Friday, December 31, 2004

Hopes for the New Year

Resolutions, hopes. In random order:

1. Continue with the preacher's group.
2. Read more books on preaching, NT theology.
3. Read more history. Any time, any era.
4. Say less to people. Say it better. Say it more lovingly.
5. Enjoy Presbytery somehow.
6. Be consistent with creative projects. Keep a project going.
7. Show gratitude.
8. Develop a way to sell antiques to specialty buyers.
9. Be joined at the hip with LD as she goes through early adolescence.
10. Develop an interest in financial matters.
11. Dig in the dirt more. Plant more. Prune with vigor.
12. Have people over for dinner. Have parties.
13. Get rid of clutter.
14. Return phone calls more quickly.
15. Write out prayers.
16. Dance to Aretha Franklin when using the vacuum.
17. Learn to roll with the political punches.
18. Make good scones.
19. Pray, think, do.
20. Stand up straight and keep my eyebrows clean.

New Year's Eve

I'm happy now. Our children are home. Tonight doesn't seem like a great night for a young driver to be out nor does it make sense for a 12 year to go to the teen center on NYE. Really. Stay home with the mama and the daddy.

If I ever did anything wild on NYE it was so long ago that I don't remember it. I just want to be home with something good to eat. The LD requested homemade chicken pot pie which I made for supper. The pie turned out well and the family finished off the entire dish.

New Year's Eve reminds me of too much alcohol being consumed by a parent when I was growing up. Don't want that as an adult. Don't think drinking is cool or interesting or fun. Just don't.

My distaste of alcohol isn't for religious reasons although I've seen enough church people with drinking "issues" to last me for the next 30 years. I'm not interested in alcohol because I spent time watching people drink when I was a kid. The adults would get loud. The adults would get mean. The adults were no fun.
When I left home, I covenanted with myself that I would not drink to excess nor spend time with people who drink heavily. This vow saved me from marrying a fellow seminarian who spent years after seminary being a drunk. I loved that boy but couldn't deal with the alcohol. He's sober now and happily married as far as I know. Good for him. He got out of the trap. The LH drinks lightly which I watched closely when I was courting him. He can take it or leave it although his cardiologist suggested a beer or glass of wine each day so he has a tad in the evenings.

I lost a close friend years ago over alcohol. She wasn't in an accident although I hear she has come close to having several wrecks. What I mean is that she became more interested in drinking buddies than me. After all these years, I still miss her. I can talk with her in the daytime but not late afternoon or evening. By day's end she's on her way to loud chatter.

My ministry helps keep me from alcohol not because I want to be a holier than thou but because I want to be available when needed. I'm a small person so alcohol works quickly in my bloodstream. If I do have a glass of wine I don't want to drive or have to handle anything important. I can't be available to my people if I'm drinking so I don't drink.

I'm one durn party animal, aren't I? Too bad. Being a dour Presbyterian and mom takes all my party animal energy.

Happy New Year, thanks for reading. God be with you in the New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Leaving Home

Our guests left early this morning. Much too soon for my taste. Sometime in late February is a better time to leave.
Although I am home right this minute, I am homesick for our guests. Homesick and lonesome for them. This isn't a good feeling because my heart is sad. I have so little family of origin that when I am with them, I'm at home. When they leave I want to cry.
It's not enough that I have plenty to do today cleaning the house. The guests aren't messy but my family creates mess everywhere. I'm walking on crunchy floors, doing 10 loads of laundry and collecting cups from around the house. It's not enough. I want ease for my heart.
Come back, Guests! Come back here!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Herbsaint in New Orleans pleases Saint Casserole

Yesterday, in New Orleans to show our guests around, we ate lunch at Herbsaint. The perfect restaurant for St. Casserole and her gals. LD, LLS and LSiL were with me for this wonderful lunch.
The lunch menu has beautifully presented foods with reasonable sizes so one may choose from soups and salads, small plates and main courses. I had the gumbo which was the most delicious dark warm brown colored roux flavored with beef. Gumbo is as personal as a nail polish color so each restaurant shows off it's version. Herbsaint's andouille sausage with shrimp and crab was close to perfect. LSiL had the shrimp stuffed deviled eggs with baby spinach and bacon vinaigrette which arrives piled high with fresh greens on the plate. LLS chose fish on top of a potato hash fried patty. Later, the small plates arrived with homemade spaghetti with pancetta and fried-poached egg. I was surprised by the batter fried poached egg on spaghetti but then was told about using egg in carbonera which makes sense. I forget about how wonderful flavors and textures can be in food. This lunch recalled all the other surprising and great meals I've eaten in New Orleans. My main course grilled salmon sandwich with avocado, arrugula and lemon pickle mayonnaise was great. The lemon pickle mayonnaise along with very thin sliced red onions was perfect with the salmon. Lls did the white wine flight while I stuck with my "I live in a tiny place in the backwater Diet Coke." LSiL had expresso at the close of the meal while Lls ate (and shared) the eggnog brulee. LD had homemade ice cream. Service as quite good without intruding on our vigorous conversations during the meal. Loved all of it.
Herbsainte is at 701 St. Charles which means it's a quick walk from the Quarter. Street cars run the route but with all the tourists the week after Christmas, we decided to walk. Beautiful clear day in New Orleans. Not hot, not humid, just right.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Emyl Jenkins' Mystery keeps My Guests Waiting

I received Emyl Jenkins' Stealing with Style for Christmas. The LH gave me a great group of books but I've begun reading the Algonquin books our LSiL gave me. Could not put down antique appraiser Jenkins' first novel. She's written books about antiques but now she's got a great mystery out which combines the charm of a cozy novel with antiques. There's a priest who loves antiques in the book! Discussion about antiques, how dealers and pickers work!
I had to tell my guests that I couldn't do supper because I couldn't put this book down. I am ready to read Emyl's next book about Sterling Glass the antique sleuth.
The cover of the book is beautiful and though I seldom notice covers, this one is is gorgeous. And, the cover relates to the book which is a great thing.
Guess what? You can't buy this book until June 10, 2005 when Stealing with Style is released. My problem? I want to read her next book RIGHT NOW.
Clergy who love antiques! I'm with you, Emyl, and please keep the character in your next book.
Our guests arrived. More later.

Saturday, December 25, 2004


The LH made clerical collars out of black cat collars for the kitties. So silly and charming.
I have a stack of new books to read!
The children liked their gifts!
The LH liked his gifts!
Our friends liked the Christmas meal I cooked!
We have a fire in the fireplace! It is cold! The fire is for warmth, not atmosphere!
I'm excited and happy!

but, bah humbug, my special guests can't get here until tomorrow because of the weather. I am let down.
I've anticipated this visit happily for weeks and now, I have to wait another day. Rats! Double Rats!

What's going on with you?

Merry Christmas!

We are having our first white Christmas since 1954. All day long we've had sleet and wisps of snow falling. Our yard is covered with ice. LD went outside in her not-warm-enough clothes to make an ice man she named "Frosty." The ice man was made on a kitchen plastic dustpan to keep Frosty from melting. If I could load pictures, you'd see the evidence. Can you believe it? My hybiscus and periwinkle are blooming still and we have sleet!
Tonight there is a black ice warning. This occurs when roads become covered with a sheet of ice which appears to be just a wet road. Driving advisories out for all the local streets and back roads. We don't know how to drive in cold weather. We know how to wear socks with our flip-flops when it gets really cold, like 40, but when it freezes, we stay inside and marvel.
Last night's Christmas Eve Service at the LH's church was lovely. Since I was off-duty, I sat in the pew with my family holding hands with LD. So wonderful to be in the pew with them. We belted out the hymns, read the scriptures out loud and then had Communion. The pastor used the 1946 Common Worship Communion service which includes the phrase, " we pray Thee to fulfill in us, and in all men (sic), the purpose of Thy redeeming love". I would like that fulfilled in me.
In the Great Prayer, too, is this phrase, " we offer and present unto Thee ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice." I'd like to know what "reasonable" means in this context. Has the meaning changed or shall we understand it in the contemporary sense?
1.Capable of reasoning; rational: a reasonable person.
2.Governed by or being in accordance with reason or sound thinking: a reasonable solution to the problem.
3.Being within the bounds of common sense: arrive home at a reasonable hour.
4. Not excessive or extreme; fair: reasonable prices.
I'd like to know. Not many pastors use this version of the liturgy however I use it from time to time and want to know what this phrase means. Any ideas?

