Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Never-Ending Story: Chapter Three

This is a meme that Ruth started to create A Never-Ending Story. I have written a Chapter Three based on Diane's Chapter Two. You are invited to either write a Chapter Four from here or take off from someone else's previous chapters. If you want to do a Four from this one, here are the rules: Put a link to this post. Label the Link "Chapter Three." and to Ruth's "Chapter One. "Write your own installment and label it "Chapter Four." Remember to leave it unresolved.Come leave a comment on this post when you're done. If you want to follow one of the other threads, head on over to Ruth's blog where there is a box dedicated to this meme. You can find links to all the chapters in process and pick a thread to follow.

Chapter Three
The voice on the other end of the line was unfamiliar but pleasant.
“I'm sorry to call so early, but I was hoping to reach you before you left for work. I'm assuming I've reached Ruth Williams.”
There was a pause as if the caller were waiting for me to identify myself. When I said nothing, he went on, “Of course, you must be wondering who on earth I am, calling you out of the blue like like this. Of course you are cautious, why wouldn't you be, being single and all.”
At my sharp intake of breath, the caller stopped, and began again “Ms. Williams, Ruth, I'm sorry. I am going about this all wrong, breaking all the rules”....he gave a rueful laugh. “But that's part of the problem, I guess, I never have been very good at playing by the rules. I suppose that's why I never seem to make it to the end of the game.”
What on earth... I asked myself, who was this man and what did he want with me? At his mention of rules and games the dream had flashed through my head and I had lost track of what he was saying for a moment. But I gave myself a mental shake and forced myself to pay attention as he continued, “My name is Jim. Jim Hartman. I knew your dad. In fact we were really close friends, once upon a time.” I had no recall of anyone by that name, but I was only eight when daddy died, and it was so long ago. And there was so much about that time that I did not want to remember. As I stood in the slanting sunlight in my familiar warm kitchen, I suddenly found myself shivering. I could not begin to imagine who this man was and why he had suddenly turned up out of the blue after almost sixty years, or what he could possibly have to do with my life. Nor, I realized was I sure I wanted to. Though some people may have thought my life dull, I rather liked it that way. There had been enough drama in my earlier years to last a lifetime. But like it or not, he was still speaking, “Your dad and I, well we always sort of promised that we'd kind of watch over each other, each other's people, have each other's backs, you know, be there no matter what....” he trailed off with a bitter laugh. “I don't guess I did such a good job of that. Ms. Williams, Ruth, may I call you Ruth?” He went on without waiting for my answer, “I feel like I know you well enough to call you by your first name after all the time I've spent thinking about you over all these years...yes a lot of years it's been your dad's been gone. A lot of years of my not keeping my promises....a lot of time I've had to think about you.”
“Look,” I said, Mr. ....Jim, whoever you are, I don't know exactly what it is you want with me or what this is about, but I need to go now!” And, shaking, I hung up the phone.

The News from Jail

The news from jail, I am sad to say is not good news. This is not your little county lockup. The guard who did my little "orientation," such as it was told me they house 70+ inmates, and that they get guys from all over the state and that it is a tough crowd. "More," he said, "like a prison population, than a typical county would house. Very tough, very hardcore sometimes." So I should not have been surprised to see L looking pale and thin. He was, he told me "stuck" by a homemade shiv of some kind in the shower last week. He got in a verbal showdown with someone over a card game, and later in the showers where there are no cameras and no guards, he found himself bleeding. I asked him if he told someone and he looked at me as if I had just landed here. Which of course I have--on this planet. "No, Rev. Kate. That is not how it works. You don't rat people out. It just makes it worse." He is on his second room mate or cellie. The first one "did not work out." I didn't ask. By that time I already knew a whole lot about the life he is dealing with there every day. Inmates take other guy's food, they trip them on the stairs, extort them. And you don't tell. You just "watch your back" or have friends to do it for you. If you are charged with certain crimes you are an automatic target. L told me he is "kind of afraid to go to sleep" sometimes. I asked about asking for administrative segregation. He said "I can't do that, because you have to come out sometimes, then it's worse. That's the thing, Rev. Kate, to do anything other than fight it makes it worse."

He also told me he got some papers telling him (as he understands it) that he has more time to serve. The ubiquitous "year and a day." For something from somewhere. I asked him to mail them to me. He says they say something about bonding and bail. Perhaps we can have a bake sale.

On the bright side....there are those cards and letters....from Washington and Texas and places he can't remember from "these ladies that know you Rev. Kate that are praying for me." It was one of the only times he really smiled. And he is going to Bible study. And to AA. This tells me he has not lost all hope. And he is still drawing, though he has had to trade food for paper. He will have some funds in the canteen account soon, so that will improve. His days are long. He says the entertainment is figuring out what brand of soda will come out of the machine. It's random and they put bets on it and laugh at how mad guys get because they still think they are going to get what they push. "It's jail," he says. "What are they thinkin?" I tried to encourage the GED classes. Something to do...and maybe a nicer breed of cat? Or is that just my hopeless Pollyanna trying to look for something good in even this?

He hasn't heard from his new GF...I doubt she even knows she can write to him. He asked me to try to track her down, because to complicate things, she was moving the week he was transferred there. So I'm on a quest for D now. If I can find her, I'll take her along the next time I go visit if she wants to come.

So many things to deal with he has, so many consequences for this act, committed or just seems so endless, like one of those bad dreams that just loops and loops. If it's true about the "year and a day" he will be transferred to a prison to serve that, he says. And those, he tells me are even worse. How much worse, I wonder, can it be, when it hasn't even taken him a month to get stabbed in this rural county jail that prides itself on "running a tight ship."

So once again, we prayed that God will hold him close and keep him safe and be his light in this dark place;will help him remember that he is marked as Christ's own and God's beloved and that nothing can separate him from that love.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Labor Day Friday Five

Singing Owl says: "Here in the USA we are celebrating the last fling of the good ol' summertime. It is Labor Day weekend, and families are camping, playing in the park, swimming, grilling hotdogs in the backyard, visiting amusement parks and zoos and historical sites and outdoor concerts and whatever else they can find to help them extend summer's sun and play just a little bit longer.It is supposed to also be a celebration of the working man and woman, the backbone of the American economy, the "salt-of-the-earth nieces and nephews of Uncle Sam. With apologies to those in other countries, this is a Friday Five about LABOR. All can play. Put down that hammer, that spoon, that rolling pin, that rake, that pen, that commentary, that lexicon, and let's have some fun."
1. Tell us about the worst job you ever had. Oh there is NO doubt in my mind on this one! It was a temp job at a place that made sandwiches for vending machines. The work itself was boring...stand on a line all day plopping meat on buns. But that was actually the least objectionable part. The place was badly run. There was flypaper above the lines and...well you can imagine. If a piece of meat or cheese dropped on the floor, the five second (or five minute) rule applied. To give you a sense....there were free sandwiches in the breakroom for the employees....everyone brown bagged!

2. Tell us about the best job you ever had. That would be the two I have now. I'd have a hard time choosing between them, too, as being a therapist and being a priest fill me in different but complimentary ways. I feel like I am doing something in both cases that I am called to and fitted for. I feel as a therapist that I am a change agent, that I can make a difference and that is good. Plus it's interesting and endlessly changing. People and their stories are so amazing, especially their resiliency and ability to heal and grow in the face of great odds. It's such an honor and privilege to be part of those conversations on a deep level. And I pretty much can't think of anything about being a priest that I don't love. Well maybe meetings....but fortunately we don't have too many of those. But otherwise....God drew me in with liturgy, but did not let me hang there basking on the altar very long before I started falling in love with my people and finding out that the doing of the Gospel, while sometimes scary and hard was also wonderful and life-giving and energizing.

3. Tell us what you would do if you could do absolutely anything (employment related) with no financial or other restrictions. I think I would do some variation of what I am doing now. As I said above there really is nothing I'd rather be doing than the "jobs" I have now. The only change might be that I would like to have more freedom to "go and do" where there might be a pressing need. If I wanted to go do mission work or hurricane rebuilding or visit our community center in Rwanda, I'd love to have the ability to just do that, which doesn't work so well when tethered to a paycheck.

4. Did you get a break from labor this summer? If so, what was it and if not, what are you gonna do about it? Nope. And having said all those wonderful things about my worklife, I really do need a break from it. I have been hearing myself say a LOT lately, "I need a vacation!" My last "real" one was the March. I will be taking off three days this month to go to clergy conference....I guess that doesn't really count does it? While the last one was pretty retreat-ish, it's not exactly vacation! The problem is, this has tended to be how my vacation time gets used, going to CC, Diocesan Convention, meetings and such, and then there is not much left for actual vacations. I am still fantasizing about Ireland in the Spring, so I'm trying not to "spend" extra days, and I don't have any burning desires to go anyplace right now. There is that three day weekend.....and I'm looking forward to not being at work, though I haven't a clue what I will do.

