Thursday, May 29, 2008

Worship and mission

All the quick notes
Mozart didn't have time to use
before he entered the cloud-boat

are falling now from the beaks
of the finches
that have gathered from the joyous summer

into the hard winter
and, like Mozart, they speak of nothing
but light and delight,

thought it is true, the heavy blades of the world
are still pounding underneath.
And this is what you can do too, maybe,

if you live simply and with a lyrical heart
in the cumbered neighborhoods or even,
as Mozart sometimes managed to, in a palace,

offering tune after tune after tune,
making some hard-hearted prince
prudent and kind, just by being happy.

--Mary Oliver

Wonderful Colleague and I always seem to come back around to the intersection of worship and mission, about how each prepares us for the other, about how we equip the people in our community for both, about how we tie it all together. What follows here is a result of what I've heard in public and private worship in the last few weeks, and I think it's a part of the answer to the question. We live out those things which reach into us. The things that we truly hear become a part of us. And, enlivened, we are moved to act on that which we know.

And so, when wondering what our mission will be, we should

Consider the finches.

They sing because they're happy.
They sing because they're free.
God's ear is bent toward finches, and
God hears you and me.

And so we, like the finches,
offer what we have—
the tonality of our selves,
all our bright and dark timbres,
that God's work may be done
by our grasping feet,
God's story told
by our warbling tongues.

And every ordinary breath,
every inspiration
become a love song
for and from a God
who is present
in every beat
of our fluttering hearts,
in every flap
of our tiny wings.

We sing because we're happy.
We sing because we're free.
God's ear is bent toward finches, and
God's hearing you and me.

"But I'm NOT feeling happy
you may say.
Some days are like that.
Storms come,
branches break,

loved ones get sick,
resentments work their poison,
grain is scarce,
and this world seems to know less peace
with each passing day.

God is present there, too.
Even when we forget to

Even when we're stuck in a dark place.
Even when we can't feel the nest
beneath us.

Consider the finches.
Sing anyway, if you can.
If you can't, listen for a while
to the rhythm of your heart.
Breathe in.

even if it begins as a wail;
new life often does.

Just sing because you're human,
and sing because you're free.
God's ear is bent toward finches, and
God hears you and me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The now and the not yet

There's a truly lovely offering at the Reflectionary: a mother's words to her son upon his college graduation. I encourage you to take a look--not to find a sweet love note (though you will) or a sermon (though you will find that, too). In her post, you will find the ingredients of both love and hope.

A while back, I blogged about the gift of being truly seen and valued as we are; Songbird's post is a stellar example of the fruits of that kind of love. The mother and the pastor truly come together in her words.

Because love is patient and kind. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. And wants to keep right on being born, whatever age we are. Love is a living presence which animates both the now and the not yet.

May it be so, in and for each and all of us.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Personal pentahedrons

As seen at Rev. Dr. Mom's place...

What were you doing five years ago?

