Friday, August 31, 2007

Gratitude Adjustment

Some things I've been dealing with recently:
*Long work hours
*the reality of being a single mom most of the week and alone the rest of the week
*the occasionally soul-deadening nature of my mostly administrative job
*my brilliant but somewhat crazy boss and her super-frenetic energy
*lousy plumbing
*a sick cat
*a dog shedding approximately three tons of hair per day
*old tax issues
*internet issues at home (as in, not connecting)
*money (as in, not enough of it)
*a deeply depressed friend who needs me at a time when I'm feeling I don't have much to give
*some distance from my congregation which is almost my only community outside of work and family and so feels particularly poignant to me ...

What I want to focus on:
*that I have a wonderful, wacky little son who is the love of my life
*that I have a job which puts me in touch with interesting people -- like the Buddhist woman I met yesterday who started a Zen Center for Women here in the mountains and brought a bottle of champagne to our place of work which we shared with her in honor of her birthday (which she couldn't drink in her community because of the no-alcohol rule)
*that my boss is phasing out her work and if I can hang in for four more months, I'll be the boss
*that I live in a gorgeous part of the country
*that I live near my mom who is one of my favorite people on earth
*that on lonely nights I have a very funny friend who is only a phone call away
*that I am mostly healthy most of the time
*that several old friends have contacted me via internet recently
*that I have a home and a car and a laptop and a comfortable bed and an iPod and a fridge full of food (when I remember to go to the grocery store)
*that I finally frigging figured out how to do bold and italics on my blog!

If the only prayer you ever say in your life is "Thank You," that would suffice. -- Meister Eckhart

Forever or today. It is enough.

"Psalm" by Stuart Kestenbaum

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn't forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me even a minute entering
the House would be good enough for me,
even a hand on the door or dropping today's
newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows
that are reflecting this morning's clouds in first light.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A little Catholic humor.

You can kiss a nun once.
You can kiss a nun twice.
But you'd better not get into the habit.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ramblings on worship, denominations and such, part 3

So, if you've been following these ramblings you know that I am deeply rooted in the Presbyterian church with extended forays into Quaker and Episcopal congregations. From the Quakers I gained deep appreciation of silence and trusting in that of God in all people (though certain members of our current administration strain this belief to the breaking point) and the calls to simplicity and peace as a way of life for all followers of Christ. From Episcopalians I gained deep appreciation of the liturgical traditions and the centrality of the eucharist to Christian spirituality. All the traditions I lean towards have great respect for human intellect and are friendly toward the sciences.

So why, now, in middle age, am I hanging out with a bunch of Southern Baptists? Good, good question.

It's certainly not because I've suddenly gone anti-intellect or developed a disturbing case of fundamentitis. It's not because of their liturgy or their silence, that's for sure, cause there ain't much of either of those happening! It's for one simple reason: community.

When I came into a new town last year, in the midst of an uncertain career change and, it turned out, a marital implosion, I worshiped in a few places. This being the South, it was easy to figure out which churches would share my general social views, since they were in the minority. Theologically I am open and ecclesiastically I am interested in new ways of being church. So when I discovered (online) a church that was trying to do something new, that had a deeply ecological orientation and a great world band, I knew I had to try it. I went to this new church for several months. They had a "wailing wall" where people were invited to wander during worship and, given my life circumstances, I did. Week after week, at some point in the service, I would run off to cry at this little prayer alcove. I was glad it was there.

I loved the band. I enjoyed the preacher -- a jazz musician who wove music and poetry and dance and drama into each service with skill and grace. The congregation was hipper than any I'd ever been part of. I mean, if you were going to be in church on Sunday morning, this was the happening place to be.