5. What will change regarding your work as summer morphs into fall? Are you anticipating or dreading? Not too much. We have a new Adult Ed program we are planning for church, but small as we are that doesn't involve much. We will get our music for Lessons and Carols in a month or so, that is always fun as we begin looking ahead to Advent. The day job stays at an even pace season to season. I never look forward to winter, so that would be my only dread!

Bonus question: For the gals who are mothers, do you have an interesting story about labor and delivery (LOL)? If you are a guy pal, not a mom, or you choose not to answer the above, is there a song, a book, a play, that says "workplace" to you? I don't know that this fits exactly but I love the Mitford books. Part of the appeal of course is +Tim and his ability to connect with his folks, no matter who they are or how they behave. I know it's fiction and idealized, but there is a sweetness there that I find myself drawn back to when I am feeling a little weary.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just Reflecting .....

In the world of "be careful what you wish for" I hesitate even to think this let alone write it down, but I almost wish I were preaching this week. As was noted over at TLL, the texts are a plethora of riches. The problem would be which and what to choose. So that is part of it. But I also have kind of a rhythm going here. I have been preaching for three weeks running now in various venues, and I am finding it good. Not that I think I could sustain this over any kind of long run, not working full-time in an entirely other realm. But I do love having reason to really deeply engage with the scriptures in the way that preaching gets me to do. I know that I could choose to do that anyway....but let's be realistic! There are too many other calls and demands on time for that to happen week in and week out. So I have a "week off" pulpitwise, then I have another two week stint. I have to have a little giggle at myself here that the primary thing I am feeling is regret about this break in the proceedings. There was a time when the very idea of producing five sermons in six weeks would have driven me off the deep end. "I could never possibly!" I would have thought. But I can, I am, I will. And while preaching once or twice a month, which is a normal schedule for me is probably realistic, it's nice to know that if something changed that required more of me, I can do it.

We do grow into things. We find our way. Since I got my new computer, I've been organizing my sermon files. This of course involves opening some of them as I have to see what Sunday they are from (my identification system leaves something to be desired!) And once opened, I seem to have to read a little. Anna Carter Florence is so right when she says that you cannot help but reveal yourself in your preaching. I am written all over my sermons. Back in those early days I was preaching sermons that were well-grounded in exegesis and fairly impersonal, since as a new preacher that was clearly where it felt safest to be preaching from. They were ok sermons...a bit dusty and academic, but as I read them now I can see my own fear clearly revealed. It was clear that I was trying very hard to be safely tucked away in my head, my always and ever safe place! The one exception to that is the sermon I preached the week before my ordination in which I told my call story. It related to the lectionary, and I remember that I was scared that I was going "out of bounds" in some way and being too personal. As I read it now it takes me back to that time and place and still speaks not only of my journey, but of how we are all called to witness and ministry. It was, I think, still one of my best and most powerful sermons. Now as I write and wrestle with what is revealed in the texts each week, I can clearly tell when I hit a spot that challenges me. If there is something I really do not want to say, or that pushes me in some way that I find uncomfortable, I find myself reverting to "head stuff." The litmus test is if I am writing a sermon that bores's time to stop and take a deep breath and ask myself what's up here!

This is just one place my head has been already this morning. I don't know if it's fall, the impending anniversary, or if I am just swinging back from that little spate of skimminess but I seem to be pondering everything suddenly. Where I am, where I've been, what I am called to now and next and how to live those two things in faithful and creative tension.

Well, for this morning, I clearly am called to get busy catching up on paperwork, seeing clients and doing the work that lies before me in this job. So I'd best get to it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Life at the Speed of Sanity

So somehow it got to be Tuesday night. School has started over at the University. And I am not there, thanks be. I'm remembering back to a year ago this time when I was dealing with my student who pushed all my buttons, and all the initial suffering but eventual learning that experience brought me. And two years ago the absolute insanity of teaching, working my day job and getting ready for my ordination. When I look back at all of that, I really don't know how I did it. I was operating on pure adrenaline for a good part of the time. So busy running from some things I really did not want to deal with that it actually fueled me in some strange way.

There are some important things that have changed over time other than my speed and my schedule. As I think back, my relationships were far less deep and satisfying back then than they are now. I held people at arm's length and did not often let myself depend on them or be vulnerable. It was important to me to be pretty invincible and strong. Or at least to appear so, because of course that pesky voice in my head kept telling me that there was no one who really wanted to be there for me anyway because I simply just was not all that loveable or worth their time. I thank God daily that the liberation from that has endured and I am truly, it seems free from the perp rap that held me in that iron grip for so long. I am discovering the liberation of trusting others, the joy of relying on the kindness of those who love me. It's taught me a lot about myself and about other people. And it's taught me about God.

I don't know how I lived at that pace. There is still not enough time to do all the things I want to do. I told R last week in the park about the cello I bought five years ago with all good intentions of learning to play. Every year since has been "the year of the cello." Well perhaps it will happen next year. Or maybe it will be the the year I will brush up on my Spanish, or write more poetry, or read more books, or spend more time getting my house projects done. Or not. Maybe it will simply be the year that I will spend time with my friends, or myself, or God. Not doing. Just being. Or some of all of it. Both/and! I know whatever goes on or doesn't, this is so much saner and I am so much happier.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thoughts on another Sunday

It's been a pretty good weekend. A good Sabbath today especially. The sermon writing yesterday was a little rocky. I had two long false starts. They were heady and exegetical and really boring. What I have come to know about myself is when that happens I am avoiding something. I am evading engagement with the text, or there is something I know I must say and feel I can't, or as was the case yesterday, didn't feel entitled to. Oh the mind games I play with myself! Confessing on the one hand (in the very sermon I am trying to write) a Jesus who is loving, and forgiving, and who made very human Peter the rock of the community, for heaven sake, and at the same time struggling with feeling not good enough to stand and preach this very Gospel because I don't feel worthy. As if my worth has any thing to do with it in the first place. As if there is not grace. And as if everyone else (as was pointed out to me during our walking preacher party) is not feeling that self-same thing and does not need to hear it proclaimed....we do not need to be perfect to be loved....not by God, and hopefully not even by each other. Though unfortunately some of us got tarred with that brush of not ever feeling good enough and the message takes a long time to get out of our systems. I had been feeling all unworthy and puny because my spiritual life has been scant and my prayer life has been spotty and I have been feeling kind of skimmy in my time with God. The old tapes of guilt got me all tied up and I just kept getting stuck. The good news is at least now I know enough to stop trying to force myself to write when it gets to that stuck point. I called a halt and we went for a lovely long walk and did have a preacher party there in the woods and talked it out. I came back and began writing again at four and by seven I was hitting print.

After I came home from sermonizing I had to bathe Maggie. She had decided to sit in the stream to cool off on the way back down the trail. Being only about six inches off the ground, she then brought most of the trail back with her on her coat. So it took a while to get the remains of the trail off the dog. Then it took even longer to get the remains of the dog out of the bathtub. My trip to the hot tub followed that, but I was too tired to linger very long....I was afraid I would fall asleep in there.

Liturgy today was for me what it so often is. A place of pure happiness. Sometimes I just really wonder how I could have lived my whole life up until two years ago without doing this and not knowing that it was missing when it is so....much. I just do not have another word for it. What, I ask myself, did I ever do with everything when I did not have an altar to take it to? Where was that part of me that celebrates this finding her joy? I guess she was just in waiting....and I didn't even know it. It is such an immeasurable gift and blessing. Today has been a blessings kind of day overall.

Someone in my congregation called me when I was in the car coming back from taking communion to my far flung person in the hinters after service this morning. This is a person with whom I have Much History. Mostly painful. She started out by saying she was just out walking her fenceline and she remembered how she missed the days when she and I used to just talk and talk. And she started "just talking." Told me liked the sermon, that she could tell I had put a lot of thought into it. Talked about her son who just left for college, and her other one who lost a job. We talked all the way back into town. It was a simple conversation. It was totally unexpected. It was pure grace.

I also had a conversation with XDO. I decided that it was only fair that the news of my seeing someone, no matter how casual, should come from me. I also figure this way I get to have at least some measure of control over what information is delivered and that it is at least accurate. R and I were seen in the park on Thursday by some people that I kind of suspect would, shall we say, embroider things a bit. And if the shoe were on the other foot, I'd like facts, not fantasy about what is going on. XDO has been taking a very high road lately, having some very direct conversations with some other mutual friends about the fact that we are working things out and that they need to respect our process. I appreciate that, so this is also a way of giving back some, I think. The response to my news was accepted in a positive spirit....XDO said, "I'm glad I heard it from you first."

With liturgy, preaching, those two conversations and an eighty mile round trip to deliver Communion, I was kind of done in for the remainder of the afternoon. I read, I knitted, I ran a few errands, and at 8:15, I am seriously considering my bed! Even though, as I told C yesterday, I feel like I have been less reflective, and more skimmy with my life lately (she disagrees BTW) I do find that I am more tired. All this living I am doing seems to be taking a little toll on me. I guess there is a lot going on. And I am trying to balance it.

