Monday, March 26, 2007

Last Week of Winter

I spent the last week of Winter enjoying spring-like temperatures and being hyper-social. I've had a tendency to just hang out with my grandparents when I am down there for school. Sure, I talk to friends at school, but after hours I have just been sticking close to the homestead. I adore my grandies and have so much fun talking to them that it just doesn't even occur to me to make other plans. However, I had run into some friends from my last church. Mike and Tammy are really cool and I realized it had been forever since I'd had any catch-up conversations with them. So, we met for dinner at Meadowlark in Centerville. The food (garlic chicken served with rice, limas and goat cheese) was terrific and the conversation even better. Afterward, I couldn't resist going into Half-Price Books to look for the Analytical Concordance of the New Testament. Not only did I find it for a third of the usual cost, but I ran into Evvi and Keith, too! What a great surprise! We had a wonderful visit over books and agreed to stay in better touch. I miss them and I missed getting to see Garnet. It breaks my heart that we aren't near enough for me to see her growing up, up-close and personal. She is the dearest little girl, smart & creative like her mama & dad.

Thursday after class, I killed some time running errands, then went to Laurel's house. I like being there because it is always so full of life and feels so real, just like Laurel does. She says what she is thinking, which is refreshing and a good example. We are so often encouraged, especially women, to be polite and "nice" and behave ourselves. Sometimes we are so busy behaving ourselves that we start to lose track of who we really are. Laurel and I were both hungry, so we popped over to Jeet India for a great dinner and lots of talk about theology and inner work. It's always so good to talk to her. She started out as almost a mother figure for me, the mother of friends & leader of the Quaker youth group I attended. Now, she is a very good friend to me and to my Beloved, too.

I had to stay in town for a Friday/Saturday class, so I booked a facial for Friday morning, taking advantage of a long-unused gift certificate. I was going to get a manicure, too, but then I saw that the manicurist was the same one who had hurt my toenail another time, so I backed out. I spent the manicure money on some really good Aveda tea instead. After my facial, I took myself to The Winds for mushroom soup and Tuscan bread salad. Then, I picked up some of Current Cuisine's hummus & sundried tomato dip to take home to my sweet girl. I was almost late to class due to that stop, but it was well worth it to see the delight on J's face when I presented her with them.

The class was in preparation for our transcultural trips coming up this summer. At seminary, we are required to spend 2 weeks doing immersion in another culture. We got to hear presentations by students who had just returned from Appalachia (North Carolina & Kentucky...the Kentucky group had spent time visiting J's dad's home stomping grounds of Harlan's coal mines & the Pine Mountain Settlement School), Chicago (SCUPE's urban ministry program), Cambodia, Bolivia (where the group's bus was stoned in riots...very scary) and the Bahamas (no, she was not lounging on the beach the whole time...we asked). This summer, students will be going to Chicago, Kentucky, Costa Rica, New Mexico and South Africa. There is a Holy Land trip planned for January, too. I will be spending 2 weeks in June at Ghost Ranch in Santa Fe. I wish J could go along, but Pie has school one of the weeks. I hope to take the train down. I have never taken any train trips beyond an hour ride on a tourist steam train and various subway trips.

After class on Saturday, I had to go check on the house (I am ready to quit praying to St. Joseph & start praying to St. Jude on that one), then I got to go home to my sweetie's corned beef & cabbage for St. Patrick's Day. She was ever so glad to see me, after the extended time away, and has been mopey about my commute ever since. I am not real thrilled with being away from her, either, let me tell you! I love her so much and could cheerfully spend every waking moment with her...every sleeping one, too.

Sunday, we had Sunday school & church. In Sunday school, we talked about the spiritual practice of care of the body. It was interesting to see how much the other class members discounted body care like bathing and adornment, which the chapter advocated, in favor of things like healthy eating and exercise. Those things are also important, but it is good to be gentle with ourselves and treat ourselves to long, lush baths and fun clothing, too. The church service didn't sit right with my liturgically conservative nature. My wife & mom, as well as some of my classmates, think I was being a bit uptight. However, my liturgy professor is right there with me, as are a couple of other profs and my grandparents. When we walked into the sanctuary, the communion table had been cleared of the candles, Bible and flowers. In their place were things like a child's tent (pitched), a teddy bear wearing camp clothes and other camp paraphernalia. It was Camp Sunday & I guess these were set decoration. I found it wildly inappropriate to use the communion table for these things, but other folks have said that it's not a big deal, it's just a table, camp can be lifted up to God, too. I just think the tent should have been pitched on the floor in front rather than on the communion table. The other thing that disturbed me was that the sermon had been ditched altogether in favor of a skit, jokes by the "Hee Haw" clad pastors, a camp song singalong (including purely secular, just for fun songs) and a talk by one of the youth about how much fun camp is. I think these kinds of things have an important place in the church, even in the service. However, to replace the sermon with them seems unconscionable. Maybe I am just too rigid, but I was amazed by the whole thing.

