the original birth. And that's what I feel like the important thing is. It's not whether it will turn off visitors from coming back; it's not about pushing the boundaries; it's not about forgetting tradition. It's a radical representation of a most radical event."

During Sunday school, as we reflected together on our experiences of the creche, someone asked D: "Do you see hope when you look at that scene, then?" And he said he didn't yet. And I would have answered the same way. No hope yet, no.

But last night at dinner, we saw it. We're not waiting for hope to present itself to that scene. The hope is already present. The hope is precisely that this is the very place God is incarnate. I've been so close to seeing it before, but never quite did. God is in this place. God is in this place.

. . . Tonight we will get to celebrate Christmas with S before she leaves tomorrow. We'll enjoy a good dinner and exchange gifts. Then D will be off for his first-ever Roller Hockey game! This is suddenly a new passion for him that we're all quite excited about. He played lots of hockey as a kid. But it's been years. Last week, as he prepared to visit the rink for the first time, we joked about what he should say to folks when he got there: "I used to play hockey a lot as a kid. But I got away from it as a young adult. And it's been years, now, since I've played. Then I had a child, and I wanted him to know about hockey. So I thought I should find a place and get involved again . . ." And the angels were rejoicing in heaven.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

All Blue in the Face - On the Liturgical Color of Advent

Thanks to Jan, over at a Church for Starving Artists, who asks: Is Blue the New Purple? for the season of Advent. You put a bee in my bonnet to see what I could find out about the shift in color for Advent. (As a PhD student in Liturgical Studies, these kinds of questions get my juices flowing!)

Jan mentions that she likes the color purple because it highlights Advent as a mini-Lent. This gets at the crux of the shift in color association. The shift from purple to blue occured largely in order to distinguish the themes of Advent from the themes of Lent, to make the seasons more distinct from one another. (In addition to being a brilliant marketing ploy, as Jan muses.) :)

But the very theme of penitance has been a sticky one in recent liturgical reformation movements. For instance, in the Eucharistic service for the United Methodist Church, the prayer of confession is moved away from the Table part of the service and up to the front of the worship service--in order dissociate the feeling that we have to "get ourselves right with God" before we can approach God. For those of us shaped even a little by the Lutheran tradition, this is a grace-filled move.

In addition, even the theme of penitance during Lent has been tempered in recent years by liturgical theologians. Lent as a season for the preparation of baptism (and re-affirmation of baptism) has been emphasized even more than penitance.

Blue for Advent, therefore, also serves to downplay the theme of penitence. It is intended to lift up the eschatological aspect of Advent (our longing for the reign of God to be fulfilled). The emphasis on eschatology is also meant to serve as a corrective, I believe, to a more historicist approach to the season which is often dominant in our churches. The historicist approach tends to make Advent a season of Make-Believe--when we make believe that the baby Jesus hasn't been born yet, a wink-wink, nudge-nudge approach to experiencing the story of our faith.

The apocolyptic texts of the lectionary enforce the eschatological emphasis, making it near impossible to cozy up to the notion of pretending we're waiting for the baby Jesus--rather, we find ourselves trembling with the mountains at the anticipation of the Day of the Lord.

This year, I've been able to re-connect a sense of penitence to that anticipation. Though it has not been a personal-sin penitence, but a corporate, systemic, liberation-theology sense of Sin that has informed my vision this year. I've heard Mark's demand to "Stay awake!" and John's call to repent more in these terms.

The change from purple to blue is a fascinating, contemporary opportunity to observe how liturgical change takes place. Clearly, some liturgical "experts" likely empassioned by the ecumenical and liturgical movements, thought it would be better if we used blue rather than purple for Advent. Little by little, churches on the local level began to pick up on this shift. (Memos were distributed in seminaries, perhaps.) :) Now we're seeing a real mixture of practices on the local level. Ultimately, I believe, this is where liturgical change either takes hold or doesn't. Ultimately, it ain't what the experts say they want, but what the people do.

Friday, December 16, 2005

RevGal Friday Five Holiday Edition

Since being accepted into the RevGal network earlier this week (What awesome women! Thanks!), I've been eagerly anticipating my first-ever Friday Five! Here we go--

1. I have one vague memory of being kissed under a mistletoe. The mistletoe was real, the kiss plastic.

2. I have had real eggnog once. With rum. Divine. Ruined me. Never again enjoyed the fake stuff. (Although last year I was addicted to Starbucks Eggnog Latte.)

3. My all-time favorite Christmas Album is a compilation from the Sugar Hill Label called "Sugar Plums: Holiday Treats from Sugar Hill." Features fantastic bluegrass renditions of the old favs.

4. My old office/workplace used to have a party every year. My partner and I worked in our city neighborhood for a nonprofit, Christian, social-justice magazine with a staff that worked itself to the bone. Christmas parties were held in the 'burbs at a board member's house and included time out in the hot tub. Every year I'd go to a local tobacco shop and buy the best cigars I could afford. Then break 'em out when we were in the hot tub. -sigh-

5. I often bring cole slaw with Maytag Blue Cheese, walnuts, and apples. I LOVE it. It's recently occurred to me that I may be the only one who does.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Day Like the Moon

Wow, what a full day. As full as the moon.

Sitting into the situation with the creche has continued to bring richness and depth to my experience of it. I am really grateful for this week, for the need to confront this piece of Advent art we'd created.

As we've continued to talk with folks, we've discovered that the discontent people are very few. This has helped us not to overcompensate for what we thought at first may have been a widespread feeling of resistance. Not at all, it turns out.

But the week has been such a gift to me. I really hadn't known, at the beginning of this project, how it would culminate on Christmas. And this week has forced me to face that question head on, finally. (I don't think I could have known before living with the creche. I believe the process was organic.) I have finally been confronted with asking: what does the Incarnation mean in the face of devastation? What is my faith when it comes to disaster, poverty, alienation?

For me, I've realized over this past week that although I may be overwhelmed by these things at times in my life, God never is. Although sometimes everything seems beyond me, nothing is beyond God. Because this is the God who hovered over the chaos, the toh-hoo-va-boh-hoo, at creation. This is the God who chose to be born to a poor woman in a stable and not in Herod's palace.

One last thing. G talked with one of the folks who had been put off by the creche. She has been experiencing the creche as a sort of guilt-inducer. She felt as though it was demanding of us: "Why do you not do more to end injustice?" But this is not how we intended it at all, and I'm saddened that it's been experienced that way. For me, this creche gathered into itself all the pain of this past year, beginning with the tsunami just a day after Christmas, through the continuing days of war, through the terrorist attacks in London, through the daily tragedies of homelessness, through the hurricanes, the botched evacuations, through the earthquakes. All of this. It gathered all of these things into itself and held them up not before the people, but before God. For me, the creche said, "Here is our need for the Incarnate One. Here is our need."

Today was a full, beautiful day. A day like the moon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Full Plate

Enough about Advent for a little while . . .

Last night I had the coolest experience. I went with a group of women to a place called The Full Plate. In two hours time, I prepared for my family eight main dishes that will serve up to six people. So for our little threesome, that means nearly sixteen different meals.