I was realizing last night I am surrounded by a more complex web of relationships than I have ever been in my whole life. They overlap and intersect in all kinds of strange and interesting ways. Some of this makes my life wonderful and fascinating, and some of it makes it incredibly complicated and creates tight little places that must be carefully negotiated with great thought and care for all concerned. Who I know and how I know them, whether or not that can be shared, what I can or cannot know in any given situation, which hat I am wearing, or supposed to be, if one conflicts with the other, or if something I am bound to by one pushes the boundaries of the other....oh yes, some days, it does get kind of complex. But of course I wouldn't trade it all for anything. Complicated as it is, it's pretty wonderful, and I feel so called to and blessed by it all most of the time that it just knocks me over.

But it is time to let Maggie take one last romp in the yard and then call it a night. The weekend is over and it's time for bed.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sermon for August 24, 2008

Romans 12:1-8. Matthew 16:13-20

It all begins with a couple of questions that day out in Cesarea Phillipi. On their continuing adventures together, Jesus and the disciples had taken a little journey and Jesus asked two questions. The first of the two is for many reasons a safer question. “Who” he asks them, “do the people say I am?” It’s easy to answer that kind of question. It really doesn’t require that we put ourselves into the equation. We can do a “he says/she says, we can give intellectual answers, we can speculate and say “well maybe.” We can play it safe. But the next question. Oh, the next question he asked! That one was much harder. That one was direct. “You,” he said. Who do you say that I am?” Now that question is a lot stickier. That one requires a commitment. You have to put yourself on the line, make a statement, a commitment, a testimony. And Peter did. He stepped right up. And he got it right. “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.”

The Messiah. The one who was to come, the long anticipated king of the house of David. And the Son of God, the living incarnation of God present on earth. Jesus is Lord. Peter gets it. He says it. Jesus confirms it. And in response he gives Peter a new name as a sign that he has been changed by recognizing who Jesus truly is and he gives him a task and a mission of leadership. Recognizing who Jesus was transformed Peter in that moment. Although we know that it did not make him perfect, as we see if we read just a little further in this Gospel. “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Peter gets it, he confesses it, and then he loses sight of it again. He stepped out there and walked on that water for a moment and then, down he went into the water. Fortunately, as we remember from last weeks Gospel, he had the good sense and humility to call out to Jesus and be saved!

In our continuing adventures together with Jesus, he takes us places. And we are presented with that very question that was asked of Peter. “You. Who do you say that I am?” And how we answer it matters, too. Who is this Jesus who came among us in the Incarnation? Fully God. Fully Man. The One who came to show us who God is…in love, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness. And also the one who came to show us who we can be. The suffering servant who came to be broken open for us. The one who died and rose again so that death would lose it’s power. Our Lord and Savior. And the one who comes to us and desires the relationship, asks the question, wants the commitment, “Who do you say that I am?”

Like Peter this is not a once and for all question. We do not have our great moment of confession of faith and stay in that place of transformation forever. I know I for one would like it much better if that were true. In some ways I would feel much more confident as priest and preacher if I could have a sense of myself as always being one of Jesus’ rocks. But even in this week I found myself busy and distracted by many things, and not as focused on “the one thing” as I would like to be.

“Who do you say that I am?” As Christians we answer this question in many ways. With our baptismal vows, made and renewed, with our faith statements, and with our lives….presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which, as it says in Romans, is indeed our spiritual worship. Everything we do, every place we go we are members of this body, with opportunities to use the gifts given to us by God. Does this mean we are called on to sacrifice our lives for Christ? Well hopefully not through death. Though some have been called to martyrdom over the centuries for the sake of the Gospel, it is more likely that the way we are called to sacrifice our lives is by giving up some of our comfort, whether material or emotional, as following Jesus has a tendency to take us from our safe places into new and risky territory.
I had someone in this community ask me not too long ago if St. James would ever offer sanctuary to a refugee if the need arose. I said while I could not speak for this community, that based on my experience with you all, I believed that there was a chance we would. That would certainly take us out of our comfort zone, it would be a living sacrifice. But in my heart I do believe that for the sake of the Gospel, if we were called, we could rise to that challenge as a community.

“Who do you say that I am?” How we see Jesus matters. Clearly the world still wonders about this carpenter from Nazareth. He still makes the cover of magazines regularly and movies are still getting made about him. At the Festival of Homeletics this year, Dr. Tom Long preached a sermon in which he talked about Jesus’ two main identities as “Messiah” and “son of God.” He emphasized the need to have both sides of the picture and not simply knowing it but “getting” it. Like Peter, we get it, we lose it and we get it again. We have to practice. To do it over and over. To confess and re-confess the truth of it…Messiah, son of God, until it sinks into our bones and our cells and we breathe it with our very bodies. And we have to keep trying to live it every day. Because that is a practice too. We get up on that rock and fall off and need to get on again, sometimes thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought….and sometimes not thinking near high enough! Loving God, loving ourselves and loving one another to the best of our ability. Seeking to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

So we go on reminding ourselves who and Whose we are….discerning what is the will of the God who loves us beyond belief and who sent his only son…the one who asks you today– “Who do you say that I am?”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Five: When is the Fourth Friday Not the Last Friday?

Songbird says" It's Friday afternoon, Eastern Time, and this is your faithful Songbird with a calendar-related Friday Five. Due to some confusion with our dates, I'm stepping in today, although I am usually here only on the 5th Friday, when there is such a thing.
Here are five things to ponder about dates. I hope you'll play!

1) Datebooks--how do you keep track of your appointments? Electronically? On paper? Month at a glance? Week at a glance? Must be: On Paper, Week-at-a-Glance, Vertical. And I had to go to the bigger format this year because they stopped making the smaller one. Which meant I had to redo the address book. Which so far has meant taping the little pages to big pages. Yeah, someday that will get done right. Sure it will!

2) When was the last time you forgot an important date? I don't remember doing that. I have forgotten an appointment now an again, an eye exam is the last one that comes to mind, but the planner goes with me, the post-it notes substitute for the razor sharp memory I used to have, and overall, I usually turn up where I am supposed to be.

3) When was the last time you went OUT on a date? OK, I confess, this is probably half the reason I went ahead and did the F5 at 6 p.m. on Friday....just so I could answer this question! That would be yesterday. And that would be not only the last time I was on a date but the second time I was on one in my very whole life. Well one that really counted anyway where someone calls someone up and invites someone to go somewhere and then it happens again and you have a nice time. And then you even plan for another helping! And another. Um-hmmmm.

4) Name one accessory or item of clothing you love even though it is dated. My long-sleeve turquoise blue soft cotton t-shirt with the dragon on the front. Bought it from the artist a gazillion years ago at some art fair or another. It's faded, it's soft and it's getting very old, but I love it so.

5) Dates--the fruit--can't live with 'em? Or can't live without 'em? Oh love them, especially those big plump Medjools. YUM! I do miss coops and organic food stores! Just don't seem to have those kinds of things out here in the hinters so much.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Second Date for Kate

Monday I got very brave and sent R an e-mail inviting him to join me for an outdoor concert in our local park tonight. I hadn't heard from him since the coffee date and really wasn't sure how I felt about making the first move, but I decided to stop being twelve for a minute or two and put on my big girl panties and give it a whirl. As of noon today I still hadn't heard anything and was ready to give it up as a bad idea, when I got his e-mail accepting! So we went tonight and had a very nice time listening to a group from the Big City that both us know from listening to Prairie Home Companion on MPR. We chatted between songs and at the break and walking back to his car afterwards. It was, as the first time, easy and comfortable being together. We found more things in common and we laughed a lot. We decided there will be a third date in a couple weeks as our schedules permit. We are going dancing.

Grace Abounds

I just had a call from L's jail programmer. I'm not sure why things seem to be moving along faster than anticipated, but I'm set for my orientation on the 31st and I can visit him that same day as soon as I'm done. I suspect all those RevGal prayers (or my "peeps" as L calls all y'all) may have something to do with this. God is good and grace abounds. We will now resume our scheduled work day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Late Breaking L Report

Here's a late in the day L update. He sent a letter from the new jail to the church with a note for me. He is well. That is the good news. And he did get some of the cards from my "peeps." He also said that he had just bought some paper and things at the old jail which apparantly he had to leave behind because he had to trade some food to get the paper, envelopes and stamp for the letter he sent to the "church family." But he wanted us to know that he was ok, that he appreciated the cards from us and from you! He also says he is praying for all of us, that it is "ok" there. He says he knows that I will find him there because I always track him down somehow. He thinks he gets out on November 7 and is already counting the days. He says he misses D, his girlfriend and is sad that he can't see her. I think there may be a only involves a ride and I can do that soon. It was so good to hear from him, to have him reach out to us like this is a big thing! I am feeling pretty blessed tonight.

