Thursday, May 31, 2007
That's about where we are, today.
Instead of a $700-900 refrigerator replacement, we had a $250 repair. All should be well, we are told, and all the frozen food is again frozen. It's $250 we didn't have to spend, but oh, well.
Brother-in-law found a chiropractor that seemed to bring him relief, and is working with them on the bill (reduced fees for cash customers). Again, not good, but not nearly as bad as we'd feared. Sister Sue is not excited about chiropractors - which has something to do with bad experiences in the past, and part to do with her fibromyalgia. I, of course, don't get her objections; my experience is that a good chiropractor is like a good doctor, mechanic or fix-it guy - they are gems when you can find them. I'd like to schedule an appointment with him myself, at some point.
The eye is fractionally better, the digestive woes seem at bay for today, and the day is looking fractionally better. For which we give much thanks.
The kids have a spaghetti supper in Van Wert on Saturday as part of the Van Wert Peony Festival. Like all fundraising dinners by groups of quasi-organized teens, it will either work, or it won't. We have a couple of dedicated moms to help, and we'll just see. Worst comes to worst, we'll be eating spaghetti for a while instead of pizza after meetings. The dinner is from 4-8, which means that I will leave at noon, get there at 2, leave at 9, get home at 11.
I will be going back to St. Paul's (ELCA) for worship this weekend. It will be interesting - I will check out both their regular worship and the seeker service held in the nearby theatre, known simply as 10:35. It will be interesting.
For now, I am giving thanks for a day with no great crises, and little or no low back pain (for me, anyway.) I'll take my blessings where I can find them.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
For some time now, I have envied several of my friends' blog layouts. The beautiful mastheads, the use of imagery, you name it. I've had a tickle of an image in my head about how I might do it, but really didn't have a clue how to make it happen. So I have stuck with a few modifications to a standard Blogger template. Effective, but boring.
So I was commenting on Penni's blog over at martha, martha and coveting her revamped layout. "Poor, HTML-impaired me, I'll never have anything this good looking" was the essence of it all. (Care for a little cheese with that whine?...)
Out of the blue this morning, Penni send me a great gift - a personally-designed masthead. And this lady knows me well - each image is symbolic of some part of my blogging journey. The crucifix, the empty cross, the steps, the ripples in water, the beautiful rainbow image - it's all just outta this world!
The only addition I made was the image of the walkway on the right - a shot I took at Wildwood MetroPark here in Toledo. So much of my past has been spent desiring to see what's going to happen, what's around the next corner - rather than just enjoying the walk, and the trees - it's a great reminder. It's actually the one element I wanted to include on my "someday" masthead.
Anyway, Penni then simply redesigned my whole template, and even installed it for me! The result is beyond what I could have done - so I'm absolutely delighted.
Thank you, dear sister, for a gift seasoned heavily with love!
It was a long weekend. Not a particularly happy one, but a long one.
The camping trip with the youth group, targeted originally for Friday afternoon, went by the boards on Tuesday. The land-owner who was to host our merry band of teens reneged, and no suitable replacement location could be found. I was ready to take the bullet for the boys, but I wasn't overly broken hearted, to be honest.
I traveled down to Van Wert on Thursday for the regular meeting of the group, and it seemed that everything was just "off." No one was prepared, everyone had their minds somewhere else...we still managed to make it an OK night. But it was not one of our better ones.
On and off dyspepsia of some sort did not lend itself to much socializing, since I couldn't get too far from a bathroom most of the weekend. The one chance I did have to go to an AA meeting, I did - but found that my 90-day-wonder sponsee now has a two-breasted "higher power." Despite assuring me that he wouldn't do this. Despite having tossed his sobriety repeatedly, doing this exact same thing. But he knows what he's doing this time, he tells me.
/music cue: "I'm Henry The Eighth, I am..."/
I have been struggling, on top of everything else, with a blocked tear duct, which is causing all kinds of fun in the eye/vision department. Not comfortable, not fun. It would be better if I'd gotten all this inflammation from having punched someone who deserved it, and gotten punched in return. But no such luck.
And the bad luck demons seem to be hovering over the house again. Sister's car, a 7-year old Taurus, needs various brake components. Brother-in-law's back has started acting up again, and is not responding to alternating heat/ice and massage. So it's off to the chiro-pain-inflictor for him, despite the lack of health-insurance coverage (some 3 weeks away for both of them).