After church was an Open and Affirming gathering, with a pizza lunch, a video called "When a Kid is Gay" and a discussion of the video. We had some very good discussion at our table. Every single person at the table seems to be for going ONA and has personal experience with a gay loved one. One couple has a gay nephew, another man had a gay brother who died of AIDS before he ever came out to his brother, the AP has had kids in the youth group come out to her, J & I talked about our own experiences. I felt awful for one of the kids in the video, who is a fundamentalist Christian and is convinced he will go to hell for being gay. It was very sad. Another boy seriously considered suicide because his dad was very emotionally and verbally abusive to him because of his orientation. I am so blessed to have had the kind of upbringing and to have the kind of family I have.

After the gathering, we went home and picked up Boot for some Crocker Park prowling. The boys had been fighting all weekend, so Pie did not want to come along. Boot was perfectly pleasant, though, toward us. I understand that they really got into it Friday night and Pie ended up saying to J, enraged with his brother, "There is no room for diversity in this world!!! I am just trying to make some space for myself!!! I don't want to be like him!!!" So, I suspect that Boot was coming down on Pie for not being into boxing and other such manly, American pursuits. He needs to learn to be himself and let Pie be his own self. I'm glad I missed that part of the weekend and was simply able to enjoy Boot shopping for clothes at places like Hollister and for weight lifting equipment at Dick's. He is such a guy. Not at all a little boy anymore. I spent the rest of the afternoon working on the seasons swap tip-in pages that were due the following weekend, while the rest of the family vegged out in front of various screens. After Boot left, we tucked in to split pea soup and good bread and got ready to start a new week.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sermon-We Are Creating Tomorrow's Heritage

We Are Creating Tomorrow’s Heritage: A Sermon on John 17:17-21

The greatest amount of moaning and wailing that I’ve heard from my fellow students at seminary is over church history courses. The amounts of reading are prodigious, the time periods seem distant, the information irrelevant to a modern audience geared toward moving forward and most of all, they exclaim, it’s so boring! Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I have had, on occasion, to resort to reading my Calvin out loud so I wouldn’t fall asleep and that Karl Barth’s writing style always gives me fits! I am in agreement with historian David McCollough when he says, “No harm’s done to history by making it something someone would want to read.” No harm is done, either, by making it something someone would want to hear. Most people who claim not to like history just didn’t have a good history teacher. I say this as a deep lover of historical study, with a B.A. in History and a seminary specialization in Church History.

I am one of the lucky ones. Oh, I’ve always had an interest in history, the great goings-on of times long ago, the everyday lives of people from ages past. But, when I say I am lucky, I am referring to my middle school history teacher. Mr. G had a true passion for the past, along with a knack for relaying his love of history to 7th and 8th graders. He made it relevant. That is, he figured out how to convey its relevance to us. Part of his method was to appeal to the scatological bent of kids that age by telling us tidbits about the prevalence and common treatment of dysentery during the Civil War and what, exactly, goes into hot dogs, as part of a discussion of the Industrial Revolution and the growth of factories. Mostly, though, he simply told us the truth. Instead of relying on a never-ending column of dry names and dates, we were told juicy stories about a fascinating array of real people and occurrences that just happen to have been in the past.

When my class moved to the high school, so did Mr. G. He was determined that his students know things that are still seldom taught in our schools, things that don’t always speak well of our American heritage. For while it is true that our forefathers (Mr. G included the foremothers, too) gave us things like the Constitution and fairer labor practices, they also bestowed on us a terrible heritage of broken treaties with the natives of this land and internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. We like to gloss over ugly truths like this, but it is imperative that we speak these truths as loudly as we proclaim our pride in the accomplishments of our nation. As Goethe put it, “patriotism ruins history” and when we don’t have the whole story, we miss valuable lessons.