  1. selling Birkenstocks by day in a local Birkie boutique
  2. living in a third-floor walkup with Beloved
  3. walking around our trendy-if-you're-middle-aged St. Paul neighborhood, probably heading for the Grand Old Creamery
  4. suffering at my church job
  5. singing in a different choir, but with some of the same people I sing with now
What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
  1. buy some annuals for the yard and window boxes
  2. check in at L.A. Weight Loss (glad we moved away from the Creamery!)
  3. call Sister of My Heart's youngest child, who graduated from high school yesterday
  4. flesh out the summer music schedule for church
  5. eat every meal on the deck, in the sunshine, with Beloved
What are five snacks you enjoy?
  1. chocolate
  2. tangy apples with peanut butter (who am I kidding--almost anything with peanut butter!)
  3. a slice of sesame semolina bread with real butter
  4. Cheez-its (if the PMS is particularly powerful, that is...)
  5. did I say chocolate?
What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
  1. fix public education, with special attention to the arts
  2. buy Beloved her very own Home Depot, a long trip around the world and a Honda CRV
  3. pay off our debt (and that of our loved ones) and invest a big chunk wisely in socially-responsible companies
  4. offer Kiva microloans to as many people as I could
  5. take the time to figure out the next phase of my vocational life, perhaps going to seminary, perhaps writing, perhaps buying myself a bookstore and not caring if it operates at a loss (because I'd want to offer a sliding scale for people who love books but can't really afford them), perhaps buying a lakeside cabin up north and just sitting in it for a year-long sabbatical (though I'd have the $$ to hire a chopper to get me back to town to direct my choirs)
What are five of your bad habits?
  1. over-committing myself; I'm interested in lots of things, lots of people, and have a long attention span!
  2. biting my nails (see #1)
  3. eating on the run, often in the car (see #1)
  4. losing papers (bills, planning notes, etc.)
  5. forgetting the church newspaper deadline (can't really explain it; it's the same time every month!)
What are five places where you have lived?
  1. Minneapolis, MN (in our first house!)
  2. St. Paul, MN (in a dorm room and a third-floor walkup)
  3. Bloomington, MN (in three different apartments)
  4. Winona, MN (in two dorms, a house and an apartment)
  5. Rockford, IL (where I was born and grew up)
What are five jobs you've had?
  1. baker of bagels (I had to start at 5 a.m.--yeesh. Though my time of day is NOT the dark time, unlike Sky Masterson, I made beautiful bagels)
  2. nanny (to a pair of twin toddlers and to two older kids)
  3. corporate trainer (in the fascinating world of group insurance)
  4. nearly lifelong church musician (surprise, surprise)
  5. I killed at McDonald's breakfast grill! (seriously--I could have won contests)
If you can read this, you are officially tagged. Blog it, e-mail it, write it in comments for this post, but come out and PLAY! Especially Peg, Cecilia, Catherine+, Jan and Closeted Lesbian, but ALL of you. Let's get to it, people! :-)

Ya don't tug on Superman's cape

and ya don't talk back to ol' Darth Vader. He'll getcha.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday five: the fallow season

1. Getting ready for summer, do you use the gradual tanning moisturizers, or are you happy to show your winter skin to the world?

I live in Minnesota. It's an identifying marker of Minnesotans of Scandinavian extraction to wear sunglasses in the early warm weather. This is not because of the sun, but in order to avoid being blinded by our pale skin as it sees the light of day for the first time in nine months. :-)

2. Beach, mountains or chilling by the pool, what/where is your favorite getaway?

Well, I'm always glad to spend time on the Choral Reef (ha ha ha). Again, a Minnesotan answer: Up Nort. Any lake will do, as long as the fuel has leaked out of all the JetSkis. (see answer 4)

3. Are you a summer lover or does the long break become wearing?

Yep. I love the slower pace, but sure will be missing my choirs in a couple of weeks! By the end of August, I'll have the choral equivalent of the DTs.

4. Active holidays; hiking swimming sailing, or lazy days?

Hammock. Book. Sssshhhhhhh.

5. Now to the important subject of food, if you are abroad do you try the local cuisine, or do you prefer to play it safe?

Depends on where I am. I'll try to find out what the area is famous for, and give that a try...unless it's...oh, say, braised octopus or chocolate-covered cockroaches or deep-fried pitcher plants with rum-raisin dipping sauce.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

American Idol: The Home Game

I had the exceptionally wonderful experience yesterday of attending the Festival of Homiletics. Got to hear brilliant addresses by Walter Brueggemann, Barbara Brown Taylor and Jim Wallis. And attended morning worship. Excellence all around; Carol Miles in the pulpit, Mark Sedio at the organ, Jearlyn Steele singing. My favorite moment was the very first, when this crowd of 2000 preachers lustily broke into the opening hymn. Because seating was at a premium, my friend B and I were sitting in the choir loft, facing the congregation. The first sung word of the hymn was like a giant trumpet blast. The sound of that many souls singing together...well, it's a foretaste of the feast to come, IMHO.

Carol Miles preached a truly wonderful sermon about a God who is with us in the painful dark, and about orienting ourselves by the cross. Afterward, Jearlyn Steele sang "His Eye Is On the Sparrow." She did it VERY well. It was gorgeous and penetrating and uplifting, like the sermon itself.

But then it happened.

Steele got an ovation. In the middle of the service.

Both Steele and Miles Preached; both served their calling well. The congregation, made up of preachers from around North America, expressed their appreciation for the music by...well, by effectively stopping the worship service. One gentleman shouted from the balcony, "THAT WAS THE BEST SERMON WE'VE HEARD ALL WEEK!!" Going back to the liturgy, to the beautifully crafted prayers designed to put us in conversation with God, felt like a thud because the crowd made it clear that what they wanted was more music.