But as my marriage disintegrated, I knew it wasn't my church. So he got the church in the separation and I went off in search of mine. My next stop was one I had heard recommended by a colleague in DC. So I checked it out. And I stayed. A little bunch of renegade Baptists, worshiping on Sunday afternoons in an Episcopal fellowship hall, in a circle of folding chairs, singing along to a guitar and sharing a potluck dinner every week. Nothing flashy there. But good folks, trying to live the gospel. A house church that turned 5 years old about a month after I started worshiping there, it had outgrown houses within a few weeks of its birth. Now it is outgrowing the fellowship hall where we meet and looking for new space to rent. We don't aspire to be home-owners in this congregation. Who needs the headache? We just need a big enough, flexible enough space that we can gather in a circle, sing our Iona chants and old Baptist hymns, and then break up the circle for dinner.

It's an uneasy fit for me in some ways. I am so not Baptist. I like liturgy. I like a broader hymnody. I get a little restless with all the lay leadership -- especially as the quality of preaching varies greatly from week to week, since we let just about anyone who wants to have a turn at the pulpit. But here I am. Because I found a group of pilgrims who want to follow Jesus. When that means standing up alongside the Smithfield workers at the state's largest pork processing plant or being the first in town to speak out against the possibility of war with Iran or choosing to re-order our retirement portfolios to better reflect our gospel values. And when it means listening at length to the prayers of our community.

What is church for me? This is an evolving question. I suppose there is nowhere I would feel entirely at home. And maybe that is part of the human condition. We aren't entirely at home here. The God-itch inside of us is always calling. Each of us has just a little corner of the truth-cloth and we keep looking around to see where the rest of our quilt might be. So far, my quilt has quite a mixture of textures and colors. I keep looking for the pattern, but I'm not sure there is one here.

And that is just fine with me most days.

Time for more Mary Oliver


Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky -- as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Heap o' plumbin'

Having spent last night cleaning up shit from my bathroom floor, hallway, bathtub and, of course, toilet, when the plumbing backed up and burst out with vigorous mirth, I offer the following poem by Ogden Nash (with apologies to the poet and readers for the lousy formatting):

Lines to a World-Famous Poet Who Failed To Complete a World-Famous Poem; or, Come Clean, Mr. Guest!

Oft when I'm sitting without anything to read waiting for a train in a
I torment myself with the poet's dictum that to make a house a home,
livin' is what it takes a heap o'.
Now, I myself should very much enjoy makin' my house a home, but
my brain keeps on a-goin' clickety-click, clickety-click, clickety-click,
If Peter Piper picked a peck o' heap o' livin', what kind of a peck o' heap
o' livin' would Peter Piper pick?
Certainly a person doesn't need the brains of a Lincoln
To know that there are many kinds o' livin', just as there many kinds o'
dancin' or huntin' or fishin' or eatin' or drinkin'.
A philosophical poet should be specific
As well as prolific,
And I trust I am not being offensive
If I suggest that he should also be comprehensive.
You may if you like verify my next statement by sending a stamped, self-
addressed envelope to either Dean Inge or Dean Gauss,
But meanwhile I ask you to believe that it takes a heap of other things
besides a heap o' livin' to make a home out of a house.
To begin with, it takes a heap o' payin',
And you don't pay just the oncet, but agayin and agayin and agayin.
Buyin' a stock is called speculatin' and buyin' a house is called investin',
But the value of the stock or of the house fluctuates up and down,
generally down, just as an irresponsible Destiny may destine.
Something else that your house takes a heap o', whether the builder came
from Sicily or Erin,
Is repairin',
In addition to which, gentle reader, I am sorry to say you are little more
than an imbecile or a cretin
If you think it doesn't take a heap o' heatin',
And unless you're spiritually allied to the little Dutch boy who went
around inspectin' dikes lookin' for leaks to put his thumb in,
It takes a heap o' plumbin',
And if it's a house that you're hopin' to spend not just today but
tomorrow in,
It takes a heap o' borrowin'
In a word, Macushla,
There's a scad o' things that to make a house a home it takes not only a
heap, or a peck, but at least a bushela.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Total blog cattiness