And today, the side-by-side refrigerator/freezer is showing signs of failing to keep frozen food frozen. The lower levels of the freezer seems to stay frozen, but the upper levels are failing. So the service-man cometh on the morrow. And he and his ilk are rarely inexpensive.
And we won't even talk about coming to an economically-depressed and mass-transit-impaired area of northwest Ohio at the precise time when our government and the "free market" have conspired to raise gas prices to their highest levels ever - easily matching the prices of post-Katrina Chicago, will we?
I know, I know - none of this is fatal. It is annoying, but I am reminded that a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the bed, a lump in the tire and a lump in the breast are not the same lump. I know of several others - notably, my dear brother John and his family - for whom the anguish of unsold houses, unfulfilled career promises and seemingly unending financial struggles are an every-single-day battle. For them, I pray. If we lose the car and the refrigerator, and they get to sell their house, Lord, we'll just call it even, OK?
I just wish that there was more of "St. George slaying the dragon" in me, and less of "Puff the magic dragon/sadly slipped into his cave."
The homily, this morning, will be delivered by Steven Curtis Chapman:
Sometimes I see me, a sailor out on the ocean
So brave and so sure, as long as the skies are clear
But when the clouds to gather
I watch my faith turn to fear, but...
Sometimes He comes in the clouds
Sometimes His face can not be found
Sometimes the sky is dark and gray -
But some things can only be known
And sometimes our faith can only grow
When we can't see,
So sometimes He
comes in the clouds ...
For now, I'm going to try going back to bed, and meditate on the words. Sleep will inevitably help this...
Monday, May 28, 2007
He also posted this reminder that the current war is not the only war, either. His image of the Vietnam War Memorial (25 years old, this year!) with some of the 58,178 lost in that conflict, is also a powerfully evocative image.
(Late edit: Sorry, Tom, I missed posting the link to the Vietnam post. It's there now. Mea culpa...)
(from A Brief History of Memorial Day)
I think it helps to remember why I'm not working, today.
The butcher's bill in Iraq today stands at 3,731, in case you wondered.
There is a principle in recovery that anger is not something that folks like me deal well with, so we ought to avoid it. And then there is the famous quote from the movie Network, where people across the land start throwing their windows open and yelling, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"
So I am torn, on this Memorial Day. How do you avoid anger, and yet face all the insanity in the world and not become outraged? Because (as the old line goes) if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention...
I guess I'm closer to the "mad as hell" end of the spectrum after watching several TV specials this last week. First was the marvelous special Celebrating Cronkite at 90. Seeing this show, and the integrity of Walter Cronkite (especially as he spoke out to the nation about the Vietnam war) reminded me yet again how we have been betrayed by the government and the media in our current war. This is how Cronkite ended that famous speech:
To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.See the full text of his on-air speech here. It's worth reading. It's also worth remembering that when Lyndon Johnson saw this broadcast, he was reported to have said, "That's it. If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost middle America."
I gave thanks when former president Jimmy Carter spoke out as he did against the war; I was furious when people called on him to recant. Blind faith in a leader - any leader - is on the path to authoritarianism; blind faith in our current leader is, to my eye, errant stupidity. Don't you apologize for calling it how you see it, Mr. Carter.
And then there was Bill Moyers. I think that, as an exercise in patriotism, every person should go to watch Bill Moyers' PBS special report, Buying The War. It's available online, and it's 90 minutes of what I'd say is civic duty, to be honest. It confirms what so many of us felt, going into the war - that (despite all the claims) there was nothing to support it - it was all a setup. A setup, by the way, that's cost us more than $500 billion, with another $120 billion to come.
(And then you wonder why Republicans are so set on cutting funding for PBS...)
The high moral ground the Democrats had in their move to stop funding for the war without some kind of accountability came apart faster than a cheap suit last week, which also infuriated me. It's as if they detonated some kind of weapon in Washington, one that left all the buildings and left all the people but destroyed any moral fiber or resolve. It reminded me of two old bumperstickers -
With Republicans, it's man's inhumanity to man; with Democrats, it's the reverse.And then the crowning blow was this little gem in the NY Times on May 24th. After Congress voted immense tax benefits for oil refiners to restore capacity at hurricane-damaged oil wells and refineries, it seems that the reason we are having such a gasoline shortage is because George Bush waved the biofuels flag in his State of the Union address. The article basically says that the oil industry is saying, "Well...if they're going to support that nonsense, why should we spend the money to fix our refineries and ease the gas crisis?"
We don't have a government. We have an auction.
