Saturday, December 30, 2006

Becoming Place

I am feeling life returning again.

Though I've certainly been busy with holiday things, as well as concerns about my father-in-law who had back surgery about a week ago, these past couple weeks have been slowly and gently restorative for me. I came into the month of December physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted after an all-too-full Autumn.

Little by little, though, because of more moments of quiet and peace woven into my days, I have felt life returning again. This is such a good thing.

Somewhere in the midst of these past couple weeks, we have started to talk about the possibility of moving back home this summer. The more we've talked about it, the more I think we're starting to count on the idea. Though, I guess ultimately it will depend on whether it seems like I will have an equal or better chance of finding a teaching and/or pastoral post back home as here, once my dissertation is complete. (I do like the sounds of that.)

Already, I have felt the bittersweetness of walking through our beautiful city here--feeling that gentle pulling up of roots again from a place we'd started to think of as home. The sights, sounds, the smells here--eucalyptus trees, the hills and water, street performers, the train that rumbles by a few blocks away, rosemary bushes--all of them are part of what makes us up now. They've been shaping us for almost four years.

The other night, though, as a family we went to see Rocky Balboa. (A fantastic movie, by the way!) At one point, Paulie turns Rocky and says: "Once you stay in a place long enough, you start to become it." (Wendell Berry would love it!) Well, for us, seeing the sights of Philadelphia in that film was like reminding us of our place, what we had become over time. Even after these years away, it seems apparent that who we are is not fully here. Who we are is back there.

At least this is how I'm feeling these days. Though nothing is certain, yet. We're beginning once again to live into that in-between space of possibility.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Rockin' Christmas

Now I know we pray for God to "stir up" during the season of Advent, but this is getting a bit ridiculous around here! We've had four earthquakes rumble our tiny apartment in as many days--one this morning (3.5), two last night (3.7 and 2.2), and one two days ago (3.7)! All of them coming from the same spot on a fault that's about three miles from here (and six miles below the surface).

When we first moved out here I was very anxious about earthquakes. Since then, for the most part, I have loved every single one. I've been amazed at how different each one feels from the other. The first earthquake I ever felt, about two years ago, was as if the earth sighed. Another one felt like a shudder. Another was more of a harumph. And there was one that was just a loud bang and a settle, as if we just dropped a foot in our height above sea level.

The other evening when we felt our first 3.7 quake, Monk and I whooped and hollered and gave each other a high five. It is an amazing thing, a transcendent thing to feel the earth move--this all-too-solid foundation that I grew up thinking we could count on it staying put. The bedrock of the East Coast fills you with false expectations. But the temblors of the West Coast remind you that nothing stays the same!

Our second 3.7, at nearly 11 pm last night, was enough to draw me out of bed. I had to put my hand on Monk's bedroom door to stop it from swaying. That one brought tears to my eyes for the first time--a shock of fear moved through me, maybe because we were in bed and everything is supposed to feel safe then. But also because I experienced last night's quake as being utterly indifferent to us, having nothing at all to do with us. I felt for the first time the dispassionate and fantastically destructive potential pent up in the earth below me. I knew last night that it's release, however violent and life-changing for me personally, would not take me or anyone I loved into account. We don't matter in the least to this earth below me.

This morning the same fault shook itself again, measuring a less vociferous but certainly undeniable 3.5. We were able to take this one in stride again, but I'd be lying if I said we weren't getting a bit anxious about all this earth upset.

So I think I'll hold off on some of these Advent prayers and skip ahead a day or two to the more peaceful, silent night variety. And I admit to wishing for a good old fashioned East Coast White Christmas more than our West Coast rockin' one.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Charlotte's Web Lost its Magic

Today I went with my son's third-grade class to see the new Charlotte's Web movie. His class had all read the book together and this was their big reward. I love the book. We'd read it a couple times to Monk when he was still three years old. I'm quite fond of the old animated movie version (1973) of the classic story.

After hearing some great reviews of the new movie, I was quite disappointed by it. Overall, I found most of the performances to be cold and disinterested. It was as if the actors themselves never even bought into the story.

In the opening scene when Fern (played by Dakota Fanning) confronts her father who's about to do away with the runt piglet, you never get the feeling that these two characters actually have a relationship with one another. Fanning plays the moment as if she has no doubt that the father will do exactly as she wishes. Though she verbally protests, she seems emotionally unmoved by the prospect of the piglet's death. It's an odd combination--to see an empathetic character being played by a non-empathetic actor.

The quirky animals in the barn never take on dimension. Mostly you get the feeling that it's a poor remake of Babe. The characters' lines fall flat and seem strangely stiff. Maybe a result of updating the film to a contemporary setting without really updating the language. The only character who seemed to show any life was the rat Templeton, played by Steve Buscemi. Though admittedly he would only shine when he seemed to be doing his best impression of Paul Lynde's nasal-toned, self-absorbed ramblings of the same character 33 years ago.

Julia Roberts as Charlotte never seems to add any warmth or depth to her voice. She sounds as if she's reading her part distractedly. I never could shake the feeling that she remained aloof to the whole enterprise--as if she were just putting in time to collect a check at the end of the day.

Sam Shepherd's folksy voice as the narrator had the greatest potential. Ultimately, however, the writing seemed so bent on creating a sense of the "ordinariness" of this town, the animals, and the people that you had the feeling no one behind the film had ever lived a day in an ordinary town. Certainly, no one on the cast seemed capable of imagining--or worse, believing in--the everyday magic of the ordinary. As a result, the whole project fell awfully flat.

If you want to enjoy the story of Charlotte's Web again without reading the book, go back to the older animated version. You'll find a lot more life there then you will in the current release. If you're looking for a fun movie with animals, you'd be better off watching Babe. Or find a copy of the wonderful Adventures of Milo and Otis.

Resources for Church Conversations Around Sexuality Needed

Our congregation is soon to embark on a time of intentional conversations about human sexuality, eventually with the hopes of being able to have a more definitive statement about our position on inclusiveness.

Ultimately, we will need the conversation to turn toward a discussion of homosexuality. But we are very interested in helping people understand that to talk about homosexuality, we need to understand that this is only part of a broader conversation about sexuality itself.

As one who serves on the pastoral staff of the congregation, I'm trying to find some kind of curriculum or helpful resource that will guide those conversations (both the broader sexuality discussion as well as the more specific homosexuality discussion). And I am surprised at the difficulty we've had in locating something!

We are for the most part a theologically progressive congregation although there is a lot of theological diversity in our church. For this conversation, however, I think we need to plan on finding people all over the map. Therefore a curriculum or resource that doesn't skew too far in either direction or assume an outcome would be most helpful. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Blogger

Well, I'm sorry I haven't written anything here for a while. I'm taking a brief respite while I wait for my tank to refill itself. Everyday I seem to feel more and more myself after having worked myself into the ground this past Fall.

In the meantime, I was quite excited to finally be able to transfer my blog to the the new version of Blogger. Now I can change the overall look of the site without having to put a ton of work into redoing all the extras (like links, etc). So that's what I'll be playing with for now. Fun.

Been Christmas shopping these past couple days, too. Mostly for the boy--because nearly all our other gifts are shipped across country. Things are starting to shape up nicely around here for the holiday.

Will try and get back into the swing of things here very soon.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Receiving the Day

I've come across these two quotes in my studying for my exam today. I share them with you because they just seemed too overwhelmingly beautiful for me to keep all to myself.

"We do not know that breathing can be communion with God. We do not realize that to eat can be to receive life from God in more than its physical sense. We forget that the world, its air or its food cannot by themselves bring life, but only as they are received and accepted for God's sake, in God and as bearers of the divine gift of life. By themselves they can produce only the appearance of life." -Alexander Schmemann

"This applies to the [gift of the] present time as to manna: one must gather it each day, without ever being able to store it up or to amass it as far as to dispense with receiving as a gift. The manna of time thus becomes daily for us. . . .The Christian names her bread 'daily bread' first because she receives the daily itself as bread, a food whose daily reception -- as a gift -- no reserve will spare." -Jean-Luc Marion

And so, may we experience this day as gift--for God's sake. Amen.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

One Foot in Front of the Other

...and soon you'll be heading out the door!

I'm digging in this morning to a full day and evening of studying as I prepare for the very last step of my Comprehensive Exams--the oral exam. (Every time I use the phrase, I have images of dentists peering into my gaping mouth looking for stray words about Foucault or aesthetics or ritual theory. Creepy.)

The task before me today is to flesh out the parts that I wrote about over the past year. To review my notes, page through the books again, to delve into the "more" of what I've already said. I feel confident that what I wrote is good. What I feel nervous about are questions that will push beyond what I wrote.