Harder Than it Has to Be

I finally talked to the jail programmer at L's new jail. They apparently run a very tight ship. In order for me to see him "face-to-face" as his pastor I must jump through many hoops. She faxed me the eleven pages of forms and rules that I must complete and mail back. The first step is the criminal background check. If I pass that, she says, then I must come down of a Saturday and attend an orientation to teach me how to behave properly in the jail. I will also be interviewed to determine if I am of decent enough character to interact with "the inmate" and not be slipping him contraband, or taking things from him into the outside world. The rules they sent include a warning that I may be subject to a body search just in case I am even thinkin' about taking or leaving things. I have to agree that I will not call his family, or his lawyer or the judge on his case. I am not allowed to touch him other than to shake hands.

I told the programmer that I have passed background checks both for my church and my job. Doesn't matter. That I was approved to see him at this jail and had done so through two incarcerations for almost a year. Nope, no go. Clearly this is a higher hurdle to leap.

I just have this feeling that by the time I get through all of this he will be moved again! Which of course now could happen without my even knowing as we have no way to communicate. I was going to ask him to put me on his approved list of collect calls next time I saw him at the old place....but there was no next time. And he can't buy a calling card because when you move, as I understand it, your canteen money does not move with you, but stays in the old place. So I sent a card and told him I will come when I can, that we do remember him and pray for him, and God holds him still.

But I still think it's all a whole lot harder than it has to be!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Just Hand Over the Computer and No One Gets Hurt

OK, show of many of you remember the song "Suspicion?" Yeah, I know, I am really dating myself here, but it's been running through my head ever since yesterday when the sprightly young James called to tell me there was "bad news" on the computer front. It seems the lovely computer I had picked out, the Lenovo with all it's bells and whistles could not be mine for the price we had agreed upon but for over a hundred and fifty dollars more.

Apparently as near as I ever did get this it was due to some error in his telling me about changing the operating system from Vista to Windows, and my lack of some crucial disks from my old computer which might have made this possible. What it came down to though was that I could pay the hundred fifty bucks ....or.....I had to settle for a different computer. It was a different brand, one of the ones frequently sold in the "big box" stores. It had similar features to the Lenovo but it was not what we had agreed on Saturday, it was not the one he told me had such great dependability that he had "never seen one in for repairs" like the Lenovo. It had a different screen, one aircard vs. two....and he was, for some reason pushing it on me. I really could not afford to take the $150 hit, I needed the computer, so in the moment, I caved.

I had to take my old one in at lunch time for the data transfer anyway so I told him "fine, whatever, I'll see you at noon." But it was not all sitting well. I did not want the other computer. And I kept thinking about how hard he pushed that other one. What was that about, anyway? Dealer promo or something? Suspicion! And I was already bonding with that sleek little Lenovo, seeing her on my cute antique desk, imagining myself blogging away on her in bed late into the night. I was not happy about the other brand! Or the feeling that I might have been highjacked. When I got over to the store, James was out to lunch. Grace abounds! Even in computerland, I think. So I had a great chat with first another cute little high-school looking sales guy and then the store's owner and shared my concerns about not wanting computer B, why I wanted XP and not Vista in the first place, and despite glaze over, I think I even understood some of what they told me. Happy endings. The Lenovo is mine. OK, it is costing me $35 more. And I did go with the Vista operating system. I'm reassured that it will all be ok. That the compatibility horror stories I've heard in the past about Vista have been worked out, and the extra memory my $35 is getting me will take care of any other concerns. I told the man I hope he's truthin' me on this because I work across the's really easy for me to get here, I could be here a lot....and I blog! He (who by the way looks a bit like the angels on my holy cards from grade school) smiled beatifically and said, "Yes, we want you to be happy." Indeed we do. He has no idea!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kate in Computerland

As many of my preacher friends were working on sermons on Saturday, I was off doing a different thing. I was computer shopping. Now in order to appreciate the magnitude of this you must understand that that the laptop I'm replacing is almost seven years old ( and is only being replaced because of computer death). Her big sister the PC is eleven. I have no intention of giving her up any time soon as long as she continues to chug along. Now it's true I don't use her much as she is veeerrrrrrry slow, but she can call up an e-mail and process a word or two. She cannot however print the word. Well, theoretically she could, but I can't seem to find a printer that does not have more memory just in the set-up than she can manage! But since I am rather averse to sending things off to landfills for no good reason, and I do most of my "real" computing either at work or on the laptop, I see no reason that she can not live out her days basking in the sun on my desk in the study, getting taken for an occasional slow walk to check mail or write something in a pinch which I can then send to myself to be printed elsewhere.

The laptop however, is history. All because of the plug connection. Welded once with a warning that "this is a temporary fix," temporary has ended. I saw it coming. All the previous symptoms had returned. The flickering lights, the inability to charge the battery. So I babied her. I put her on the more blogging in bed, no more "lap" with the laptop. I taped the cord to the desk to prevent a cat jiggle. All to no avail. On Friday night there was a snick snick sound when I booted up that worried me. My guy had warned me that this was a Very. Bad. Noise. to watch for as it meant that things were shorting out in there. ERGH. So it was time to say goodbye.

James, my bright and chipper pains me to call him that....he looks twelve....but I digress....was very helpful as he showed me the entire line of laptops. There sure are a lot of bells and whistles out there! Webcams. High end integrated graphics boards for gaming. Ten different kinds of mouse pad whatsies. Something that inscribes your CDs with laser graphics. This or that for your screen choices. On and on. I told him what I did on the computer and what I wanted it to do for me. He assured me that any one of them would be "fine for that." Did I detect just a hint of patronising? No, he was too sweet.....But when I asked him how many pictures a gigabyte could handle....I think he did suppress a giggle. OK, so I don't know how big a gig is! And he was off with gigs and ram and processor speeds....and I admit, I glazed over. Overall in the shopping department, though, I think I done good! I am paying half of what I paid seven years ago for the dearly departed lapper. For this, I am getting something that I think has the capacity to send me to the moon, or back in time if James is to be believed. At the very least it will read and write my CDs and DVDs, let me blog and check my mail very fast and efficiently, have a very bright display, good WiFi reception (two aircards) and generally make me very happy. They will take all my "old stuff" and put it on my new computer and even install programs for free! Such a deal. He also sold me a new phone/TV/internet provider in the package that will save me $30 a month and give me more stuff on my phone for free, more channels on my TV (if I cared) and give me the capacity to "rewind my TV," a concept that I cannot even begin to get my head around! In return for all of this I am giving up my brand loyalty to the computer company that has had me since hello. Oh, well. Their refurb with fewer bells and whistles was $250 more than the brand new one I'm buying....sometimes the low bid wins!

The rest of the weekend seemed pretty tame by comparison. My sermon was done on Friday. Sunday I celebrated and preached for my colleague down the road. He is providing care for his new preemie great-granddaughter who was born three months premature in June and just came home. This was their first weekend and he had asked for backup for the service. I was happy to help, and it's neat to be with his folks in their tiny church. It was such a gorgeous morning for a drive across the prairie. I listened to Anna Carter Florence's talk from FoH on the drive. I can hear her over and over and always hear something new. The rest of the day was just a slow putzy Sunday, catching up on house stuff, playing with the dogs (the guest goes home today), dinner out with a friend. Sweet and peaceful. Now it's back in harness for another busy club, Bible study, team meetings, another preaching Sunday coming up, follow-up calls to jails to track down visiting info on L....and...oh yeah, the day job....and tomorrow I get to pick up my bright and shiny new computer and settle in for the next seven years or so.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sermon for August 17, 2008

Bishop Whipple Mission
Matthew 15: 10-20, 21-28

One of my preaching mentors always said that preaching the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had to involve just that. It had to be news and it had to be good. Well I have to say that sometimes this is a whole lot easier than others, and this Gospel is not one of the easier ones. Jesus presents us with a challenge today. As someone said, if this were the only contact I ever had with this person Jesus, I’m not sure I’d want to know him better. It’s true; he does not come off very well in this encounter with the Canaanite woman. Seeing the usually loving and compassionate Jesus respond in a manner that is so out of character is disconcerting. And what to make of it all has been puzzling Biblical scholars as well as the rest of us for a very long time. And, as is usually the case, there have been a number of ways Jesus’ behavior in this Gospel encounter has been interpreted and explained. One approach holds that first of all the interchange really was not as bad as it sounds to our modern Western ears. Rather than insults, it is said the dialogue could be interpreted as a kind of witty exchange with the woman and Jesus each giving as good as they got. As one commentator puts it: “It is good peasant humor, not theological debate.” It’s also pointed out that the word for dog that was used in the Greek is the word for domesticated dog, or even puppy, not the kind the runs wild. As if that perhaps makes it better, somehow.

Another take on this is that Matthew was using this story as a teaching tool to talk about issues that were occurring in the Christian community of his own time, and that his hearers would have clearly understood this. This argument says it was never Matthew’s intent to talk about Jesus’ character in the story, but to show how it was God’s plan for the Gentiles (the “dogs”) fit into the church’s mission. Dog was a common Jewish term for Gentiles who, like dogs, were not seen as distinguishing between clean and unclean food. This explanation links this half of the Gospel with what precedes it in the discussion of clean and unclean. By using a woman and a Canaanite (a “double outsider”) in the dialogue with Jesus, Matthew was showing that God’s plan was wider than simply saving the Jewish chosen people, Jesus is the savior of all. This view of things sort of lets Jesus off the hook and says it doesn’t matter how he behaved, if he called the woman a dog or not, because Matthew was just using the story as a sort of teaching tool anyway.