The same kind of veneer is often put on church history. As Christians, we are proud of our faith’s message of love to the world. We are hasty to skip over atrocities done in the name of Christ, atrocities such as the Crusades, the Inquisition and exclusionist tactics practiced by Christians today. As Protestant Christians, we are proud of our heritage as a denomination that grew out of the Reformation. We speak of Christians such as Martin Luther, who, in fighting the corruption of the Church, helped to create a whole new way of being Christian. Yet, we avoid talking about other Protestants such as Thomas Müntzer, who led 8,000 peasants in the bloody Battle of Frankenhausen, a battle fought over varying interpretations of Christ’s message. As American Protestants, we are proud of our roots that stretch back to the Mayflower Pilgrims. We neglect to include things like the hanging of Quakers like Mary Dyer or the banishment of those, like Anne Hutchinson, who spoke out against Puritan sermons.

The good news in the dark parts of our heritage is that we can study what happened and make sure it never happens again. We can make sure we follow the example of people in history who got it right and guard against slipping into the ways of those who did not. It is all too easy to say that we would never allow something like the Holocaust to happen. Yet, how many of us, with our parish, our job or our family at risk would genuinely have the courage to stand against the rising flood of hatred? How many of us would be a Karl Barth or a Dietrich Bonhoeffer? How easy it would be simply to go along to get along, to protect those we love through our complicity! How many American pastors over the past few years have preached against a war that meets none of the traditional criteria for just war? I know that if I was told that I had better put the American flag up instead of the cross in my church or risk my mom’s life, I would most likely fly that flag high. I wish I thought I would behave differently, but I am not so certain of my strength. In all my humanity, I very well might, like Peter denying Christ, act to save my own skin rather than to tell God’s truth. I can only try my hardest to be a truth-teller, knowing what I know of history.

So, the past is relevant, in all its evil as well as all its good. What Christians have done in the past has shaped irrevocably who Christians are today. I have found myself embraced when claiming the name “Christian” and have found myself under suspicion, challenged, as well. We must act in the present to deserve the embraces and we must act in the present to eradicate the suspicion. We are responsible for future generations being able to claim their heritage with the pride we are able to show in celebrating ours. We don’t want to live in the past, to assume that because our ancestors have accomplished much, we may rest on their laurels. We want to live our lives as Christians today in such a way that future generations will wish to live up to our example.

In the history of our church, we are provided with fine examples of how to live out the life of the church in a way that glorifies God and furthers the work of Christ. The Core Values that we claim as our top five are Acceptance, Family/Community, Mission, Heritage and Caring. At the first Visioning meeting, where we winnowed an enormous list of possible core values down to these five, there was much debate over heritage. Some people felt that including heritage would encourage living in the past, even making an idol of our history and refusing to hear any possibility of change that the Holy Spirit might be whispering into our hearts. Tradition, for all its worth, can also stifle us and put God into a box. Others felt that heritage was all well and good, but that there were other things more important. The beauty, though, of a heritage as rich as ours is that it is inclusive of most of our finer impulses.

When we speak of our church's heritage, we speak of acceptance. When we say, in our statement of faith, “You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin” we affirm that God accepts all people and imply, therefore, that so should we. When we speak of our heritage, we speak of family and community, for this church, all the way back to its inception in 1811, has had a strong tradition of being a family-oriented faith community. When we speak of our heritage, we speak of mission. Decades of work have poured forth from this church out to the larger community, work of helping to lift up the bent-over people. When we speak of our heritage, we speak of caring, for all the values I have just spoken about speak deeply of caring. In that caring is the reflection of a host of other values, values like peace, justice, faith.

Heritage is not an empty vault, filled with dust and void of nourishment. Heritage is more like a banquet table, at which we find a rich array of dishes, with God as executive chef and our spiritual ancestors as sous chefs, doing their best to replicate God’s recipes for the delight of future generations. We are invited to drink and eat the riches of God’s table. We set aside that which is not bread, our worries, cares, prejudices. We set aside all notion of tradition and heritage as prison cells. We take a seat at the table and eat what is good. We also step into the kitchen and don our aprons to prepare nourishment for the coming generations.