Um...maybe because we already paid you to do it, morons.
And we're paying for you to do it again, with every nearly $4 gallon of gas we buy. And no one in the press is saying what we all have noticed: in October, when everyone wanted the country to support the current administration and their stupid buddies, gas was $2 a gallon. Now that Bush is being burned in effigy, oh, gee...we're getting raped at the gas pump.
Yeah, go ahead and tell me it's "market effects." Go over here and read a brief history about the Standard Oil Trust and monopoly. And then go ahead and try to tell me that when every gas station in the city responds in hours to "market pressure" by going up exactly the same amount, that it's not monopoly action. Right....
And $4-a-gallon gas is not hurting the fat-cats who are running this show, either. (It won't even cut them back to their last yacht.) Instead, it's hurting people like my sister and brother-in-law. Small-time, decent folk who can't hop in their own special jet and fly to their 1600-acre Texas retreat to get away from the nastiness of life in America.
Yes, I'm mad as hell. But getting out seems to help. Taking action, it seems, is part of the solution.
Which brings me back to Memorial Day, and commemorating those who have died.
In the Vietnam war, we at least had news coverage that had the testicular dimsensions necessary to show us the bodies - the coffins carrying the remains of lives snuffed out in that tragic conflict. They need to be seen, people - because these are real lives, and real promise for the future, which we are snuffing out to prop up oil company revenues. The deaths of these young men and women sure as hell aren't making the world any more secure - we surely can see that.
I believe in my country's armed forces too much to have them sacrificing their lives for this. We are spilling the blood of our nation's youth - and for what? For this media-supported mockery of democracy?
Nope - for me, there is only one answer.
Support our troops - bring 'em home alive. Now.
And then throw out the bastards who sent 'em over there in the first place.
Monday, May 21, 2007
In this cup is life forever -
In this moment, by His Spirit,
Christ is with us here.
(Graham Kendrick, "Here Is Bread," from the ELCA Worship and Praise hymnal)
Sara Miles was an atheist and a lesbian who had been a war correspondent, writer, community organizer and chef. Food had been at the heart of each of those experiences - whether feeding South American resistance fighters or working as a prep cook in swanky New York restaurants. At 46, when her story begins, she had no desire to discover Christianity.
Yet a random encounter with the Eucharist at an Episcopal church in San Francisco created an amazing conversion experience for Sara, uniting the image of God feeding His children with her desire to be of service to others. She became active in the church, drawn ever deeper into the imagery of God's table being a place where all could be fed. She describes her conversion this way: "I took communion, I passed the bread to others, and then I kept going, compelled to find new ways to share what I’d experienced. I started a food pantry."
Her story is detailed in the recently published book, "Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion." Sara hears that Jesus said, "Feed My sheep", and she actually answers the call to do this, and chronicles her journey. Under her guidance, every Friday their altar space becomes a food pantry, sharing the gift of food to the needy from the same space that the Eucharist is served on Sunday. Sara describes how she saw that "the meal" on Sunday actually begins with feeding "the least of these" on Friday.
She is the kind of Christian I want to be, not excluding anyone, but faithful to the radical inclusion of the Gospel, which is violently at odds with the way faith is sometimes practiced today. Her story is an incredible testimony that, as the song says, "In this bread, there is healing - in this cup is life forever."
Lord God, work in me as you have worked in Sara Miles! Take the lessons and images throughout the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and kindle my heart with your flame. In this day, may I be your servant in whatever way that I can, to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
(from Alcoholics Anonymous, "There Is A Solution")
This passage from the AA textbook also is perfect for the people I have encountered in the blogosphere. Rich, poor, faithful and faithless, gay and straight, every color of the rainbow - and yet we find fellowship out here in the digital kingdom. I am blessed by all the people I have found "out here."
Right about the time I went into my blogging funk/hiatus, I got a particular honor from two different people: both Hope and Poor Mad Peter nominated me for a Thinking Blogger Award. The TBA's are designed to point folks to blogs of note which might not get found on the regular search engines, which is a very democratic way of doing things. Thank you both, Hope and Peter!
(Now, once upon a time, I would have said something on the order of "They nominated me...but they've sobered up now, so it's all better," or some such self-deprecating nonsense. However, one thing that has come from sobriety is the act of just saying "thank you" and being grateful - and that is what I'll do.So my apologies to both Peter and Hope for my extreme sloth, and thank you. If you weren't already Thinking Blogger winners, I'd back-tag you both.