In fact, their next action was to demand, as a group, by shouts, stomping and applause, that Steele be allowed to sing again after worship, as the moderator was trying to move us into the next phase of the morning.

The irony that this happened at a homiletical conference is not lost on me.

Steele DID sing again, and handled the situation beautifully, in my estimation, when she said, "We singers are a dime a dozen. I am here by God's anointing, and I ask all of you to pray for us musicians, that our music may open the ears of its listeners to the Word you preach."

Effectively: this is not about me. We're here for something, some ONE bigger than all of us. It's not false humility. It was a necessary corrective, in that moment.

I am a church musician by vocation. This is not a small thing to me. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a killjoy, I'm not a snob, and I, too, was deeply moved by Steele's singing. I'm not trying to suggest that there's only one right answer to the "applause" question, and I'm likewise not intimating that there was any ill intention on anyone's part. But I do think this is a question that deserves careful attention, for the sake of our shared worship life.

Steele DID preach. The problem was not hers: we lost the greater context for a moment and focused on her instead of the service. What could have been a holy moment became something else for me, because this group of church leaders acted like a mob of consumers in a scarcity of Cabbage Patch Kids, instead of a worshiping congregation.

Let me be clear that I do not mean to minimize the power of Steele's song. It was nearly perfectly done. And it was as well-paired with the sermon as any music has been, EVER. What troubles me is the reaction of the congregation. We're so enculturated to applaud for music--that coding happens at such a deep level that it doesn't occur even to this cross-section of church leaders that there should perhaps be another way to express our appreciation, which should (not incidentally) also be extended to the preacher, the presider, the organizer, and the custodian.

And it should be a way that doesn't render the rest of the liturgy an afterthought.

RevGals and other conference attendees: I'd love it if there were some conversation around this. I've talked with many who have said that clapping is just a way of saying "amen" with their hands, and I appreciate that. However, I submit that sometimes applause is too pregnant with other cultural associations (spectatorship, consumerism) for it to be appropriate in mainline liturgical worship. It turns us into a mob, in a way. And it's a very different experience in communities that grow up using clapping as percussion and as "amen;" I've also experienced the power inherent there.

It's an issue that is not going to go away, and I would be very interested in some other points of view here. 'Cause I went away feeling like something sort of icky had happened at an otherwise lovely, uplifting service.

+++ 24 hours later +++

P.S. It occurs to me that the crowd was probably, on a deeper level, responding to the COMBINATION of music and preaching and good worship and being together and just being really FED, which made God's presence palpable. However, that is not the shape of their response. That's what troubles me, I think. It's too easy, and it's not quite true, to clap for the singer. I guess I'd hope for us to be a bit more grounded...a bit more thoughtful/intentional, and more prepared to see this in a leadership context. It think it's possible that this gets to/results from the sometimes-troubling dynamic between pastors and musicians--the one they warn us about in seminary, but don't really prepare us to deal with, and which becomes a source of tension in so many churches.

Another uniter...

...not a divider.

Just what we need: four more years of antagonism and sensational hatemongering.

We will not be inheriting the earth any time soon.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Of oysters and ballerinas

Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun—
the interweaving of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.

The universe of space and time did not arise by chance,

but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.

Come, see the face of Trinity, newborn in Bethlehem;

then bloodied by a crown of thorns outside Jerusalem.

The dance of Trinity is meant for human flesh and bone;

when fear confines the dance in death, God rolls away the stone.

Come, speak aloud of Trinity, as wind and tongues of flame
set people free at Pentecost to tell the Savior's name.

We know the yoke of sin and death, our necks have worn it smooth;

go tell the world of weight and woe that we are free to move!

Within the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun,
we sing the praises of the three, the Father, Spirit, Son.

Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free,
to shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity.

--Richard Leach

Every pastor I know struggles with how and what to preach on Trinity Sunday. And no wonder: it's the only Sunday of the year set aside just for a doctrinal statement, and we're trying to put words around the unsayable, in order to express that which is ultimately unknowable.

It seems to me that the question gets at something elemental in our lives as people of faith: we have a hard time expressing what we really believe, deep in their souls. It's perhaps more an issue for Christians, since (in comparison to followers of Judaism and Islam, the other Abrahamic faiths) we seem to define ourselves intellectually...perhaps more by belief than by practice, more by creeds than by deeds.