The place is a giant kitchen with prep stations. At each station is everything you need to make one recipe--chopped ingredients, spices, measuring spoons, bowls, etc. The recipe is posted at each station, with easy directions, and you simply move from station to station until you have prepared all of your meals. (You order and pay for the meals ahead of time online so they have the right amount for everyone.)

After the meal is prepared, you place it in a ziploc bag (sometimes two) and set it in a refrigerator with a shelf set aside for you. At the end of the two hours, you have a week (or two) worth of dinners. When you take it home, you put it all in your freezer. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing.

So here are some of the dinners I prepared last night: Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Picata, Calzones with Sausage, Chicken Satay, Salmon Cakes. We had some of the Tandoori Chicken tonight and it was fabulous.

Oh, and to top it all off, D is off picking up a pint of Ben & Jerry's for me right now.

I am a happy girl.

Advent Closure

A good conversation today around what's going on with our creche. After a night to sleep on it and some prayerful letting go, I see a way that we can bring closure to the creche as we have it now in order to make the space more familiar to folks in time for Christmas Eve.

There was one comment from a church member which has helped me to re-cast the vision for myself. It came from a person who is deeply aware of the pain, poverty, and brokenness of the world. She takes this in to her soul throughout her week and comes to worship, in some sense, to seek healing for the pain that is in the world. To be confronted with the creche scene as we'd created it, made the space feel no longer safe to her.

We also wondered together if some of the resistance was because we had relied too much on folks' capacity to engage with symbols. We created an intentionally ambiguous scene: is it a homeless encampment? Katrina? a 'generic' scene of devastation? For me, the creche gathered into itself all the pain of this past year and set it in the context of the Incarnation--in such a way that it reminded me that nothing happens outside of God, no devastation is beyond God. But for some others, perhaps the scene was inaccessible without offering hints for interpreting it. We offered some, certainly. But we could have done a better job with that.

In his sermon on Sunday, G quoted from O Little Town of Bethlehem: "the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." It is a beautiful phrase that captures my experience of the creche.

J made an excellent point. She said that those of us who are behind the creation of the creche have been living with it every day. This is true! I've carried that creche inside me all Advent, trying to think of ways to speak hope into the space, to translate it in worship, to craft worship services with integrity around such a gritty scene. But J rightly pointed out that probably many folks engaged with it for an hour once a week, and if they didn't resonate with it initially, it's possible they simply have turned themselves off to it altogether.

We plan now to ritualize a de-construction of the creche, not in a way that deligitmizes the work, however. On Sunday morning we will remove three sections during the service--the blue tarps, the spraypainted signs, and the shopping cart. This will cue people in to the fact that they can expect a transformation in the space in time for Christmas. (One person has promised to go elsewhere that night if she walks in and sees the creche still there.)

One thing I felt strongly about was that we not tidy everything up, as if the scenes of devastation get resolved neatly once we bring God into it. I felt it should be visible need. But not tidy resolution. It just doesn't work that way.

So for Christmas Eve, we will have only the Advent Wreath (the oil barrel) still remaining from the scene. This symbol, I believe, is still strong enough to carry us through. But it will not overwhelm. (The cat has just settled himself across my lap and forearms as I type this!)

This is my feeling about it right now: we have made the long, difficult journey through Advent with this gritty scene of devastation residing at our center. When we celebrate the Incarnation on Christmas Eve (and Christmas morning of course), we will have a present reminder of that journey. But we will be released from the agony of having to take it into ourselves. We will, I hope, be freed to joy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Creche Fallout

It's happened. Finally. I've been expecting it all along, but began to think once we were through the Third Sunday of Advent that we were in the clear. But I think the days of our contemporary creche scene are numbered now. It seems that while it has been meaningful to some, it has been too raw for others. And this has caused some folks to feel alienated from worship as we've moved through Advent.

The question is now before us: How to proceed in such a way that is 1) respectful and pastoral to those who feel alienated from the project while 2) not doing an injustice to the integrity of the idea, for it does have integrity. (For my original reflections on our creche this year, see this post.)

The only thing I feel certain of is that our next step must be a prayerful one. I don't want to respond from a shallow place inasmuch as this project is important to me as a liturgical theologian. At the same time, I do not want to smooth edges that are rough, that remain rough whether we face them head on or not. By this I mean, the world is broken. Even if we do clean up the sanctuary, the world remains broken.

The idea G and I were working with last week was to create stations for the Christmas Eve service. Each station, located somewhere in the creche, would have a tray (aluminum tray, say, from an empty frozen lasagna pan) full of sand. Each person would be given a long, thin taper (3/4" x 8") which would be lit from the Christ candle then taken prayerfully to one of the stations and placed there. A way of bringing light, warmth, to the darkness. "Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, the Light no darkness can overcome." After this, each person would be given one of those more stubby candles and return to their seat for some Christmas singing. The space was going to be transformed at least to that extent.

Now I have the sense that this will not be enough. And I find myself wondering, how long does the grit have to remain in the oyster before it stops being an irritation and begins to turn into a pearl?

Does transforming the space into something more palatable tame the revolutionary Christ in our midst? Or is it an act of pastoral care?

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Woman's Voice Cannot Be Heard?

The good news is that the family is on its road to recovery. We ventured out on Saturday night for at least part of the Christmas Dinner at church. Because E still had a fever, we skipped the dinner part of the festivity and only went for the entertainment part. I had been responsible for helping to get the Logos kids ready for singing Silent Night. And D performed a reprise of Who's On First with our pastor, G. (They had done the sketch once earlier in the Fall for Logos.). They did a fabulous job. I have a digital video of it and am waiting for "approval" from Google video to post it.

My dad called with the news about Uncle Bob about an hour before we had to leave for church yesterday morning. Of course, the news was heavy for me. As the worship leader, I was a bit distracted and made some mistakes here and there. When G realized I was struggling a bit, I could feel his support of me throughout the service. I don't know how to explain it, really. He just "checked in" several times with eye contact, making sure I knew what was next. I needed the extra support and appreciated it tremendously. Where I did make mistakes, I felt the space forgiving. When worship breaks: it's an article I need to write someday.

After the service, I had a conversation with one of the members of the congregation which has raised some questions for me. He is a man in his eighties, a former seminary professor. He approached me and said, "May I offer a suggestion?" When I told him he could, he said, "When you are speaking without the microphone, keep your regular tone. Do not raise your voice so that the tone and pitch of your voice go up, too. Just speak regularly."

"Okay," I responded a bit cautiously. "And why is that?"

"When you raise the tone of your voice, it enters into the upper registry. And for those of us who are older, we lose this range of a woman's voice first. When you are speaking in that range, it fuzzes out for me. I only catch half of what you're saying. And, I'm sure you've noticed, most of our congregation is in their sixties, seventies, and eighties."

I thanked him for his advice as I consciously disciplined myself to be truly open to it. I'm sure he sensed my struggle a bit, because he added, "I am telling you this because you will be in ministry for a long time." This felt like his way of affirming me, while also offering the critique.

I do not doubt that what he is saying is true. My mother and grandmother both are hearing impaired. They both needed hearing aids by the time they were forty or so. I also struggle with my hearing a bit and have always expected that I would follow in their footsteps, as I do in so many ways.

Nonetheless, it is, in some ways, an especially difficult critique to receive precisely because the language of "a woman's voice" is so freighted. I can feel my tendency to turn it into a metaphor--women's voices cannot be heard in church. And yet, it may have absolutely nothing to do with that at all, you see?