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Three Rules of a Happy Life

I was told that for a happy life one must do the following things:
1. Never play poker with a man named "Doc".
2. Make friends with the cook.
3. Do not become involved with someone who's issues are more complex than your own.

The first rule is not a difficult one for me as "Go Fish" and "Crazy 8's" are my only card games. The second rule is a blessing to me because I make friends with cooks wherever I go. The third rule is fantasy. Everyone has issues so finding someone with simple issues will be impossible. However, one should avoid trying to save another person. That's God's work, not ours.

Rather than following rules, the secret of a happy life is to be faithful to God and pay little or no attention to one's personal happiness. I'm not suggesting you go out and make yourself miserable to be honorable. Why do that? A life of integrity and concern will give you plenty of opportunities to be miserable without trawling for unhappiness to make a statement.
I'm suggesting that happiness is elusive if you are searching for it.
The same is true about joy. Joy comes up on us at the oddest times. Jumps into the seat beside us and just bursts out. I can't wake up in the morning and degree that I am going to find happiness or joy, it comes or it doesn't come. Not that we are powerless over it but in a sense, we are.
I think a happy life is the by-product of being faithful to God. Doing, as best as we can determine, the right thing for God whether it makes us instantly happy or not.
The Peace of God is something quite different from what the world defines as happiness.
I began thinking of this when a Preacher prayed over us yesterday asking for God's peace in our lives.
Late in the night, the final verse of the old hymn "They Cast Their Nets in Galilee" came to me (#421, The Hymnbook, PCUS, PCUSA and RCA):

"The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod.
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing
---the marvelous peace of God."

Peace to you this week and always.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

St.Casserole Annual Christmas Letter

Greetings to you! We hope you've had a great year!
We've celebrating winning the state lottery four times in one year, being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, both of us got MacArthur Genius Grants and we ran the NY Marathon without breaking into a sweat. Our children, LS and LD are being studied by world renown scientists as the greatest children in the world. This study has not interfered with our family life except to make both children late for dinner twice since the study began. The Middle School was renamed in honor of LD and the High School renamed in honor of LS. I'd ask the children if all this attention has gone to their heads but they are both off working in Calcutta with the Sisters of Charity.
LH has become the president of his national professional group which was re-named in his honor. Justice has rolled down like a mighty river thanks to his efforts. I've rewritten most of John Calvin's Institutes to say what Calvin meant to say if he'd really considered his thoughts. The work took almost an entire weekend but I thought it was important.
The oddest thing to report about our past year is that people finally came to understand that having money doesn't mean that one has taste. This has allowed people in my community and state to approach me about what they should do with their architectural house plans and decorating ideas. I expect to see some visual improvement in the next years. I've re-styled everyone's appearance, home (interior and exterior) and removed such speech infractions as "Oh My God!" and saying "I'm done" for "I'm finished." One of my favorite experiences was seeing men all over the state trim their bushy eyebrows and use the piles of eyebrow hair to fertilize their rosebeds. Oh!, not to brag, but all roses have been renamed in my honor. Is that fun or what?
We hope this letter finds you well and happy. Come see us when you can. Call first as we want to be ready for your visit by being home.
Love and Kisses,
LH and St. Casserole

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Early Morning Quiet

Having childen changed me from a night owl to an early bird. Over the years since their lesson for me I've gone from making peace with being awaken in the night to enjoying early morning hours. The children sleep late now and I get up early. I fought being awakened when they were very young whereas now I like to grab the early morning hours for a quiet time.
This morning I am up early and sitting in a quiet house. One extra child is with us. She and our daughter are sleeping in the family room one of the sofa, the other on the floor. I crept in the dark to cover them up since we are in a cold spell.
The old man cat appreciates my early rising as he can have breakfast then a warm lap. The young cat eats a chomping big breakfast then goes outside. Old man cat prefers the inside this winter.
I read the papers online from around the world. I read your blogs. Answer my email and write you if I've got anything to say. I go outside to stare at the sky and pray.
This morning, in the dark quiet, I am thinking about my mother.
I miss my mother. She's been dead for almost ten years but her memory is fresh with me. I wish I could phone her to ask her about what she was like when she was my age. I'd like to hear more family stories. I wish she could see our children and enjoy how the children have picked up some of her traits. I wish I could hear her voice again.
My grief over her death has changed in ten years. It isn't a sharp pain now but is a familiar longing which doesn't frighten me or reduce me to tears. I've heard that we forge new relationships with our dead loved ones as the years go by and this appears to be true for me. I've never lost my sense of gratitude that she is free from pain now and is with God in a world I'm not to know or understand while I'm in this world. But, I miss her.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Things I Wish to Leave Behind in 2005

Finding crushed M&Ms under the rugs.

Cats, who healthy and happy, feel that it is a personal integrity issue to use the expensive clean Litter Box and prefer to leave signatures elsewhere in our home.

Blow-in cards in magazines with offers of subscriptions. Plus, perfumed inserts. Plus plus any insert in a magazine which upsets the smooth opening and reading of the magazine.

Finding kleenex, aluminum pop tops, paper or melted candy bits inside the clothes dryer filter.

Empty toilet paper rolls left unchanged with no other toilet paper available within reach.

Finding leftover milk remains in cups/glasses/mugs in children's rooms after the remains have changed color and become heinous.

Searching for one's book only to find that someone else has started reading it and taken the book so you cannot find it.

Glasses in refrigerator with 1/4" of orange juice being "saved" for days and days.

People who allow their dogs to use our front yard as a toilet even though we don't have dogs. Come clean off our shoes, ok?

Methodists who dump their car ashtrays in our front yard while parking on our grass while they go to worship the Lawd across the street at their UMC church.

The local newspaper publisher who writes the dumbest editorials on superficial subjects and takes up space which could be used by writers with even half a brain.

Rabid republicans who take any and everything possible from the government all the while decrying government interference. Example, getting one's shots at the local health department while screaming about paying for low-income healthcare for others.

Garage sale sellers who act as though they are doing you a favor by selling melted tupperwear lids and yukky clothing. Let's have a kinder attitude, ok?

People who think the "Left Behind" series is good theology and mainline Protestant. Oh, puleeze!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Old Man Cat Update

The Vet called tonight to say that Rusty's wound has been cleaned, meds given and that the Greatest Old Man Cat in the World was doing well. She said that he may be able to come home from Cat General Hospital tomorrow morning. Rusty is 88 in human years and could not get away fast enough from whatever animal bit him. I asked the Vet to take photos and molds of the bites then go after the prep. I don't listen to Kay Scarpetta books for nothing!

She said she wanted me to rest easy tonight knowing that the Greatest Ginger Old Man Cat in the Entire Solar System is doing well. I think she's letting him watch old movies on TBS. Whatever he's doing, I know she is taking good care of him and I appreciate her phone call.

I'll go put on my bathrobe rather than my hospital visting clericals. 'Nite All.

The Committee for Preparation of Candidates

I am back from a six hour round trip drive for a three hour meeting. Our seminarians are home for the holidays so this is a great time of year to catch up with them. Our Moderator leads meetings well by taking everyone's comments seriously and moving us through a mountain of details. Today ends his term and the new Moderator begins in January. New Moderator attended today's meeting and will be a good leader for us. He made insightful comments and was respectful to both the committee and the candidates.
We are charged with helping candidates discern their calls for ministry as well as provide encouragement and direction for the candidates as they go through seminary. We are the next to last gatekeepers for the Church, the last being the Presbytery who has the final say and vote on whether or not a candidate will be ordained as a minister of the Word and Sacrament.

I remember my candidacy days and marvel at how well the committee back in old Mecklenburg Presbytery (now the Presbytery of Charlotte) handled a very young woman who knew nothing but only wanted to serve God as a preacher even though my gender was, I'm sure, a challenge to them then. I was treated respectfully, kindly and given nurture. They also arranged for scholarship aid and gave me a gift of money at Christmas. Now we cannot give money to candidates directly without it messing up their financial aid.

My old man ginger cat, Rusty, is a weekend patient at the Vet Hospital to be treated with antibiotics for a bite he received on his back. I plan to bring him home Monday. My house is not as bright without him around and although I know he is in good hands, I wish I could put on my clericals and go visit him at the hospital as I would one of you. If you pray for cats, please remember Rusty in your prayers.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Maggi Dawn's comments today are right on target, as usual. She writes about the difficulties of the Christmas season. If you don't read the Rev. Dr. Dawn, add her to your blog read list. You can find her at It's odd how important some people are to my daily journey but I cannot invite them to dinner, chat with them on the phone or go see a movie with them. I feel as if I know Maggi from reading her blog although the "relationship" is one-sided. She offers, I take and I cannot return the gift. The blogsphere connects us but isn't always reciprocal. I read her but seldom, if ever, comment. I am so thankful that she takes the time to write her blog. She makes a difference in my life. I commend her to you.