But I figure if I jump into the pond today (How many metaphors have I mixed in this one posting? Good grief.) and simply immerse myself in everything again, then I'll have something to say.

The morning here is brisk and spectacularly beautiful. The sun is flooding the living room and kitchen through our big front window. The cat is warming himself in the sun's fullness in the best sphinx pose he can muster. It was 60 degrees in the apartment when I got up this morning, but the heater, along with the sun, have toasted the air comfortably. I've had yummy oatmeal for breakfast and some wonderful Irish Breakfast Tea from Adagio. The Monk left the house singing. All of these suggest that the next 48 hours or so will be possible.

Prayers for focus, calm, memory, and clarity are deeply appreciated.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Been There, Done That

I'm slowly getting caught up on all the blogs I used to read regularly but had to quit while I finished my exams. I came across this fun meme on Lorna's blog from way back in October. Thought it would be fun to give it a whirl. The things I've done are marked in bold.

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain (Mt McLoughlin in Oregon. Boy, did I regret my smoker's lungs then!)
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula (uhhh, no!)
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
08. Said “I love you’ and meant it!
09. Hugged a tree
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris (well, I saw the sunrise in Paris from the airport window on a brief layover on my way to Italy. But I figure since it was the sunrise it counts...)
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights (in Beach Haven, NJ of all places!!! I had no idea what they were. I thought it was the end of the world. I was 20 years old and I'm ashamed to admit that I immediately repented of all my liberal beliefs in hopes that it would save me in the last minute. Pathetic.)
15. Gone to a huge sports game (World Series Game 4, 1993, Blue Jays v. Phillies in Philadelphia; Phillies lost.)
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa (Okay, didn't walk to the top. They don't let you anymore. But I did stand right next to it.)
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables (Well, I helped plant cucumbers one summer.)
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars (Absolutely! More than once!!!)
20. Changed a baby’s diaper (Absolutely...more than once...)
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Drunk champagne (-sigh-)
24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight (and lost.)
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse
34. Ridden a roller coaster (hated it!)
35. Scored a winning goal (in, like, air hockey)
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
39. Visited all 5 continents
40. Taken care of someone who was drunk
41. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
42. Watched wild whales
43. Stolen a sign
44. Backpacked
45. Taken a road-trip (our honeymoon was a roadtrip to New Orleans almost fourteen years ago. We went through Nashville, Memphis, and Graceland and stopped at deathrow in Alabama on the way home. Don't ask. We also made a trip across the U.S. in 2003 with five-year-old Monk in tow.)
46. Gone rock climbing
48. Midnight walk on the beach (and skinnydip, of course.)
49. Gone sky diving
50. Taken a train through Europe
51. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
52. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table, and had a meal with them (at every meal on the train across country in 1989)
53. Milked a cow
54. Alphabetized your CDs (what else would you do with them?)
55. Sung karaoke (poorly)
56. Lounged around in bed all day
57. Gone scuba diving
58. Kissed in the rain (and danced)
59. Gone to a drive-in theatre
60. Started a business
61. Taken a martial arts class
62. Been in a movie
63. Crashed a party
64. Gone without food for 5 days
65. Gotten a tattoo
66. Got flowers for no reason
67. Performed on stage (does the fourth-grade play count? I played a stewardess.)
68. Been to Las Vegas (ick)
69. Recorded music (I wrote one song with five chords on the guitar and recorded it on a cassette tape, dreamt of fame and fortune ala Indigo Girls, then promptly gave it all up)
70. Eaten shark
71. Buried one/both of your parents
72. Been on a cruise ship
73. Spoken more than one language fluently (aw man. Why don't they ever ask what languages you can read? Hebrew, Greek, German, and French!!! With dictionaries at hand anyway!)
74. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over (just to start a PhD anyway)
75. Walked a famous bridge (Brooklyn and the Golden Gate)
76. Had plastic surgery
77. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived (Does driving off a mountainside count?)
78. Wrote articles for a large publication
77. Tried to lose weight seriously.
79. Piloted an airplane
80. Petted a stingray
81. Broken someone’s heart
82. Broken a bone
83. Eaten sushi (yum!)
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Parasailed
86. Skipped all your school reunions
87. Shaved your head
88. Caused a car accident (Does backing into a schoolbus in high school count? I was digging around for my cigarettes while backing up. Good grief.)
89. Pretended to be “sick” (-cough- -cough-)
90. Swam in the Pacific Ocean (too cold!)
91. Saved someone’s life
92. Fainted (How Victorian of me.)
93. Been in the room while someone is giving birth (me!)
94. Hitchhiked
95. Adopted a child
96. Been caught daydreaming
97. Been to the Painted Desert
98. Called off a wedding engagement
99. Donated your blood
100. Become a follower of Jesus Christ (still working on this one.)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What's Beginning to Emerge

I haven't managed to get myself back into West Coast time yet. Last night I (barely) managed to stay up 'til 11. (If you don't count snoozing on the couch for an hour before that.) But still can't seem to sleep past 6 in the morning.

The nice thing about that is two or three hours of a quiet apartment, some "stolen" time to get some work done. It's a beautifully peaceful feeling.

This morning I've been doing some work in preparation for our class this Tuesday. I haven't written much (if at all) about this course I've been co-teaching. I think it's one of those professional/personal boundary things when it comes to blogging, I suppose. But my lack of writing about it here doesn't convey the extent to which teaching this class has been an excellent, wonderful, fantastic experience over these past few months.

The course is focused on Worship in the 21st Century, with a particular eye toward postmodernism. This coming week (our last week of instruction before student presentations on their final projects), we'll be looking at emergent worship. This morning I've been reading through some of the many websites dedicated to the subject. This alone is a fascinating aspect of the emergent movement(s)--how web-based it is!

To be honest, my heartbeat is quickening as I look through all this stuff. Emergent has been a woefully neglected part of my PhD education in liturgical studies. What I am learning about it, I am doing on my own. And what I am feeling, to an increasingly fervent degree, is that it's exactly where I ought to be putting my energies right now. (The parrots are flying by as I write that sentence. I'm starting to trust the parrots' arrival.) :)

On Saturday evening at the AAR I attended an "additional meeting" session that focused on the Emergent Movement. Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, and Peter Rollins were on the panel. Each person spoke for about twenty minutes and each was brilliant. It was thrilling to me to hear intellectually stimulating, grounded (and yet visionary), substantive reflections from these three "movers and shakers" in the Emergent movement. For an mp3 of Peter Rollins's remarks at AAR visit here. (With thanks to pomomusings.) Whereas I went into the session fearing that Emergent is more of a flash-in-the-pan, I left feeling certain that this movement truly holds (lightly and reverently, it seems) the future of the church in its hands. (Not in the hands of those three individuals, but in the hands of all the networks and gathered emergent people across the world.) This is something that can't be ignored. And I feel excited to be on this edge of the movement with my academic career yet in front of me.

If you're interested in knowing what the heck I'm talking about (I barely know myself), take a look at these websites.

Emergent Village
EmergingChuch.Info (interview with Peter Rollins)
Ikon, the emerging "becoming church" community founded by Rollins in Belfast, Ireland
Vintage Faith

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Gift of More

Last Spring when I wrote my two devotionals for the RevGalBlogPal's book Ordinary Time (advertised at right), November seemed so unimaginably far away. But here we are, about to heft the last days of the month onto our backs and carry them into December. I shamelessly invite you over to Ordinary Time to read the devotionals I wrote for yesterday and today. Both of them are based on the same text--David's last words--which are part of the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday when we celebrate Christ the King.

As I recuperated over the past couple weeks during my blogging hiatus, I sadly missed my first blogiversary. I published my first entry here on the Blanket in the Grove on November 14, 2005. If you're disposed to such things, I invite to you to take a step back for a moment and read my debut here. At that time I had just returned from the East Coast (as I have now, as well!); I was preparing with great (and as it turns out, unnecessary) trepidation to propose my comprehensive exams, (I'm now preparing for my final, oral exam next week); and had just been licensed for ministry in my congregation (where my hours expanded considerably for this current year).

Each of these things continue to be the benchmarks that help me know my place in this world. I had titled that first entry "In Between" and in some ways I wonder if this is always my experience. There is an enduring sense of being on a journey (as I know so many of us feel) and that the in-betweenness of that journey is the gift of it. Every arrival eventually becomes an invitation to set out again toward another unknown.

So I am recently returned from the East Coast again--arrived Tuesday night from Washington DC where I attended my first-ever Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society for Biblical Literature. As D pulled the car up at the airport about 8:00 on the night I arrived, Monk spotted me and opened his door before the car had come to a complete stop--so eager was he to greet his ol' Mom. There was no danger, really, the car was going slow enough by that point and he was well-strapped in. But it did give me a bit of a start!