It is also a challenging critique to receive because most often, when I am without a mic, it is because I am praying in a different part of the sanctuary than usual--for instance, the prayer of thanksgiving after receiving the offering. Therefore, the voice I am using is my praying voice. It is not an assumed voice, but the voice I have to lead us in prayer. Is one's voice separate from the prayer itself?

These are some of the questions that were raised for me yesterday. I'm really interested in anyone else's input about this in the comment section.

A Death in the Family

Yesterday we received some sad, though not entirely unexpected news. My Uncle Bob, who has been engaged in a long, fierce battle against leukemia, died yesterday morning while in the midst of another round of chemotherapy. I believe he had survived seven rounds of chemo over the past few years. No one else has ever survived four rounds, I think my Aunt told me.

After some years of being out of touch with this part of my extended family, for complicated reasons, we re-established contact at my Aunt's initiative about a year ago now. This resulted in a great visit at a big July 4th picnic with them when we travelled back home last Summer. E was really taken with Uncle Bob, who has a . . . had a great sense of humor and tremendous charisma. My memory of the two of them will always be Uncle Bob teaching E how to swim in their backyard pool.

The return of the leukemia is one of the main reasons we decided to make our visit back home before the holidays this year, too. It was just a little over a month ago when we visited Uncle Bob last. It was a visit full of laughter and warmth. Besides making sure E knew his great-Uncle at least a little bit before he died, I think what was greatest about the visit was my Dad's presence with us. I am glad I had the opportunity to be with the two brothers together for the last time before Uncle Bob's last trip to the hospital.

I don't think I'll be making the trip back for the funeral. This is a sadness to me, but I think it is also realistic. I haven't completely made up my mind, but I think it's likely the case.

I think I'll keep this entry as its own thing and write about the other things going on separately.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Out of Balance

I have not been doing my academic work recently. It has lately been the thing that gets pushed off the plate first. Church has been taking most of my time. And Mom-hood. And the academic work is suffering. This needs to change. It won't be able to be this weekend. But it has to be on Monday. When I am away from my academic work for too long, I begin to believe that I've never thought anything, ever! When I'm immersed in my work, my brain whirs.

I played around with the blog today. Applied to a couple blog rings of folks who seem to have a similar interest. I didn't start this blog with much intent of having very many folks read it at all. Only close friends. But now I feel like I'm finally starting to have some small sense of what the potential of blogs can be. Especially for progressive Christians / theologians who tend to feel terribly isolated.

I'm brewing some chamomile tea with honey for E at the moment. His cough is persistant. Still a fever. The spots seem to be only bug bites. A relief. D is back down with a low fever and headache. The whole house is out of balance.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

All One Thing

Today was a good day. After fearing for a while yesterday that I'd succombed to the sickness around here, it turns out I was just exhausted from a sleepless night the night before. D is improved, though not 100%. And E still ran a low-grade fever today. I'm a bit worried about him because he now has three spots. They look like bites. One on his face, one on his arm, and one on his belly. He's vaccinated for chickenpox, but it's still possible for him to get a very mild case. It's always suspicious when spots show up two or three days after the onset of a fever.

I feel funny writing about health stuff here. I don't want to sound like "Aunt Hilda." You know, the old woman who only has her health to talk about. I've been thinking a lot about what I subtitled my blog--"a space set apart for writing as a spiritual discipline." I was walking along at the University today, thinking, "Does my family's health qualify as 'writing as a spiritual discipline?'" And I believe the answer is, yes. It does. For me.

This was something I learned from doing the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius a few years ago. (Here is a helpful description of the Exercises.) I have not done the 30-day retreat, but was fortunate to go through the Retreat of the Every Day (19th Annotation) over a nine-month period. One of the things I learned through that experience was that nothing happens outside of God. Which is to say, all of life's experiences can serve as a source for theology. It is all apiece.

For me, this insight was transformative. At the time, I was very in love with the idea of being a writer. Unfortunately, I saw most of my life as a threat to my Life as a Writer. Everything that didn't seem to directly inspire me or feed into my work became a threat to the work ever happening at all.

As I lived into the notion that everything was connected, then I stopped compartmentalizing my life. Expectations, required roles (marriage partner, parent, employee, etc) were not antagonistic to being a writer. If everything is of apiece, then all of those roles (and more) were a part of my being a writer.

When everything seemed to threaten my Life as a Writer, then I felt I always had to reject life. When I stopped seeing life as a threat to art, I could finally embrace the fullness of life.

Part of the fullness of life is a family who gets the flu.

One of my favorite articles about theology is written in an interview/dialogue format in the book Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside. During the interview (between two women: the editor of the book Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite and Mary D. Pellauer), there are numerous interruptions recorded including a doorbell ring and a child crying. Here is one of my favorite parts of the interview:

[Child's crying interrupts conversation.]

SBT: This tape is going to be a mess with children crying and all these interruptions.

MP: Actually, I want to see that left in. Interruptibility is one of the conditions with which women have to come to terms to do theology. It's not one of the things you learn in theological school, about how to do theology with a child crying in the background or coming in with a Mickey Mouse toy, or whatever.

SBT: Yes, interruptibility is key, and its methodologically key.

MP: It's also parallel to what we've been saying about the healing processes. Periods of denial in a person's recovery process are part of it. You have to allow for this interruption. It's not a process that happens between 9:00 and 12:00, or all day, or in a continuous series. Healing is interruptible.

One thing I appreciate about this excerpt is the way the latest interruption (of the child crying) leads into two theological insights: one, that for women interruptibility is a methodological key to doing theology at all; and two, the realization that interruptibility is a part of the healing process itself!

This excerpt has been so important for me in informing my life as a theologian in school. Like my experience with the spiritual exercises, it reminds me that my life is not in competition with my theological work, but it is all apiece.

So all that to say, you're going to have to read about my family's sickness every now and then. :)

By the way, just as I finished writing this, the telephone rang. It was a boy from E's class who's been worried about E's absence. Just as I answered the phone, a child began crying out in the hallway of our apartment building. E's on the phone now, the child is still crying, and I'm writing after the interruption. You see?

Rain is Like a Cold - a poem by E

Rain is like a cold
It's annoying and is boring
And it keeps you inside.

It makes a few good
things happen sometimes,
like a rainbow
a beautiful sunset
and some very
good times.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


I'm pretty well spent today. E came in to our room at about 12:30 last night to say he was feeling queasy. I decided to go and sleep on the love seat in his room so I could be there when he needed me. This made for a long and restless night, but I felt better being close. E is laid low today, still with a fever and feeling pretty awful. Poor kid.

Turns out it was probably a good thing to do as D's fever broke last night. I think his night was likely just as restless. He's a bit better without the fever (I will be convinced when it stays away, though), but he still needs to be restful today.

I'm proceeding as if I'm going to escape this round, but we shall see. Kind of a big weekend coming up at church for me, so I'm hoping I'll be fine.

I'm kind of disappointed with the way the pictures of the creche turned out (below). They are a little dark. I couldn't step back far enough to take in quite the whole scene, so you can't get an impression of the whole of it. But at least it gives you some idea of what we've done. (Do you know you can click on any of the pictures and it'll bring it up into a full-screen shot?)