Today I should finish my weeks long "heave out" of my house. Not only am I preparing for Christmas guests, I am trying a new thing for me. I collect stuff with great relish. I like digging through other people's stuff at tag sales, church rummage sales, garage sales and estate sales. I have been known to stop and examine curbside piles and found a great rug for my study once while my passenger was hollering, "YOU AREN'T GOING TO DIG THROUGH GARBAGE WITH ME IN THE CAR!" It happens. People toss out usable things all the time. I've furnished my home with stuff I've bought on the cheap or found. I've given stuff to my pals who asked for it. I clothe myself and my children with .25 stuff. And, we look ok although the "looking like a bag lady" comment of my younger sister's oldest sister haunts me.

About two months ago, in a Church School class, the teacher was discussing how the woman washing Jesus' feet with her tears and drying his feet with her hair was an outlandish gesture. I began to speculate on what kind of over the top actions we in the class could take on. The woman who annointed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume was so deeply grateful for Him that she put aside convention and reticence to show her love for Him. What could we do which would be similar?

I am not suggesting that what I am going to tell you is on the same level as what she did. However, as my mind worked around outlandish gestures, I asked myself, "what would it be like for you to give away a majority of the stuff you have?" Frightening thought for me since I like surrounding myself with things. 8 complete sets of dishes, too many pots and pans, stuff-stuff-stuff. I began to pray about this idea of simply giving the things away. We have several charity shops here which need to make money (Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries). I didn't want to sell the things, just give them away. Now, for those of you who aren't following my train of thought (and you will be legion) the issue of giving things away is a trust issue. Do I trust the Lord to provide for me if I give my things away?

I think trusting God is my biggest issue of faith. I work on this all the time. Pray about it, think about it and make myself practice trusting God even though the act goes against my willfulness.

I began to borrow the LH's larger car and load the car to the brim with stuff. I would take and area of our home, go through the stuff and make piles to give away. After I carted the stuff to the charity shop, I would return and do the same area again. Before you think I was just "cleaning up" remember that I can tolerate owning fourteen mixing bowls very well. I took the stuff as soon as I could get it out of the house. No looking back. The first four heaves made me anxious. I decided to push on until it felt like nothing special to give away stuff I like and felt I needed. I kept going. If my mind wandered to such interior whining as why would poor people need Le Cruset cookware, china and crystal, I told myself to "hush". Why not have those things for anyone? Why not have a great big pot for cooking? Give it away.

And so, the Salvation Army and the Goodwill staff know me by name. They look amazed that I am driving up with even more stuff to give, week after week.

How do I feel? What difference does how I feel make? I feel as though I am practicing trust which feels as awkward to me as it always does.

The best I ever felt about trusting God was when I had to hour-by-hour mentally hold Jesus' hand during a horrifically bad time for my family. I told God that I had no imagination, no prediction about how our horror would be resolved but that like Jacob I was going to hold on to His hand until He blessed me. I was not going to let go even if holding on made no sense whatsoever. I held on, by God's grace and was blessed.

That's all for now. One more area to heave waits for me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

December 15, 2004

Where We Must Believe Gustavo Gutierrez
"It is often said at Christmas that Jesus is born into every family and every heart. But these “births” must not make us forget the primordial, massive fact that Jesus was born to a humble woman among a little people dominated by what was the greatest empire of the age. If we forget that fact, Christ’s birth becomes an abstraction, a symbol, a cipher…. It is in the concrete setting and circumstances of our lives that we must learn to believe: under oppression and repression but also amid the struggles and hopes; under dictatorships that sow death among the poor, and under the “democracies” that often deal just as unjustly with their needs and dreams.
If we are to dwell in the tent the Son has pitched in our midst, we must enter into our own history here and now, and nourish our hope on the will to life that the poor of today’s world are demonstrating. If we do so, we shall experience in our flesh the encounter with the Word who proclaims the kingdom of life."

Source: "Watch for the Light" From "The Daily Dig" of

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Weather Changes

I can stop complaining about hot weather. Tonight we expect temps to drop to high 20's or low 30's. The LH phoned just as I was exiting Sam's to tell me I should go buy tarps for the plants. I kept going to my car. We have tarps for hurricane prep. and there's nothing like tossing a chenille bedspread with bright pink peacocks over the bushes. If you aren't a Southerner, you won't get the joke.

Cold weather is difficult for our homeless people who live outdoors. The Salvation Army offers cots for $5 a night but if you don't want to give your name and other ID info because you are convinced that the Visitors from a Planet Far Far Away are after you, you sleep outside. And, you may not have five dollars. The UMC's have a shelter east of here but are considering closing down the ministry. Great...

According to our governing authorities we have have no homeless people. That's why there are tent/box cities near the interstate. That's why the local soup kitchen is growing by leaps and bounds. No homeless here means that the people who spend the day from open to close at the libaries are just avid readers.

Having a roof over my family's head with clean warm blankets and the promise of the electric furnace staying on through the night is a great gift.

Tomorrow or the next day the newspaper will report the following: people using non-code space heaters will lose their home from fire, someone will use a charcoal grill inside a home and get smoked out, an elderly person will be in the hospital from pneumonia and teachers will report that kids show up without coats.
We don't much know what do with cold weather down here. The TV has to tell us to protect the pets by bringing the pets inside as it doesn't occur to us that yard dogs get cold in close to freezing weather.

Make us mindful, O Lord, of the needs of others.

Monday, December 13, 2004

As I read the Sunday newspaper last night, I saw a column in the Advice section lamenting the rotten job a preacher did at a funeral. The writer said the preacher knew nothing about the deceased and told stories about himself for the eulogy. The advice columnist said she hoped that this was an isolated incident for clergy.
It isn't.
Over the years, I've heard the WORST funeral eulogies on the planet. Here are some examples:
1. The preacher berates the family to "get saved" because the decedent wanted to meet the family in heaven.
If this isn't abuse, I don't know what is. Using the funeral to guilt vulnerable family members into "getting right with God" is manipulative, short-sighted and not helpful.
2. Watching a priest rush through the funeral service as though he had 50 more to do in the next hour. This was in a sanctuary with a large group of worshippers. I understood 1 out of 5 words the priest said as he appeared to be speed reading the liturgy.
3. At the request of the family, I assisted in a funeral with a preacher who hated the idea of a woman preacher sitting up there with him in the God Section. Hated it. My part of the service was a prayer. One prayer. That was fine with me, I was just wanted to be supportive of the family. The preacher referred to the dead woman by my name, told fishing stories (the decedent didn't fish) and mentioned several times how he didn't really know the dead woman but sorta knew her nephew.
Here are some funeral tips for Preachers:
a. If you don't know the dead person, speak with a family member and find out what kind of funeral is desired.
Ask about the descendant's life, interests, favorite scripture passages and hymns. Get to know the dead person as best you can.
b. The funeral isn't about the preacher. It is a witness to the resurrection of the dead person. Celebrate the life of the one who has "gone on."
c. Affirm for the family that the loved one is really gone and won't be back. Talk about how the relationship has changed with the death and that a new relationship, albeit different, can be forged through memories. Remind the congregation that the family will need support not just today but in the coming months. Ask the congregation to stay close to the grieving family.
d. Please do not speculate on whether or not the dead person made it to heaven. This is God's business, not yours. Don't add to the families upset by suggesting that the dead person is roasting his or her bum in Hell. Not helpful.
e. Turn off your cell phone before the service begins.
You have other funeral horror stories and tips for preachers. Add 'em to the comment list. I want to know what you are thinking.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Prayer for Preparation for Worship

"Grant unto us, O God, the fullness of your promises.
Where we have been weak, grant us your strength;
where we have been confused, grant us your guidance;
where we have been distraught, grant us your comfort;
where we have been dead, grant us your life.
Apart from you, O Lord, we are nothing,
in and with you we can do all things. Amen. (Christina Rossetti 1830-1894)