I want to always remember the moment, though--the prodigal son who looks with overflowing eagerness for the return of his mum. In the car as we drove back home, Monk burst over with stories and laughter. When I would turn and look at him, I was amazed at the light in his eyes. I felt it all as gift.

Going to AAR was everything I needed it to be. I am so glad I was there this year. It got me out of the cozy box I'd had to live in over the past year as I answered the questions for my exams. It reminded me of all the amazing questions being asked by academics all over the world. It demystified some of the Big Names I've been reading all these years--I got to see them as people, laugh at their jokes, appreciate their three-dimensional humanness rather than their two-dimensional texts!

I was also able to reconnect with old friends in a way that simply helps me remember who I am.

I also was able to talk with people fruitfully about the next step in front of me--proposing and writing my dissertation. I won't say much about that now, but imagine it will be a subject which accompanies me in this blog for some time to come now.

One of the highlights of the trip, rather unexpectedly, was the opportunity to go to an exhibit at the Sackler Gallery (one of the museums of the Smithsonian Institute) where they featured Bibles (as in codices, scrolls, papyri, and eventually manuscripts) prior to the year 1000. You can read more about it here. What an awesome experience! With all the talk about fragmentation in postmodernity, it was humbling, indeed, to see the fragments out of which we have pieced together our scriptures. There is something fundamentally deceptive about the neatly contained, uninterrupted solidity of our bibles published by major publishing houses today. It was truly humbling to see the fragments of our scriptural origins, their very physical tentativeness seems to stand as a crying plea to careful, gentle, tentative exegesis--rather than the heavy-handed, confident, and stern certainty that all too often is our approach to biblical texts.

Not only that, but the reverent beauty with which many of these pages were created was awe-inspiring. Though I have to say that it occurred to me at one point that these pages were once somebody's deadline. Perhaps merely what had to get done, somebody's work. My sense is that they were not alienated from their work, as we so often are from our own. But I bet there were at least some moments when the monk working on his page felt the pressure to simply get it done. Perhaps he suffered from a sleepless night on occasion, worrying about the page he had yet to finish. This thought pleases me for some reason. To see the page a thousand years later seems to give those moments simultaneously unbearable weight and unbearable lightness. It matters; it matters not.

Well, there still feels like more to say. And for this, in and of itself, I am grateful. Too many weeks of dry silence in my world. So good to wake up to fresh dew on the grass.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 13, 2006


I have been in the midst of a rather unplanned blogging hiatus lately. It has everything to do with just finishing my comps. The written ones, anyway. My oral exam still awaits me at the end of this month.

It is a testament to just how insanely I worked over the month of October that in the week after finishing the exams, both my body and my computer decided they could go on no further.

I continued with some pretty fantastic back pain for a week or more after the last exam. The remnants of this pain are still with me. I am not entirely free of it. So I proceed cautiously.

Meanwhile, my computer stopped communicating with its power cord and refused, utterly refused, to believe it was plugged into the socket. After about a week of feeling lost and disenfranchised, I managed to get it back up and running with the simplest and least expensive solution (a new cord was needed, not a new port).

Despite the pain I was experiencing and the loss of my computer for a week, all I could do was thank God that these things happened after the exams were written and not in the midst of them. And as for the pain itself, I felt I had to absorb it, mind it, and apologize to myself for taking such poor care of my body in the midst of my work.

I expect my postings will still be sporadic as I prepare to leave for the American Academy of Religion conference happening in Washington DC at the end of this week. I hope I'll be able to get some blogging done from there, but we'll have to see how the schedule goes.

I do hope, though, to be back up and running consistently very soon. I've missed this space and the relationships I've experienced here.

Peace and love.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Life on the Other Side of Done

The big news: I have now finished my written exams!!! As of Friday at about 4:30 pm, I completed my last one--six exams in all! And it feels great to be done!

I have been gradually returning to life over the past few days. After an initial 'high' on Friday evening, boy, did I crash this weekend. I'm glad I hadn't ended up planning a grand celebration. (We considered possibly going away for the weekend, since I had Sunday off from church.) But I don't think I could have possibly done it!

Friday night, about 2:30 in the morning, I woke up in awful pain. I had a pain in my back, just between my shoulder blades, that was just shooting through me, especially down my left arm, but also just all over. I've never felt anything like it before. And I have to admit, I was a little worried it had something to do with my heart--especially since women's symptoms are so different than men's when it comes to heart stuff.

But I decided it couldn't be that, took a couple ibuprofin, got out the heating pad, and managed after a while to get back to sleep. Next morning when I woke up, everything still hurt, though not quite as terribly as it had been. Even so I couldn't turn my head very far in either direction and felt stiff and achey all over. Miserable!

Little by little, in the daylight hours, it dawned on me--the pain was from sitting and typing furiously for four hours straight without even the slightest pause. This was my body in an uproar at all the anxiety as well as no small amount of physical punishment I'd put it through. I crashed on the couch and barely ventured far from it for the next two days. I had truly pushed myself to the edge of exhaustion!

D was not the least bit surprised. And he was wonderful about letting me catch up on sleep. I was surprised, though. I mean, I knew it had been hard work and that I had a lot of stress built up around this stuff, but I was completely unprepared for the physical crash after the experience. I just marvel at that.

Yesterday afternoon, D had a hockey game and cookout with his team. He took Monk with him and left me home to laze about happily and drowsily. I flicked through the channels and came across one of my all-time favorite movies: Same Time Next Year. I can't count the number of times I've watched that movie over the past twenty years or so. But it makes me cry at all the same places, without fail, every time. It was the perfect movie to watch yesterday.

Except I was amazed to realize that the last video montage (there are numerous ones placed between the scenes to mark the passage of time) was from 1977. And everything in it seemed so vividly memorable to me. And that was thirty years ago. In fact, when I first started to watch Same Time Next Year, the video montages from the 1950s which open the film were just about equidistant from me then (in, say, 1986) as the 1970s ones are from me today. That just makes my head spin.

Then I happened on the channel SoapNet (!) and completely indulged in watching a week's worth of General Hospital episodes. (It think it's been about seven years since I've watched GH--the last time was probably when Monk would take his afternoon naps as an infant.) But it was so cool to catch this particular week, for those of you may have loved GH once upon a time, because Laura came out of her four-year coma by the end of that week. In time for Luke and Laura's thirty year anniversary which comes up next month, apparently. :D

They've got a few of the real old timer characters from the late 70s early 80s--including Robert Scorpio, Robin Scorpio, and Luke and Laura. And of course the Quartermaine gang still going strong. A baby named after Lila Quartermaine was also born in the episodes I was watching yesterday. (None of this will make any sense to someone who's never been a fan of the show.)

Well, as you can see, it was a great day. A good, if hazy weekend. And I am trying to take things slowly as I recover from this giant push.

Next steps? Scheduling my oral exam (likely not 'til the end of November/beginning of December, unfortunately.) And working on my dissertation proposal.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

South Beach Diet...(for Cats)

Still slogging away at my exams. Finished one more last Friday. One written, timed exam to go. My heart is on taking it this Friday, too. Though waiting 'til Monday may be the more realistic option. I just soooo want to have my weekend finally free. Keeping my head in the books, but in the meantime, life delights in unexpected ways. Here's one.

My cat Felix. There's never been another one like him. This summer I discovered, for instance, that he goes bonkers for corn husks. There was a husk hanging out of the bottom crisper drawer one day and Felix started gnawing on it with obvious delight. After that I tried to keep fresh corn around, and each day would peel off a leaf of the husk and let him go at it. He would rapturously consume it every time.

A couple days ago I decided to pick up the South Beach diet again--wanting to shed a few pounds that seem to have wandered back over the past year or so. Well, turns out Felix loves just about everything I'm eating these days. Now whenever I sit down to eat my snack (usually string cheese or Laughing Cow cheese on celery) he's right beside me, meowing, yowling, and nudging my plate and hands until I give something up. I've also felt compelled to share some salmon and tuna with him, too. He gobbled the tuna down with such obvious joy. (Certainly more than I could muster as I dragged myself through that particular salad!)

What a dear companion he is. :) I dunno, maybe he's trying to lose a few pounds, too. Here's an especially undignified photo of him squashed up beside me on the sofa.

Monday, October 16, 2006

After School Conversation

Those who are close to me know that I am in the midst of major academic work right now as I try and complete my comprehensive exams by the end of this month. For that reason, I have mostly had to neglect my blog until my time opens a bit more generously in November. However, today I just had to get down the conversation I just shared with Monk, my wonderful eight-year-old son.