Think I'll keep this entry short. Creative juices ain't flowing today.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Photos of the Creche

Health Update

Oh boy. They're dropping like flies around here. D just came in to tell me that he has a fever (and a splitting headache). This inspired me to take E's temperature, too. Yep. 101.6. Poor boys!

"Don't be Such a Martyr"

We're keeping E home from school today with the onset of a cold. I'm sure he could make it through the day, but I don't see the point of pushing him. Rest is the way to cure a cold. And I know when I get a cold, all I want to do is curl up for a while and do nothing. Isn't this what our body is telling us we need? Why teach E to ignore that? [Just to give you the proper context for this message, I'm writing it to the lovely sounds of E's cartoons, currently "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy." Ugh.]

I need to get some good work done today. Have to head over to the University library yet another time. (It gets easier every time.) Then later this afternoon I'm heading in to church to work on worship planning for the rest of Advent (and looking ahead to Christmas, I'm sure). This morning I'd like to do some good thinking about these things, so I come with some particular ideas about how to journey through the rest of this season.

I'm also going to be preaching on January 1. The text is Luke 2:22-40. The story of Anna and Simeon.

I am drawn to the notion that Anna and Simeon both lived their lifetimes waiting--and after a season of Advent, we are rewarded with this text of two faithful people who have seen their hopes realized. I think I want to lift up something about the outsider status of the characters in this scene--including Mary & Joseph who make the less expensive offering that was permitted for the poor in the instructions for this particular ritual in the Hebrew Scriptures. But also Simeon, who is an outsider inasmuch as he is a Jew in Roman occupied Palestine. And Anna, who is a widow. Very quickly in the gospel of Luke it becomes evident who will be able to recognize God's saving presence in the world.

I have been working on a fascinating project recently as part of my research assistantship. A is writing a piece about Martyr imagery in U.S. films, concentrating on U.S. popular culture. I spent the past week trying to locate some good movies to suggest for her to write about. We have some of the obvious nonfiction films like Malcolm X, Gandhi, Cry Freedom (Stephen Biko). Interestingly, the latter two are non-U.S. films, but they were certainly a part of U.S. pop culture for a while. (I think. Am I wrong about that?)

For fiction, I highly recommended (believe it or not) the Terminator movies 1 & 2. In the first, a human dies willingly and in the second the cyborg dies--both in order to save the human race from the Machines. I recommended a few others, too. (Including Chronicles of Narnia, The Mission, Star Wars (IV), etc.) But I am really having a difficult time coming up with some good titles. We're using a working definition of a martyr as someone who suffers and dies for a cause in such a way that that person serves as an empowering witness to her/his community.

I also have been looking for some scholarly articles written on the same topic, but I am coming up emptyhanded! I have finally made the tentative conclusion that North Americans do not go for martry stories. We want heros, not martyrs. I think we'll even take a tragic hero, but not a martyr. We want our hero to survive, not die. This intrigues me a lot. I recommended to A that she take this tact in her article.

In the midst of doing the research, I've come across this film, Paradise Now, that looks like it would be excellent.

Better keep it here for now.

(Oh, one more thing. I was carded yesterday trying to buy wine at Trader Joes. I'll be 37 in less than a month. The clerk looked at me questioningly when he carded me, "So, 21? Not 21?" His manner of asking made me think that he wasn't even carding me because I look "30 or under", as the standard is here. But because he actually thinks I look less than 21. ARGH! Soon I'm going to be twice 21 and still getting carded.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Joyous Weekend

What a great weekend! I never want to forget what it was like to go ice skating with E for the first time. I was anxious about it because he usually has very little patience with himself when he is learning something new for the first time, especially anything physical. I was afraid that the first time he fell or realized that he would not be gliding effortlessly across the ice in the first five minutes that he would give up on the whole thing. We spent the morning warning him that it would not be easy, that he should not expect himself to be an expert the first time out there, etc.

Well, he was fantastic. Tenacious! And, at the beginning, hilarious! I wish I had a video to show you. He was between the two of us, one hand in each, and his feet were going every which way. I mean, everywhere all at once! I have never seen such craziness--and would not be able to imitate it if I tried.

I believe he thought that he was supposed to be moving his feet quickly, because he'd watched hockey players in movies and on TV and they go so fast. No matter how many times we told him, "Just keep your feet together for a while; don't try to take steps; just get the feel of gliding," he would still try and move his feet. It was comical, touching.

Of course, there I am, first time on the ice in 16 years, trying to keep my seven-year-old up between us. :)

But he kept at it. And at it. And at it. Each time around we saw a slight improvement. About 45 minutes into it, the rink offered a free 15 minute lesson for beginners. So the three of us went over and tried them out. I learned some good tips myself, never having had an ice skating lesson.

E was determined to perform well for the teacher. So he tried out some things that ended up improving his skill quite a bit. (There was a huge room for improvement). :) Then, in the second hour, the same lesson was offered again and E willingly went over and went through it a second time. I thought this was really smart, because of course by then he was even more comfortable on the ice.

I think we skated for about three hours! It was such fun. I'm really glad we did it. Unfortunately, it costs just enough that we can't manage to go all that often. Maybe once a month. It was $30 for the three of us. Am I crazy, or did it used to cost about $2 to go skating when I was little?

Second Sunday in Advent

Sunday school went really well yesterday. I started us out with folks answering the question, "How do you tell what time it is?" Of course, we started with responses like calendar and clock or watch. (Which was great, I wanted those up on the board.) But then, the longer I pressed the question, the more things we came up with: the sun; shadows (both hourly lengths of shadows and yearly lengths of shadows); seasons (leaves, nature); traffic (rush hour, blinking traffic lights at 1 a.m.); advertisements; holidays; commemorations of events (9/11, D-Day, Hiroshima-Nagasaki); school year; life events (births, deaths, baptism, menstruation, menopause), etc.

Then I used this as the jumping off place to talk about the liturgical year as another way of "Keeping Time." I highlighted the connection of the Easter Cycle with the Lunar Cycle (Easter is the first Sunday after the Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. And the connection of the Christmas Cycle with the Solar Cycle (the festival of Christmas associated itself with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, making the connection of Jesus as the Light of the World, coming into the world at it's darkest time).

Then I invited folks into three meanings of Advent. (1) Advent is a time for honesty--to address the brokeness of the world and our need for God. (2) Advent is not a time for pretending--we are not pretending that the Baby Jesus will be born at midnight on December 24. (3) Advent is a time for eschatological yearning--for God's Kin(g)dom to be realized on earth, for God's shalom to reign. Whether that is some ultimate end or a constant irruption of God's reign into the world, I don't know. But it is the yearning of Advent.

From there, B led us in some excellent stuff on moving through "Dark" emotions. I'm not sure what the copyright info is on that, so I'm reluctant to write much about it at the moment. (Besides, I'm writing way longer than I ought to be! Gotta get to work!)

We walked the class over then to the the sanctuary to take in the creche. Then we came back and, using the steps that Brent provided, I led us in a discussion about the space. This was great for me to see how folks were receiving the space. Folks shared a word, phrase, or impression of the space as we began the discussion time. One woman responded that she found the space to be "Huge" and "wondered how anyone could manage to preach or lead from that space." I loved her feeling about it. It connected with some of my own reflections over the past week about how to speak a strong enough word of Hope into that scene.