After all, there is a truism that if one person calls you an ass, pay them no mind. But if two persons call you an ass, you'd best get a saddle. So if two talented and clearly inspired writers made this same choice, who am I to argue?
Or, as the late Gamble Rogers' character Agamemnon Jones once said, If your work speaks for itself....don't interrupt.)
Here is how it works (sort of like a meme):
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that tickle your grey matter. (I loved Hope's line: I have grey matter? I thought it was all black and white! :) )
2. Link back to this original post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme;
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.
When looking at all the blogs I read and trying to decide to pick just five seems insane, not to mention playing favorites - since there are lots more than 5 blogs I read which are "thinkers." But pick I must, so here they are:
- Penni at martha, martha is the first one to come to mind. She is not only a friend, but a mother, a nurse, and a peson who embodies a thinking faith. If I ever would go back to the Catholic Church, it would be if I could find a church full of people like Penni. She's a sister-of-the-heart in this virtual world, and has won a number of Catholic Blogger awards.
- Rick L. at a new life emerging is a man who I would not only like to meet in person but would love to have as my pastor. He understands Jesus in ways I only wish I did. I never visit his blog without being inspired to pray more, read more Scripture, and live better. In many ways of the mind and heart, he and I are what Dan Fogelberg calls "twin sons of different mothers." When I need pointing back to an authentic, loving Jesus, I go here.
- Erin at Biscotti Brain. Erin's interests run all over the map, and she has been one of the folks who has both inspired me and kicked my butt. She's also been one of the accountability partners who draws me out when I start withdrawing from the world.
- Tom at PurpleScarf (by his own description) has been a soldier, a lawyer, and a computer professional. He's also a Jew by birth and was a Catholic by practice until he left the Archdiocese of Chicago on matters of conscience about their treatment of GLBT folks. He has a sharp wit, and an arid sense of humor. Probably one of the most stalwart defenders of civil rights that I know, and one of the best-reasoned proponents I've heard for GLBT rights and gay marriage. I'm proud to know Tom and his partner Michael. (Like how I slipped that one in there?....)
- [rhymes with kerouac] at Today At The Mission is a man who lives the Matthew 25 commandments about feeding the hungry openly and honestly. His posts give a raw and clear image into what it's like to share life with people in a homeless shelter. And if you have not read his Following Jesus Manifesto, click on that link right now and read it. And then pray that you can live that way, too.
A special plug for non-blogs goes to Tim B's Flickr site, KC In Focus. Click on that link, and check out "Your Favorites" and especially "Christmas at Atonement 2006." He is a marvelously talented photographer, and I turn a rather un-Christian shade of green with envy when I see his work. His images of Christmas at my former home congregation are some of the loveliest views of that congregation and that worship space I've ever seen.
And a note of thanks goes to recent new-friend Kyle W., who also paid me a supreme compliment in an email thread we've been having: Sorry it has taken me so long to respond to this. Every time I open your email I click on one of the links you gave me and end up going on a blog reading spree, clicking on links that people have. Wow - thanks, Kyle.
Now, to the new nominees, go and tag ye likewise! And to the rest of y'all, go check 'em all out!
Friday, May 18, 2007
How do we know about God's love, God's generosity, God's kindness, God's forgiveness? Through our parents, our friends, our teachers, our pastors, our spouses, our children ... they all reveal God to us. But as we come to know them, we realise that each of them can reveal only a little bit of God. God's love is greater than theirs; God's goodness is greater than theirs; God's beauty is greater than theirs..
At first we may be disappointed in these people in our lives. For a while we thought that they would be able to give us all the love, goodness, and beauty we needed. But gradually we discover that they were all signposts on the way to God.
(Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, May 4th)
I would rather have my teeth cleaned than go camping. It's just the way I am. My idea of roughing it is a Motel 6. I am not impressed with bugs, dirty, creepy-crawlies, or anything else about it. I love star-gazing - preferably followed by coffee and a croissant at Starbucks or Caribou or somesuch. I'm generally up for bonfires, s'mores and such - but otherwise, ugh.
I am going camping overnight next Friday and Saturday.
I had suggested to the young men of my DeMolay chapter that I would be willing to come down to Van Wert on Saturday, and help them set up a combination work/fun activity, go swimming, cook out, that sort of thing. Somehow, one guy said, "This guy has a pond in his back-40," and another said, "Are there fish? Can we go fishing?" "YEAH! Fishing!" "I've got a tent!" "Tents are for sissies!"