Then there are the commentators who ask us to look away from Jesus and his behavior, and put our eyes on the woman and her faith. They say it is her faith that is the important thing in the story. Her persistence in the face of first being ignored, then insulted, that we should note. That she did not return insult with insult but with faith and the continued expectation of mercy. And that in the end, this was the turning point in the story. Her faith was the thing that made the difference. The point is that we should be like her and just persist in faith no matter what the obstacles.

Then there is another take on the whole thing that offers yet another possibility. It is this one that seems to me to meet the standard that my preaching mentor held up of this being the story that is news and that is good. A kind of a both/and. This is, as one of our summer seminary professors told us, what the Incarnation was all about. Jesus broke into history to in order that we might know both who God is and who we can be. Jesus as the Incarnate One was fully God, yet fully man. It’s pretty hard to get our heads around this. We have a tendency to lean towards that one side it seems. Jesus…fully God, perfect, compassionate, all knowing. We see him as a sort of already finished being. Not someone who could be a product of his times and subject to human prejudices or stereotypes of any kind. Not someone who could be changed by an encounter with another human. But being fully human implies that Jesus could change, could be changed by his encounters, by his relationships. In his encounter with this woman Jesus did finally see her…he saw beyond the label, the stereotype, and entered in that moment into real relationship with her. He opened his heart in true compassion. He allowed himself to be changed. And because he entered deeply into that relationship…. there could be transformation, there could be healing. Outsiders could come into the circle, and even the dogs could be called to share in the meal. All because of Jesus’ great capacity for love grounded in his sure and certain knowledge of who he was as God’s beloved son. For Matthew’s listeners this meant that the Gentiles would no longer be outsiders, that God had a bigger vision and was doing a new thing among them. Some of them were willing to sign on and draw the circle wider. That was their good news. What is ours?

Certainly in our own lives there are no lack of examples of insiders and outsiders. Whether we are talking about the church or anyplace else. I know when I was growing up, I was quite sure that God was Irish Catholic. I still remember the first time I visited someone’s house that I knew was “Protestant.” I don’t know what denomination. I’m not sure at the time I knew there were denominations. There were just “us” and “them.” I was probably about eleven or twelve and I was invited to her birthday party. It created quite a moral dilemma for me to even go as “we” generally did not associate with “them.” Now while I never would have done something as crass as call her a dog to her face, I certainly in my little girl Catholic mind was pretty sure that she was due the scraps as far as what God was passing out was concerned. I was, after all, the insider on the fast track to Heaven and she was not. Looking back it all seems very silly, and more than a little sad. But as adults how many ways do we make those distinctions in our lives about who is “in” and who is “out?” Race, nationality, economic status, sexual preference, immigration status, religion, gender, age….some of those seem kind of obvious, or maybe not, depending on how we think about things. Or is it just the people who don’t think like we do, those people who irritate us, annoy us and get on our last nerve? Or are they the people who frighten us, threaten us, the ones that we fear. The ones we call our enemies. Are they the dogs in our lives? The ones we want to fence out, keep away under the table, and make outsiders? Jesus says we must feed them, too, see them, bring them into relationship, and allow them to change us, to move us to compassion. In God’s kingdom, there are no outsiders. All are welcome, all are to be loved. The message, as we hear it over and over is clear, “." As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you… love one another as I have loved you. (John 15: 9, 12) This is indeed the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That God is Love and that God so loved the world that God sent God’s only son Jesus Christ as the Incarnate one to indeed show us who God is and who we can be. It is the good news. It is also the hard work and the challenge. Thanks be to God that we have the Spirit of God manifested to us in Word and Eucharist and community to sustain us in our efforts.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Five: Fall Transformations

Mary Beth says: "Here in my neck of the woods, rain is falling...a little uncharacteristic for August, but most welcome! It'll be hot and humid later, but a break in the heat is most welcome.Also falling (especially into my driveway) are the fruits of the bois d'arc tree (also known as the Osage Orange). We call them "bowdarks" and enjoy bowling them down the driveway to the empty lot across the street. (Yes, I may be a redneck...) Bois d'arc fruits are used only for: 1) making more trees and 2) eating by squirrels (if you have another use, please let me know!) The wood of the bois d'arc tree, however, is very hard and very beautiful, and makes gorgeous items like the vase above. Such a lovely thing, from such an odd-looking source!"

(Sorry I can't post Mary Beth's lovely computer does very strange things when I go see them at RevGals!)

For this Friday's Five, share with us five transformations that the coming fall will bring your way.
  1. The first one that comes to mind is one that has already begun and that I am hoping (and believing based on all evidence so far) will continue. And that is my "stepping off the curb" to a new and expanded social life. This may seem kind of superficial to someone who does not know the whole story....but truly, it is transformational!
  2. Fall has always felt to me a most appropriate time for cleaning out, clearing out and beginning fresh. (Maybe because I spent over thirty years of my life in school!) So I am hoping that fall will bring more transformations to my house, especially to the "basement of despair" which I hope to get cleaned out before the snow flies.
  3. On September 12 I will celebrate the second anniversary of my ordination. This astounds me either as in: "Two years already?" or "Only two years?" depending on the day. As I move closer to this day I have already been thinking back and reflecting on the tremendous changes that have occurred in my understanding of what it means for me to be called to be a priest and how I manifest that in my life every day. There have been so many teachable moments that God has used in my "post-ordination formation" to get me off the altar and into the world. I'm sure as I move into year three God will have more interesting learning opportunities in store for me!
  4. I am hoping to transform the pile of paper under my desk into shreddies for recycling, the pile of paper in my desk into neat files, the miscellaneous junk stuffed into the overhead bins into some sort of order....well you get the office needs attention! I have been "living" in my day job space for going on four years now, and just like at home, the accumulation is getting transforming it into order so I can actually find things....well that would be good!
  5. I don't know that it's transforming my spiritual disciplines need so much as just a wee nudge back in order. The "things I sustain so they will sustain me" have gotten a little lax and a little sparse over the summer. Fall seems like it might be a good time to get myself back to meditation and to yoga. I miss my daily practice, but seem to need a kick-start. Where's a liturgical season when you need one? Does Fall count?
Bonus: Give us your favorite activity that is made possible by the arrival of fall. One of my favorite ever things to do is go on hayrides. Now sadly I have not done this for years. But I could, maybe. And fall us surely the time. Hmmm....there's a thought!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


In the why can't they leave well enough alone division....L has been moved to a jail about an hour from here. I found this out via the grapevine from the ex-roomate who found it out from L's girlfriend when she went to visit on Tuesday. I have no further details at this point, but will be working on that today when my old friend the jail administrator comes in at 3:30. You may recall we went through this the last time when he kept disappearing and reappearing in the jail up north and then this one again, seemingly at whim. I'd go to visit and he'd be gone. Then I'd drive to where he was and poof, he's not there, but here again! He never did know what that was all about. You apparently get moved for all kinds of reasons when you are in jail, some about you and some not. He says they just come and say, "Get your stuff, you are going for a ride." Shudder. So the cards people have been sending--I have no idea if they forward them. It's his birthday today and I know there were some on the way. I plan to ask Sgt. E just where those are and if they will get to him....sometime, but surely not today. On his birthday he will sit alone, an hour away and think, again, that no one remembers or cares. Because I cannot make visiting hours and the girlfriend has no transportation, even if we could get ourselves approved as visitors there on this short notice. Every place is different. The last time I was able to talk myself in by name dropping because I had also been a therapist in the same town and "knew people." In the hour away place nobody knows my I'm guessing I'll have to go through the full approval drill as a new professional and meet muster. Have to make that call today too. Because hour or no, I am going!

So we moved his stuff out of his apartment last night. It's all safe and sound in storage. I saw his baptismal candle and the prayer book we gave him. His cross and his cards. They were all together in a drawer, safe and sound. When his room mate saw me packing them he made some flip remark about if L had taken his church more seriously he wouldn't be in this mess. I did not say the things I thought. They were pretty rude. I simply said that it was between L and God and not ours to judge that. I know S is very angry at L. He feels he betrayed him and let him down. He doesn't get all of the tangled parts of L's life. He is only twenty-something himself and is dealing with his own issues. He only knows he liked L, trusted him and thought he had a room mate he would be with for a while, and now he does not. He blames L for his own discomfort and he is sharing that very freely with me in frequent phone calls and voice mails. S is getting a new room mate now. I hope that will help in his struggles.