D. said he connected it with a documentary the two of us had watched just the night before called "Dark Days." A fascinating film that I highly recommend, especially for Advent viewing.

All in all, I personally found the Sunday school class helpful in processing the creche with some members of the congregation. It was a deepening of the experience for me. And really helpful to be able to hear how some folks were engaging with something I had a part in creating.

My brother sent me this link to a similarly "edgy" Christmas display inspired by Hurricane Katrina.

Okay, I have other things I want to write about,, but I have GOT to get some work done before lunch!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Advent Fears & Some Firsts

I just got off the phone with someone I'll be co-leading Sunday school with tomorrow morning. B is a chaplain at a psychiatric facility--a sensitive, searching, deep man with a heart for brokenness. The topic for Sunday school is supposed to be "Holiday Blues" intended to address the depression that settles in for so many people at this time of year.

Together B and I have decided to expand the subject a bit, though I believe still addressing it in a very significant way. We are hoping to use the space in the sanctuary to help lead people through their experience of it. We've decided that I will begin the session speaking to the liturgical meanings of Advent as a season that, rooted in the darkening of the days, speaks to our terrors of a world dying. It is a season that invites us into those fears--precisely not a season that asks us to deny them in some manufactured sense of holiday joy.

Then B will lead us through a theory developed by a feminist psychotherapist around honoring our "dark" feelings. The stages as he went through them with me are beautifully intertwined with the movements of the Advent season.

After providing these containers, we will move as a class over to the worship space and allow people to walk through it, come up close to the creche, notice what is there, sit with it. After about ten minutes, we plan to go back to the class and lead folks through a discussion of their experience of it.

I feel positive about the plan. And I am glad to provide a structured way for folks to interact with the creche in an intentional manner.

In other news, I worked on the chair a bit last night. Managed to get the biggest splotches of paint off the seat with the boiled linseed oil. It looked fabulous at first. But now that the oil has dried, I can still see remnants of some of the paint. The site I saw recommends making a paste out of the linseed oil and rottenstone (what a name!) to get out the remnants. So, looks like I need to track down some rottenstone now. :)

I was freaked out last night about all the warnings of rags soaked in linseed oil spontaneously combusting! "No one knows the time or place!" The label warns, in effect. It tells you that even if you plan to set the rag aside for a moment, you need to immerse the rag in water! I have the rags I used (papertowels, really) in a closed container filled with water, as is recommended. But I haven't seen any advice for disposal of this container. Is it considered hazardous waste?

E and D are out playing hockey, E's latest passion. In about an hour we're heading to a local rink to take E ice skating for the first time. Gee, it'll be my first time skating in, hmmm, 16 years? I'm excited!

Oh, and we hung some Christmas lights on the bush outside our front window. Can't wait til nightfall now! It's the first time we've ever hung outside lights.

Guess that's it for me. Happy weekend.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Boiled Linseed Oil

Okay, after a bit of looking around on the internet, I've decided to try boiled linseed oil to try and get the paint off the chair. Sounds like if you soak it in this oil, it will soften up and be able to be gently scraped off, or rubbed off with a cloth. Then there wouldn't be the need to remove the original finish. Worth a try! I've called the local hardware store and they have a pint of it in stock for 3 bucks. I'll pick it up today on the way home from E's school.

More on the Chair

So, pretty cool chair to find in the trash, huh? It really is in good shape. In fact, I'm sitting on it now. I'm using it as my desk chair. This makes perfect sense, as my desk was also a trashpicked treasure. :-) The only damage you see there is a bit of paint splotched on the seat. And then there are a couple spots on the back where the finish has gotten scraped by something. I'm not sure, exactly, how to get the paint off the seat. It's not really thick enough at any spot to safely take a knife to it, I don't think. I wonder what would happen if I only refinished the seat. Hmm. I don't know.

Today is a day of following through on some obligations. I need to finally drop off my approved proposal to the dean's office today, without fail. I have a book waiting for me at the University library. (I'm getting better at it each time I go!) I have chores to do today. And I need to go into E's classroom to help out this afternoon. At least it's a beautiful (if chilly) day today.

Yesterday was a hunker-down day. It started pouring rain in the middle of the night and did not stop until after dinner last night. We have been needing the rain. But, given that it's the worst weather we ever get, it feels like an all out winter storm when it rains like that. I joked that I kept expecting the school to call yesterday morning to tell us it was a "Rain Day." Then we imagined that if that did happen, the big thing would be going out to play in the rain then, splashing in puddles, filling buckets with rain, coming in for some hot cocoa. A holiday!

Hmmm. I think I'll leave it here for now. I need to get to some of my obligations. :)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Photos of My Trashpicked Treasure


D just showed me this movie preview. You've got to check it out! (It's not what you expect!) Just click on the photo above to watch it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Smell of a Stable

These quotes from the liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez further inform my experience of our Advent creche at church this year.

"The need to keep awake translates into listening to the clamor for liberation, supporting and empowering our peoples' deepest hopes. Waiting for the Lord does not bring us out of history; it involves us with it since we are hoping for the God who has come and is in our midst. Such a hope is ambitious but it is worthwhile."

"Christmas is a celebration of joy and hope. However, we have to admit that it is not always easy to experience this in today's world. Overwhelmed by the ever-increasing poverty of so many men and women, our shouts of joy at the birth of the Lord seem to choke up in our throats. For many people, bewildered by the difficulty of finding a solution to this predicament, discouragement destroys the energy needed to face this situation.

"Yet the presence of the Lord in our history is a permanent call to return to the sources of our faith. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, surrounded by shepherds and animals. His parents had come to a stable because they had not found a place in the inn. There, in marginality, the Son of God entered history, the Word became flesh. . . .

"During this period of Christmas, people often say that Jesus is born in every family and every Christian heart. But these 'births' must not bypass the primary and undeniable reality: Jesus was born of Mary in the midst of a people dominated at the time by the greatest empire of those days. If we forget this, Jesus' coming into the world can become an abstraction. For Christians, Christmas manifests God's irruption into human history--a Christmas of lowliness and of service in the midst of the power of domination and the predominance of the powerful in this world, an irruption with the smell of a stable.

"God is revealed in Jesus Christ, in him 'the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all' (Ti 2:11). We have to learn to believe from the point of departure of our present historical situation: in the midst of the constant detrioration of the conditions of life of a poor and excluded people, the lack of work and opportunities for so many, the lies and manipulations of the powerful to place a smoke screen over their unjust privileges. From the first Christmas on, we cannot separate Christian faith from human history."

Gustavo Gutierrez in "Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year." (Orbis Books, 1997)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Advent 2005

I've been wanting to write about what we're doing at church this year for Advent. I think I'm finally ready to do that now.

Inspired by a worshipping experience one of our newer members had at Christmas time in Minneapolis some years ago, our worship team worked around the question of recontextualizing the manger scene for contemporary circumstances. We wanted to face the question of where would the Christ child be born today. It feels like a particularly pressing question this Advent, as we come off a year in which the world faced a tsunami, devastating hurricanes, and earthquakes. A year in which the U.S. was faced with our own staggering poverty and systemic inequity that results in the abandonment of the poor, the elderly, children, and racial minorities. If the Christ child were to be born today, we concluded, it would be into one of these scenes of need and devastation.