Monk: Mom, I had to go see the principal with Tough Guy today.
Me: What happened?
Monk: Well, there's a real problem with cooties at school right now. See, I don't believe in cooties. I actually think they were just invented to keep boys and girls separate. But someone passed them on to me, and even though I don't believe in them, I had to get rid of them.
Me: (marveling) So what did you do?
Monk: I passed them on to Tough Guy. And then he hit me in the stomach. And we had to go see the principal. But it turns out, after we talked, that I had gotten him harder than I meant to when I passed the cooties on to him. And he thought I hit him. So he hit me back.
Me: So everything's alright now?
Monk: Yeah, but cooties are a real problem at school. So me, Tough Guy, and Principal have decided to ban them.
Me: Sounds like a good idea. But what if someone passes them on to you anyway?
Monk: I don't know. We didn't get that far.
Me: (reaching behind me to my belt) Here, I have some anti-cootie spray that I always keep with me. (I hand him the invisible spray bottle) If someone passes cooties on to you, just take out your spray and tssshhhht (pretending to spray all around me) tell 'em it doesn't matter 'cause you have anti-cootie spray.
Monk smiles and puts the invisible bottle of spray behind his back as he makes the sound of a 'click'--clearly securing to his own belt the antidote for the thing he doesn't believe in which he's banned from school grounds.

Life is great.

Monday, October 09, 2006

New Worlds to Learn

Last Thursday evening we signed up Monk for aiki-jujutsu classes. This is the first time he's ever taken any martial arts classes--in fact, D and I have never had them ourselves. (Although, interestingly enough, both my brother and my Mom have taken martial arts classes in the past. Mom started them when she was in her fifties, I guess. Cool mom.)

After checking out the website for the particular dojo where we would take Monk, having a phone conversation with the sensei (yet another vocabulary to learn!!!), and visiting on Thursday evening--I was especially excited to have Monk begin.

But I was also surprised by the amount of misgiving I had about it. First of all, and I don't know how I'd managed to miss this as long as I did, I'd managed to forget that the word martial connotes military. I guess that's where we get the concept of martial law, for instance.

The sensei sent us home with a book about aiki-jujutsu and as I read through it, I was surprised and a bit concerned to see the military principles incorporated in the practice of akai-jujutsu. (The section that lauded the people who had committed suicide--warriors, women, and children, alike--was more than I could stomach.) Suddenly I became aware that basically we'd signed Monk up for Japanese military school. And I didn't know quite how I felt about that.

At the same time, I was delighted to see that this place takes its Japanese heritage very seriously. Inasmuch as it's possible to contextualize the discipline of aiki-jujutsu in Japanese culture, this dojo is interested in pursuing that. Given that the class we're teaching tomorrow has to do with liturgical inculturation, I'm especially interested in how this is possible!

Quite related to this, the other thing that I was surprised to be concerned about is the extent to which aiki-jujustu is part of another faith. As a family raising our son in a Christian family, I was surprised to find myself a bit concerned about introducing our eight-year-old to another way of conceiving of the world. And I am more than a little chagrined that Christianity has failed for the most part to teach children the contemplative aspects of our faith. The dojo where Monk will be going teaches Japanese yoga to the kids as well as martial arts.

At the end of our appointment with the sensei last week, he asked Monk: "So, do you want to practice?"

Monk nodded and immediately began to take off his shoes to climb onto the mat. But I could tell, after a moment, that the teacher wasn't asking him to step out immediately. Then it dawned on me--he was asking Monk if he wanted to engage in the practice of learning aiki-jujutsu.

This is how I've come to love to think of Christianity, although I don't think it's a widely held perspective anymore. Recently I read a liturgical theologian who pointed out that in the first century, Christianity was not a "worldview"--that is, a way of perceiving the world; rather it was a practice, which is to say, a way of being in the world.

This is precisely the thing that I feel like Christianity has failed to teach kids so far (and I implicate myself in this as well). And yet, at least at this particular dojo, they seem to teach it unapologetically.

I dropped Monk off at the dojo this evening. The class meets four times a week, although we'll only be taking him three of those time. The other evening he'll be at church. I could tell I was feeling nervous, because I simply wasn't sure what he would be taught.

But when I picked him up, he was aglow. Most of the first session was "lecture." And I could tell he'd listened closely. When I arrived, as I waited outside, I saw the kids lying on their backs, clearly learning some of the yoga positions. I was surprised to find it moving. And was grateful that the teacher seems to trust the kids -- and respect them enough -- to teach them these things.

These are some initial thoughts. Though I have others. Better keep it here for now.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Four Down, Two to Go!!!!

I just finished another comprehensive exam! This one was one of the most difficult subjects I've ever written on. I'd proposed the question because it was on a subject (liturgical aesthetics) I did not yet understand but desperately wanted to. And now I truly have a decent handle on it.


I'm taking the night off.

(And the parrots are flying over as I write this...)

-sigh of contentment-

We're Living a Calvin & Hobbes Comic Around Here

At 2:45 a.m. while D & I were fast asleep, we hear the call from Monk's room: "Mom! Dad!"

"Yes?" We both call out in alarmed reply.

There is a brief pause. "Okay, now I have two questions." announces the Monk. "First, can I have a drink of water so I can get back to sleep? And second, what the heck are you two doing up at this hour?"

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Day at the Races

Originally uploaded by elimaines.
Last Saturday we went to the races and people-watched more than watched the races. Great characters.

Another One of Those Nights


The boys are out picking up Church's Chicken as I write this.


Captain's Log - Star Date 09282006

Inspired by Katherine's post on The Princess Bride . . .

For about two weeks now, (thanks to my brother's gift of Netflix for D's birthday this summer!) the three of us have been slowly making our way through the Star Trek movies. It has been so fun to introduce the 8-year-old to the world of Star Trek.

In many ways, Monk is really my fantasy/sci-fi buddy. When he was three, we read through the Chronicles of Narnia twice in one year. At the same age, we also read Wizard of Oz. When he was seven, he devoured all of the Harry Potter series. And he loves A Series of Unfortunate Events. Last winter we read The Hobbit and watched all three Lord of the Rings over the winter holiday. And, as of two days ago, he finished reading Fellowship of the Ring entirely on his own (in just over seven days. Not bad for a third-grader)!

I've always known that it would only be a matter of time before we dove into the world of Star Trek. And so I was delighted when a couple weeks ago after I suggested it, he jumped at the chance. I've never been a trekkie, mind you. Closest I ever came was a short-lived love of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the early nineties. But I have a deep affection for the series--and simply love, always, to get lost in other worlds--as does my boy.

We're watching them all in order. The first one was unbearably artsy-fartsy. Long, drawn-out scenes of spaceships docking while lush music plays. Clearly very influenced by the film 2001, the first Star Trek seemed to imagine itself to be quite grand in those days. But as the series goes on, it gets increasingly light-hearted. One of our favorites was Star Trek V in which the crew has to travel back in time to 1986 San Francisco in order to save humpback whales from extinction. Except for some pretty atrocious acting by a supporting actress, the movie tripped lightly and humorously through its storyline. Glimpses of William Shatner's irony-laden character that he plays today on Boston Legal shone through in moments. The series seems to come to life when it stops taking itself so darn seriously!

The other night we watched Star Trek VI: The Final Frontier, in which the crew of the starship enterprise encounters "God" who has gotten stranded on a planet in the center of the universe. Our whole family groaned aloud--Monk included--when we heard everyone referring to God as "he." Then when they depicted "God" as an old, white man with a long, white beard, our heads fell into our hands. The next day, though, while talking about the movie, Monk reflected on how they had portrayed God in the film--and how it conflicted with his own image of God. Very cool.

With any luck, tonight we'll be watching Star Trek: Generations, the seventh in the dynasty--and the first one to say farewell to the old crew and welcome in Patrick Stewart to the role of captain. (Ahhh, Patrick Stewart.)

It has been truly such fun to introduce my dear son to Star Trek. But last night, I pulled him close to me and apologized: "I'm just loving watching these movies with you," I started out, "But I'm awfully sorry if I'm turning you into a total nerd in the process."

"Aw, it's alright, Mom." He said, "I haven't told anyone at school that I've seen 'em." Wise beyond his years.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Wallis Report

Since I've gotten a couple requests for a better update on dinner with Jim Wallis, I thought I'd take a minute and tell you a bit more about what that was like.

