Wednesday, February 28, 2007

First Words, 6:47 am

Her: Wow, I had a dream last night that I was Paris Hilton's spiritual director.
Him: Did you help her out with that shaving her head thing?
Her: Oh, no, honey. That's the other one.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

So Many Books

About a month ago, I seem to remember that I had nothing to read. I seem to remember that I thrashed around the house, whining, "I have nothing to read!" The universe tends to take care of this problem.

Today, on my to-be-read pile:

Bought by me in mid-thrash-and-whine from Major Internet Retail Establishment (MIRE?) where you can go ahead and look any of these up, because I just do not have the wherewithall to link to them all:
Abraham by Bruce Feiler (half read - must finish for a Bible study I'm leading at chuch)
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (the first 6 pages are hilarious)
Why Men Hate Going to Church (weirdly, the one book on this whole list that I've actually read cover-to-cover.)
Thirst Mary Oliver

Received in post-Christmas white elephant gift exchange
Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Loaned by a friend who looked deep into my eyes and whispered, "this is one of my favorite books of all time." Obviously, I have to take it real seriously, so it's feeling like sort of a heavy assignment.
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Loaned by my spiritual director, who thinks it will be a good companion to "why men hate..."
Male and female realities: Understanding the opposite sex by Joe Tanenbaum

Finally came up all at once on my queue at the library, some after being on my wish list for more than six months
The View from Castle Rock Alice Munro
Miss Alcott's Email Kit Bakke
Water for Elephants Sara Gruen
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman

and I'm still slogging through
Living a Life that Matters by Harold Kusher, which I also got at the library awhile back, and I like but which now has been has been hanging around way too long and now feels like Hard Work.

Purchased by me today (what was I thinking!?!?) at what I thought was a neighborhood church pancake breakfast, but which turned out to have a small "...and book sale" attached to the sign that I did not notice. Or I never would have gone. Yeah.
Heart Steps: Prayers and Declarations for a Creative Life by Julia Cameron
The Subject Tonight Is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz by Daniel Landinsky
Dreams from My Father: A story of race and inheritance by Barack Obama
Radical Gratitude by Mary Jo Leddy

No time to blog! Or knit! Or make dinner! Or sleep! Must go back to putting these books into piles, picking one up, reading three pages, putting it down and starting another one.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Help

I got home this afternoon, and my heart sank. The cleaning woman had NOT come, or even called, even though this was the every-other of our every other Tuesday arrangement. I mean, shit. Didn't she KNOW that this week of all weeks - after playing catch up since last Wednesday when Eli was in the hospital, and since Friday and Saturday when my goddaughter was here for the weekend, and since I've been extra busy at work and since next week I have visits to both the tax lady and the dentist -- that this was some help that, today at least, wasn't feeling at all like a luxury but in fact a total necessity?

So, tonight I've been listening to my favorite sulking music, doing dishes and folding laundry for a couple of hours - stuff that really could absolutely not go another day even if we get a sub in to do the rest of the cleaning tomorrow. As I was doing it, I was thinking about martyrdom.

It wont surprise regular readers of this blog, that martyrdom is a major temptation for me. And days like this, where I actually let a bunch of stuff go with the expectation that someone else will do it, only to have the Someone Else flake out, only adds to that temptation.

Here's how my train of thought went. I pretty much had to wash the dishes, so we'd have some clean ones to, you know, eat off of. But what about the laundry? It represented pretty much all our clothes, which were clean but unfolded. I could've dug the essentials out of it, and it could have gone another day, maybe. It certainly couldn't have gotten any MORE wrinkly, wadded up as it was in the basket. So, did I really have to do it, or was I hanging my own self on the Cross of the Clean Laundry? (Have I mentioned my deep and irrational hatred of folding laundry? Hate. it.)

I weighed it out, and decided that I would feel more annoyed watching the huge pile totter on top of the dryer all night, than just doing it and getting it over with. I decided that this time, it wasn't martyrdom (whew, though - narrow escape!) but was just that the line between Pretty Messy and Too Messy had been crossed.