It's funny. L thinks he is such an insignificant nobody, a loner, an eagle who soars high above us, touching no one, just swooping in now and then when he needs to take something to survive (he has described himself to me this way). And yet, and heart hurts over him, room mate S is struggling with his absence, the CH staff still asks about him, his new girlfriend D is having a hard time and misses him, his congregation worries and cares about him, you are all praying for him and folks who have never met him are sending cards to him. I hope someday he is in a place that he can hear and know this about himself. That he does matter, that he does count, that we do care. For now I simply hope that the system lets him be in one place long enough that the mail comes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Yesterday will linger in my mind for awhile as a strange kind of bittersweet day. It would have been our anniversary. Number thirteen. I'd been feeling kind of sad all day, so after work I decided to just call and see how XDO was doing. Sad as well. So we decided to be sad together and have dinner. We ended up having a nice time, remembering the good times, vacations we've taken, fun times together. We talked about mutual friends and concerns we share about them. After a break so I could walk Maggie and Chibi, my guest dog for the week, we convened at the hot tub in my back yard for a soak for old times sake. We shared a glass of wine and wished that the sky were not overcast so we might have seen the meteor shower. Yes we are rural enough that we can in my own back yard! We talked about how we met. I had thought of XDO as a support person for my then partner...but as we crashed and burned, it became clear it was I who was being supported. And gradually a friendship seemed to become more. In retrospect (how clear it is!) I think that that I perhaps mistook gratitude for something more and rushed into commitment when I should have waited for the smoke to clear and my heart to right itself. I think I started to know some things a very long time ago in this relationship that I did not want to know and, yes, even refused to know. Because I had made promises and I was determined to keep them, I stayed a very long time, and may have even longer had XDO not moved out. I am grateful that XDO was the one who finally made the break, even though it supposedly was I who made it untenable for us to be together.

It's been interesting times. A few weeks ago XDO asked me in some frustration, "Is this breakup even a little bit hard for you?" I responded as honestly and gently as I could. Yes it's been hard. Horribly sometimes. I have been lonely. I am sometimes totally terrified. But I am also finding some peace in not struggling to work out something that has not been working for a very long time. To my relief XDO seemed to hear and get that. We are making progress I think in moving toward something....a new normal maybe. Of course there is no knowledge of coffee dates and such, that would be, I think, TMI at this point...and I am hoping the rumor mill is not at full tilt with RDK sightings.

So there was some laughter and some tears as we raised our glasses and toasted each other on our first "un-iversary."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Updates for Inquiring Minds

Well I did it! I went on the coffee date. The ice, as they say, has been broken. If the criteria for a successful date includes closing the coffee shop (okay, it was Saturday and they do close early) and both of us agreeing that this was a positive enough experience that we want to do it again, I guess it was a success! The two hours and change passed very quickly. We laughed a lot. Some at ourselves for being nervous about this date. We found we have things in common including both having more than one book going at any given time, not being particularly given to regular TV watching, singing in the car, and not suffering fools. We both like to travel and would rather do it on backroads than interstates, and think the homogenizing of America is a sad thing. This seems like kind of a good start. I was left with the feeling that this is a person I could be friends with, have fun going to dinner with now and again. Just a nice guy, as I suspected about him all along.

The church interview also went well. She scribbled as fast as we talked. I made sure to get in that this was all grounded in our beliefs and part of a larger picture of our church. I hope that makes it in...I want people to know we have a mission here! She borrowed some of the photos we have of the community center in Rwanda and took pictures of our "mission corner" where we have our boxes of books we are collecting to send to them as well as our local food shelf basket, our change jar for the priest's discretionary fund, the "Soles for Souls" box to collect shoes that the Diocese is sponsoring and all of our general MDG information. It's a pretty cool spot, and the first thing you see when you come in the door to St. J's. Gives a good message I think.

So now I'm just waiting for my friend to arrive. I'm hoping to get in a short visit before it's time to go do the nursing home service at 3:30. Sometimes timing just doesn't all work out. She's on her way home from visiting her brother and "passing through" and I know she won't want to wait until I'm done. But I wouldn't want to pass on doing that service. At first I was not so sure I felt comfortable there, but the more I do it, the more I like it. It is one of the few chances some of these folks get to have worship and you can tell how much it feeds them. This is a volunteer effort of the ministerium and we have a scheduled rotation. But one of the aides told me that sometimes people fail to show up on their Sundays, or their services are a little perfunctory. I was kind of blown away, I guess. I think I'd rather have people just say they were not willing to be on the roster than do that. I'm actually thinking of asking if they'd like me to take a few more times during the year. As it stands now it's like three times a year. I think I could do a couple's not that big a deal. And I am after all a liturgical geek. Any time, anywhere...want a service? Call me! And this is kind of fun, because I get to go "off-book" since its a general sort of non-denominational type service with no Eucharist. I even get to be creative and write prayers and everything! Woo-hoo!

I did make it to the jail last night. L is doing a little better. He has gotten a card or two and that has lifted his spirits. He also has had a visit from the new lady in his life. It seems that the old plan of outside life and inside life never touching is not working so well this time and he seems to be adjusting to that. He was not so hard and cold and even laughed and joked with me like the L of old. It's his birthday on Thursday and he asked for a cake with a file! I told him I thought a card would have to do as I was not street smart enough to pull it off and I would probably end up over on the women's side of the jail and then the church would have to send me cards!

I just heard that my friend is about to hit town, so the day sails on. Life is abundant and God is good. Grace most certainly abounds.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sermon for August 10, 2008

Matthew 14:22-33

In the Gospel we heard today we have one of those stories we have all heard many times in our lives. It’s one of those stories that we may think we know well and know the meaning of. Oh we might say, that is the story of Peter who dared to step out of the boat in the middle of the great dark water in the midst of the night watch because he sees his Lord and Savior coming across the waves, and he had enough faith when Jesus said “Come” to take those steps on the water toward Jesus. It’s a story we might say, about having a lot of faith in God. Or we might say it’s the story of Peter who doubted and sank in the waves and only was saved from drowning by God’s grace. Peter, who started out strong in his faith, but allowed himself to become frightened and to doubt, and begins to sink, and if not for Jesus would have drowned right then and there. We might say, it’s one of those stories that tells us that we must always keep our eyes on God and not let the world frighten us, because it’s all going to come out all right. Or we might say it’s about Peter who had the faith to take that first step out of the boat to begin with, but ultimately earned the gentle reprimand of Jesus for being of “little faith” for not being able to continue his walk all the way across the water to meet Jesus. It means we must always strive to make our faith stronger because we can never have enough. So it's a story teaches us we should work harder to develop our faith in God. Or it's the story of Peter who has sense enough to ask for God to save him as he sinks instead of being too proud and hardheaded to allow Jesus to help him so that he just goes ahead and perishes in the waves. In this case the story tells us we should be humble and rely on God to save us. But as we tell each of these version of the Peter story, we must get out of the boat and at least try to walk on the water.

What we tend to forget is that in this story, there were also some other characters. There were a group of other disciples with Jesus that day. Just before this story happened Jesus had fed the five thousand, and just before that, he had received word that his beloved friend John the Baptist had been murdered and he had not even had time to grieve. he had been trying to get up into the hills to have some time to himself when those crowds had followed him. He is finally going now into the mountains to get some time alone to pray. We can imagine that perhaps he was hoping that it would be a simple trip across the sea for his friends in the boat while he was away from them. But we are told the winds came up and waves were high and the boat was far from the land. We can imagine that not only Peter, but everyine in that boat is not having a good time at this point. First a storm and now, this apparition. They see someone walking across the water. They see Jesus coming towards them, but they do not recognize that it is him, they think he is a ghost! We don’t know what the others in the boat did right away… but we assume that despite their fear they must have kept rowing. Rowing and perhaps bailing, because that is usually what it takes to keep afloat when the seas are stormy.

Peter speaks up, Peter gets up, steps out, and takes those actions we know so well. And that was wonderful. We can tell great stories and get great teachings about our faith lives from what Peter did. But there might be something for us too in the actions of the other disciples. When Jesus spoke and said to them, Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid,” perhaps at least some of them heard that message and were comforted. Perhaps they already got the notion that it was Jesus and he was walking out to the whole boatload of them.Perhaps in that very moment they believed and did not need to be shown further proof. Perhaps their worship began in that very second. And maybe they were even offering comfort there in the boat to one another as they rowed on in the tumultuous waves, as they watched their friend Peter get out of the boat “What IS he doing!” they might have thought! First to see him walk on the water, then fall into the water about to drown in the stormy seas…they might have been experiencing their own turbulent emotions. Perhaps they were saying, “No, I can’t watch!” like we do when someone we love is doing something we think is foolhardy or dangerous. Perhaps they were praying like mad for God to save Peter and when Jesus reached for him that was what confirmed for them that he was the Messiah! Or perhaps they secretly wished that they too had stepped from the boat with him. Or perhaps though they knew that just like Peter was the one called to step out of the boat, they were called to stay and row.