It might be good to point out that I honestly have some pretty conflicted feelings around Jim Wallis and his enterprise. Not least because the left evangelical movement has never succeeded at including women in integral ways to their project; it remains a white male dominated world. I've heard a few women who have worked with Wallis speak about his arrogance and their frustration at not being heard. I've also been saddened over the years that Sojourners has consistently failed to take a welcoming and affirming stance for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer people. This has continued to be the case among the Call to Renewal folks, at least as far as I can tell. I believe that justice for all people is necessary--and that seeking justice for GLBTQ folks is not a distraction, but integral to shalom.

There is also no small part of me that gets very suspicious of anyone who claims to be (or is assumed to be) The Voice of a movement. Call me a Gen-Xer is you must--I hear it is one of our traits--but my gut tells me to trust grassroots movements before trusting booming voices. And the way Wallis was introduced at the event where I heard him speak (it was on September 11, earlier this month), played into all of my misgivings. The woman who introduced him lamented that he was "the only Jim." And talked about how we had all come that day because we were "fans." She asserted that we came because we needed to be inspired by him and because we needed him to give us hope, purpose, and faith. Maybe that is why some folks were there. But to be honest, that feels a lot like a cult of personality to me. As if the desire is merely to be close to greatness rather than to be an active member of a community involved in a movement toward justice.

Wallis's speech that night failed to measure up to his hype. My partner, who has heard Wallis speak on a number of occasions, as well as encountered him in much smaller settings, commented afterward that he's heard Wallis be much more inspirational when talking about much more mundane things. I think he may have simply had an off night, or was tired, or felt constrained by the night's theme of commemorating September 11, 2001.

Whatever the reasons, Wallis's remarks were rooted in the past. It was a "woulda, shoulda, coulda" speech--with no great vision for what we oughta be doing today. I left the event feeling disappointed. And I was a bit baffled, given that this was the first I'd ever heard him speak, about how Wallis had managed to garner such a loyal following.

It was at the dinner afterwards, though, that Wallis was able to shine. He spoke in that more informal setting about some very hopeful things that are happening on a grassroots level around the country. In this sense, Wallis was much less the Booming Voice and much more a representative of hope and ideas-in-action. Among the most hopeful things he mentioned was the awakening of evangelicals to the centrality of economic justice in scripture. Rick Warren was chief among the big, evangelical names he mentioned who has come to perceive the eradication of poverty as a moral value. This fills me with hope! What might it look like to begin to build coalitions among people of faith all across the spectrum in which together we seek the eradication of poverty?

And yet, my questions remain around the involvement of women and GLBTQ people in meaningful leadership positions in these coalitions. I feel very certain that we can not dice up oppressions as if some are important and others are not.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


A couple moments today I just want to be able to remember: Driving to church this morning, as I sat in the passenger seat I caught a glimpse of Monk in the back seat. He was chewing bubble gum with loud smacks. Then he hooked a piece of the gum around his forefinger and twirled it round and round 'til it wrapped his finger completely. Then he stuck the whole thing in his mouth and started chewing again. It's a nothing moment, I know. But it felt joyous. Peaceful. Through-and-through kidlike. My boy.

Then, just a little while ago, D and Monk went across the street to the park to throw a football together. I missed most of it, buried in my own work. But I turned around near the end and watched them for a while out my big window up here on the second floor. D kicked the football in Monk's direction. He didn't catch it, but collected it from the ground and took off running toward D--who managed to sweep him up and take him decisively, if wonderfully gently, to the ground in a tackle. Then the two of them lay there, flat on their backs, Monk tucked into the nook of his dad's arm. Again--joy, peace, fun.

This morning the cat came home around 6. I heard his meow at the front door. When I opened the door, he trotted happily in. And there behind him was another cat gazing up at me with great inquisitiveness. Clearly the two of them had been hanging out together. This is the second cat Felix has brought home with him. I have a cat who makes friends with other cats and brings them home with him! I can't get over this.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Seeing the Day

How could things have possibly gotten to the point that sleeping 'til 7:00 on a Saturday feels like sleeping in?! I've seen so many pre-6:00 a.m. wake-ups in the past few weeks, I hardly recognize myself. But the thing is, early morning has started to feel like found time. You know all the times you hear someone wish for more hours in a day? Well, now I know where they are. They're the hours before sunrise.

It is another beautiful day here. And we've seen the parrots fly over once already. So they're still around. Such a joyous feeling. Feels like grace.

Monk is on my computer right now. (I'm writing from D's desktop, which feels so cumbersome compared to my laptop!) He's talking on Skype with his friend in Israel. Their conversations are full of disjointed nonsequiters as they dance through topics from video games to life in third grade. I love that they can talk for free--so we don't have to weigh each word in the price of gold.

Today is a work day for me. Preparing for class on Tuesday. We've put together a nice selection of readings on worship and social justice. I'm excited to teach the class after last week's introductory session on postmodernism. It was evident to me that folks were feeling concerned about how the church can have a prophetic voice in a postmodern world. So to set this session right next to the previous one will, I believe, produce some great thinking.

D and Monk are talking of going to the baseball game this afternoon. (Though Monk is wavering on the idea. He's a homebody--and he comes by it naturally!)

Whatever we all decide, though, it feels like it's gonna be a good Saturday.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Life These Days

I sure didn't expect to be dropping down to writing maybe once a week or so. But there you have it. I figure I'll do what I can. It's all I can do. :)

This morning, after finishing up Sunday's bulletin, I headed off for my spiritual direction appointment. I'm amazed I've been three times already. Unfortunately this is the second time in a row that I was almost fifteen minutes late. Both times I got terribly lost on the way to the place in our neighboring City--clearly a City I haven't learned well enough yet! Argh! Both times, if it hadn't been for my partner, and computers and cell phones--well, I hate to think. I suppose I might still be driving around now! Instead, after it became clear that I'd gotten myself good and lost both times, I called him up, gave him the address where I'd pulled over, and he googled my location! Then, as I talked on the phone with him (something I never do), he guided me through the streets of the City 'til I got there. I figure there has to some rich metaphor in this that I could unpack in spiritual direction! :)

I knew that once my job at the church was expanded to planning worship each week as well as providing adult education and spiritual growth opportunities, that I would need to ground myself through spiritual direction again. It has been exactly the right thing for me to do. And just knowing that feels good.

This week has been great, though we've also had some hard days or moments in there. We've gotten into some headbutting moments with the Monk. (Not literally, mind you. But the feeling has been rather like rams crashing together.) After the third major argument in one day, I soon had the distinct feeling that things were not working anymore. That is to say, what used to work was not working and we were on the cusp of a change again. We decided that Monk needed to be given more responsibility around here. Because he was balking at being told to do something he didn't want to, for some reason I could sense that what he was saying is that we don't give him enough to do overall. It feels paradoxical, but that's one of the reasons I can tell it's probably right. :) So now we're going to be working out the chore schedule again, get him doing some more around the house. A good thing.

It is a windy, beautiful, blue-sky, giant cloud day. And we've recently had some new visitors! Some wild parrots have been flying around our little neighborhood the past couple days. (Though today a hawk showed up, too. So I sure hope it remains safe enough for them to hang around.) It feels like magic to have them chattering up a storm right outside our window. By the way, if you haven't seen The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill yet, you really ought to!

Last night we signed on for a two-week trial to Urge--the Windows version of itunes. So now we're just loving listening and downloading tons of albums and songs we can't otherwise afford! It's truly joyous. As I've been writing this, I've been listening to Henry Mancini's Pink Panther soundtracks. Last night I downloaded a couple old Cowboy Junkies cds. This morning before heading off to school, Monk listened to a hip hop version of Metallica's Enter Sandman. :)

Finally, for those who are curious: our meal with Jim Wallis was very interesting. After hearing him deliver a flat and uninspired speech, (after which I was truly worried about what the heck I was going to talk with him about), he ended up speaking to our much smaller group in a way that was hopeful, forward looking, and inspirational. There were maybe about forty people gathered. I guess because our University was one of the bigger sponsors, though, we got to sit right at the table with Jim. But to be honest, I didn't feel compelled to engage him much. I let others do that instead. Besides, I can't hear a bless-ed thing when I'm in a room full of people talking like that. I'm afraid I've got my Mama's hearing ability (or lack of it).

So, I think this is it for me now. I need to start trying to get something down more often. I'll try and do better. A little busy these days.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Christian Century, Postmodernism, and a Dinner

How cool to discover that Susan Olson from Yale Divinity School wrote an article on blogging in the current issue of Christian Century in which she mentioned the RevGalBlogPal webring! Check it out here!