In so doing, we are about the work of Christ, who asked for sanctification not only for the apostles, who sent not only the apostles into the world. Christ’s interest was for our sanctification as well. Christ asks us to go into the world so that all may believe in him and so that all may be one. Jesus’ charge 2,000 years ago echoes down the ages to us. We would do well to incline our ears to what God is speaking to us today, in order that our actions may become part of the beauty of the table God is setting throughout history, and not tainted meat or molded bread to be thrown out with the garbage of the past by future generations.

Edward Gibbon said, “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.” It is up to us to hold high the lamp of our heritage and use the past as a solid foundation from which to soar into the future God would have us create. Without the foundation, we have nothing to stand upon.

Delivering Pie

Since we are kind people and try to be helpful, we agreed to take Pie to his dad's & pick him up over the weekend. In the temporary custody papers, it explicitly names him as the responsible party for all transport, but we figure that when we're able, it won't hurt us to take him. Friday, he even got to get out of school early because we had an appointment with Boot's guidance counselor. J actually drove there, so I was able to just look at everything. I love being a passenger in cars, but rarely get to be. After the meeting with the guidance counselor, J drove us around Erie & environs showing us landmarks of her youth. The weird thing for me was that all the same people were still in town. Apparently, young people in the area just stay. It was very different from my hometown-no bastion of intellectualism and liberal politics, but home to enthusiastic American flags and blue collar industry. No wonder J never felt like she fit in. She should have grown up in Yellow Springs. The difference between there and here was marked, too. We stopped at Art's Bakery and then dropped Pie off for the weekend.

We had dinner reservations at Crowley's so we popped over there, eating our dessert first, in the car. J had a fantastic cream puff, filled with high quality, thick custard. I had an elderberry flip, with the most amazing crust. Dinner was great, too, in a wood-lined room with the late afternoon sunlight streaming in a wall of windows. Our service was terrific. J had king crab legs while I ordered a filet with blue cheese. They had a creamy garlic dressing that is one of the best dressings I have ever had. The artichokes au gratin we had for our appetizer were wonderful, too. After dinner, we walked out into the evening, feeling spring in the air, and drove the two hours home.

Saturday morning, J was awake bright and early, wondering if I'd like to hit the hot tub. We took our books and had a nice soak, then got dressed and wandered over to Borders' café for coffee with our books. We spent the morning reading, people-watching and enjoying the sun coming in the windows. I picked up a couple of April issues of magazines, pastel-covered and full of inspiration. One of them had a fold-out ad & when I showed it to J, she said, "House porn!"

We spent the afternoon doing drive-bys of houses for rent and shopping. We went to both Half Price Books and the Borders outlet. I much prefer Half Price Books. I found some cool Olivia stuff to give Laura, who loves the Olivia books. We stopped at Olive Garden for soup and salad before shopping.

After prowling the bookstores and then hanging out at home on the couch, J suggested we have dinner at Aladdin's. She always turns her nose up at it, then loves the food, so I was surprised she suggested it. She told me later that when I was listening to Middle Eastern music in the car, she decided it would be nice to offer. She had a delicious grilled tuna steak rolled sandwich and I had a hummus shawarma platter. Great stuff! Our chicken sambusek appetizer, though, was my favorite part of the meal. Maybe I'll get that for lunch today and take J another tuna rolled.

Sunday, I led the pastor's class, introducing our new book. It's called Practicing Our Faith and Dorothy Bass is one of the authors. I talked them through why faith practices are needed and what exactly the authors mean by faith practices. We had some good discussion, even though we were a small group. Herman told us about his habit of going down to the lake for some thinking time. Lovely! We went to church, then scooted out before coffee hour to get changed for lunch with Jazzbo and Anne.

We hung out at their house playing with the dogs and talking before heading over to North Olmsted, to a dive of a Days Inn and some very good Tex-Mex food at Nuevo Acapulco. I always have such a great time when we get together with them. There's a house for rent right around the corner from them, but I suspect it would be out of our price range. It would be so much fun to live within a block of them. We had a great lunch (and I found out that picadillo means something very different at a Mexican restaurant than it does in Cuban cooking) and good conversation. Finally, it was time to go. We bid them goodbye and hit the road to Erie.

J drove so that I could get caught up on my Dante. I spent the whole time there and back reading aloud to her from the Inferno. When we picked up Pie, he was "starving" and mad grumpy, so we fed him fried chicken (he was furious with J because she only ordered him 6 pieces and wouldn't let him buy more with his own money-he has a bunch of chicken in the fridge left over now) and he promptly conked out for the rest of the ride. When we got home, he woke up much sunnier, ate a ton of food and then collapsed into bed. Adolescence! J made us chili spaghetti & we hung out watching t.v. until our bedtime.