And then there's the problem of how to deal with the homiletical, liturgical, and communal concerns intrinsic to the question. So it's really no wonder that we struggle with Trinity Sunday.

Time to change the "angle of approach," as Krista Tippett would say. My own personal leaning is to examine the Trinity in terms of a dance, as our community did on Sunday, and as our hymn of the day (above) suggests.

It was one of those days that the Holy Spirit turned the whole into much more than the sum of its parts. I'm going to try to give you a flavor of that experience. I know that it won't quite work, but it's worth listening for the way the Spirit helped the voices to "rise and shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity."

We gathered for worship singing a lively, African song:

Come all you people, come and praise the Most High. (3x)
Come now and worship the Lord.

Come all you people, come and praise the Savior.

Come now and worship the Lord.

Come all you people, come and praise the Spirit.

Come now and worship the Lord.

We spent some time and energy on the presentation of the Genesis creation reading. We had two excellent lectors, and interspersed a hip-hop refrain, complete with dance moves, at several points in the text (led by our children):

Creation sings your praise! This is the day the Lord has made!
Rejoice! Rejoice! And again, I say rejoice!

--Dave Scherer, AGAPE minsitries

Then Wonderful Colleague enlivened the relationship of Creator and Spirit during the children's sermon. Gathering them around the baptismal font, he told them to put their hands in front of their mouths and say "RUACH!" (Hebrew for "Spirit") and feel the movement. (enthusiastic response) Then they did the same thing over the waters of the font, recalling God's voice moving upon the waters in Genesis. So, in the story of creation, the Ruach moves upon the waters, the Logos brings creation into being, both proceeding from the Creator. (Reader, do you hear that dance music cranking up?)

The children's choir sang and played chimes:

The Lord is great! Everybody sing: praise the Lord, alleluia!
The Lord made us! Everybody sing:
praise the Lord, alleluia!
God made the beasts, the birds in the tree,

the fish in the water, and God made me!

Then Wonderful Colleague preached. He talked about how much we like to define things, to wrap words around them so that we may understand that which we cannot understand. Someone once remarked to him that for us to try to describe God is like an oyster trying to describe a ballerina: there are problems both of comprehension and description.

LOVED that. (Reader, are your feet starting to tap now?)

But, he continued, our inability to wrap our brains around God doesn't mean that we are separated from God. He spoke of that enlivening presence all around us: in the quiet moss on the rocks, in the strength of the rocks themselves, in one the dance.

We sang the hymn at the top of this post.

We shared the meal, and experienced the presence of Christ (AND the Great Cloud of Witnesses), while we sang:

Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty,
early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, bless├Ęd Trinity!

We blessed our high school and college graduates with the following prayer:

Holy Trinity, you call us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give these graduates faith to go out with good courage, knowing that your hand is leading them and your love supporting them through Jesus Christ our Lord, Bless and watch over these graduates in all that is to come, in the name + of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We received the benediction from the Adult Choir, reminding us of places in which God is present:

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

Deep peace of the gentle night to you.

Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.

Deep peace of Christ, the light of the world, to you.

And were sent forth into mission with the sending hymn, sung to the same tune as the gathering hymn (Reader, it's OK to get out of that chair and move if you need to dance now...):

Go all you people, go and serve the Most High. (3x)
Go now and work in the world.

Go all you people, go and serve the Savior.

Go now and love in the world.

Go all you people, go and serve the Spirit.

Go now and speak in the world,

Please note the typo at the end of that one, which actually appeared in the worship folder. A comma instead of a period, which I thought I'd corrected. But, to paraphrase the lovely Gracie Allen, it seems that I was trying to put a period where God had put a comma. The comma was supposed to be there, I think--to leave us open to participation in those ventures of which we cannot see the ending, to call us out with good courage.

We can't, in the end, say anything truly and comprehensively definitive about God. If we could, as Wonderful Colleague says, our "God" would be too small, and probably made in our own image. BUT:

We can live our lives as part of the Trinity's dance of creation, of love, of renewal, of life.

We can give ourselves to that rhythm, let our hearts follow the arc of that melody, and live in the joyful mystery of it all.

We can find out what happens after the comma, after the last phrase of the music that we have in our hands and hearts as of this exact moment.

Thanks be to God! Let's dance!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday five: where in the world is Choralgirl Sandiego?