I've been drenched this past week in some great readings on postmodernism and the emergent church in preparation for our class tomorrow. (The class I'm teaching, not simply taking. Still a big celebration in my life.) One of the readings by Stanley Grenz says the following:
The advent of 'the screen'--whether the movie, the television, or the computer screen--epitomizes the postmodern blurring of the traditional contrast between the subjective self and the objective world. The screen is not merely an external object that we look at. What happens on the screen is neither wholly 'out there' (merely on the screen), nor wholly in us; rather, it seems to occur in some space between the two. The screen brings us into its world just as it enters into ours. As what happens on the screen becomes an extension of ourselves, we become an extension of it. The screen thus becomes an embodied form of our psychic worlds"
I kid you not--the moment I finished reading this paragraph on Saturday morning, Monk came into the living room and flopped on the couch next to me. He said, "Mom! I just noticed I wasn't playing, so I checked my stats and saw that I'm out for four to six weeks." He was talking about his Playstation hockey game in which he's created a player with his own name.

"Why are you out?" I ask him.

"I broke my leg!" he declared. Then hopped off the couch and headed back in to keep playing. I couldn't help but think of Playstation's slogan: "Live in your world. Play in ours."

That's a glimpse into postmodernism for you right there.

Finally, D and I are having dinner with Jim Wallis tonight. Thanks to srf who managed to get us an invite to the rather intimate affair. So what questions do you think I should ask him?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Simple Pleasures

This week's Friday Five with the RevGals is beautifully simple. Exactly what I needed to get myself back to the empty page here after a week away. My week has been phenomenally busy. Ironically enough, not a moment to spare to write about what turned out to be a beautiful service celebrating Sabbath-Rest last Sunday! So, without further ado, here are five things I enjoyed this past week:

1. Meeting the students I'll have in my course this semester. I'm so excited about the semester with them!

2. My little Monk kissed me goodnight last night, then said, "Mom, you're the prettiest girl I've ever known." I guess that means he's forgiven me for my hair cut.

3. Talking with my friend Amy about my old seminary. She's visiting there soon and I HOPE she chooses to attend there! In fact, take a minute to visit her blog and give her some encouragement as she enters that turbulent, exciting, nerve-wracking time of discerning her call!

4. Watching the Pittsburgh Steelers win last night. I'm not really a Steelers fan. I'm just so happy it's football season again.

5. Planning this Sunday's service. We're using the Mark 7 text where Jesus says, "Ephphatha!" meaning, "Be Opened!" And we're using sea anemones as our image on the bulletin (the picture included with this post). I'm going to put together a little slide show for the opening moments of worship featuring pictures of anemones, too. They're beautiful.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rock On, Monk!

First, let me say that I have settled on a blog name for my eight-year old son. I can't believe it took me this long to realize what it should be. I have been calling him by the nickname "Monk" since he was the tiniest boy. Part of it is simply short for Monkey. But the other part is that he came weekly to spiritual direction with me for the first ten months of his life. And he was the most peaceful, contemplative baby during those hour-long sessions that one could ever hope for. So, Monk it is. :)

So, Monk was in his second day of third grade yesterday. His teacher asked the kids to fill out a survey. One of the questions was focused on music: What songs would you like for the class to learn this year?

Here's Monk's answer, in order:

1. Clocks by Coldplay
2. Stadium Arcadium by Red Hot Chili Peppers
3. Another One Bites the Dust by Queen
4. Lithium by Nirvana
5. Vertigo by U2
6. Rebel Yell by Billy Idol

That's our boy!

The Gifts of Sabbath

We are planning a worship service for Sunday with the theme of rest or sabbath. I suppose it coincides intentionally with the Labor Day weekend holiday, but more than that it is what we hope might be the first in a number of worship services around this same theme.

The idea comes out of a pastoral recognition that many of the people in our congregation are overworked, overtired, overextended--too busy for our own good. When asked the other week at a meeting if folks had had a restful summer, there was great scoffing and harumphing. So much so, that I had the feeling if someone had experienced a restful summer, there would be a sense of shame in admitting so.

The service we've designed is intended to allow people to experience a sense of rest, a feeling of sabbath in the midst of worship. Its form is inspired by a Lessons & Carols service--with lots of singing interspersed with brief words and some silence. As we repeat these Sabbath Sundays (as I've taken to calling them), we will slowly and gently lengthen the silences as we learn to keep silence together without experiencing heightened anxiety.

This year ahead, our church is going to be engaging in some processes of and exploring questions around self-definition. I realized, as we prepared for this service, that the theme of Sabbath is intimately related to the questions of self-definition. We will not be able to ask the difficult questions, engage in difficult conversations without learning how to be still, how to give up what is not in our control, how to listen, how to hear God's still, small voice in our midst. These are the gifts of sabbath.

I am truly looking forward to Sunday's service. Already, I feel God's presence in it.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Daily Prayer

I have finally, after a six year hiatus, managed to find a spiritual director and started meeting with her once a month. We've met two times now and I am really grateful to have this be a part of my life's rhythm again.

One of the things my spiritual director has suggested is that I establish a morning ritual: nothing elaborate or time consuming, just a way of taking notice first thing in the day of God's presence in my life and world. She suggested it ought to be tied to something that I do anyway--like brushing my teeth, turning on a light, starting the coffee maker. It would be just a simple phrase, "Holy One, illumine my day," as I turn on the light in the morning.

I haven't actually done this, yet. But I have more recently been setting aside a brief time each morning to center myself in prayer--a daily practice I used to keep, but haven't for too many years now. (Days turn into weeks turn into months turn into years.)

What has shaped my time most of all is this new site I found via Sacred Space. It is called Pray as You Go. The site provides daily mp3 files to download to your ipod or other device (I simply listen to them from my laptop) which guides you through a ten-twelve minute time of meditation using music, Scripture, and gentle questions. I like being able to start the file and simply close my eyes and let myself be led gently through the meditation. Here is today's: August 31, 2006. (You need a broadband internet connection. Also, be warned, the file will start playing aloud almost immediately.)

We've also done this together as a family a couple times this past week. It's really something seeing my eight-year old son sitting with his palms open, imitating his mama's prayer posture.

The site also includes mp3's for the examin, based on Ignatian spirituality: an eight minute meditation to be entered into each evening which helps you to notice where God has been inviting you each day. Here it is. And mp3's for body prayer and breathing meditations (neither of which have I tried yet, but intend to).

Pray as You Go is put together by Jesuit Media Initiatives and comes out of Britain. If you're looking for a way to enter into daily prayer, I highly recommend the site.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Small World

Years ago when I was contemplating a masters in English, shortly after graduating college, I read the most deliciously satirical book Small World by David Lodge. It's subtitled An Academic Romance. A sequel of sorts to Lodge's book Changing Places, in Small World we enter the small, too-often petty, occasionally blustery, esoteric, and pretentious world of academic conferences. Reading the book cured me of my wayward desires for an advanced degree in literary criticism!

Well, today I registered for my first-ever academic conference in a field from which I wasn't rescued in time! I'll be attending the American Academy of Religion / Society for Biblical Literature conference in Washington, DC this coming November. (See some program highlights here.) To their credit, AAR/SBL has a fantastic student rate (ony $70) for the entire conference. This lured me in. Unfortunately I checked the flights after that. [gulp]

I truly am excited for the opportunity to go this year, though. And I plan to finally fly Jet Blue for the first time. Woohoo!

In other news, tomorrow is E's last day of summer. I am so sad! D and I are taking the day off from work and promised to spend the day however E wanted. He chose a Star Wars marathon--watching all six Star Wars movies (1-6; not 4-6, 1-3) in one day. So our alarms are set for 6:30 a.m. with a 7:00 a.m. showtime!

From the Peanut Gallery

This past Friday night at dinner, I told my family that I was trying to create a blessing ritual for the kids in our congregation who are going back to school this week. I told E, my intrepid eight-year-old, that I wanted to give them each something that they could stick in their pockets and keep with them to remind them that their church had blessed them. E didn't miss a beat: "How 'bout fifteen bucks?"

Friday, August 25, 2006

Back to School Friday Five

I can hardly believe the summer is nearly over. I love the start of school. But I am always soooo sad to let my boy go back. It feels like giving birth all over again, having to let him go a little bit more each year.

The RevGal's Friday Five is a Back to School theme today. And I just couldn't resist the fun!

1. What is your earliest memory of school?

I think my earliest memory of school is my deep longing to go to school! I am three years younger than my brother--and when he headed off to school it just broke my heart. I couldn't bear not to be there yet--to have those big fat red pencils and equally rotund crayons, the smell of chalk or freshly washed blackboards, the glossy pages of reading books. Oh, how I longed to be there.

I think this must be why at 37 I'm still in school.