I am so silly because I was all excited to get to leave the state, even if only briefly and for the most prosaic of reasons. I love to travel & every time I get to go on a car trip, I feel like a dog with my head out the window, big grin and ears flapping in the breeze. I am dying to drive down to Florida right about now, taking the route through the Carolinas and Georgia, past all the orange groves and horse farms of north Florida, right to St. Pete. There's a UCC ministry opening on Pass-a-Grille right now that would sorely tempt me, were I finished with school and it not so far from my mommy.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Carpet Woes

Two of our cats are pissed off about living in a smaller space, with only 2 litter boxes instead of four. They have taken to leaving us "presents" under the table every couple of nights. So, I have been immersed in carpet shampooing this week. I am so tired of hauling the shampooer out and nothing seems to help. I've gotten the recent spots out, but there is a smattering of speckles now, as if the carpet had freckles. Why anyone would ever put carpet where the dining table goes is beyond me, anyway. Obviously not someone with kids. But now we have carpet that's speckled. I think I either used too much carpet cleaning formula to the amount of water or I made a huge mistake in using Oxiclean water for a second rinse. I once had a similar effect on one of Boot's white t-shirts when I used too much bleach. Oy vey! J is planning to get some Spot Shot and work on the speckles with our handheld carpet spot remover. It's a good thing the cats are so damn sweet or we wouldn't be on speaking terms. Fred is definitely holding status as CFC (Currently Favored Cat) because the worst thing he does is steal Q-Tips from the trash (or box...he is an equal opportunity Q-Tip thief) to play with. In fact, last week J threw him a Q-Tip. He didn't notice it. She said, "Fred, there's a Q-Tip by your foot." He turned to look and started to play with it. Who says cats don't understand English? I just wish they'd obey.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sermon: Our Work of Radical Acceptance

Our Work of Radical Acceptance: A Sermon on Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ “

I’m going to take you back in time. No, not to the long ago time of ancient Jerusalem, where the Roman officials and Temple priests ruled, but to a small Ohio town in 1981. In those days, in that town girls with perfectly feathered hair and gymnast bodies in Jordache jeans ruled. There was another girl in those times, eleven years old, who wasn’t of the ruling class. Although she tried, her clothes were never quite right. Her figure was chunky, her hair uncooperative and her face bespectacled. What’s more, she had the odd habit of saying things that went against the popular culture. Whether the ones in charge were scared of her peculiar ways or merely scornful, they did not accept her. They taunted her, brushed her hair with the broom used to sweep the school bus, made certain she had no place at the table.

As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, that girl was me. I have known profound exclusion at times in my life. As a teenager, my friends and I were targeted by the police simply because we looked different. Some of us had mohawks or shaved heads, some rode skateboards, most wore unusual clothing. We liked to hang out downtown and talk about philosophy, music and politics. We were courteous and friendly to those around us, even helping older folks to their cars with groceries but that didn’t matter. In the eyes of those in power, we were a menace. We were not only watched carefully, but were even told that if we weren’t there to buy anything, we should go on home. This, by the way, is not uncommon treatment of teenagers, who have little power in the dominant culture, no matter how much today’s advertising may target them.

I was subjected to exclusion as an adult, too, by the Presbyterian Church in which I grew up. Having dreamed for years of walking down the red-carpeted aisle in a white wedding gown to be married by our pastor in our sanctuary, when the day of my wedding did arrive, the service was not done by our pastor nor was it held in that church. I was not even allowed to place a wedding announcement or anniversary date in our church newsletter because I fell in love with a woman. Moreover, it was made clear to me that I would always be excluded from any kind of ordination in the Church. While the people of the church were kind to us in many ways, and a number of them have become good friends to both of us, the overall atmosphere was ultimately one of tolerance rather than of acceptance.