Friday, December 10, 2004

Yesterday I drove in the downpour to another Presbytery to teach a group of women about Hannah. You remember Hannah: the barren woman who went to the tabernacle to weep and beseech God about her infertility and was there chastised by the priest Eli. He thought she was drunk. Hannah's prayer is answered and later she brings back her three year old son, Samuel to Eli to serve the Lord.
As I've mentioned before, I love to study the scriptures. I like the challenge of working with a text. I don't know if I have any skill but I enjoy the work. I read a variety of things about Hannah, did some work with a Psalm, referred back to Miriam's Song then re-read the "Magnificat." After the research I began to consider how to frame my remarks for an audience of women whom I did not know. Never met the woman who invited me to speak.
I knew, because it was a Presbyterian group, that the majority of women would be over 50. I was correct. I was happy to see that about 10% of the audience were younger women. I worry that our congregations are not reaching out to younger people.
My invitation was to speak for 20-30 minutes. This time frame is longer than my usual sermon time so more writing time was required. I may use a portion of this talk for my sermon Sunday but I have to consider if I can preach it with enough freshness. My attention span is on the next sermon, not re-hashing "old" work.
I was a tad daunted by the 20-30 minutes as that is a long time to sit and listen to a speaker. The program had me speak before lunch was served which was a good thing. God has a special place in heaven for speakers who come after their audience has had a big meal. By the time the dessert plates are cleared, no one's ears work very well.
During my talk, the wait staff decided to fill water and ice tea glasses. This is the South where we have iced tea for every meal except breakfast when we have coffee. The wait staff made so much noise that I started staring at one wait person while I was speaking. I couldn't believe how much of an interruption this person was making not 8 feet from my face at the podium. She was as quiet and unubtrusive as an elephant in the room.
Remember though, I've been doing this for years so I can handle howling babies, audience coughing fits, chairs scraping, snoring and people clipping their fingernails during the sermon. (Note to God: please do something mean to people who clip their finger nails during the sermon please. I'm not talking about a big smite, I just suggest something unpleasant.) I plowed on and moved away from the podium so the audience could see me as the waitstaff was right in front of me.
Regardless, I was surrounded after the talk by people who wanted to thank me, ask me for a copy of my talk (are you kidding? my note pile and papers are indeciperable to anyone but St. Casserole) and those who just wanted to give me compliments.
Since you don't know me, I can tell you that it was wonderful to receive affirmation. Preachers don't get much feedback about our work. Some crabby comments sure, but not much about how we are doing.
If you have a preacher or go to listen to a speaker, would you please give a compliment if the person deserves it? And, if you do give a compliment, will you be specific (interesting material, accessible presentation, clear speech, whatever)? On behalf of preachers and speakers everywhere, thank you.

Justice v. Just Us

I am thinking about how the recent election has implications for those who are awaiting trial. Particularly, I am thinking about those whose charges would be dropped if Kerry had been elected. Isn't that a grim and cynical thought? Why isn't justice even-handed? Why does it matter who is "in charge" when accusations and formal charges are brought? Where is the world where justice means fairness and equity instead of who wants to get rid of who?
This business of living between the promise of God's Kingdom on earth and the fulfillment of the promise is tough. And, I am not someone who thinks the U.S. should be a Christian country. We Christians will be resident aliens bringing our message of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope in the midst of dark misery forever. Trying to force others to live in a christian environment doesn't make sense to me. But then, I am not a contemporary fundalmentalist.
Back to my thoughts on the recent election. There are, around the U.S., citizens waiting trial for this, that and the other, who would be really free now if Kerry had been elected. Their charges would be dropped and their lives could go on without waiting for a trail. These citizens were charged because of their political associations and (I'm thinking about the Democrats now charged by Republican A.G.'s etc.) have done nothing more than what their Republican counterparts have done for years but because they are Democrats their behavior is a crime and they await trial. It breaks my heart. It is so unfair. It is not right.
Justice is not fair. Whoever is in power gets to decide who should be brought before a grand jury. Does a Grand Jury ever decide to drop charges? Only the prosecutors present the charges. No defense is heard. So the Grand Jury of citizens who are there because they are doing their civic duty or forced to do their civic duty say, "If this Big Cheese says so-and-so is guilty, they must be guilty." I don't fault the citizens, I fault the Big Cheeses of this world who are not impartial, not fair and who have rigorous personal agendas which cause wild harm of their fellow citizens.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

How can it be December when it's 68 degrees outside? Here in the Pine Grove, we are experiencing thunderstorms and brief bursts of heavy showers. The Cats feel it is a good day for sofa napping and they are correct. I've lived here in the Deep South for years now and I've yet to connect with the weather.
So severe! So hot! So off-calendar! Threat of hurricanes sends us to lug out the window panels (I see that the bolts are still in cups on the backporch from the threat of the last Big Blow.) Rapid rivers of residue blow down the driveway and through the streets and if I didn't have the paperwork proving I'm not in a flood zone, I'd wonder why, several years ago, we had four inches of water in the house. The water went out as quickly as it came in but what a horrid mess! I bought flood insurance to the amusement of my insurance agent who reminded me of the years I carried tornado insurance because of a NYT article I read on weather patterns here in the Deep South. Well, what would you do?
Along with carrying an umbrella for the six months of the year when it SHOULD be raining only to lose all the 'brellas during the six months of heavy showers, this weather situation is a horror for fashionista clergy.
I mean it.
How can one dress in December when it is warm enough to wear shorts and flip-flops? I've done that! It was flip-flop weather from end-of -February til' October and I had to toss away the flops because they were worn out. I am ready for long pants, light jackets and the thrill of wearing a turtleneck without being hot and crabby. I want to wear goofy Christmas sweater to the Yacht Club Ladies Auxillary Holiday Luncheon. Is this too much to ask? (BTW, I am the Chaplain of this organization with responsiblity for praying over the buffets. Just to let you know I'm busy with heavy-duty pastoral chores ALL THE TIME.)
I do not want to wear summer clothing until Spring. I want to wear darker colors with some texture and I don't mean black linen.
Note to self: order short sleeved clericals this year. Do it. Even though you think they look jerky, short sleeves are cooler than long sleeves. Remember that if you order the beige Almy shirt it will look pink after several washings and think hard about wearing pink clericals. And, forget the idea of white terry cloth collars for clericals. It is a stupid idea.
The LS and LD wear shorts to school everyday. In colder weather they may wear jeans but will stomp home complaining about being "too hot." Most Pine Grove schools do not allow flip-flops on campus. This is a good thing. FF's slow you down when running to class, promote toe-examination during slow lectures and can be used to pop friends over the head.
When I moved down heah (venacular spelling) I gave away my LL Bean rag sweater and most of my woolens. My genuine Harris Tweed vintage coat stayed in my closet for Up Nawth trips for years until my younger sister's oldest sister told me while walking the streets of Boston that I looked like a "bag lady." I gave it away although I'd gotten it in the Missionary Closet at the Seminary and considered it one of my best things. I gave away all of my cold weather stuff the first year I could wear shorts to Christmas Dinner at the in-laws. I thought shorts on Christmas Day was durn novel. Now, I grit my teeth and hope for some cold weather so I can wear my Talbot's jacket picked out for me by my sister-in-law who is gorgeous and KNOWS HOW TO DO. KHTD is the best compliment a Southern woman can say about another woman. There is no higher praise.
The LH wears long sleeves year round even in the arduous heat of Summer. He feels about short sleeve shirts as I do. Short sleeves are for golf shirts, t-shirts and that's it. I think "sleeve length" is a cultural issue and should be studied by Ph.d.'s. Consider how Howard Dean's rolled up sleeves did not translate to the South. Consider how the British roll and fold up their sleeves above their elbows. A Deep South Southerner might roll as sleeve but the roll will be a careful (and artful) folding below the elbow and not above.
It' s too warm for December. Let's just leave it at that.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Second Monday in Advent

One of the things I like about bloggage is the way it shows our interconnectedness. I heard from another blogger that a visitor couldn't contact me through my comments section. I have the tech ability of a rattled squirrel but I did figure out how to open my comments. I hope I am opening the blog to health rather than junk stuff but we will see.
The elders of my congregation re-affirmed our relationship yesterday at the Session meeting. Did it in such a sweet way by telling me that they loved me and wished to continue our relationship (of pastor and people) for another year and did I feel the same way? Charming and so dear. Their request and mine will go to the Committee on Ministry sometime early next year and then after a vote by Presbytery, we will be officially related for another 12 months. Lots of paperwork and phone calls but by Gosh! We Presbyies are going to do our work together decently and in order or we will NOT DO IT AT ALL!
If my congregation was larger and more wealthy and I lived in their Community, I'd ask to change the title of my status with them. However, our present status works well for both of us. I'm very committed to my last years with LS before he goes to college and with LD as she tackles the treachery of adolescence. I'm home most afternoons when school gets out. I'm HERE and this means something to me as a parent who wants to be with and connected to her children. I don't know if the children notice my presence but then, what else do they know? And, to my sorrow, there aren't many years left with them at home. LH and I waited all of our lives for these children and they are growing up and leaving us in a few years. Rats! (Advent permitted cussing, I checked.) LH makes all kinds of adjustments to his schedule to be with the children. I love that man!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Say "Hello" Sometime