And so on. So I will be under the stars on Friday night, unless it rains. Then we will be elsewhere, I suppose. That's the advisor's job - to help the young men plan the contingencies, make the lists, so that the group has a good time. Equal parts mentor and border-collie, nipping at heels.
Why am I doing this? Why would any even-fractionally-sane 50-year-old outdoors-averse individual do something as stupid as forsake his warm bed for a cold field a hundred miles from home?
Because, of course...that is what a group of men did for me.
Overnighters, trips to various chapters, late night pizza, anguished phone calls in the middle of the night - my DeMolay advisors took them all from me. And over the years, the young men I advised became advisors themselves. And the good ones - the ones who saw and heard the message - did exactly the same thing.
So I will go to Van Wert, sleeping bag in hand. And I will pray, as I always do, that I will be an instrument of peace, of inspiration, and brotherhood - and not (as many advisors end up) just a blunt instrument of discipline and rules. The phrase out of our ceremonies came first from the Gospel: Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
One never wants to speak ill of the dead, but in the case of Jerry Falwell, how can one not? Falwell will always be remembered for his "700 Club" comment in the wake of Sept. 11: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" Even though Falwell later apologized, the damage had been done: A sacred moment had been used for profane purpose.Thank you, Alan Wolfe of Salon.com, for capturing the essence of what I understand about Jerry Falwell, who died Tuesday. His article (see it here) says it best. I will not lament him, nor dance upon his grave. I just view with sadness the corruption of Christ's commandments for political means.
And that, really, is Falwell's legacy. To the religious life of the United States he made no significant contribution. But to the political life of the country, he made one: He founded the Moral Majority. In so doing, Falwell managed to take something holy -- one does not have to be a Christian to admire the life and teachings of Jesus Christ -- and turned it into something partisan and divisive. Falwell, the quintessential conservative Christian, was always more conservative than Christian. To the extent that history will remember him, it will be as a politician, not as a preacher.
But a slightly more upbeat version of the same topic resides here
as Tinky Winky of the Teletubbies says farewell to Falwell. Worth reading.
And now, for something completely different: if you want to wash the taste of Falwell out of your mouth (and I don't care where he got his degree from, I will not call him Reverend) check out the testimony of Sara Miles in her fantastic book Take This Bread. Much more to say about this, but I'd put your order in now. This woman knows about Christian living - you can bet your life on it.
Monday, May 14, 2007
I wish I could say, "Gee, what happened? How'd it end up almost a month since I last posted?" But it's much easier than that. I've been in a funk, and I just have been particularly uninspired to sit down and write.
Oh, I've had plenty to write about, too. But I just couldn't kick it - and didn't really know why, until this weekend. Mother's Day weekend. Mother's Day weekend, 2007.
Mother's Day weekend has become the traditional graduation day for many colleges and universities...including the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Yes, Mother's Day 2007 would have been my graduation day, if I'd stayed. If I'd been able to stay....if, if, if. Blah, blah, blah.
Classic signs of depression show up. Not cleaning my room. Laundry piling up. Exercising stopped. And I have been largely just going through the motions.
Good things have come, despite my best efforts. It looks like I can find a place to land at a local Lutheran church that seems to have some good stuff going. I have also started working with a start-up chapter of the DeMolay youth fraternity in Van Wert, OH, about a hundred miles south of Toledo, and finding some blessing there. I'm still going to meetings, still working with sponsees, and working on a long-overdue 4th-step inventory.
But I have to admit that at the end of the day (or even at the beginning of it), I've been pretty uninspired to write - despite the blessings I know come from it.
Which brings me back to John, and another kick-in-the-pants from a long-dead inspiration:
Writing can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write.
Quite often a difficult, painful, or frustrating day can be "redeemed" by writing about it. By writing we can claim what we have lived and thus integrate it more fully into our journeys. Then writing can become lifesaving for us and sometimes for others too.
(Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey)
OK, OK. I get the point...
This is the hope of this current personal inventory - to let go of the "might have beens" of the past. There is no way to make "the way it was" become "the way it could have been." None. I am where I am - and many of you who have read here regularly have told me that life is better because I'm here, and not there. My prayer is that I can get the Greek chorus (koine Greek, of course...) to agree.
To Laila, Dirk, Ben, Tom G., and all the folks whose journey at LSTC ended yesterday, blessings and congratulations. I am glad for you - even though a part of me still wishes I was with you. But we are walking different roads, for now.
And that's OK, I guess.