There is a difference. I have been treated to a great deal of true acceptance in my life, as well as being excluded or merely tolerated. In my early 20s, one of my co-workers at the bookstore invited me, along with another bookseller, to a Passover seder dinner at her parents’ house. I was very interested and excited, not having had the opportunity to learn much firsthand about Judaism. I also felt honored to be invited to this special family dinner. Elana’s whole family welcomed us goyim with open arms and loving hearts. Her uncle, a rabbi, made certain to explain each portion of the seder as he went though the old rituals, purely for our benefit. That night will long remain a sparkling light in my memory. The family could have merely tolerated us, but they went out of their way to make a Catholic and a Presbyterian feel truly accepted on that night different from all other nights.

When I lived in a small rural town outside of Nashville with my then-partner, her sister Teresa and brother-in-law Tim opened their hearts and their home to me, making me part of the family. My partner spent a week in the hospital during that time. Her sister could have legally excluded me from visiting or she could have merely tolerated my presence at the hospital. She, Tim, and their children, Travis and Tasha, made a space for me to stay in their home during that time so that I wouldn’t be alone in the apartment. Tasha, who was fifteen, gave up her bedroom for me. Travis, twelve, told me jokes to cheer me up. Knowing I would go straight from work to the hospital, Teresa fixed me a plate of her wonderful cooking each night and left it in the microwave. When I arrived at the house after everyone had already turned in for the night, I would warm up pulled pork, fried okra and buttery corn. After a piece of fudge pie that was so good, that, in Tim’s words, if you put a piece of it on top of your head, your tongue would beat a path through your brain to get to it, I would climb into bed knowing that I was radically accepted.

The work of acceptance is going on in this church, too. In our first meeting to develop a new vision for the church, acceptance was one of the core values chosen by the members present as among the top values of the church. While I don’t think we‘re at the point of radical acceptance that Jesus shows us in his dining with tax collectors, forgiveness of adulterers and companionship with prostitutes and the poor, the light of acceptance shines in myriad ways here. As a newcomer, I am impressed that this church not only donates to a food pantry, but actively welcomes and accepts homeless people as one of the host churches for Interfaith Hospitality Network.

I was immediately struck by this church’s accepting attitude when, on our second visit here, Diane and Andrea remembered our names and Roger and Lollie invited us to host coffee hour with them the following month! I have been heartened by hearing parishioners’ accepting words about those of other faiths and by seeing the respect given by many to the ONA process. Of course we have a long way to go, but we must not let that dampen our enthusiasm. Each step we take, each friend we make is another stride down the path to living out our core value of acceptance.

In choosing acceptance as one of our key core values, we are making the pledge not merely to pay lip service to the idea, but to enact it every day, in all manner of ways, in the life of the church. It is imperative that we remember that acceptance generally implies that we are experiencing a situation or person without the intention to change that person or situation. Thus, in conversation with a person who is Muslim or Hindu, in order to truly accept them, we must simply share ourselves with them and be open to what they have to offer. If we are in the interaction purely for purposes of conversion, we are not truly accepting of that person.

Acceptance does not necessarily mean that we approve of or desire the situation or circumstance, but we must not be in a mode of trying to change it, either. Thus, we can be said to truly accept someone from another life circumstance without wanting to be just like them, as long as we are not trying to make them be just like us. How boring it would be if everyone were alike! I was speaking to a member of this church this week and he posited that God scattered the people at the Tower of Babel because God likes diversity. I have to agree that God must like diversity. How else can we explain the glorious array of colors, the diversity of flora and fauna, the change of the seasons? God could simply have made a utilitarian, grey world with no sensual variety at all. God could have made us all look, think and act alike had God wished. However, God chose to give us free will (even though that doesn’t always seem to work out so well considering our human foibles and problems with little things like envy and greed). God chose to give us green-blue lakes and pink hyacinths. God created scents like vanilla and skunk, that inimitable harbinger of spring in the countryside. God made raspberries and asparagus. We are blessed with a richly diverse bounty of everything God created, including people. I believe God wants us to accept the gifts we have been offered in this diversity.

In making the stand for acceptance, we stand in good company. When Abraham and Sarah prepared a welcome table for strangers who turned out to be angels, they were rewarded with good news so astonishing that Sarah laughed out loud and Isaac, her son, gained his name. When Lot protected strangers, again angels in disguise, from a threatening mob who sought to do them harm, he was saved from perishing in the destruction of his city. When Jesus accepted outcasts as companions, he was rewarded with followers who would have done anything for him.