Thanks for reading my blog.
When I began writing the blog I thought, in the first weeks, that I was writing it for myself. Then, through the kindness of Jen Lemen's blog I began to get visitors. May I ask a favor of you? You remember that I live a quiet life in a backwater? I don't get out of this area much and depend on reading the news and blogs on the internet and watching "West Wing" for most of my information. Therefore, if you wouldn't mind, please leave a comment for me. Just say "hello" sometime. You don't have to say anything dramatic or devastating, just let me know what you are thinking, if are up to it. Thanks.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


I enjoy Advent. I like to work with the texts each year for worship. I enjoy the variety although one of my preacher pals suggested that after the First Sunday of Advent, all else is repetition. He meant that once the repent and prepare concept was said once again that it's all a repeat through the rest of the season. I suppose he is correct but every year I become aware of a new slant/focus/hook for the preaching.
Years ago when the LH and I were trying to have children, I would read about Elizabeth and Mary and want to weep. All we wanted was a child and the Bible stories of infertile women encouraged me wildly. I was older, I was attempting to be a faithful Jesus follower and these stories of older women who were blessed with a child after the troubles of infertility were given their best dream. If one of the emphasis of Advent is waiting then I was becoming an expert.
Infertility treatment about twenty years ago meant long drives, ususally by myself, to a reproductive endocrinologist in another state. I liked my doctor there and didn't usually burst into tears until the drive home. One more gross invasion into either my body or personal life each time I visited the doctor. One more round of phone calls to family to say, "Not yet, but the Dr. Is trying one more thing."
During the desert years, I began a D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry degree, professional degree for post-seminary) and chose as my disseration, "Ministry with Infertile Couples." As usual, I enjoyed the research and study. Wasn't much out there at that time but I found what I could about other's perspectives on how infertility affects couples' spirituality. I was aware of my own sense of spiritual despair that I would be denied a child. I felt not exactly punished by God but rather felt that I was being sent to the mattresses of despair and didn't know why. I wanted a reason and I wanted that reason to be somekind of holy thing. (I went to a faith healer
up in the country who told me that the reason I didn't have a child is that no child wanted to be born into such a highly evolved mother but preferred to be born as a third world refugee. Oh puleeze! That's what I got for looking for truth on a dirt road upstate in Backwater. I knew better, I was just digging for help.)
Looking back, I am aware that God's timing is not the same thing as my "wants" timetable. The LS came, then the LD came. Only in retrospect do I see that the arrival of our children made sense. At the time of my Advent waiting, I could only poke the mist of the future and hope. I don't think I had the assurance of things not seen. And, I was prepared to give it all up. Just forget about it and trust that our lives would find other blessings if we didn't have children. That was a hard one. Give it up and move on. I stopped taking the medicine made with nun's urine derivitatives (do not tease me about this!) and forced myself to turn away from what I wanted.
The poignancy of Advent's balance between promise and fulfillment touched me back in those years and touches me now. The Lord is coming, but He is not here yet....

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Etiquette of Junking

1. Be prepared to walk away from anything. If the price isn't right and your seller won't haggle walk away.
2. Be gracious to the seller even if you are internally hooting at the prices and the seller's attitude. We went to a pitiful estate sale of a local artist several months ago. The gals who were running the sale thought they are experts. They couldn't identify sterling silver if they saw the silver stamp. Each item of the estate was priced as though it was in a Sotheby's auction. Further, they had pictures from the Blue Dog artist framed as prints. Value: O. I thought this was dishonest as they were selling the pictures for $75. I discussed a necklace with them only to be told it was sterling even though it didn't have a mark. Oh, puleeze. Further, they were snotty and crabby and gave the impression that we buyers should feel honored to be at their sale. This isn't good, folks. Estate sales often raise money for the family. Push the goods out the door with reasonable prices so the family can get money.
3. Do not enter a sale then begin shouting, "MINE, MINE!" No one likes this. Don't do it.
4. Be nice to other buyers. Try not to get the police involved. I'm not explaining this one.
5. Just because it is old and stinky does not mean it has value.
6. Just because it is new and shiny does not mean it has value.
7. The Antique Boys in XXXX have the best sales. Do not miss these.
8. Wear comfortable clothing. Do not carry a big purse. Put your money in your jeans pocket.
9. When standing in line for a sale, be polite and do not shout obscenities. No one likes this.
10. Carry a loupe, magnifying glass or wear one of those old lady magnifying glass necklaces. Carry a flashlight or wear a book light on your head. Do not wear make up. Use your hands to organize your hair, no brushes or combs. Do not wear bedroom slippers.
11. If an buyer drops the heaviest thing in the sale on your foot while you are minding your own business, do not curse.
12. Remember, you have to store what you buy. Consider this before you buy items even if it is a good deal. Train your friends to receive your "bad buys" by dropping stuff off at their homes at night.
13. If Suz says "Sister!" in a loud voice, run to her. She has found the jewelry.
What did I leave off the list?

Monday, November 29, 2004

Four Days After Thanksgiving

I forgot to tell you my thanksgiving list. I think of how grateful I am for people, situations and things often but I don't make out written lists. I thought I'd try that here. In no particular order, I am thankful for:
+Having Jen Lemen mention my blog in her blog. This led to getting comments from people from far far away.
Since I live in a tiny place in the Backwater, I am thrilled. And, Jen's kind words pleased me.
+My calling to ministry. Even though I decide I am not worthy, incompetent, and too silly for ministry about every other week and try to imagine laying the call aside, I can't and I don't. I'm in this for the long haul. And, to all those who wonder where I fall in the heated debates within the Presbyterian Church (USA), I quote Molly Ivins who quotes ( was it LBJ?) "I'm dancing with the one who brung me." I'm not leaving. In conflict, move closer to the one who thinks you are the enemy.
+I'm thankful for my family, my friends, for my cats, for the way the light hits the pine grove at different times of day and night, for coffee in the mornings, for being able to go buy groceries, for shoes that fit and a yard full of projects.
+I'm thankful for having a sister whose personality is lovely and caring. I'm proud of her and can't wait until she comes to visit.
+I'm thankful that I live in an area where people sell the most amazing items at yard sales. For the people who give away (almost) sterling silver flatware, Waterford crystal pieces, McCarty pottery, Chanel loafers in my size, Wedgewood china, wooden garden benches and amazing clothing. (I'm sorry that I look as if I buy most of my clothes at charity shops and garage sales. I just get carried away.) I'm grateful that people sell sterling Mexican jewelry they bought as souvenirs or received as gifts or inherited for .25 and 50 cents. I want to hug the person who lived in a pitiful house on a sad street and sold a genuine David Yurman bracelet to my buddy from a messy basket of junk for $1 and helped my pal make some money re-selling the Yurman.
+I'm thankful for the few people I know who talk with me honestly and with genunine thoughtfulness. I like conversations which aren't social or contrived or empty. For those of you who speak with depth, thanks.
+I am thankful for learning new words. I need some new ones as I have used up working "detritus" and "louche" into conversations. Fact is, I like learning anything new. How to do something better. New ideas. New words.
+I'm thankful for authors who write good fiction.
+I'm thankful for early mornings when I am the only one awake and I can take my coffee out to my back porch and look up at the sky. I like to pray outside in the early mornings but some days I just stare and drink coffee.
There's more but my time is up.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The First Sunday in Advent