2. Who was a favorite teacher in your early education?

Mrs. DeMosk, my third grade teacher! As I remember her, she was like a willow tree--thin, welcoming, beautiful, comforting, peaceful. I used to try and get in trouble just so I would have to go back to the classroom after lunch while the rest of the class was outside at recess.

3. What do you remember about school “back then” that is different from what you know about schools now?

We always had to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance with our hands over our hearts, then sing a patriotic song like My Country Tis of Thee or Grand Old Flag (which was my favorite). My son has never had to engage in these activities, but I don't know if that's common across the country or just the case in our historically liberal city.

4. Did you have to memorize in school? If so, share a poem or song you learned.

She's a grand old flag, she's a high flying flag
and forever in peace may she wave!
She's the emblem of the land I love
the home of the free and the brave!
Every heart beats true for the red, white and blue
where there's never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
Keep your eye on that grand old flag!

Wow. How's that for indoctrination?

5. Did you ever get in trouble at school? Were there any embarrassing moments you can share?

I was pretty good at not getting caught, is the thing. So all my classmates thought I was a goody-two-shoes. But my junior year in high school was probably the worst. My dad used to drop me off at school in the morning. I'd walk in the side door, turn into the stairwell, then walk out the door under the stairs. By that time Dad would be pulling out of the lot. Then I'd walk home. (I think I've confessed that to my Mom already. If not, boy am I in trouble now.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Alas, Pluto, I hardly knew thee...

Snow White and the Eight Dwarves?

New Me!

Thank you for all the wonderful, warm wishes as I took the plunge and got my hair chopped off today! And I'm especially grateful to my dear friend SRF who accompanied me to the appointment and cheered me on! :)

I think I like it. Though I feel lightheaded. :)

The place was sooooo much nicer than anywhere I've ever been. And the woman who cut my hair clearly had skills that have never been taught to the SuperCuts places.

It's a whole new thing, now. I even bought a little jar of wax to make it a bit spiky.

So, without further ado--the new me:

Monday, August 21, 2006

Changing Things Up

I've made a hair appointment for this Thursday at 3. The picture in my profile, here on this page, was taken about a year and a half ago, relatively soon after the last time I got my haircut--which would be January 2005 if you must know.

I've been tired of my long, straight locks for a while now. And admiring my friend SpiritMist's more fashionable look. I've also been toying with the idea of getting more of my hair chopped off than ever before. Just for something completely different. Too much of the same thing is too much of the same thing. So SpiritMist has been kind enough to give me her hair stylist's info. And I screwed up my courage to make my appointment.

I had to undergo the rather painful process of getting my photo taken this morning for a publication of my Graduate School. (The picture is used to announce the fellowship SRF and I were awarded to teach a course we designed.) The little photo session left me feeling like my hair has gotten too long and droopy again. Time to change things up.

It's exciting to think about a new hairstyle. But I hate the accompanying self-awareness. I can never figure out what the heck my face shape is. And I find myself, at times like this, fretting about appearance way more than I wish to. At the same time, I'm trying to happily embrace the fact that I am body as well as mind/spirit--and attention to one's body is a a good thing.

Anyway, here's one of the photos taken from today. This can be the 'before' pic. :)

Edited to add: I'm thinking of trying something like hairstyle 3 on this site: Virtual Hairstyles. (Not the color, though.) That would be shorter than anything I've ever had before. I'm planning on throwing myself on the mercy of the person who cuts it. We shall see...

Monday, August 14, 2006

How Can You Worship at a Time Like This?!

Last Thursday, as news was breaking about the latest foiled terrorist plot, I was sitting at home planning Sunday's worship service. It was difficult to do because I had no idea what the world would be like come Sunday. The news accounts made it sound as if a terrorist attack was still imminent. Anxieties were increasing again around the world and in this country particularly.

I also didn't know how people in our congregation would be feeling. In some ways, the foiled plot was something to celebrate. Untold thousands of lives were saved as a result of the investigative work by British intelligence. On the other hand, it was sobering to know how close we were to another catastrophe that would rival and surpass the events of September 11. As we are approaching the five-year anniversary of that horrific day, it sounds like there were some malicious people who were planning on marking the event by causing more carnage. This is so utterly heartbreaking, when we really let it sink in, that I can hardly bear it.

It turned out that we were hosting a guest preacher on Sunday who is somewhat of an expert on the Middle East, particularly between Israel and the Palestinians. So the subject of worship that day was already heavy. In some ways, it suited the events of the week.

So for this week, I planned a service that embraced lament as one faithful response to the pain and suffering in our world. I found a lament on the World Council of Churches website (from a worship service designed to launch their Decade to Overcome Violence) and I modified it slightly. The lament alternated between a musical piece and spoken word. A young woman from our congregation played a Scottish aria on a violin for the musical lament. It was heartwrenchingly beautiful. For the spoken word parts, I had three different people read their pieces while seated in the congregation. I told them when we rehearsed it that I wanted the voices to come from the congregation--not spoken by leaders toward the gathered people, but spoken to God from amidst the people. The lament concluded with the congregation also speaking words of lament.

I truly believe that gathering in worship together is one of the most faithful responses we can have to events such as we faced last week. Opening ourselves to the healing presence of God at the times of our greatest vulnerability can truly transform this world. God longs for our reconciliation, for a whole cosmos, for the end of strife and terror and abuse.

It was an eye-opener for me a year or two ago when I read this simple sentence in the Book of Common Worship: "We pray for the world because God loves it." It goes on to say:
God created the world and cares for it. God sent Jesus, who died for it. God is working to lead the world toward the future God has for it. To abide in God's love is to share God's concern for the world. Our prayers should therefore be as wide as God's love and as specific as God's tender compassion for the least ones among us.
This is a beautiful theology. We pray for the world because God loves it. We don't pray for the world because it is hopeless, a lost cause, beyond redemption. We pray because God so deeply loves the world, because our concerns become God's concerns.

It is at such a time as this, when we face the bleakest realities of life, that worship truly becomes three dimensional. It stands out in relief as a truly faithful, hopeful, prophetic response to desperate, hateful, and threatening times.

Sculpture "Broken Earth" by Roberta Shefrin.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Many years ago, shortly after D and I were married, I used to get furious, inconsolable even, if I screwed up dinner in some irreparable way. Too much work would go into it for me to take it well if something went terribly wrong. Or if it came out horrible for some unknown reason. But my anger about messing up always made the rest of the evening much worse than it needed to be.

At the time, Taco Bell had these advertisements where they would just ring a bell--bing! We ended up making this our escape plan--if dinner ever went so wrong that it seemed unrecoverable, there was no need to get upset at all. I could simply declare 'bing!' and the meal would be tossed, forgotten, and we'd head out to Taco Bell guilt free.

Having the escape plan was brilliant. Since I always knew it was an option, I never ended up worrying about messing up anymore. And, in fact, I think in about thirteen years I've only had to resort to the escape plan twice. One of them right now...

D is off picking up a pizza (we still say 'bing!' but we don't go to Taco Bell anymore). The plan was salmon for dinner tonight, a spinach casserole, and mushroom risotto. Well, the spinach casserole turned out looking gross. (I'll eat it happily for lunch over the next couple days, but I knew it would be asking way too much of my boys here.) I completely forgot about cooking the risotto. And when I took the salmon out of the fridge it smelled nasty.

Funny thing is, E and I had walked over to pick out some fantastic desserts from a local gourmet market. I thought that would pair beautifully with the lovely meal I'd planned. :) So now we're indulging on all fronts! The best pizza in town, and the following three desserts: E will have cheesecake, D will have chocolate mousse torte, and I will be having a chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake. Everything's coming up roses. :)

I still want to write about today's worship--especially now that it's happened. Plus this afternoon the three of us led the worship service at the chapel of the nearby retirement home. That was a great experience. I had E (who's about to enter third grade) read the scripture that I'd preached on a few weeks ago. He did an amazing job. The residents actually applauded him after he finished reading. How sweet is that?

Finally, I'll share this fun little tidbit from E. I was lamenting that as we stood in line at the gourmet market, a man reached through the line and took the last smoked mozzarella I'd planned to take as soon as I reached that point in the line. E said to me, "Mom, you should be grateful for what God gives you."

"You're right, E. Thank you. It's good to be reminded of that."

"Then take your revenge on the one who God gives what you wanted."

My boy.

PS How do get the smell of fish off your hands????

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Animal House

My apologies for not writing more consistently lately. Part of it was discipline--making sure I'm putting in the time studying that I need to do, rather than spending time here. But after getting away from writing regularly, it gets difficult to get back to it. I start feeling like I need to have something to say before I write. And nothing can make a blank page more daunting than feeling like you have to have something to say.

So today I am just going to write anything--rather than writing about something. See?