Not only do we stand with Biblical figures when we practice acceptance, but we stand with some of the most important figures of more modern history, as well. When William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists, including a goodly number of Congregationalists like Harriet Beecher Stowe, advocated acceptance of all races as equals, the nation was forever changed for the better. People like Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers continued the work of acceptance between the races, right alongside people like Michael Schwerner and Elaine DeLott Baker. When the Congregational Church in South Butler, New York accepted Antoinette Brown as their called pastor in 1853, she became the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the United States. While her ordination was not recognized by the denomination and she eventually became a Unitarian, this was a big step, bravely taken by that New York church. Oberlin College, which had refused her either a license to preach or a degree in theological studies, granted her an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1908, after she had made a name for herself in the women’s rights, temperance and anti-slavery movements. Mother Teresa dedicated her life to helping, and learning from, the poor of Calcutta. Desmond Tutu advocated for an end to apartheid with an eye to acceptance and reconciliation rather than revenge. While God smiles on our acts of welcome and acceptance, the biggest reward for us is in the exchange itself. There is so much to be gained, and little to be lost, when we truly accept and are open to learning from one another, even those who may seem strange to us.

Friends, our work here in the world is not yet finished. We may not be casting out demons in the literal sense, but each time we welcome the stranger into our midst, we are casting out the demon of inhospitality which was the downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah. We may not be performing miracle cures, but every time we act as though we have as much to learn from someone of another race, age, economic class or theological bent as we have to offer, we are curing prejudice in a deeply important way. Herod holds no power here, but there are those like him who would try to kill our spirits and use the stones of tradition to build walls rather than bridges. It is imperative that we tell those foxes that we must be on our way. There is much work to be done for Christ and little enough time to do it.

Past the Angst

Whew! I was having some serious angst on Thursday over Boot's weekend visit (considering how the last one went), feeding 120 people the next day and coming up with a worthwhile sermon on top of all that. It all turned out okay, though. Yippee, it's over! I also hadn't had nearly enough sleep all week and am happily caught up now.

Friday, J & I fed 120 people from the film production crew (+ cast & other folks) that's been working on a shoot at our church. I just didn't see how we were going to pull it off. The people in charge of lining up food for the shoot were nice, but quite demanding. I found the demanding part a little odd, since they were being fed by volunteers from a non-profit church spending their own personal money on the food. Had we been caterers, I could have understood pickiness thoroughly. However, we simply stepped in & volunteered. When both the food & labor are free, your right to be picky is null & void, in my opinion. But, we got all the sauce and pasta cooked beforehand at home & lugged it to the church for reheating. I am so glad that's over with!!!

Friday evening when Boot arrived, I was studying in the bedroom. I thought I heard him come in, but since he didn't bother to come say hi, I thought it best to wait. It turned out that he had come in and went right to bed. I was worried about what that might mean for his mood over the weekend, but he was perfectly pleasant, thank God! Friday night, we just hung around the house. Boot talked about boxing and clothes almost non-stop.

I had to be at the church early Saturday morning for the film shoot. I was thrilled just to be an extra & not responsible for ANY food!!! Before the filming started, we all hung out in the fellowship hall for about an hour and a half. During that time, I was able to visit with the other lesbian couple for awhile & then talked "heretical theology" (as he put it) with a parishioner. For all his assurances that he is not a liberal, he sounded pretty liberal to me! It was interesting. Fun to have intellectual conversations unexpectedly like that. He wanted to talk about the possibility that Jesus was not divine and about the fact that it doesn't matter because God accomplished what he intended through him either way. Also, about the whole homosexuals in the church debate being simply a red herring for men to keep women barefoot & pregnant. I assume he means that lesbians, having no men nor need of them, buck the system by not being barefoot & pregnant, therefore those kind of men find them threatening. He also told me that he thinks God's whole point in scattering the people after the building of the Tower of Babel was to create diversity. It was a refreshing conversation. The film production was, as well. Plus, the sanctuary was filled with white lilies, tulips and hyacinths and the smell was fabulous. We had white hyacinths in the chapel Sunday morning, too. Ahh!

After the shoot & lunch, J & Boot were out getting their shop on. Pie was still asleep when I got home. I hate to make him wake up on weekends unless there is something going on that he needs to be awake for, so I let him sleep until 3:30! This meant that he didn't get his meds & was utterly wild later, but I just didn't want to make him get up. He has his whole life to rise early & be productive. I spent my time being productive, though, spending a couple hours working on my sermon. I wasn't very happy with it, but I did have the bones, at least. When J & Boot returned, J & I napped for a bit. Then, she went to the grocery & Target with the children, allowing me to snooze longer. We had tacos for dinner & just hung out, nice and relaxed.