The RevGals are all about location, location, location this week, in honor of the fact that many are meeting up in Minneapolis next week for the Festival of Homiletics--fun!

Today's challenge: name five places that fall into the following categories:

1) Favorite Destination -- someplace you've visited once or often and would gladly go again

The hammock at S&J's cabin in WI, to hear the lapping of the waves and watch the birds as I drink iced tea and read an absorbing book, or cuddle with Beloved. We were there on our honeymoon.

2) Unfavorite Destination -- someplace you wish you had never been (and why)

While on a National Lutheran Choir tour some years ago, we stayed at a truly dreadful, roach-infested motel in South Carolina...don't need to go there again (though I'm sure it's not representative of the whole state).

3) Fantasy Destination -- someplace to visit if cost and/or time did not matter

How many picks do I get?
  • hey, after yesterday--maybe San Francisco, to get LEGALLY married!
  • find my relatives in Norway & see the fjords
  • hike and eat my way through Tuscany...actually, through most of Europe. :-)
  • seeing the Cathedral at Chartres, as well as some of European choral festivals and opera houses would be nice
  • two cruises: one to Alaska (before the glaciers melt) and one to the Greek isles (including Lesbos, despite the fact that several of its residents are trying to belatedly reclaim the word "lesbian" as their own; pretty sure that horse has already left the barn)
4) Fictional Destination -- someplace from a book or movie or other art or media form you would love to visit, although it exists only in imagination
  • I would SO love to have access to a Holodeck, like they did in Star Trek TNG!!
  • Hogwarts wouldn't be bad, either; I'd like to have a cuppa with Minerva and shake Harry, Ron & Hermione's hands.
5) Funny Destination -- the funniest place name you've ever visited or want to visit

Well, I have a couple of vacation photos of me, Beloved, M and B at street signs for "Dyke Avenue" and "Dyke Street" (in different towns). (see also: Lesbos)


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

Relief on the reef

It'll be a short one tonight, but I wanted to offer an update about my Twisted Wrister. Beloved had surgery today to repair her spectacularly broken wrist, and it went well. It was a really l-o-n-g day, but we've made it to the point of "OK, let the healing begin!"

That healing has been helped along by the prayers, good wishes, and practical support of many, especially B and M, who have made a tough week easier with their many kindnesses. Family is a good thing, in all its forms.
Thank you to
all of you.

On a brighter note, despite the practical challenges of Beloved's injury, she was an absolute trooper through our final two concerts of the season. In a 14-person choir, it's a big deal when one can't sing, and so she propped herself up on a stool and toughed it out. One of our basses was also on a stool, about 5 weeks ahead of her in healing his broken ankle.

We looked kind of funny.

I talked with the audience at a couple of points in the program, to shed some light on the more challenging music. I was joking about the Britten pieces we were singing, which aren't performed often because of the technical difficulties for the singers: "Obviously, we're a bit worse for wear. This is full-contact choral singing, people! Put your helmets on!" (cue audience laughter here)

It was a great experience. The choir really came into its own with these last two concerts, after two years of work and four concert seasons. And we raised enough money in these two concerts to feed forty kids for a year through our charity partner. And this is the second concert weekend of two. Time well spent. And we got some invitations for future concerts, as well.

And let's not forget Pentecost worship, which was stuffed with music. My church choir sang their hearts out. Perhaps the most obvious evidence of the Holy Spirit's presence: during the closing hymn, my dear, wonderful, straight-white-middle-aged-Lutheran choir danced.



It was my favorite moment of a full-to-bursting-with-wonders weekend.

With these happenings, another singing/conducting season draws to a close. I'm grateful to have arrived, more-or-less in one piece, at the fallow season. I expect that to last about two weeks before I miss it desperately. :-)

Peace, friends, and thank you for your kindness.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Friday, May 9, 2008

Friday five: gifts of the Spirit


Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' "

Thinking about all the gifts of the spirit and what Peter said of the "last days." Have you or anyone you know...

1. ...ever experienced a prophecy (vision or dream) that came true?
Not so much a prophecy as the very clear sense, upon a first taste of something, that it represented a beginning for me, the first frame of the next stage of my life. My campus visit to the college I'd later attend, my first real step into church music, my first kiss with Beloved. At each of those moments, I was sure about what would happen next, before I had any reason to be (as each represented a sea change in my life). That certainty carried me through a number of "dark nights of the soul." They were clear moments of a YES so strong that it rang in all the chambers of my heart, soul and mind.