We talked about the way the manger scene has been romanticized and sanitized--it's a cozy barn, with gentle animals and a warm trough that serves appropriately as a tiny cradle. We have lost the edge of the story--that God-Incarnate was born with nothing. God-Incarnate was born to the poor, not in a wealthy palace, not to Herod, not to the powerful.

So Saturday, for the "Hanging of the Greens," we created our creche scene in response to these reflections. The results are quite moving to me--and I'm sorry I don't have pictures yet to post and show you. (Pictures are now added here.)

We covered the baptistery at the front of the chancel, then built a roof frame out of two-by-fours that come off the wall above the baptistery at unsettling angles. We covered this frame with blue tarps, to create a make-shift roof. We laid a dirty brown ground cloth over the edge of the baptistry and down along the floor of the chancel in front of it. Then we lay out two sleeping bags. We had some chunks of an old brick wall, with morter still visible, and some cinderblocks and we set these along some back edges. We also brought in an old shopping cart that had been abandoned (well away from any grocery store). We tossed some paperbags full of empty cans and a blanket or two in there and set that in the space as well. Someone found an empty glass milk bottle. They put some ugly plastic flowers in that and added that to the scene. We brought in a bucket of dry, brown leaves and scattered them around the scene and on top of the roof.

Coming out of the chancel and into the sanctuary, we hung some old, salvaged, double-hung windows--extending the scene in the front out to the sanctuary itself. We covered some of those windows with newspapers as is common in empty or abandoned buildings. I used want-ads, real estate announcements (obscene house prices listed), and recent headlines to line the windows.

I also spray painted large pieces of plywood with flourescent orange paint. One with the words "Save Us" another with "Need Water" and a smaller one with the word "Help."

We also hung a dark blue banner with scattered mirrors upon it, some of them (broken fragments) formed into a large star that hangs over the scene. It is, in some sense, the only beautiful element in the scene.

Oh, and the Advent Wreath? This is front and center for the whole scene. We constructed it out of an empty, thirty(?) gallon oil drum set on top of some newspaper. We placed a round, metal tray over it and set out the four Advent candles around that. In the center, we turned over an empty, (label-removed) stew can. We placed tea lights around and on top of the stew can, to create the effect of a fire coming out of the barrel, as you'll often see folks warming themselves around. These tea lights remained lit during the service. On Christmas Eve we'll replace the tea lights on top of the stew can with the tall Christ candle.

The effect, with all of this together, in a worship space that is usually transformed into something serene and inviting at Christmas time, was astounding to me. After it was complete, I wanted to simply sit there and take it in. For me, this is the very reality that the Word-Incarnate has something to say to.

I was very nervous about the reception of this scene by the congregation. I worry that some folks will think we did it only for the shock value. And yet, I don't think that is true at all. Honestly, I couldn't get a read on the congregation. From my perspective, there was a sort of roaring silence about it all. But other folks asked people directly about how they felt about it and they seemed to be taking it in stride. Is this a good thing?

For my own worshipping experience, I decided to pray with my eyes open through the whole service. I felt as though I was being asked, in this Advent season, to keep my eyes open to God's world, the world God loves.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Day After

Yesterday was a full and wonderful day, a great success.

The fun really started on Wednesday, though, when we enjoyed a visit from some good friends from P. It's always great to see folks out here that we've known for more than two years. Although I think we've made some good friends in this area, there is something very different about getting to spend time with people who have known you for a long time. E especially has been friends with M since the two of them were about a year old. They are remarkably similar--both have always been articulate from a very young age. When they are together, they just seem to "get" each other. They have one of those friendships that seems to pick up wherever they left off. Unusual for their age.

Matt introduced us to the music of Sister Gertrude Morgan while he was here. In fact, he and D walked over to T. Ave to one of the record stores there and bought her album. She's a force to be reckoned with! Sister Gertrude died about twenty-five years ago while in her eighties, I believe. This recording, "Let's Make a Record," features her powerful voice accompanied only by her tambourine. She sings evangelical songs, most of them spontaneously written and a couple old familiar tunes like "Take My Hand, Lead Me On." My favorite tracks are "Power" and "I Am the Living Bread." Honestly, her singing reminds me of Janis Joplin--soulful, raspy, raw. Check her out here: Sister Gertrude Morgan.

With the visit from our friends, though, I wasn't able to get much of a headstart on my preparations for the Thanksgiving meal. So that made yesterday quite a full and busy day.

I did make the three pies as I'd hoped. Because I'm always nervous about making a good crust, I actually bought the pillsbury pie crusts as a backup plan in case anything went wrong! This was just a way to take the pressure off myself in case everything fell apart on me. :)

I wasn't able to get pie cherries for the cherry pie, but did have some frozen bing cherries. I made a crust with shortening for that one and it turned out, well, excellent if I do say so myself. The deep-dish apple was quite tasty with the cheddar crust. For the pumpkin pie I compromised because of time and made it with one of the premade crusts which are basically tasteless. The pumpkin part of it, which I can take some credit for, was yummy. I made a brandy sauce to serve over the pumpkin pie, but that was a bit of a disappointment.

Oh! And I served the Benziger Muscat Canelli (2004) that my brother gave us after his visit this past August. It was a fabulous, delicately sweet dessert wine. I'd been saving it for just the right occasion, and last night really seemed to be it. Excellent.

We had nine total for the meal. All but one of us were together beginning at 1:00 when the Denver-Dallas game started. (We had one Dallas fan in our midst. Blech.) We also played the game Apples-to-Apples, a really fun, basically non-competitive word game.

Just before meal time, we welcomed the last person to arrive. This was a woman I had never met before, but invited because a friend told us she had no where to go. Turns out she is an international student from India who knows a couple of my former professors! She spoke especially fondly of B who spent a sabbatical semester in India teaching at the UTC (I think) when she was a teenager. What a small world! Very cool.

Folks finally straggled out at about 9:30. D cleaned up for awhile, then we settled in and watched The Human Stain, a riveting and well-crafted film with Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, based on a Philip Roth novel.

Well, guess that's about all you can stand to hear about now. I need to get some lunch going. Not having made the turkey, we only have leftovers of the sides. :) Oh well, no turkey sandwiches for lunch.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Preparing for the Feast

I'm starting to get excited about our Thanksgiving feast tomorrow! This morning I've been making my grocery list for my contributions to the meal. I'm most excited about the pies. I think I'll make three: pumpkin, deep-dish apple, and cherry. I've gotten out my Mommom's pie pan for the pumpkin pie, I think. Using her pan will surely impart good karma to my pie-baking endeavors. I'll use the beautiful blue pie pan my brother gave me some years back for the cherry pie. And I think I may use a casserole dish for the apple. A deep-dish pie, I learned this morning, is baked only with a top crust--no bottom. The recipe won me over for giving it a try, though. There's cheddar cheese in the crust (yum!), and raisins and brandy in the filling (in addition to other tasty ingredients). I'll just be using Joy of Cooking recipes for my pies. Of course this doesn't have the same romance as using an old family recipe. Alas. But I've made Joy of Cooking pie recipes before to much satisfaction, especially for some great blueberry pies. Hmmm. I do have blueberries from this summer still...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Venturing into the Great Unknown

I screwed up my courage this afternoon and dragged myself into the University library. D says this is such a strange thing for me to be afraid of--I usually love anything to do with books! But this place is so intimidating to me. I get awfully disoriented in there. And it all seems terribly IMPORTANT. :) I'm so much more comfortable in my little seminary library. That's on a manageable scale. The University's library is, well, too much of a good thing.