Oh, I forgot the part where Pie & J thought it would be a great idea to take Storm out for a walk. Boot said, "I don't think this is such a good idea, guys" and I told them she wouldn't walk, she'd just sit down and refuse to move. They wanted to take her to the front office & back & wanted us, who wanted no part of it, to come with them. Well, Boot said, "If it gets too freaky, Daria & I can just go back" so we went out with them. They carried her down the steps, where the struggle began. She may sit at the door inquisitively, but with the leash on, she was having none of it. She hunkered down and made a couple of breaks in the direction of the door. Finally, after about 5 minutes attempting to talk her into going for a walk, they gave up. Now, they are planning to try the leash on Lutley as soon as his hair grows back. Right now, he looks like a rat, alien, poodle or cross between a mini lion and a freshly-shorn lamb. In other words, really weird. So weird, in fact, that when he came home from getting groomed, the other cats were afraid of him! Pixie got used to him most quickly, ceasing the hissing & curling up warily on the bed with him that evening. Storm continued to growl and pounce him for a few days and Fred, who must weigh twice as much as he does, would growl, flatten his ears and try to melt into the wall or furniture behind him anytime Lutley got near, for at least a week! He was terrified!

Sunday, I went to the early service & led the adult ed class, then came home to a sleeping household. When they were all up & dressed, we had breakfast at Denny's & then prowled the mall. Pie was really grouchy about the whole thing. He hates shopping for anything besides video games and his brother wanted to go into dozens of shops. Boot is a certified clothes horse. He had already bought himself 2 t-shirts & J had bought him one before we all hit the mall. He found a belt he really liked Sunday, with an enormous buckle, in an "urban fashion" store that is going out of business. Sale price was $30. Good thing he has found an older couple to do odd jobs for! He wanted my opinion on the buckle in comparison to two other buckles under consideration. I had to tell him that I'm not much of a belt buckle judge. Honestly, if I were going to get an enormous buckle, it would have to have something to do with rodeo. I did point out the one I found prettiest, though, and that's the one he got.

When we got home, Pie huffed into his room saying, "Finally, I get to play my game!" Boot hung out in the living room with us & watched "Man of the Year" with Robin Williams, which was really funny. When it was time for him to go, he gave nice hugs & told us he loves us. Improvement, for sure! J made bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes and a salad for our dinner. We spent some time at the book store, where she got a new volume of vampire tales, then came home & snugged into bed. I woke up in the morning with my sermon written in my head. I love when God helps me out like that! I spent much of the day polishing it & J and I hit the church parking lot just after 6 for the evening service. I realized we hadn't brought bread or juice for the service. I had assumed the AP would handle that, since she was doing that part, but I realized we hadn't really talked about it, either. Luckily, there was juice left. However, the bread she had to offer was the soft wheat sandwich slices the confirmation class had their sandwiches on. I didn't really have time to cube it & it certainly wouldn't do for intinction. There was no time to run out for a loaf. So, I settled on some pre-made communion cubes I found in the sacristy. The AP said they looked like colorless Chiclets & the DCM's husband thought they tasted like styrofoam. They sure did! They were also the shiny, slightly puffy texture of Japanese rice crackers. Next time, I am bringing a loaf of bread & we're doing it by intinction! However, despite the weird element, the service went off without a hitch and people really liked the sermon. The AP said I did a fantastic job and asked if I thought I could handle it alone next week.

We came home and helped Pie Pie with his homework. He was crying over it & saying it just doesn't make any sense. It was mean, median, mode and range in Math and vocab in English. He said he knows it in his head, but he just can't get it out on the paper because he gets distracted and forgets what he was going to write. It's been a long time, years, since his dosage was upped. Perhaps he is not getting enough? We are going to talk to the doctor on Thursday when we take him in for his check-up. This is just like it was for him back in first grade, pre-meds. After we got through the work & he'd had a couple of tacos, we put him to bed & had taco salad ourselves before hitting the hay.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Do you ever just want to go home & realize you haven't the slightest idea of where that might be? Do you ever want to just curl up in God's lap like a little kid and cry until you fall asleep? I am so tired. I just want some peace.