Worship was a pleasure today. The texts, Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44, are hopeful and ominous at the same time. Be ready! "...for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." (Mt.24:44b NRSV) were challenging to study and prepare into the sermon.
I'm so durn grateful for being able to preach every week. I may have gotten worn-out with Year C Luke but then I got my second wind and made it to Matthew. I've preached the lectionary for about 6 years now, maybe more. I buy new commentaries and read different books each year so I don't know that I've repeated much. Each time I look at the text, I see more that I've never seen before.
When I was a roving evangelist going from congregation to congregation, seldom at one church for two Sundays in a row, I missed terribly being able to craft a contextual sermon for the congregation. I was flying in and flying out without enough contact with my listeners. No relationships were being built except with whoever was the Worship Chair and had to call me to invite me to preach. Those Worship Chairs were glad that I could come and give them a break from calling around for a guest preacher. In a tiny presbytery with many tiny churches, finding a preacher is difficult. I went from church to church for years when our children were younger so that I could take Sundays off to worship at my husband's congregation with the family and be available to take care of sick kids, etc. But, the pull was there always for me to preach at these tiny churches who struggle to fill the pulpit. Years ago, we had a slew of retired preachers who did supply preaching for the presbytery but over the years these guys (and with one exception, they were GUYS) began to die out or stop preaching. As a much younger person, I was available to preach here and there.
Now, though, I'm in my second year of full-time supply for a tiny congregation. Thank you, God, for sending me there and for the congregation to be so very very welcoming of me. We are growing slowly. Six new members in the last two years. When I began preaching there, I would arrive to find five people in attendance or less. Now we have the nine regulars plus visitors and then new members. The growth of the church is slow enough not to upset the old timers but fast enough to encourage us.
When I get in the pulpit there, I feel so profoundly grateful for being there with this portion of God's people.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

For A Few More Calories, Consider This

Here is the best recipe for Chocolate Buttercream Icing:

2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted
1 pound confectioner's sugar, sifted
1/2 cup of whipping cream

Cream the butter in the bowl of a sturdy mixer, using the paddle attachment. Beat in the corn syrup, vanilla and salt.
With the machine off, spoon in the cocoa. Carefully turn the mixer on low so as to avoid cocoa asphyxiation. Do likewise for the sugar, in three parts. Last, add cream. Beat until fluffy.
(from the local newspaper by a Chef Oliveras)

This icing recipe is great on cakes, cupcakes and out of the bowl. The best thing to do with it is make it, apply it to whatever you are icing (except yourself) then GIVE IT AWAY. It is too tempting to have in one's home. I made this today and had a good bit left over from the bundt cake I was icing. I put the leftovers in a small container to hide in the back of my refrigerator. For me, for me, for me and for me only.........

I notice from my stats and from the load of comments I receive on this blog that no one but family is reading this blog and that the two other people I've told about the blog don't comment. Maybe it was three people I told. I thought people found blogs and began reading them. Maybe not...... I'd like to have a few readers and don't know how to attract them. So, I'm having a contest. If you do not live in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama, and you contact me, I will mail a pound of Community Dark Roast Coffee to you. Community is the State coffee of Louisiana and is wonderful. The dark roast is serious coffee. Contact me.

Thanksgiving Day

Ah, the weather is cool! Finally! Yesterday was a very warm 78. Today, however, is cool and makes me think of Thanksgiving Days when I was a child on the East Coast.
My Thanksgiving Days at home were filled with the City's Christmas Parade, grandparents, elderly great aunts and an uncle coming to our home for a turkey dinner. My mother began very early in the morning cooking the turkey and other dishes. I remember one year seeing her taking the turkey in it's big roaster pan outside and placing the pan on the hood of her car. I don't know why this memory sticks with me. Maybe because she needed help with the back door or because it seemed so odd to me to see her carry food outside and place it on her car. I suppose the turkey was too hot to serve. I have no clue. Children see, remember and then cannot figure out the reasons for parental behavior years later.
My father would pass around sherry to the old people seated in our living room. I would be dressed in Church clothes and have to sit with them. After the usual conversations, I would go into the kitchen to get in the way of my mother who would be doing forty things at once. My father would take over the stove to roast pecans in butter and salt. I miss him! He would burn the pecans every year.
Around the table we would gather. My glum older sister, the grandparents, old aunts and uncle amd my cute little sister. A dog under the table or banished outside. My mother served stewed oysters, cornbread dressing, biscuits, cranberry sauce, burn pecans, celery and olives in a cut glass dish, and gee! I can't remember any of the green vegtables! For dessert she would make wine jelly with wine flavored whipped cream. Pecan pie, too.
I inherited the uncomfortable dining room table which had legs that I bumped into with my chair and knees my entire childhood. I have the table now in our home. I've folded the table leaves and use the table to hold photographs. I wish I had a picture of us all around that table. I'm sure one exists, I just don't know where.
The City Christmas parade came in the afternoon while the old people snoozed. My father would take us to stand on the parade route to watch the floats. Loud marching bands from the high schools and colleges blew by us. Santa Claus ended the parade sitting high up on a sleigh float.
Just for now, I'd like to go back to that parade with my father and hold his hand in the cold as I did years ago.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


I finished Joanna Trollope's Girl from the South and John Grisham's The Last Juror this week. I enjoyed Trollope's The Rector's Wife more than Girl from the South. We read The Rector's Wife in my Preacher's Reading Group in the Fall and thought it was a good read for us. One of us doesn't like her writing style and dreaded taking on The Choir, which we are supposed to be reading now. I began The Choir and then put it down for anything else on my book table pile. I'll get back to it but only after I read another preaching book. And, maybe another novel. And, when I finish Thomas Bokenkotter's A Concise History of the Catholic Church. The history is very readable and I've had a difficult time putting it down to return to work and staying up long enough at night to read through it. I have no idea if it is considered to be a "good" book to read to capture R.C. history.
John Grisham's latest is better written than his earlier books with believable characterizations and well-told stories. The hero is a young newspaper publisher in a small Mississippi town. The descriptions, langauge and characters all ring true to me. I think I've read all of Grisham's work except A Time to Kill, The Painted House and Skipping Christmas. I've listened to audio books on his legal thrillers after reading them and like the stories. Grisham drives the LH nuts because of the stick figure characters and all good/all evil issues in the legal thrillers. I'm not sure if the LH is willing to ever pick up another book. I, on the other hand, like to read Mississippi writers of all sorts and feel that we have some of the best in the Nation and beyond.
Girl from the South does a great job of describing Savannah, Georgia. Trollope catches the nuances of Southern families, the wealthy ones, and I was engaged in the story. I didn't relate to the main woman character much whose hair texture gets a good bit of page space. Somebody tell Trollope that the two keys to life are hair care products and good foundation garments. Frizzy hair is just neglect unless the person likes frizz which the woman character does not. The lead male character is about as appealing as a stranger but then maybe I've missed out on the new male since I've been married a long time and my church doesn't seem to have many men in the early 30's group. If I could hyperlink better, I'd refer you to the NakedChurch blog on "Your Church might be Presbyterian if". I tried, but couldn't do it. Will learn more, I promise.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I loved going away for several days to NYC. Loved it! I didn't carpool, load a dishwasher, fold laundry or go to the grocery store. Instead, I looked at beautiful shop windows, ate great food and looked at tourists in the theater district. Saw "Avenue Q" and "Bombay Dreams" with delight.
Our hotel was ok but I could not regulate the heat so I felt as if I was in the tropics. We lived with the window open as far as we could lift it hoping that a pigeon wouldn't fly into the room. NYC was having temperate weather so my Once A Year Go North coat stayed in the suitcase. Saturday morning when I was stomping around that flea market near the Garage it began to rain. I got cold for about thirty minutes and the rest of the trip I spent hoping for air conditioning. It's late November.
Coming back home feels wonderful. I love seeing my people and being back in our house. Early this morning I roamed around the back porch staring up at the pine trees and the before sunrise sky. It's so quiet here! Manhattan is noisy around the clock. Here in the Pine Grove we have a bit of traffic noise as children are delivered to school then there is silence, maybe a car and birds. Despite the noise and the heat, I slept well in NYC because I walked blocks after block each day.
What did I see in NYC that I had never seen before? Individual asparagus holders in their original box (English silverplate, I think) at Bergdorf's. What amazed me? The price of vintage and antique linens in the fancy stores. I find great linens down here all the time. Cannot give them away. In fact, I took a bag of vintage Christmas linens to the Goodwill several weeks ago. No one wanted them down here. I have favorites I collect and the giveaway bag was extras. Whoa! I should have taken them to NYC and used them for barter.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Will B. Dunn speaks to Backwater