OK, this is completely unnecessary cattiness, but I just stopped by a blog I rarely visit any more, though it was among the first blogs I discovered. Back when I discovered it, it was mostly an emergent church blog. Then the blogger went offline for a while and came back with an all-new blog. The reason I rarely visit is that I just don't find it interesting any more. Now here's the catty part. This particular blogger takes lots of photos and posts them. Of herself. Herself alone. Herself and her hubby. Herself and her kids. Herself and her friends. Rarely of those people by themselves. No, with her. So, her face is almost always at the top of her blog and I don't mean in one of those cute little side photos. Now, I once put a photo of my face on my blog, but almost immediately regretted it (I didn't take it down for historical purposes -- it was my first post ever). And I love it when my blog buds put up the occasional special event photo where they are included.

But this constant self-photo thing. Is it just me or is that a little weird?

(p.s. Yes, I will get back to worship theme eventually ...)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ramblings on worship, denominations and such, part 2

I noted below that I've served as a pastor for 13 of the 17 years I've been ordained. The off years have given me a chance to visit lots of churches and worship in many traditions. One year my then-hubby and I took time to do volunteer mission work -- including a couple of months with homeless families in rural Maryland, 3 weeks with homeless cows in Russia, and the rest of the year as house-parents for ex-offenders. Lots of worship opportunities over that year -- gorgeous Orthodox singing in candlelit churches with floor to ceiling icons, old ladies prostrating themselves repeatedly in prayer all around us; twelve-step meetings; outdoor services with homeless children and various dogs and cats wandering in and out of the circle; and months of masses at the progressive urban Catholic parish where then-hubby was then-worshiping.

This latter church was the sponsor of the ex-offender ministry where we were living, so we chaffeured the guys back and forth to masses whenever they wanted and every Sunday. When I first started worshiping there, the iconoclast in me refused to genuflect or cross myself or say what I felt was a horrible line in the mass: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Somehow, it struck me as that wormish theology aimed at keeping the masses bowed down low beneath the Pope and other Truly Holy People.

Over time, I came to love that line most of all: "only say the word and I shall be healed." I loved that we said it circled around the table, squeezed onto the altar, singing together, hugging our way through the peace, looking around at faces as diverse as one might hope for in the kin-dom of God. Old, young, many-colored, gay, straight, homeless, known criminals, local politicians, affluent business owners, questioning youth. None of us worthy. All of us worthy. All of us standing in the need of healing and hope, holding out our hands for the body and blood. I also found myself loving that my body was invited into worship: I genuflected, I knelt, I crossed myself repeatedly, I raised my hands for the Lord's prayer. Sometimes I have to stop myself from doing those things now in places where they would be suspect.

[Later, that whole congregation got ex-communicated. After years of slaps on the wrist from the loving and liberal bishop-- for the women who served on the altar, for the glbt ministries, for the open ecumenism--it finally came down from on high that they needed to shape up. The issue that finally did them in? Open communion. They had the gaul to serve the precious body and blood of Jesus to (gasp!) non-Catholics. (In fact, as an ordained woman, I co-officiated at the mass at that church.) Who was the one to finally call it quits on the church? None other than our beloved Benny, back when he was still the Ratz. But I digress ... ]

My roots among the Presbyterians are deep. I love my church. I love that my own Dad laid hands on me to ordain me to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the very church where I had been baptized and confirmed and where I had listened to him preach about 2000 sermons. I loved going to the World Mission Conference as a child and later the Youth Conference and the Youth Triennium and our General Assembly as a Youth Delegate and then as General Assembly staff and later still as a seminary assistant to the Stated Clerk. I loved knowing our missionaries from around the world and visiting my own brother doing mission work in Haiti when I was a teen. I love my church.

And, given a Sunday not leading worship, I never attend a Presbyterian church. Really. One of the other years I wasn't serving a church, I was working on Presbytery staff (that's like a Diocese, for the uninitiated). Some weeks I preached at our regional churches and other weeks, I felt obligated to visit various of them. That lasted about 3 months. Then I couldn't take it any more. "The church isn't dying of liberalism or conservatism!" I would whine loudly to anyone who would listen, "The church is dying of boredom!"