It’s like that, isn’t it? Some of us are called to be like Peter. The ones who do the big thing, the brazen thing. The thing that might get noticed and commented on. Whether it’s to say, “well he or she is a person of great faith,” or “they are a fool for God,” or “they had better water that mustard seed a little more”…they are our Peters. And we need Peters. We need the folks who get out of the boat, the ones who risk drowning for the sake of the Gospel. But we also need those who stay and row and bail. The ones who faithfully day by day live in community with one another, bearing one another’s burdens. The ones who pray for each other. The ones who try to live out the Great Commandment to love one another as God loves us, to manifest the fruits of the Spirit with one another, being patient and kind, peacemaking and forgiving, gentle and faithful. This too takes faith. Faith not in an idea or a concept but faith in the person of Jesus. Because having faith in Jesus means we are willing to follow him, to live lives based on his life, this Incarnate One, fully human, fully Divine who manifests to us who God is and who we can be.

So whether you are led to get out of the boat and walk on the water or whether you are led to stay and row, know that Jesus walks toward you with hands outstretched saying, “Come to me.”

Friday, August 08, 2008

Being Careful What I Ask For

I am a complexity to myself sometimes. Half sophisticated twenty-first century woman, half Celtic mystic, I am never deep down quite sure what to think about some things. While my theological education tells me some things are true, sometimes my heart would say otherwise. And my heart says that if I wanted to think so, I could believe that right now God seems to be paying an inordinate amount of attention to tending to my little personal concerns.

A few weeks ago I was talking to C about this guy I know. Someone who was a friend of a friend. I said I thought him very nice, and if I were ever in my life going to date someone, he would not be a bad start. I said this in complete jest and more than half in fear. For truth be told, I have not ever really "dated" anyone in my life. I have no clue how this is done and I'm not sure I even really want to know. This morning I had an e-mail from him wondering if I would like to get together for coffee sometime. I assure you, C had nothing to do with this. It was a completely other connection through another friend of the friend. I am not sure how it all came to pass. It is a small town. I am sure R will tell me. When we have coffee. Tomorrow at two. Yep. That soon. I'm kind of a basket case.

So it's a good thing I have other stuff to think about. Like the woman from the newspaper who is coming to interview my church folks on Sunday for an article about us. Just last week we were sitting at our team meeting talking about our tiny unknown church selves. Saying that we were the best kept secret in town. That we think we are pretty nifty (humble, as well) but that people don't know we exist, that we need visibility. So yesterday, I get an e-mail (God apparently likes e-mail) from the community beat reporter who heard about our MDG stuff and wants to do a story on this wee church that has been raising all this money for a community center in Rwanda. So I need to think about that too, before Sunday comes. What to say, how to get our best message out there.

Tomorrow there is also a sermon to write for the nursing home service on Sunday afternoon. I am hoping to have enough focus to do that before coffee, but I can't be sure that will happen.
My friend from the Big City is visiting on her way back from South Dakota on Sunday, so I may devote myself to housecleaning and sprucing and save the sermon for after coffee when I may be just a tich calmer. There is of course also the sprucing of me....that alone could take all morning. Just deciding what to wear could take all morning! Or just which shoes for heaven sake!

I told a couple of my coworkers about the coffee thing. It was like the old Clairol commercial. She told two friends and she told two friends....pretty much the workplace knows! So much for keeping things quiet. The sweet receptionist is so excited she can barely contain herself! After a few jaws came off the floor most of them are giving high fives. A few have threatened to come out for coffee "accidentally" at two tomorrow. Pain of death I tell them! This is new for me, this sharing of my life with people. I told C she kind of got me started on daring to let people support me. She and this blog ring. I used to think you had to do it on your own. This really is much more fun. And better and easier when times are tough, too.

So off we go....brave new world, here I come. I know, I know, it's only coffee! But God is really paying attention!

Friday Five: God Days of Summer

Presbyterian Gal says: "It’s August. An oppressively hot and humid month where many of us live.I remember the Al Pacino movie though not much about the plot. Just that it was very, very hot. And he had giant sweat stains on his shirt.As I pass through this year’s dog days in my felon ridden neighborhood (OK, just two housefuls. But isn’t that enough?), I am trying to focus on the blessings apparent around me, past and present, that I might not notice, necessarily. In that spirit, this week’s Friday Five goes thusly:"

1. What is your sweetest summer memory from childhood? Did it involve watermelon or hand cranked ice cream? Or perhaps a teen summer romance. Which stands out for you? My best summer memory involves a bike, a park, freedom and solitude. It was the first summer I was allowed to ride away on my own...maybe fourteen. I would ride to Eagle Point Park, a beautiful place, up on the river bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Designed in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright and built by the WPA, this place was (and still is) a treasure. My favorite spots were the fire circles that sat at the top of the bluffs. I'd pack a lunch and my journal and bike off for the afternoon. It was a long trek, the last bit a steep uphill climb, but worth every bit. I could be there with the city and the river beneath me to dream my dreams and have peace in my soul. I would journal write poems and wonder about all manner of things. The park continued to be my refuge and favorite writing place as long as lived in my home town, but that first summer of freedom was magic.

2. Describe your all time favorite piece of summer clothing. The one thing you could put on in the summer that would seem to insure a cooler, more excellent day. I love skirts! Along the way at any given time I always have at least one that meets this criteria. Light and floaty, or crisp and straight, depending on my mood. Gotta have my summer skirts.

3. What summer food fills your mouth with delight and whose flavor stays happily with you long after eaten? That would have to be watermelon. With salt. Just the smell makes me swoon.

4. Tell us about the summer vacation or holiday that holds your dearest memory. I am not a big summer vacation person. I just realized this. I go to summer from the cold. My best vacation memories therefore are of my yoga retreats in Mexico taken in February and March when I found deeply needed respite from cold and snow. And most recently a lovely cruise to Cozumel with some fantastic women! I do dearly love the Badlands though, and if I were to go hang somewhere in summer, that might be a place. I think I otherwise on vacation, I tend to go to people rather than places.

5. Have you had any experience(s) this summer that has drawn you closer to God or perhaps shown you His wonder in a new way? Oh a definite yes on this one! The whole experience with L, which I have been posting about here since last Fall, has been a God experience for me. It was clearly God who called me to go back to see him after that first Bible study meeting, baptising him was truly a God-moment, and now seeing God's hand at work as he struggles since being back in jail has given me an opportunity to reflect on how there truly is no separating us from this sweeping unconditional love of God. It has also provided me with yet another chance to see God's love made manifest in good and wonderful people. Once again, belonging to this blog ring has been an experience of being church in a transformative way as I experience your care and support for me and for L. The healing in my relationship with XDO that is slowing unfolding is another place where God is manifesting God's unceasing care.

Bonus question: When it is really hot, humid and uncomfortable, what do you do to refresh and renew body and spirit? By way of telling on myself, I have to say, I love this weather! One of my friends just got back from St. Louis and she says they call it "the weather you wear." I love that! I just groove on this steamy stuff. As I said in a post not long ago, the bright white days and gauzy nights....I think it's partly because it does take me back to childhood...but anyway...even loving it as I do, sometimes even I need to refresh! Then there is nothing like a good book, a great big glass of iced tea and the porch swing on my big screen porch where even on the hottest day, the ceiling fan can get a breeze going and cool me off. Ahhhh......

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

and in Light

I have not been back to the jail...all things in moderation after all. That will come later this week. But my soul is lighter, and once again it is because of the prayers and love and support of this circle. The love of God made manifest here is palpable. Your concern for L and offers to send cards to him is just the most wonderful thing. I can't wait to see his response. He's always gotten this kind of funny smile when I tell him my "pastor friends and church people on the internet all over the world" are praying for him. Pleased and kind of "aw schucks." It has always continued to baffle him that anyone would care about him. We have had this conversation more than once. He often goes back to when I came to see him the first time after the Bible study. He tells the story, almost like little kids want you to tell how you took them to their first day of school. He always tells it the same way...."The guy came and said I had a visitor, I said 'who me?' and he said, 'well, you are L aren't you?' and I said 'yeah' and he said 'we'll, if you want you visitor you better get out there then or I'll send her away!' and I went out there and I thought, oh I know who that is, that's that lady minister from the bible study....what's she doin' here. Then he rushes to assure me that he was happy to see me....just confused as to why I would come. And I have my part of the ritual now, too. That I had this poking from God. At first I kind of resisted, telling God I was busy with other things, but God would not let up....and then I came and saw him and got to know him and I was so very glad that God had poked me because I got to know what a great person he was and how glad I am he is in my life. We do this little ritual now and again. We did it Saturday, our little liturgy of connection.

I am, like Mompriest, a borderline Pollyanna. I believe in people. I hope in them until there is nothing left to hope for, and sometimes even then. I am still very hopeful, and I think that the more support and care he has the better. The more he knows that there are people out here pulling, the more those dark voices will not have their way with him. He said something interesting on Monday. When I told him that God, his church and I were not planning to abandon him he said, "yeah, I know, that's the problem" and he wouldn't elaborate. I don't know if he was just being didn't feel that way. It felt like it really might be the horns of his dilemma. I find I kind of hope so, because I think it's one of those good problems.