Will Campbell's visit to our local radio show (via phone from his home in Tennessee) was great. The interviewer did keep discussing "how does one take the moral high ground?" which Will did not address as the question makes no sense to a humble man nor does it ask the questions I THINK the interview was searching for with Will. Anyway, despite goofy comments by our local audience, Will did have a chance to speak about his early years as a chaplain to the students at Ole Miss. His work with a local missionary group in Lafayette County and his insistence that racism must be addressed meant his work in Oxford was shortened to about two years.
Bro. Will's belief that racism is the sickness of our country has been a theme throughout his life. He's correct. Dealing with racism is a daily aspect of our lives down here. I believe it is the wound of our national life. My sister commented that dealing with racism is like having a second job. Whatever else we work on, we work on racism, day in and day out.
Early in his ministry Will worked out of the Old Chapel Building on the campus where I had my office, years later, as a chaplain to the Presbyterian Students. Creepy old building when I was there. Long wide hallways with tiny little offices and a large open floor level area. The best thing about the building was it's slanting staircases and it's proximity to the Grove. I stayed in Oxford as chaplain for about two years, as well. My leaving had to do with falling in love with a law student and the acid based relationship I had with the senior pastor at the church in town. Both situations felt dramatic to me. The law student and I married; the senior pastor went on to torture several other associate pastors in this state and another.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Will D. Campbell

Will D. Campbell the Mississippi born writer and preacher will be on a local radio station tomorrow as guest.
You can tune into his interview by going to <">> beginning at 9:30 am. cdt.
Will Campbell has given me two things for ministry that I cherish. Both are from his 1977 book BROTHER TO A DRAGONFLY. First, a wedding is a religious event so sign the wedding license before the service, not after the service. Get the Caesar aspects of a state marriage out of the way before proceeding to the religious event. Second, everyone deserves ministry. Will taught me this by telling stories of his work with redneck country and western singers. By 2004, being a redneck is a humorous description and C&W is mainstream but years ago when I was a theological tadpole, both the rough Southerner with missing teeth and Country Music repelled me. Snobbishly, I thought of MY ministry as being directed only to the worthy. I know. I know. Shoot me... I was young and stupid. Thanks, Will, for pointing out the truth to me about my snobbery and arrogance.
Can't wait to hear Campbell tomorrow. I met him at Columbia Theological Seminary <<>> during the Annual Lecture Series when I was a student there in the '70s. I was his student driver to the airport and Seminary. Then, he was a guest of the 1986 General Assembly in Biloxi and preached for the Assembly. For years I had a picture from his Assembly visit in my study. I think the hurricane blew it away. There's a chunk of my early Mississippi history blown to smithereens by one Storm or another.

Monday Mornings are soooooooo Great!

I want to thank the family member who dropped a penny in the kitchen sink then, feeling as though it was too much trouble to dig out, flushed it into the disposal. Many thanks.

And, to the family member who left a school note, a ponytail holder and several kleenex in a jeans pocket: that was fun, too.

And, to whoever felt that flushing the toilet was a major problem. Many thanks to you, too, Buster!
Before 8:30am. this morning I discovered the young cat's new poop place in a child's closet. Child must have not noticed as the remains were archeological.

There was only one case of Monday Morningitis (horrible symptoms of yet un-FDA approved illness which seems to disappear as the child is pushed out the door to school.)

Over the past few weeks I've been experimenting with different scone recipes. As a sixth-generation Scottish immigrant, I feel the need to make good scones. I've tried the recipes with eggs, but don't think scones should have eggs. The recipes calling for heavy cream taste the best but some of the buttermilk recipes are good, too. This morning I tried a mix from the grocery store. It's like bisquick with sugar. Won't try that one again.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Relentless Return of the Sabbath

I'm ready for tomorrow's Worship Service. I think I am. My sermon is prepared. The bulletin is completed (in a large church like mine, the pastor is the secretary, too.) I'm wired and ready. Or, I think I am.
I have not had a Sunday off since the end of April. This means I've preached week in and week out for about 27 Sundays. Maybe it's more Sundays. I don't remember which months have five Sundays. This is no big deal but it is beginning to feel weighted to me. While I love preparing to preach and the preaching itself, I like to feel that I am fresh when I go to the pulpit. Now, I'm getting a bit tired.
It's an odd thing to balance preaching. If I am out of the pulpit for several weeks, I feel awkward and odd when I return. If I in the pulpit too often without a break I feel that the weeks run on to each other without a break. It's as though the time presses against itself and I can't remember which Sunday it is. Can't seem to explain it. It is this "run-on" type experience that is beginning to tweak my nerves.
I will be away on the 21st. I am looking forward to not being in the pulpit and most likely, not even going to church. I may go to Fifth Avenue Presbyterian in NYC but I may just scoot to the Green Flea Market at that school.
"Gracious God, by your mercy let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen."

Monday, November 08, 2004

Monday Mornings

Monday mornings are the worst for me. Every other day, I wake up happy and ready to go. I suppose that is obnoxious to the night owls but when our children were born I became an early bird and am still. But, Mondays are tough for me. I am worn out from Sunday, the week begins and all I can think of is the laundry to be done, kitchen to be cleaned and other boring house stuff. I'm gone a good bit of the weekend so my family enjoys home feeling as though they can do what they wish (be messy).
Over the years I've learned to go into a meditative state when I do housework. It's rote work and perfect for zoning out. By paying attention and NOT paying attention, I can get the work done without interfering with whatever I'm pondering in my head. This is good.
When I get huffy about cleaning up, I remind myself that I will have future years without messy children at home. I doubt I will miss their mess but I know I will miss them. For whatever reason, this is the time in my life to be the only one in the family who willingly changes paper towel rolls, toilet tissue rolls and cleans out the refrigerator.
Children do chores but don't do them joyfully. I don't do chores with as much joy as I could, either. The LH is oblivious to most household stuff so he floats through leaving empty coffee cups, shoes and other detritus in his wake. When he does clean up, he moves stuff to the floor to create empty surfaces then doesn't clean the empty space.
And, it all comes together on Monday mornings.
Today, I'd rather play in the yard cutting back the browning bananna plants, picking up sticks and cleaning gutters. Is that play? For me it is play.
The quotidian mysteries of my family life........let me consider this further.

Friday, November 05, 2004

"Bless This Ring, O Lord"

My State voted on same sex marriages Tuesday. The people said only heterosexuals can marry.
I’m confused by this. If the State is concerned about the sanctity of marriage, then it follows that the State will increase worker’s pay so that parents can live on earnings from only one job each. If the mother wishes to stay home with children, tax relief would enable her to do so. Working one job would enable parents to care for children and spend time with their spouse. It would make sense for a couple wishing to marry to spend six months in weekly counseling and delay their marriage until they had known one another for two years. Adultery could result in jail time. Divorce could be fined thousands of dollars. Pornography would be outlawed as I understand that many marriages are defiled by one or more of the partners becoming involved in pornography. Media representation of relationships would reflect fidelity, honesty, mutual affection and determination rather than sexual behavior. If we wish to help marriage, maybe these changes to how we consider marriage would be helpful. I think it is odd for the State to want to say who can marry when the State doesn’t recognize anything but heterosexual marriage as it is.
Of course, the marriage vote thingie was a political move by cynical and frightened men who want to be known as righteous without the accompanying work of really supporting long-term healthy marriages.
Your marriage doesn’t affect mine. I have a Christian marriage but this is what I was led to by my faith. If you have another kind of marriage, I would assume that is your choice. If you married too young, too quickly, ill-advised, neurotically or whatever, then you entered into a relationship under your own will. I feel compassion for those who have miserable marriages. I feel sorry for couples for whom marriage is a misery. What can I do to help? I’m willing to help.
However, your marriage is not my marriage and despite the smugness of that statement, I assume you are willing to take responsibility for your marriage as I do with mine. I do not think it makes any sense for the State to be involved except to protect children and abused spouses. Unless the State is willing to provide structures so that all people desiring to marry can have the best possible success, I say "Stay Out of It".