But I could put it off no longer. So today I went in, renewed my card, got my little map of the library's layout, and ventured into the recesses. Recesses is the right word for it, too. One of the reasons the place is so disorienting to me is that it's built down into the ground, not up like normal buildings. And to go down, you have to descend a huge spiral staircase. Today, as I wound myself around, desperately clinging to my little map, I felt like I was being spun 'round for a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey! Only I was the one feeling like the ass. :)

Comps proposal? Nah. Nothin' to it. Big Unknown Library? Terrifying.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Finding Treasures

Well, we thoroughly enjoyed the movie on Saturday. It was great to see it all together, now that all three of us have read the books. I do agree with the PG-13 rating, but I didn't feel as though it was nearly as violent or intense as the last Star Wars movie. We took E to that because he'd been so into the Star Wars films for a long time, but it was too much. He was shaken up by it at the end, (understandably so!) and I felt awful for that. Maybe by the time we get to the end of the HP movies, they will be equally as dark. Of course, E will be old enough to handle it then . . .

Today I was finally able to take the break I've been needing. I wrote up the interview from Friday afternoon and sent that off to the church. And I made those few changes to my comp proposal and sent that to my advisor for one final check before submitting it to the dean's office. Then I closed things up and took the rest of the day off. So wonderful.

We walked down the block for lunch. Got a great green curry with tofu from the Thai place. They have the most delicious red rice. Have you ever heard of that? I need to find out about it.

Things are gearing up for Thanksgiving. We're co-hosting with some new friends who moved into our building this year. L wants to cook her first turkey. I'll contribute my sister's-in-law famous blue cheese cole slaw and mashed potatoes for dinner and pies for dessert. So far there will only be seven of us. We'll have the first half of the party down here, watch the football game and play board games. Then head upstairs for the feast. I'm getting excited about it.

I went through a time, for a number of years, when I hated holidays. Seemed like forced frivolity to me. Now, I feel like I get it. I think we need the rhythm of feast days built into life. I think I finally started to get it as I learned about the liturgical year. Yes, I do love feast days now.

Oh! I trash-picked another chair today! :) I completely fell in love with it. It's quite unusual. It has claw feet, wrapped around glass balls. Then the seat is like an old piano stool, that rotates so its height can be adjusted. But this one has a back to it, too. The chair is really not in bad shape. Although, I think it does need to be refinished. I started to walk away from it, saying glumly, "Gosh, I wish I knew how to refinish furniture." Doug jokingly said, "I'm sure you could learn how in your free time." But as I walked along, I thought about how I taught myself to knit last January and I figured, "Why not?!" So we walked back down the block and put the chair in the trunk of the car. Surely I can teach myself how to refinish it . . .

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Harry Potter Day

Yesterday was every bit as busy as I thought it would be. I came home around five and completely crashed. Then this morning got to sleep in until 8:40 -- which is an unbelievable luxury!

Today is the day we've promised to take E to see the new Harry Potter movie (even though it's PG-13). We're gonna walk downtown around 11:30 and get brunch at Mel's first. Then see the movie in one of the theaters nearby. The screens are small at our downtown theaters, but I am very smitten with the romance of walking to the theater. And it's good to support the smaller theaters, rather than the huge megaplexes.

It was quite an experience to interview the woman from our church yesterday who is about to turn 100. I was astounded the first moment I saw her. Sue looks like she's about 80 years old, if that. She walked down the hallway to greet me. She had me stand close so she could get a good look at me, explaining "I have macular, you know." Then we walked into her apartment where she offered to make me a sandwich. I said no thank you. But accepted a cup of coffee, which she poured for me and brought over in a cup and saucer.

It was humbling to meet a person who is just that old. Sue spoke about her mother, and growing up just outside of Boston. She said her mother's parents settled in New Brunswick when the English were fighting the French and the Indians. That's where her mother was born. Can you imagine? That's a long time ago!!!

Sue spoke of her children. One of her son's died of lung cancer at age 42 (in 1983). Her husband, a graduate of MIT, with a doctorate from Cal, died with alzheimers one year and three days after their son died. "September was an unkind month," she told me.

She showed me each of the pictures that "people" her small apartment. In fact, getting her to talk about her past was difficult. Her family is vibrant and clearly keep her fully involved.

I asked her, near the end of the interview, "What gives you hope as you look toward the future." She paused for a moment and answered in a somewhat indirect, but beautiful way: "Every morning I sit in that chair where you're sitting now. I pray for every one of the people in my family. And I pray for the people of our church. I call my friend, Laura, most mornings. And, although I can't sing for the life of me, I do. I have all these songs inside me, you know. And I sing some of them." Later, again speaking about hope, Sue referred to one of these songs that she has inside her. She said, "I do not believe in the end of the world. I do not believe God would ever do that. I believe in the song where we sing, 'world without end.' You know the one." The picture she created was a beautiful one: a woman, deeply connected to her family and soulfully connected to her church, at home, praying and singing her songs, drenched in the morning sun. Simple and inspirational. It says a lot about how we all can have hope as we look to the future.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Yesterday's meeting was fantastic--way better than I would have ever dared to imagine. The only changes made were one minor wording change on one question and a few additions to my bibliography. I was even complimented on the proposal as well as my presentation of it. And I was actually commended for one of my questions. Unheard of! It is a great way to enter this next phase. I never expected it would go so well.

I spoke with someone today who received his PhD from here a few years ago. He said that he thought the Comprehensive Exam Proposal was really the hardest part of the whole process. Here on in it's all follow-through. That makes a lot of sense to me. And it's sort of a thrill to think of it that way.

I haven't really had a moment to sit and think about all of this since it happened. Had to rush off to church immediately after the meeting. D & E took me out to celebrate afterwards. They split a pepperoni pizza and I had tiramisu. :)

Today I was out all day with the Together in Ministry group. We took a tour of a church and neighborhood in O. Very, very similar to G-town in the feel of the neighborhood. It was a strange experience for me to walk around there, feeling as though it was all very familiar, and yet not, at the same time. From there we went to a museum of California History and were led on a tour by a docent that focused on History of Religion in California. Fascinating.

Now I'm honestly exhausted--though I have a full day again tomorrow. All day out at church: planning for Advent, then interviewing a woman who is about to turn 100 (!), then having a Logos meeting. Good grief. I could use a day off . . .

I'll write about our plans for Advent soon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


I was just going to put a link up about this, but decided I wanted to tell you a little about it, too. One of the books that D was editing recently referred to a song by the band eastmountainsouth. I was curious about the song, so googled it. Turns out they have recently broken up, but one of their songs (Hard Times) was picked up for the soundtrack of Elizabethtown. I love their sound--moody, rich, searching, earthy. Looks like the male part of the duo (Peter Bradley Adams) has appeared on the World Cafe a couple times. I'm partial to Kat Maslich Bode's voice, actually. Check them out:! The website is cool because it just automatically starts playing their music.