2. ...dreamed of a stranger, then actually met them later?
My older self. Sort of a "deja vu" thing when I got to the "recognition" part, a "Hey, some part of me saw this before" thing.

3. ...seen a wonder in heaven? (including UFO's)
Well, the Northern Lights knock me out every time I see them!

4. ...seen a "sign" on the earth?
I think there are signs of God's presence among us everywhere: in the kindness of a stranger, in the beauty of dew on grass, in a congregation singing together. Sometimes it moves me to tears. I think the Celtic concept of "thin places" is really interesting— spots at which the "veil" between this world and another is translucent.

5. ...experienced knowledge of another language without ever having studied it?
Music. And the beauty of it is, everyone can have that experience. You don't have to understand all the compositional intricacies and cultural references of a piece of music to be moved by it. You just have to be willing to really open yourself and listen.

Bonus Question: What would a modern day news coverage of the first Pentecost have sounded like?
I think we would have received eyewitness accounts of what they were wearing and what they'd been drinking, that we all might buy those products. Sigh.

Thanks for the questions, Presbyterian Gal!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

#%+*@! insurance surgery tomorrow; it will be next week instead. Got to the orthopedic surgeon's office today (the one to whom our in-network hospital referred us, and whose eligibility I checked with the insurance provider on Tuesday morning) and discovered that he is not, in fact, in Beloved's network. Got the (rueful) boot from the doc's front desk staff.

Sat in the car and called the insurance provider, receiving three more names which would later prove ineligible, upon further investigation. Thankfully, the doc called Beloved's cell phone and invited her back in, for free, to explain the surgery and what she should expect, to refill her almost-empty scrip for pain meds, and (may he live 1,000 years) to get us in with another surgeon in the area, whom he trusts. And his staff checked with the new guy's staff and made SURE that the insurance end checked out OK.

So we're going to see the new guy tomorrow, and the surgery will be next week sometime.

#%+*@! insurance.

Thank you, Doc.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Beloved, a little bit broken of my favorite phrases to describe the human condition is that we're all God's children, broken and beloved.

Perhaps until yesterday, when Beloved got broken.

Specifically, her Tae Kwon Do, sort of a freak accident. Her colleagues took her to Urgent Care, so that the doctor could breathlessly report, "Holy crap, you just shattered that sucker! I mean, you really MESSED IT UP!! You're looking at surgery for SURE. You're a medical marvel, you are. Never saw anything like it in my LIFE. Can't do a thing for you." (Not a direct quote, but that was the gist...)

Sigh. Said it to my (normally stoic) weeping wife (completely freaking her out), and then wanted her to drag her medically marvelous (and still unsplinted) self down the hall to look at the x-ray with him and hear the speech again. Sans painkillers of any kind.

I must admit, I briefly considered creating a situation in which HE would wish for painkillers.

Mastered myself, got the x-rays, got her splinted and OUT of there. So then we got to do it all again at the emergency room. For six hours. The staff there was great, though. A portrait of competent compassion.

And now she's at home for the week, anticipating surgery on Friday to put the thing right.

BUT, there are things for which I'm grateful in this:
  • a speedy, loving rescue with some practical stuff, carried out by M and B of our Mishpacha (thanks, girls, for your nimble grace and kindness)
  • it's her left hand, not her right (she's right-handed)
  • we have insurance, unlike so many others who have to do this on their own
  • we don't have to do this on a regular basis, and it's not life-threatening, just a painful hassle.
So...happy to be home with her tonight, and to have such lovely support around us. And to realize that we beloved ones can break and not, well, BREAK. :-)

All prayers for healing gratefully accepted, though!

Peace, friends.

Monday, May 5, 2008 vewwy, vewwy quiet....

We'we hunting hewetics!

A local progressive Roman Catholic church, frequently in trouble with the local archdiocese over its stances on various social issues, has dis-invited a U of M professor scheduled to speak about torture at their Sunday morning adult forum.

Because he has publicly stated his pro-choice stance on abortion.

More than twenty years ago.

About which he is not scheduled to speak.

Based upon my personal experience with this community (and that of my friends), as well as inference from this article and this column, it seems that this was not the decision of the church's own governing body. Instead, the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul intervened to smack the parish back into line, dogmatically speaking.