Having dispensed with martyrdom, I then pursued another train of thought - this one about help. If you have a disabled husband, people are always telling you how much help you need. How much rest you should take. How stressed out you much be. And if you have a little bit of a martyrdom complex, you grin at them then and say "thanks, but everything is fine, just fine. really."

Because the truth is, while most people are glad to tell you how very much help you need, very few (at least of the people I know) are actually willing to provide that help. I know quite a few people, and I even have some very close friends, but I cannot think of a single person I would call to say, "Look, the cleaning lady flaked, and I need some help. Can you come over and fold my laundry so I can take a bath and read a book like I planned to tonight?" For one thing, I would be too sheepish to ask because I want everyone to know that I can Handle My Life. For another thing, I probably don't believe that I really deserve to relax in a bath when there's laundry to be done (ok, ok, I'm working on that "what I deserve" stuff. please don't get on my case on about that.).

But even if I got over those other little neuroses, I actually think lots of people would just say no. Or say yes and then not follow through. Or just laugh, like the friend who I asked to come over and clean my bathroom when Eli was a baby, or the neighbor who I asked to scrap the frosty windows of my car one cold morning a couple of weeks ago.

Is it because we live in the Western US, home of the rugged individual? Is it because we're from the Land of the Protestant Work Ethic and are therefore too proud to ask for help? Is it being in a big city? Is it other people, or is it us? Do we not have the knack of asking, or do other people not have the knack of offering?

How do YOU get help when you need it? When and how do you offer to help someone else? Let me know. Maybe this is something I could actually LEARN.

In re-reading this post, I must add: There is just a small possibility that the reason that I'm not a big fan of folding laundry is that it provides way too much time to think. Just a small possibility.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Under the bed

Looking for a pair of earrings under the bed. This is a good pre-Lenten exercise - to clear away the dark cloud that has kind of hung over our house this winter. What is revealed by us if you know that under the bed (besides the dust bunnies, natch) was to be found:
  • 1 checker (black)

  • 1 playing card (three of clubs)

  • agenda for workshop from Friday, October 27, 2006 "How Shall I Live, Knowing I Will Die" with notes from me on the back, and one corner torn off

  • empty wrapper, cough drop

  • empty wrapper, pepto bismol

  • half full tube of ben gay

  • empty tube, albuteral for the nebulizer

  • 3 kleenxes

  • pair of earrings, matching. (Not the ones I was looking for. Where ARE those?)

  • 2 socks, not a pair

  • 25 dollar gift certificate from that we thought I had thrown away!

  • tag, that I do not remember removing, reading "UNDER PENALTY OF LAW, THIS TAG IS NOT BE REMOVED EXCEPT BY THE CONSUMER"

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mo and Pete's Excellent Adventures (a sermon excerpt)

...God doesn’t get any less thrilling. The promises God makes don’t get any less mind-blowing. I can only conclude that it’s we, God’s people, who have moved away. Religion, paradoxically, is in part to blame for this. People who, like Moses, are willing to be completely transformed, are dangerous to those in power who want control. I think this is why religious communities have trained us over the centuries to suppress the kind of experience we heard about today – it’s just plain too dangerous.

The history of Christianity is chock full of figures who contest religious authority, in order to live in union with God. Take St John of the Cross. John was a 16th century priest, who, disturbed by the political corruption of his order, worked with his friend Theresa of Avila, a nun, to bring about reform. He was imprisoned by his opponents, for the better part of a year in a stifling room barely big enough for his body, getting breaks only to be brought out for a weekly flogging. During that time, he wrote some of the most beautiful poetry ever written in Spanish – love letters to a God who he knew had not abandoned him. In pictures of John, his face is shining like the sun, surrounded by a glowing halo, the mark of one who has seen and come to know God. No wonder they had to shut him up in a closet – he’d seen God and he was way, way, way too much.