So I believe I mentioned earlier that we've been letting our cat go out into the world at nights. Part of this is because we live on a safe enough and quiet enough street to make it possible. But another motivation is the fact that our cat cannot bear to be locked out of our bedroom at night--so he goes on rounds every hour or so, all night long, yowling and meowing, and scratching at our door. We've given in sometimes, but then he pounces and chews computer wires and looks for other mischevous things to get into, driving us absolutely bonkers. We finally gave up on letting him into the bedroom at night when he started climbing up to the windowsill directly above our heads then launching himself from there onto my body. Not once, or twice, but numerous times in one night. Aaaahhhhh!!!!

Letting him out at night became our ingenious way of solving this issue. Let the cat embrace his wild side and explore the world all night.

This was brilliant of us. For the first three nights. Now, however, Felix still gets overcome by loneliness every morning around six--sometimes earlier. And he starts into his yowling, as if into a megaphone, directly below our bedroom window. This morning, on Saturday mind you, D and I were up at 5:45.

At around 6:15 this morning we heard one of our neighborhood regulars out in the park across the street. He was walking his dog, as he does each morning at that time. It's a tiny dog and the guy doesn't put a leash on him. The dog runs like mad all over the park, while the guy whistles and calls and cajoles and whistles and calls and . . . D and I marvelled at the early morning antics today. What we choose to put ourselves through in order to live with these animals in our lives!

Felix is sound asleep beside me as I write this. He sleeps all day now, like a surly teenager.

We're off very soon to head to church. I got some stuff to put in the fountain, called FountainClear--an all natural, animal-safe additive that will help keep the water clear. Then I want to set up the sanctuary for tomorrow's worship service. I have a lot of people participating in worship leadership and I want to make sure everything is ready before we get there tomorrow morning.

I'll write more about the worship service later. Good to be back.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

3 Down; 3 to Go!

A million thanks to everyone who offered some prayers on my behalf. I have to say, I felt the effects of them amazingly. After a weekend that was much more humane and calm (and even relaxing!) than I thought possible, I took my exam on Monday afternoon and felt great about. This is a huge step for me--the first exam I had to sit for in my field (rather than a paper, or the systematics exam I took last April). Just to have it over and done with is huge. Just to see it's possible makes all the difference.

Yesterday I took the day off. And today I hope to get started studying for the next one (in Ritual Studies). I'm excited about the questions for that exam, and I look forward to diving in.

In other news, we've been letting our cat go outside at night the past few nights. This is a new thing for Felix, who has always been an indoor cat. But now we live in a neighborhood with very little traffic, and on a street that has two speed bumps on either side of our house. It seems like a very safe area for Felix, so we've been giving this new thing a try. The first couple times, I worried about him--would he even come home??? Would he get lost??? But this morning when we opened the door around 7:30, within about a half-hour he came trotting in through it (covered in cobwebs)! :) He seems so very happy with his new life.

Well, this is a newsy little entry, but I guess that's where I am right now. Just wanted to give you a little update. I'll have more important things to say another time. [cat situating himself across my arms, lap, and part of the computer as I type this...]

Friday, August 04, 2006

Prayer Request

For those of you who do such things, would you mind saying some prayers on my behalf? I'm scheduled to take my next comprehensive exam on Monday afternoon (12-4) and am in the last few days of a big push in reading and studying.

Please pray for energy, calm, presence of mind, interest in the material, and a sharp mind. Also prayers for my family as they try especially hard to give me some extra space over the next 72 hours or so.

I think I'll 'go dark' here until the exam is done. Trying to put blinders on and concentrate on the work.


Monday, July 31, 2006

Filling Whose Shoes?

I read a little while ago an inspired bit of reflection from Katherine over at Any Day a Beautiful Change in which she considered how far she is from fitting the typical pastoral profile. As she often does, Katherine struck a chord in me. When I realized that any comment I would write in response to her latest post would end up being rather lengthy, I thought I'd take the space here instead. My reflections are not in any way an "answer" to Katherine's reflections. They are merely my own thoughts sparked by her words. Before reading this post, I highly recommend you read hers.

The notion of fitting a professional profile or filling a role has interested me for some time. Maybe any woman who has at least gotten as far as considering a position as a pastor of a church has to face these issues head on at some point. Yesterday, after preaching at my church (something I do maybe three times a year as a lay person with a church staff position), I got into a conversation with a woman who is about 65 years old or so. She told me that a granddaughter had been born in their family lately, the first girl in seven years or so. I smiled and mentioned that I was the first girl born on my father's side of the family in 96 years! Her immediate response: "And now you're doing a job that men usually do!" She's right in a way.

One of the reasons it's been so scandalous for women to become preachers is that it's essentially perceived to be a gender-bending activity. In the nineteenth century, this was very much the perception. A woman who wanted to preach was often perceived to be mentally ill--the equivalent to many folks' unfortunate reaction to cross-dressers today. This view, tragically, is not locked into the nineteenth century. I remember encountering a website this past year where someone argued directly from this perspective, equating women preachers to transvestites.

I think my dear friend SRF would suggest that women preachers queer the pastoral role in a way that breaks the role open to God's kin-dom here and now. It disrupts the usual expectations in a way that lets grace seep through the cracks.

But 'taking on a role' is not only about being a pastor. bell hooks reflects on this subject briefly in her book Teaching to Transgress. She remarks:

I feel the way I teach has been fundamentally structured by the fact that I never wanted to be an academic, so that I never had a fantasy of myself as a professor already worked out in my imagination before I entered the classroom. I think that's been meaningful, because it's freed me up to feel that the professor is something I become as opposed to a kind of identity that's already structured and that I carry with me into the classroom.

Like being a pastor, being a professor certainly has a sense of filling a preconceived role rather than something we become, gradually, in our own way, over time. The feeling is akin to the sense that one has 'big shoes to fill.' The roles come complete with costumes--whether it's a stole, a robe, or an alb. Or a Volvo stationwagon, flowing linen dresses, and cropped hair. The roles come complete with certain languages one is supposed to be fluent in (not just Hebrew but pastor-speak or professor-speak), or a demeanor one is supposed to assume.

While we bring our own assumptions to these roles, we are also shaped by the way others expect us to be, too. So my students have a certain idea of what it means for me to be a professor--and I am shaped by those expectations. Even if I am not those things, even if I don't meet their expectations they still shape me.

In seminary one of my colleagues refused to do the usual Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) units during the summer months between her first and second year in school. Instead she took her whole middler year to do CPE, with the hours spread over the course of two semesters rather than over three months. She told me why she chose to do it that way: "The CPE model is still really heavily influenced by the young, single male seminarian--someone who doesn't have a family to care for, or a home to help shape in any significant way. I refuse to work myself to the bone over the summer--and not have any time or energy for my partner. I need the summer to be more restful so my relationships can be sustained in a healthy way."

My friend was perceptive enough to see what had long-shaped the role that she would be assuming. And she knew that it would not be healthful for her to step into such a pre-formed, rigid model. She needed to do something new, something that made sense for her life.

But others' expectations of how you fill a role are not necessarily a bad thing. While I was in seminary, I read Hillary Rodham Clinton's book Living History. She reflects honestly about her struggles with being First Lady--never seeming to meet people's expectations of her. Her role was so public, that any "mistake" she made brought wave after wave of criticism and negative press. At some point, though, she met with someone who helped her to understand what she was experiencing in a new way. (I'll be darned if I can find the quote in the book, so I'm just re-creating this from memory.) Her friend explained to her that the position of First Lady is a symbolic one. (Now is a good time to remember that it's never useful to say, "It's just a symbol" as if a symbol doesn't carry huge import and life-changing consequences.) Clinton realized that the symbolic role of First Lady carried a vast amount of possibility with it--that one couldn't re-create the role without experiencing huge repercussions. When she realized she could live into the role with the full knowledge that it is a symbol, then she learned how to navigate her world effectively and powerfully.

The role of a pastor and a professor are similarly symbolic roles. They carry a weight and an import that have nothing to do with us. This is not to say we cannot be ourselves when we're in these roles. But it is to say we will never be only ourselves.

It is a delicate and a difficult balance. There are expectations assigned to these roles which are not life-giving, to the one living them out as well as to those who are in relationship with that role. There are expectations which simply have to change--and the sooner the better. We have to make ourselves aware of how these roles are shaped by patriarchy, hierarchy and even consumerism. But there are expectations which will also empower, need to be lived into (not like too-large shoes, but like a sunflower grows toward the light). Who we are will bend to these things and change us in ways we don't expect. And we'll stay the same, too, in ways we don't expect.

Now I have to get back to studying for my exam. So I can become a professor someday...