Thankfully, the talk has been rescheduled (and expanded to address this particular controversy) at a local conference center run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

One of the things I truly appreciate about Roman Catholic ethics is that they take individual conscience seriously. Why, then, is it not possible that members of that body could find something of value in a talk delivered by a professional ethicist who happens to disagree with official teaching on one topic entirely unrelated to his thesis for the day?

That seems pretty rigid, but absolutely in line with many of the other proclamations and actions enacted since Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict. I find it a bit frightening, in terms of the church's role in helping people to develop that conscience which is supposed to help them navigate the moral questions of their lives.

I understand the desire and responsibility of the Church to hold on to the core of its teaching. I sympathize, I truly do. It's a complicated, messy business. However, to put that Church's teaching beyond scrutiny is terribly unhealthy, and does a grave injustice to its members. Creation of a climate of fear is downright immoral.

Star Wars, that icon of pop culture, has served as a tongue-in-cheek source of citations for many a sermon. I think Princess Leia may also have a prophetic vision of the trajectory of Benedict's Church—at least the American piece of it:

Governor Tarkin: Princess Leia, before your execution, you will join me at a ceremony that will make this battle station operational. No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.
Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

If people don't have a voice within their church, they will disengage and seek a forum elsewhere. If controversial issues are not discussed fully and honestly, the Church's real influence on moral development is diluted. It is the job of the Church to be a place where we have conversations about the moral issues of our lives. A Church that doesn't provide that forum is shirking its responsibility to its members. History teaches that there are two possible outcomes for such a church. One is irrelevance; the other, revolution.

It seems to me that the Church lives inside a tension of self-definition, which shifts over time from one end of a spectrum to the other. That tension is this: in the working out of God's will for humanity, is the core of the church defined primarily by its historic teachings or by its members, the Body of Christ? No generation does a perfect job of finding balance inside that tension. However, it seems to me that this pope and the hierarchy he has put in place have swung quite far toward the former end of the spectrum. I pray that we find a way to live more productively inside that tension...more toward its center, before the American wing of the Church breaks right off the body.

I like the ELCA's balance better, expressed in a marketing campaign of a few years ago (and lived out with varying degrees of success). It said,
He died to take away your sins, not your mind.

I have to believe, this week before Pentecost, that it's OK for the Body of Christ to get its hair messed up from time to time by the rushing of a mighty Wind.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Friday five: wait and pray

Part of the Ascension Day Scripture from Acts 11 contains this promise from Jesus:
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Then he was taken from their sight into the clouds, two angels appeared and instructed the probably bewildered disciples to go back to Jerusalem, where they began to wait and to pray for the gift Jesus had promised.

Prayer is a joy to some of us, and a chore to others, waiting likewise can be filled with anticipation or anxiety....

So how do you wait and pray?

1. How do you pray best, alone or with others?

I wish I could say "in worship with my community." But, since I'm actually working during worship, I rarely get still enough to consciously pray. Music gets me there communally, though. If I'm going to sit and try to commune with God, I often need to wait until my "monkey mind" finds itself a banana or something. Sitting by lapping waves or a running stream for long, sunny stretches is rare, but wonderful. Around a dinner table is a pretty great way to pray with friends & family, though.

2. Do you enjoy the discipline of waiting, is it a time of anticipation or anxiety?

Hmmm...are we talking about a vacation or a trip to the dentist here? :-) Generally, I'm not great at waiting, though I'm learning to appreciate the gift of now, with all that entails.

3. Is there a time when you have waited upon God for a specific promise?

Waited for decades for a clear sense of my life's work, and for Beloved to show up. God's impish sense of humor came into play here: she arrived a month after I started seminary, and so there was all THAT to deal with. I'll say this, though—our foundation as a couple was forged during that time.

4. Do you prefer stillness or action?


A hammock with a book and an icy diet Coke on a summer afternoon; rehearsing a choir almost any time; gatherings with friends; the work of ministry; sitting with Beloved in front of a fire...all these things are my "favorite."

5. If ( and this is slightly tongue in cheek) you were promised one gift spiritual or otherwise what would you choose to recieve?

Wow--that's kind of a tough one. I guess it would be the ability to live every day fully and lovingly, and to meet whatever is coming around the next corner with grace.