St John’s is only one story from our history, there are countless others. So many, that it’s almost like it’s in our DNA - “get to close to God, get too stirred up by God’s message for you, and you’ll be in trouble with your community.” Actually, it’s right there in the Bible itself. Just before the passage we heard today, before the mountaintop experience, here’s what Jesus said: “You who wish to be my followers must deny your very self, take up your cross - the instrument of your own death - every day, and follow in my steps. If you would save your life, you'll lose it, and if you lose your life for my sake, you'll save it.” (translation: The Inclusive New Testament by Priests for Equality) Stick around, and you’ll live in the kingdom, but you’ll see suffering. And you will suffer too.

As I was working on this sermon yesterday afternoon, I took a break to call a friend on the phone and I swear these were the first words out of her mouth “Oh! I just lost my boots on ebay!” She went on to tell the story of the afternoon – she had the perfect boots in her sites, at a price she could afford, she had bid on them, and then as she watched, just a few minutes until the end of bidding, her heart racing, she saw someone else’s bid, she quickly added her own, but it was too late and the boots were gone! Having myself gotten sucked into the adrenaline rush that is watching ebay bids come and go, I could really relate, and I told her, “I’m telling this story in church tomorrow!” (one of the risks, evidently, of having a minister for a friend).

Because even if you’ve never visited ebay (and please don’t start now if you’ve never been), this is how it is for us. As the real excitement of the knowledge of God is taken from us – we seek excitement in other things – in consumerism, sports, addictions, violence. And those have their own kind of thrill, but not the deep and life changing excitement promised by God in these passages we read today. I wonder what it would be like, instead of making our hearts beat fast by working out more, by finding the perfect sweater on sale, by driving too fast, by drinking more than we know we can really handle, by gambling all night or by overwork -- What would it be like to choose to risk for God instead?

Of course, just asking that question assumes something very important – it assumes that the risks we take in the name of God are the ones we choose. We know from our newspapers that many, many, many cannot choose the risks they face. UCC president John Thomas added to a recent prayer for peace in the middle east -- a group of people we hardly ever hear about -- the several hundred thousand Iraqi Christians who are left in Iraq, the remnants of a community that just over 20 years ago numbered more than a million. Now they are leaving the country in droves, unable to find protection from either Sunni or Shia militia. “Despite the difficulties in practising their faith, an Iraq bereft of Christians is difficult for the community to grasp. Christians pre-date Islam by some 700 years and have lived in the area known as Mesopotamia since St Thomas the Apostle (that’s thomas the doubter, friends!) preached in the year 30 and founded the East Syriac Church…
One Christian woman in Basra, is alarmed by the new Iraq and the militias which roam the streets of her once beautiful city. A few weeks ago, as she walked to her church a few blocks from her home, she and a female friend and their children were accosted by two men on a motorbike who shouted anti-Christian slurs. "The police were standing there without trying to prevent them from harassing us, I was terrified, not only for myself but for the whole group and especially the little ones," she said. The men on the motorbike left once the entourage entered the sanctuary of the church.” (from a June 8, 2006 Aljazeera article that I now can frustratingly not find to link to. apologies to author Firas al-Atraqchi.)
All over the world are Christians who choose not whether to risk for God, because the risk is asssumed, but what that risk will be. Will they keep their jobs, let their children go to school, worship in the churches they have called home for generations? And risk death? Every day, death? Or will they take another, just as unpleasant risk – stand in line for visas, pack up belongings, leave behind language, culture, family and friends?

For most of Christianity risk has been the way of things. Do we risk it all here, or do we risk it all in a new place, free from the persecution and violence we know, but facing new and as yet unimagined terrors?

By what amazing grace, then, are we allowed here at our church in 2007 to choose our own risks? Really, to choose to risk nothing for God, if we wish. To worship once a week, sing hymns, hear words, endure silences that demand no transformation of us? It’s so much easier for us, here and now, and in a funny sort of backward way, it’s harder too. Because we’re human, and we’d rather take the risks that in the end aren’t going to change who we fundamentally are. The foot on the accelerator, the big deal negotiated, the marathon run - these are changes that we can take back at any time.

Here’s a risk. Sometime at school, at work, at the gym, at the library, start a sentence with these words, “What I believe about God…” or “What we believe at MY church is…” In Seattle, in 2007, it wont cost you your life, at least in the way we usually use that word. But then again maybe it will cost you your life.