Honestly, Presbyterians can be dull as dirt. I hate to say it, but it is true. And let me say this as clearly as I can: there is no greater sin than to take the Gospel of our Lord and Savior and make it BORING! I mean, really, how does one accomplish that? Jesus in not boring! Grace is not boring! The eucharist is not boring! People, please!

So I found an Episcopal church and hung out there for the rest of that year. Then I went back to a preaching gig.

Two and a half years ago I left my last called position. I needed a break. I needed to re-group. I wondered what else might be in store for me. I thought I could figure all that out in 6 months to a year. Still wondering. In the meantime, I have done lots of supply preaching, some church consulting, and non-church work of various sorts. Still, unless I'm working there, I don't go Presbyterian. My first Sunday off after leaving my last church was World Communion Sunday. I knew I wanted to be among the Presbyterians for that one. So I went to a friend's church. He's a great preacher. And everyone leading the service was old and white, as was all the music. On World Communion Sunday. In one of the most diverse cities on the planet. Heaven help us.

So my general rule on non-working Sundays was either Quakers, where at least I'll get some silence and I won't have to endure a boring sermon or Episcopalians, where at least I'll get the liturgy and the eucharist, even if the sermon is boring. For more than a year in DC this is what I did: the Quaker meeting where my hub and son attended or the neighborhood Episcopal church, generally alternating between the two.

Then I moved and needed to establish myself and my family in a congregation of my very own choosing. To be continued ...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ramblings on worship, denominations and such, part 1

My son is returning home this afternoon from eleven days of vacation with his dad. That's the longest I've ever been apart from him and I can't wait to see him home. But the timing means that I'll be missing church since my congregation of choice meets at 5:30 p.m. So I did this morning what I do whenever I'm in need of a random worship service: I went Episcopal.

Today I opted for the Cathedral. Built in the 1890s by George Vanderbilt to accompany the Biltmore Estate, which is across the road, it is a little architectural gem. (Yes, little, though the Cathedral). I had been told the Dean was model material and sure enough, there he stood: tall, thin, with his thick, wavy, salt and pepper hair, looking like he could have stepped out of the pages of an Eddie Bauer catalogue (except for the silly white dress he was wearing). His sermon was passable, in spite of him starting with a long baseball story (is there anything more boring?) and in spite of the fact that the man was full of nervous energy and never stopped moving around in the pulpit, which made him a bit dizzying to watch. It was also too long, because he decided that today's text on Abraham was not enough information and we really needed to follow Abe all the way from the land of Ur to the near sacrifice of Isaac. (He didn't preach on this week's gospel). Still, his basic point was moving and reminded me of a lovely post by Kirstin.

I came home pondering what makes church work for me. This is something I ponder quite regularly and something I thought about incessantly when I was serving as a pastor, which has been about 13 of the 17 years I've been ordained. I could say that I love a good sermon, and that would be true, but I also loved the years I spent attending silent Meetings for Worship among the Friends.

I could say that I love good music, and that would also be true, but my tastes are so eclectic that I tend to get bored with the music at any one congregation. For example, the place I now attend, a small, very informal church, has a wonderful lead musician, who plays guitar and writes much of what we sing. We also do a fair amount of Iona and Taize music, and some good old Baptist hymns and some good old protest hymns and spirituals like, "Down By the Riverside." We have a guy who plays the djembe and a young Down syndrome man who plays another drum and a various musicians who join on other instruments from week to week: clarinet, cello, banjo, piano, flute, fiddle. The congregation likes to sing and we often have beautiful a capella singing with lovely harmonies.

But today it felt like a relief to sing traditional hymns accompanied by a wonderful organist on what seems to be (I know little of these things) a terrific pipe organ. What could be better than a grand opening hymn, organ booming, choir soaring, singing these words to the tune of Truro?