This is the Day

As unfocused and restless as I was yesterday, today I feel the opposite. I woke up about 5:45 this morning and felt propelled out of bed. I do want to enter this day feeling present to it. Aware of the years I have already put into this endeavor, aware of the passion I bring to the subject, aware that I have been blessed by my communities of faith to pursue liturgical studies from a free-church perspective. I want to be open to improvements that the Area may suggest today. I want to be able to defend my proposal without getting defensive. I want to feel the weight of this day without feeling crushed or intimidated by it.

At orientation, the Dean shared a TS Eliot quote with us that I have found very meaningful throughout my time here:

Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.

That is the spirit with which I want to live into this day. I used to be better about carrying that stillness with me, when I was in spiritual direction. Now, I find there is much more of a humming energy to everything, the restlessness I felt yesterday. The busy-ness of academic life, its aquisitiveness, does not lend itself to stillness very well.

But I remember learning, while in spiritual direction, that stillness is carried within. It's always there. I remember learning to recognize what I used to call "surfacing"--when I would come too close to the surface, I would feel the disruption and lose a sense of peacefulness. Funny, this had to do with wind, too. I began to learn it while lying in a hammock on Cape Cod. The wind was blowing wildly that day, too. But unlike yesterday's wind, this time it was high up, only in the tops of the trees, swaying them furiously. Where I was, down in the hammock, everything was calm.

I thought of this yesterday, actually. Because I noticed that the wind was blowing at the very tops of the palm trees (they're astoundingly tall) as well as on the ground, with strong enough gusts to kick over parked motorcycles!

The memory of the wind on Cape Cod that October (1998!) has ever since been an image for me of a life centered in prayer. When you are centered, you can perceive the wind, God's spirit moving, the life-giving as well as the violent disruptions and energies ever-present in life. But you are able to exist in the midst of it with a sense of giftedness, wellness, wholeness, peace.

I don't live a life centered in prayer right now, though. So the image beckons me. Even this, I recognize, is gift.

I think this time, going back to P. reminded me a little of who I am. And I think I can carry that into my day today.

This is the day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Blustery Day

I guess if you're going to feel dis-placed somewhere, this is the place to do it. It's a beautiful, almost hot day today. And there is a marvelous, blustery, fall wind that's blowing dry leaves across the pavement. Our windows are open and the curtains are getting caught by the wind, too. The cat doesn't know where to look! Windy days are full of adventures for him. Always movement to catch, exciting new sounds, great bursts of energy. The palm trees at the top of the hill are swaying like mad. Beautiful day.

I spent the morning in the library, finding books for my RA work. Now I am finding it difficult to settle in. I don't know, exactly, what I most need to do to prepare for tomorrow's meeting. Getting some reading done would be wise, I'm sure. But the anxiety about the meeting makes me restless. Reading is difficult.

Hmmm. Restlessness and a windy day . . .

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Spinning Thread

Here is the story E wrote about a caterpillar for homework tonight:

There once was a catterpillar [sic] who could not wait to become a butterfly. He was surrounded by sticks so he could just imagine himself curled up, inside a cocoon. He quickly, not carefully and slowly, shed his fourth and final skin. He then calmed down and carefully spun a beautiful thread around himself. The End.

In Between

For some reason, coming back from P. this time around, I feel more dis-placed than ever. I don't know if it's a function of being here just long enough that I don't feel like I quite belong in either place? If it's merely a passing mood? Is it that I somehow realized on this trip that we're probably not going to stay here after all? My roots feel too close to the surface here. Someone once told me that you should not water the garden early in the day, because the roots will reach up toward the water then get scorched as the noon sun bears down. Is that what this most recent trip did?

I wonder how much it has to do with anticipating my comps proposal this Wednesday. I want to anticipate the worst, so that I can have thick skin. Don't want to be taken by surprise. Want to expect acrimony, academic brutality. But how to live into these days with these expectations?

Yesterday, along with two others from our congregation, I was "licensed for the Gospel Ministry" at my church. I didn't have a big investment in the rite itself. I wasn't familiar with it. Felt as though it was going to be something done to me, more than something I was a participant in.

But the experience was more meaningful to me than I expected. In the text of the rite, the moderator of the church says, "This license represents not only our recognition that you are engaged in your theological studies, but also our declaration of confidence in you and our way of assuring you that in your preparations and discernment of a specific area of ministry, you have our continuing blessing and prayers." Then, the moderator asks: "In accepting this License to Minister, do you promise faithfully to serve God and the church both in your study and ministry?" To which we replied: "I do, trusting in God's grace for help."

The pastor then prays a "Prayer of Consecration" as follows:

"Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on J, T, and J. Consecrate them each for the work of ministry. Give them wisdom to discern the mind of Christ, compassion for human need, and love toward all those to whom they are called to minister. Strengthen and nourish their faith. Make their study meaningful and their work in your church fruitful. May God's Spirit be theirs in this day and throughout the whole of their lives. Amen."

Then the pastor concludes:

"In the name of Jesus Christ, and on behlaf of SRCC I declare that J, T, and J are licensed for the Gospel Ministry. My dear friends and colleagues in Christian ministry, let your faith remain strong, your love complete, your hope resiliant, and your compassion pure. And let your commitment to help bring to pass the reign of God's Shalom in this world and to all people be unyielding as long as you shall live. Let all who are assembled here say together, 'Amen.'"

After this, we were each presented with beautiful stoles sewn by a member of the church. I knew ahead of time that we would be given the stoles and worried that it would seem we were doing a sort of mini ordination. But it didn't feel that way at all. In fact, it was the reception of the stole, immediately after the words I've printed above, that made the experience feel real to me. The stole was something tangible for me. A way of feeling the weight of the words--but the weight was comfortable. Like a heavy blanket on a cold night. Just right.

It was strange to go through this rite while I was feeling in between. Only returned from the East Coast a matter of hours, and I am experiencing this. I talked with someone briefly after the service and told her I was feeling dis-placed, not quite anywhere yet. She seemed to immediately understand. "You wonder," she said, "did I dream that world? Or am I dreaming this one?" Yes.

Neither, of course. And I do know that. But my spirit still needed to catch up with my body, in a way. And here I was being integrated and blessed on Sunday morning. Receiving my first stole.

That is one part of it. The other is this--I am anticipating this frightening academic meeting in a couple days. Like I just wrote, I want to anticipate the worst. And yet. I've just promised to faithfully serve God and the church both in my study and ministry. That means Wednesday, too. And in the days leading up to Wednesday.

I think this is what I'm feeling: I thought I would be going into Wednesday's experience mostly alone. My advisor (and advocate) would be there, sure. But for the most part, I would be on my own. Now, I realize I shall go in with a sense of God's spirit and as a member of my church community. I think I am only getting this as I write it now. At this point of my academic career, I have received the blessing of my church community. This means precisely that I am not alone.

I had a strong sense of this through most of seminary because of the strong, long-time support of CBC. But I realize now that this is the first I've felt it here.

How will it change things? The weight of the stole (my burden is light), trusting in God's grace for help, in between, make their study meaningful and their work in your church fruitful . . .

I began writing about shallow roots. It seems to contradict where I am ending this entry. But I sense that both are true, somehow.