Look, I know what it’s like. The story about my call to ministry usually starts with me saying “Well, I’d tried a lot of other jobs and none of them really worked out, so I thought I’d try this….” It was more restlessness than rest-in-God that led me to seminary, and I wasn’t at all sure about what it would mean to live a life a faith or whether I was even willing to do it. When I first moved to Seattle, I was at a party with some new friends, a beer in one hand and Led Zepplin blaring from the speakers when I first got what it would really mean. A young woman sat down on the couch next to me. We shouted our names at each other. And then she said, “what do you do?” “Well, I’m just starting school.” (And then, apologetically) “I’m studying to be a minister.” She stared at me for a minute, then she stood up and walked away. I lost my life that day. Of course, there’s no way to compare the little ouchie of the rejection of a stranger with the suffering of St John of the Cross, or with lives lost in Iraq. But is WAS the loss of an old life in which I would be just like everyone else, in which my faith could be hidden, silent, easy.

It doesn’t always have to be like that. Here’s how it can go, if you take a risk. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when we were asking “what can we do, what can we do?” – one of the answers we got was this: as a UCC conference we could adopt another church in New Orleans, which we did. In the days since then, as a conference, we’ve sent a little money, a lot of prayers and two work groups down to our adopted church, to help out as well as we could. I know a woman who was drawn to work on one of these trips. She raised the money to go, from friends and church members. She took the time off work, and arranged things for her family left behind. And she prayed, and she got on a plane. She happened to sit next to a woman who was flying to visit her mother, and they got talking, as you sometimes do. And this woman I know started talking about the church, about the destruction in New Orleans, about how God had called her, and her faith had led her to this work. By the end of the flight, the person sitting next to her, a perfect stranger, had given her a check for $150.

Jesus said it then, is still saying it to each one here today: “You who wish to be my followers must deny your very self, take up your cross - the instrument of your own death - every day, and follow in my steps. If you would save your life, you'll lose it, and if you lose your life for my sake, you'll save it.”


Friday, February 16, 2007

Bragging rights

Dad* (regarding 4 and a half year old son): Here's your valentine from Eli. He worked on this the day I was teaching him the bucket tool in Photoshop.

Son: It's a map.

*As an aside: we've suddenly gone from mommy and daddy (or mama and dada) to Mom and Dad. It just happened one day early this week. Every time he says it to me, which is like 4567 times a day, I snort milk out my nose. It's like he's calling me Toots or something. It sounds so cheeky and grown-up.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I'm just saying

I'm just saying that if you are trying to get rid of drama in your life, it's hard to do when:
you have to call 911 at 11:30 at night because suddenly your son cant breathe because of asthma and croup together,
he pukes two times on the nice fireman who says "Oh, yes, I remember you Elijah,"
you and he get an ambulance ride which is disappointing in that no sirens are actually employed
you get to the hospital where your son gets doses and doses of the medicine that makes him go from having a hard time breathing to having an easy time breathing, to working over the ER room like a little coke addict,
it's five in the morning and you get a taxi ride from a guy who wants to know about the name Elijah and before you know it you're telling him all about the baby boom nine months after September 11 and prophets and dreams
you sleep then, but not for quite long enough.

In case you were wondering, I'm just saying it's hard to give up drama under these circumstances.

PS: We're all doing much better now - getting caught up on sleep and stuff. And breathing. Yeah for breathing.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Points of Monday Randomness

  • I'm going to the SPA tomorrow!!! I'm sort of counting the minutes until I can be all floaty and toasty. This is what's getting me through the winter. Once a month in the warm water sure is cheaper than a weekend someplace where sun actually shines. It came to my attention something had to change last year when I heard myself say "well, YOU know how it is in Febuary, how you cry all day every day..." and got only blank stares.

  • Went to the cub scout banquet tonight which is a big deal for lots of our church folks and forgot we'd all be saying the Pledge of Allegiance as part of that. Have you said it in awhile? I'm usually vaguely against it in a progressive-Christian-so-my-allegiance-is-to-God-only sort of way, but there's something stirring and hopeful about it when it catches you by surprise. I really let 'er rip on "and JUSTICE for all..."