Redeemer, come! I open wide
my heart to Thee; here. Lord, abide.
Let me Thy inner presence feel;
Thy grace and love in me reveal.

(They had Wonder, Love and Praise in the pews, which we used only for the Sanctus this morning and I'm guessing it doesn't get used all that much there.)

So, Episcopalians. That's where I like to go on random days. I love the words of the Book of Common Prayer, though I do get tired of the male language. (My little congregation is adamantly gender-free in references to God and humanity. But Jesus, being both, is still allowed to be male.) I went to my neighborhood Episcopal church on Ash Wednesday and had high hopes because it was a) nearby and b) rumored to be progressive. It was both those things, but it was also very low church.

Here's the thing. If I want low church, there are a hundred denominations I can attend. When I go to an Episcopal service I want liturgy. Give me a little smells and bells, cause I'm not getting that with my Baptist buddies. Present the eucharist with dignity, cause that's what you folks do. If I want "chat and chew with Jesus" I can get that elsewhere.

Of course, I also like a church to be reasonably child-friendly and I don't want dignity to roll over into snobbery. If I come dressed in less than my best, I still want to feel at home. If I forget to genuflect or whether "Praise to you" or "Glory to you" comes before or after the gospel reading, I don't want to be made to feel foolish. But I've been to several Episcopal churches that have found just the right balance: good liturgy, warmth, a welcoming spirit, and a eucharist that makes me remember I am in the presence of Holiness.

Today's thoughts. To be continued.


Saw this sweet little heartbreak of a movie last night. All about music, lost loves, seeking something new, taking risks. Recommended.

(Had to be somewhere with air conditioning. Still hot as hell here in the mountains, where the altitude usually keeps us cool, but not this week.)

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I just finished Book Six of Harry Potter. The young 'un returns from vacation with his Dad tomorrow, with his new (birthday present) Book Seven in hand and, according to this morning's phone call, ready to start reading it. So I stayed home today and finished The Half-Blood Prince. NO, NO, NO! I don't like the ending at all. No wonder everyone has been waiting so desperately for The Deathly Hallows.

But no spoilers here. I can't tell you how grateful I am to have avoided spoilers so far. Everyone has been so polite about it. It almost gives me hope in humanity after all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Stealing Continues

Thanks to BlueGal for this one. If you don't know the original rap "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot, you may not fully appreciate this folk version. But listen anyway, in honor of all women with nice big booties to shake.

Because Eileen is a Bad Influence, One More ...

You're the City College of New York!

Emerging from an area of difficulty and hardship, you have risen
to be a leader and champion for diversity. Though you have egalitarian motives,
your surroundings are still derisive and often difficult. And while you claim to
be small, you're actually much larger than you seem. You speak several languages.
For inexplicable reasons, you love escalators.

Take the University Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Because I Can't Seem to Write a Real Post ...

You're Ireland!

Mystical and rain-soaked, you remain mysterious to many people, and this
makes you intriguing.  You also like a good night at the pub, though many are just as
worried that you will blow up the pub as drink your beverage of choice.  You're good
with words, remarkably lucky, and know and enjoy at least fifteen ways of eating a potato.
 You really don't like snakes.

Take the Country Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid

Friday, August 3, 2007

And For a Lighter Touch ...

This is the kind of humor my mom and I share. She gave me this one just after I separated from my ex. Think she was trying to tell me something?

Yeah, we're particularly fond of Bruce Eric Kaplan. And I just found out he was a co-producer of my all-time favorite TV show, "Six Feet Under."

(I need to figure out how to post the cartoons directly, but in the meantime, enjoy the links.)

Jail Time?

Watch this if you want some insight into the crux of the anti-abortion question.

Anna Quindlen has a great column in the current Newsweek based on this YouTube clip. She concludes: " ... there are only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can't countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can't have it both ways."

Amen, Anna.

Addendum: apparently, the embedding of this video has been disabled. If the link above no longer works, try to cut and paste this link: or google "Libertyville abortion protest."