So thank you all again. I know you will be a light in his darkness. You are ever and always a light in mine with your presence in my life.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

In Darkness

I hardly knew him when he walked into the visitors room. He looked older already since Saturday. And harder somehow. And when he spoke, I knew he was coming from a dark and distant place in himself. It is not a part of him I have seen often, even in the jail. It scares and saddens me beyond words to see him this way. Some of it is the wall he must hide behind to survive in that place. And some of it is bravado, I think. A push-pull, a dare. "Will you keep coming if I act in this won't....will you....but oh, please do." I told him every way I knew how that I, that his community, that his God, were not going to abandon him, no matter what! He said a lot of things that were so heart-breaking, so painful to hear him say. Things I know that live within him but that I believe are not his deepest and most authentic self. He told me a voice in his head tells him "Not even God can save you now." He thinks that might be true. I truly believe there is a battle going on in and for that boy's soul.

He has ninety days to serve. But he says there is some other charge out there from "before" that may add some time. He says he doesn't care. He says he won't go back to CH or any other program. He wants his own place and to make it in the world his own way. We did agree that maybe he would consider staying with someone temporarily when he gets out "to get on your feet." "But NO PROGRAMS!" he says. Ok, L, no programs, we won't die in that ditch today. One day at a time, I told him. One day at a time.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Light Country Sabbath

Friday night at our team meeting, we were talking about the circuit riders who used to travel around to all their different charges, leading worship, preaching the Gospel and bringing God's love where ever it was needed. I felt a little like that today. It was not my Sunday to officially be in charge of anything, but in team ministry, "official" and a buck will get you an ice cream bar. So since the priest was running late, I folded and stuffed the bulletins, changed the hymnboard and coached the newish alter guilder as she set up the altar. The lector had to cancel, so that was pinch-hit. After church another member and I took off to deliver Communion to the farthest flung homebound member of our parish forty miles away. Never able to just feast and run, we had to hear all about the kids, grand kids and such. On the way back into town there was a stop needed at the big box. Somehow L managed to get himself arrested wearing one contact. Though he seems to think it's ok to just live that way indefinitely, I had some concerns, so I talked to the jailer, and they said if everything was new and sealed, he could have his other one, a case and solution. So that was the stop, and then a drop at the jail of those items. At 3:30 I rolled into the driveway, the whole rest of Sunday at my feet. Nap? Read? Blog? Or do all the chores that I didn't do yesterday?

Yesterday! Yeah, that was a hard one. I knew that when...yes when....even my little Pollyanna self knew somewhere inside that the odds of a forever success were slim....he went back, it would upset me, I was not really prepared for quite how much my heart would hurt. He made it seven and a half months. That is the longest he has not been incarcerated since he was fourteen. He will be twenty on August 14. He said he felt bad that he didn't make to his birthday...he would liked to have known what it was like to have one "outside." Oh, he said so many things that made me want to just break down and sob....or whup him upside the head....sometimes all in the same breath! Like that he thought he was "destined" for a life in prison. I'm afraid I a little up in his face about that one. He talked about how it felt like he had never left...I reminded him that some pretty important things had happened in the in-between and that I hoped he could remember that he had left and that he was a different person in some ways as he came back. He told me that he had told his room mate not to call me, that he didn't want me to see him there. But also that he knew S would call....and that I would come. He says he doesn't want anyone to come see him or think about him from the outside....I said "Too bad. They will anyway because they care about you." He told me while he was out sometimes he would ride his bike over by the church and just sit there on the grass. He gave me more of a sense of just how hard it was to be out than he ever let me see when it was happening. We cried and we prayed. Then I left and cried some more. His room mate is struggling, too. He was pretty mad a L for "bringing this all on himself" but he was also scared of the disaster he saw occurring in front of him. He feels guilty, as if there were something he could have, should have done to stop it. He seems to need to talk to me a lot right now, too. Another outpost for the circuit rider.

I talked to C yesterday in the midst of it all, and she was a great help and comfort . One of the things she said stays with me....that when we stand by powerlessly as those we love suffer and fall and experience that helpless, loving heartbreak we can get for a moment a sense of what God feels for us. I have had a lot of feelings toward God in my life, awe, wonder, love, fear....but this is the first time I think I have ever felt empathy for my creator.

His hearing is tomorrow. We may know something after that....or not. This is the system after all. I have learned to count only on not counting on anything. Time, I guess, will tell. In the meantime, he has his contacts, and a whole lot of prayers. And for now, that will have to do.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Sad News

L has been arrested. These last two weeks have been like watching an accident in slow motion. Like watching someone falling in a dream. Running to catch them with legs of lead. Knowing what the final moment would be but being unable to stop it. Ever since his baby's mom pulled D away he has been in a kind of reckless self-destruct mode and nothing mattered. He called me yesterday afternoon. I know now it was a kind of goodbye. I think he knew what was coming. He's very smart in the way of these things and I think he knew he had pushed it just too far. His PO tried not to violate him, I really believe that. Technically, this could have happened three weeks ago. But he wanted to try to keep him out, let him get a job, do some therapy, see if there was some way something else could be pulled together for L in the system for treatment. The problem is, L gave up on himself. He told me yesterday it was all just too hard, that he just did not know how to live on the outside.

I'm not sure what's next for him. I know he has time left to serve. If what I know is true, it's something like 110 days from the last sentence. I don't know if that's it....or now if there is more. It all depends on how much if he will be here or elsewhere. Visiting hours start at one today. I will be there.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday Five: Lock Me Out, Lock Me In

Songbird says: "For some reason, Blogger declared this blog possible SPAM and locked us down yesterday. This morning, we're free to post again, but there was a fair amount of excitement last night among our contributors, who found a dire notice on their Blogger dashboards threatening that this blog might be deleted in 20 days!We requested a blog review, and I posted a request at the Blogger Help group, where I found we were not alone. Many other perfectly nourishing and cromulent blogs got the same notice last night.This turned out to be a very small barricade in our blogging community life, but it seemed appropriate to explore locks and blocks and other barriers this week. Also, I liked the picture of the security team above! Could they be Blogger's Spam Prevention Robots, working overtime?In honor of their efforts, I bring you the "Lock Me Out, Lock Me In" Friday Five."

1) How do you amuse yourself when road construction blocks your travel? Three words....Books on Tape (well now it's on CD, but you know what I mean!) And not just in construction but on all road trips they keep me awake, alert and amused. And if not that then it's podcasts of some of my favorite things, like Speaking of Faith which I never seem to catch when it's on, or listening to some of my favorite music and singing along -- really really loud!

2) Have you ever locked yourself out of your house? (And do you keep an extra key somewhere, just in case?) Shortly after we bought the house here, we got a new front door with the kind of lock that locked itself behind you. One night fairly late I went out on the front screen porch to get something. It was Fall, I was in light sweats, a T-shirt and socks. Yep, the door locked. I knew that XDO was due home within an hour or so, so at first I thought my best option was to simply sit on the porch and wait. I got very cold. So after a while I thought about my winter gear out in the (unattached) garage. So out I slogged through the wet and slimy leaves in my little socks, got my coat and my BOOTS, put them on over my now bare feet and went back to the porch to finish out one of the longest hours ever. The next a spare key!

3) Have you ever cleared a hurdle? (And if you haven't flown over a material hurdle, feel free to take this one metaphorically.) I tried the real thing once. Like my dog, I am not built for soaring. The metaphorical kind...I think my biggest hurdles concern doing something new. Like the "first funeral" that has occupied my last couple posts, doing something for the first time seems to trip my trigger a bit. Starting new jobs used to be a real trial for me! My solution was to assault the learning curve head down with vengeance and get through it as fast as possible so I wouldn't have that horrible (to me) sense of not knowing something and possibly having to ask for help. My solution these days is a bit saner and gentler. Ask for lots of help and guidance, both human and divine, pray a lot, breathe and be mindful, as I know at some level that it really will all be well somehow despite my fears. As I am coming down the track it all looks pretty impossible, but suddenly (and this happens every single time) as I get there I am borne up and over and left with the exhilaration of knowing that once again grace has seen me home. You'd think I'd stop fussin'!

4) What's your approach to a mental block? When I was in grad school, every time I had to write a paper I would have a meltdown. I would be sure that I could not do this thing. I was too dumb, too disorganized, whatever. This was going to be the one in which they were finally going to discover that I did not belong there! I would moan, I would whine, I would procrastinate and would work myself into a fine froth. Sometimes I would almost be late with the paper a a result, or at the very least I would be rushing at the last minute and stressing myself all out. Well after about a year of this it finally dawned on me that we seemed to have a pattern here! Duh. Have a melt-down. Have a crisis. Get crazy for awhile. Write the paper. Get a decent grade. Hmmmm. So I decided to give myself permission to have the crisis on a planned and time-limited basis, get it out of my system and then get on with it. This has worked since for mental blocks. What, I ask myself is the worst case scenario here....well let's have the crisis over it then...Done? Ok....then let's get to it. Workin' for me so far.

5) Suggest a caption for the picture above; there will be a prize for the funniest answer! For some reason my computer won't let me post the picture, but here is my caption: "I think the preacher party is that way!" "No, over there!" "No, I clearly heard the laughter coming from that direction!" "Well, we seem to be stuck, I guess we'll have to vote, let's have a show of hands." "Er, Bill...."