  • Since I can't say it from the pulpit (and since, as far as I know, no one from my church reads this blog, but if you do please ignore it when I say:) Barak Obama! Barak Obama! Barak Obama!

  • My pal came to our church to share liturgical dance this weekend, so we sat together and prayed and sang and giggled, just like when we were in school. I love liturgical dance that is about rejoicing and not about DAWNCing and being so very serious.

  • Just finished Why Men Hate Going To Church. It's just basically that Sam Keen fire in the belly wildman stuff dressed up in twentyfirst century christian clothes, and some of it couldn't help but piss me off, but at the same time it really was a call to action, not just for "earthy" or "high-octane" (gack) men but for all of us. We probably DO present Christianity as too safe and soothing. So based on a little anecdote in the book, I'm thinking of preaching about the Shackelton expedition which is not my usual, you know, kind of thing (Help, Mr. Garrison?). Do you think it would be too much to call the sermon "Mo and Pete's Excellent Adventures"?

  • I wrote a little love letter about Peacebang to that guy at the Boston Globe, and then, GUESS WHAT? PB HERSELF called to say thanks!! It was like getting a call from CHER. I kept checking my hair in the mirror (um, no one can see your hair over the PHONE, silly pastor) and kicking myself for not being hilarious enough. But that was so cool! Thanks for calling, Peacebang, and call again, anytime! Next time, I'll try not to be hyperventilating.

  • But who cares if I'm hilarious or gorgeous or cool or whatever....I'm going to the SPAAAAAAh tomorrow! Did I mention the spa? That I'm going to tomorrow?? I'll be praying for all of you, out there in real person land.

  • Edited to add: Oh, yeah. Weight Watchers. I almost forgot to check in about this, by which you can surmise it's not going all that great. I'm pretty cranky still, and doing stuff like counting cheetos (21 in an ounce!) that reflect the letter but not, you know, the SPIRIT of eating better. But, tomorrow is my weigh in day, and I'm trying to think of it as a fresh start. How can I be cranky and snacky? I'll be at the...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Full (Size) Disclosure

It had no doubt come to your attention that all the coolest people are weight-watchering. And I've been leaving these encouraging little comments everywhere, patting them on their virtual heads and saying "good for you. I'VE done that, but I'm so over it now."

Except that now I cant FIT into my CLOTHES. So, I re-signed up tonight for the on-line weight watchers and I figure I'll make it my Lent practice. I can do anything until EASTER.

I started this morning. Got up early, walked for 30 minutes, weighed in (176 pounds) ate breakfast (oatmeal, banana, water), went to work, had a snack (hard boiled egg, cup of green tea), talked to the senior pastor, sent a few emails and thank you cards, ate lunch (salad of romaine lettuce with lemon, garbanzo beans, the other hardboiled egg, canadian bacon [just found out I accidentally got a snack kind that is TONS of points. crap.]; rice cake; wedge of laughing cow cheese; 100 calorie packet of cookies.) Made some phone calls, sent some more emails. Had a snack (the other rice cake, the other wedge of cheese, an apple). Left work. Picked up kid at daycare. Went to the library. Went to the drug store. Came home and had dinner (whole wheat spaghetti with sauce, broccoli, pretzels). Hung out, put kid to bed. Had a snack (plain lowfat yogurt with a banana and some cinnamon). Typed all food and exercise into weight watchers site. Had a snack (low fat popcorn).

Friends, I'm so grouchy. I have been eating ALL DAY. And I'm still hungry. Sheesh. I think I'll go have a bowl of shredded wheat now.

One thing's cheering me up though. I sneakily left my new copy of Why Men Hate Going to Church laying in plain site and A Husband Who Hates Going To Church is reading it even as I type this. Heh.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Working Mother

Son: Mommy, you're teaching me how to talk grown up talk.

Mommy: What does grown up talk sound like?

Son: Like, "I have to go to a meeting" and stuff....