Monday, November 01, 2004

Sleeping Deeply on Saturday Nights

I have been preaching for 28 years. I am not a child prodigy, I am a Protestant mainliner who began in my twenties stepping up to the pulpit and attempting to be a faithful Gospel messenger. In my early years, I was so tentative in my speech and style that my mother, an educated and able public speaker, would suggest gently that I speak with more authority. She wasn't suggesting pulpit pounding but an inner certainty that was missing from my sermons. I worked on this. I worked for years to develop my own voice, as a writer does who has read great literature and seeks to join that flow. I listened to sermons, read sermons, wrote and re-wrote sermons. I preached from a full manuscript, preached from an outline, preached from a few key words. I made myself do children's sermons without any notes to practice standing bare handed before a congregation. My first ordained position was in a University congregation and there I had help from writers, scientists, historians and grammarians. Any advice was gratefully received. I continued to read books on preaching. I took continuing education preaching courses at the Seminary.
My interest in studying the texts and preparation for preaching has increased over the years. I delight in the study. Preparation is one of my favorite parts of each week. It's my delivery and presence in the pulpit that I'm considering here.
Now I find myself at another crossroads of preaching. I am, I think, too comfortable in the pulpit.
I read an article in the most recent Journal for Preachers (Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.) that no one should enter the pulpit without a sleepless Saturday night behind them. The discussion of who is upset about preaching by sleeplessness and self-doubt came up at my Preacher's Coffee Group a week or two ago. One of us said he was anxious about preaching each time he prepared. Others, myself included, said we slept fine on Saturday nights and got up Sunday mornings happy and eager to preach.
I don't know if I am picking at myself without cause over this. I am happy that I don't have to swig Pepto-Bismol every Sunday morning and beat myself up all the way home from worship then into the night with recriminations over what I said. I did that for years. But, how can I best use this comfort in front of my congregation to be a better preacher? Am I growing as a preacher or have I hit a plateau and forgotten to care about growth?
I'm thinking about this.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Cat on My Lap Saturday Night

I've just finished the bulletin for tomorrow's worship service. It's late for me to be finalizing worship plans. I have Rusty the greatest Old Man Cat on my lap and we are both relaxing and hoping for an early bedtime.
I put off finishing worship this week because I had to go to Laurel on Thursday for Presbytery, then leave again Friday morning for Jackson. Presbytery was a mixed bag. The Laurel church is lovely and has the best pipe organ I know of in this state. Two members of the choir sang the worship music along with the church's organist. All three are so very gifted. The preacher for the day's meeting was difficult to hear. His style is to move around in the pulpit and the pulpit microphone is not omnidirectional. I heard about every third word. He looked happy. I just don't know about what.
Friday night I taught a Course of Study for the UMC's laypastor program on the history of reformed theology. The preparation for this drove me nuts as I received my prep materials in little dribbles and only received the textbooks (I had copies of pertinent chapters) the morning I left to drive to Jackson. The students were alert and welcoming which I didn't quite expect as they are tent-makers often with 3 or 4 point charges and I am not UMC. We plowed through the material with as much humor and verve as I could muster. I'm delighted to teach about reformed theology, it's just a complex topic to burst into with people with little or no theological background. We finished about 12:30 pm. today. I rushed to my car and began the boring journey back home.
A busy week and I am tired. BTW, no one knows of my blog and I don't seem to have the title or keywords to attract visitors. This is a goofy online private journal. That's fine with me. And, I'm feeling slow that I cannot figure out how to do the hyperlink thingie so you can read what I'm reading on blogs and on the 'net.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Waiting for the Election

There are less than two weeks before the Presidential election. The waiting gets on my nerves. Further nerve damage is anticipated as I wait to see what the Republicans will do in the final days. I remember Lee Atwater, I remember the Iran hostage last minute boogie, I am tensed for another meanness to occur. In the NYT online today, there is an advertisment showing President Bush comforting a young girl. The text says something like, "the most powerful man in the world (Bush) and his only thought is to keep me safe." I don't feel "safe" with Bush as President. He has ruined our foreign policy, he thinks the problem with medical care come from trial lawyers and he allowed and enabled Vice President Cheney's Halliburton contracts. There's more, of course, that doesn't make ME feel "safe" but those are enough for now. If the Democrats had behaved as the Republicans do, there would be uproar. But what is not ok for the Dems is fine for the Repubs, apparently. It is not the trial lawyers fault that we do not have adequate flu vaccines, it is not the terrorists fault that oil is over $50 a barrel and it smells like treason to me that the military is fighting a "war" that doesn't address the complex issues of terrorism.
I am not a political commentator. The above proves that but as a citizen I do care deeply about the direction and vision of the United States. The odd dissonance of talking with people who support President Bush because they see him as "moral" is upsetting me.
I am interested in the moral issues. What I see and understand is not how my neighbors, friends and local newspaper see the issues.
The waiting is getting on my nerves.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Fall Days Sort Of

Here in the Deep South, the leaves don't really fall until they blown off the trees in December or January.
There isn't any point in shopping as the stores are filled with cold weather wear and we can wear flip flops still.
Transitional cottons work but you have to live down here to understand what that means.
It's almost 5:30pm. as I write. I'm waiting for the LH to come home, the LS to finish playing tennis and the LD to get home from swim team. The sun is setting and the light coming into my study windows is bright and yellow-y. The days are getting shorter. The pine needles are falling. It must be our Fall.
It's about the middle of October and we keep the air conditioning going 24/7. Days are hot and sunny. I am not complaining though because my courtyard garden is full of blooms. Hibiscus, pentas, begonias are blooming as happily as they did in mid-May.
The third Presidential Debate is tonight. I am attracted and repulsed. I watch the debates to hear what issues the candidates think are important (or do they discuss just what they think we think is important?). The second debate about sent me running. The Presidents' voice timbre sounded anxious and strident. Made me nervous. Sen. Kerry bobble-headed while listening. I know it is what they do that is important, not what they say, sound like or look like but it is difficult for me to understand how anyone could think President Bush can govern complicated situations when he had such a horrific time even sticking to his pre-fab answers. I don't think it is flip flopping to change one's position when one gets more information. I like that kind of flexibility. Shows that one is paying attention and willing to learn.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

T.S. Matthew and the Gospel of Luke

I am monitoring T.S. Matthew this morning. I'll be on the road to my church through three Mississippi counties under the tropical storm warning (means conditions are coming within 24 hours) by 9 am. We've had drippy rain for two days now which delights the trees. Conditons have been dry around here even with Ivan's brush past us in September. Now, we get the rain. I suppose all will be well but tornados are possible with all wind.
I'm ready with my sermon on Jesus and the healing of the Lepers in Luke 17. I hope the sermons says what needs to be said and that my words don't interfere with what the Spirit means for the congregation to hear. I never seem to know how my sermon will go. After all these years of preaching, I stand up in the pulpit and give myself over to a task which seems archaic (standing and yapping for 14 minutes solo to a culture who rarely listens to lengthy monologs), scattershot (who really knows what is going on with the congregation--are they distressed, hungry for clarity, bored, what?) and how much of me and my stuff interferes with the process of preaching. Preaching reminds me of jumping into a pit of water without knowing the depth or current. I prepare for this but I stand without a life jacket or much of a clue and dive into the water.
A compounding problem, and I am not sure if this is a problem but I think about it often, is that I worry about being entertaining. I cannot stand glib sermons. I don't want to preach this way but because I am so happy to be in the pulpit, I worry that I am glib. My call is not to entertain but to open up the scriptures in a way that the Gospel is heard. My strength as a speaker seems, at times, to be my weakness as well. Despite my contention that preaching should never be boring or dour, I don't like happy slappy preachers much and I worry that I am in this category.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord Our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The Alphabet of Grace

I'm preaching on the Gospel lectionary text for us tomorrow: Luke 17:11-19. It is the story of the ten lepers healed by Jesus who rush off after their healing. Only one, a "foreigner" returns to thank Jesus for healing. In the back of my mind I remember Frederick Buechner writing about "Where are the Nine" in one of his books. Off I went to the scattered throughout our home bookcases and pulled all the Buechner I could find. Some copies have my name written in them and others have my Mom's name. Both of us read Buechner in the 70's-80's. I think the sermon or story I'm looking for is in The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairy Tale. Looked everywhere but could not find the book. Found seven Buechner books, some duplicates, but not that one. I spent part of an afternoon reviewing his books amazed at how much I can remember of his writing after all these years. Thank you, God, for Buechner and his talents which opened scripture for me then and now.
In the Alphabet of Grace (1977, Seabury Press) I found this at the end of the final chapter:

"Half drowned in my pillow, a sleepy, shiftless prayer at the end. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. O Thou. Thou who didtst call us this morning out of sleep and death. I come, we all of us come, down through the litter and the letters of the day. On broken legs. Sweet Christ, forgive and mend. Of thy finally unspeakable grace, grant to each in his own dark room valor and an unnatural virtue. Amen".

Friday, October 08, 2004

St. Casserole Begins

I began reading blogs earlier this year. My pal Reilly told me about his blog. I read the first blogs I could find then began to look for fundamentalist Christian blogs. I've been curious about why people are fundamentalist so I thought I'd read more about them. Then I began to hear about the Emerging Church, so I searched for those blogs. Don't know if I understand Fundamentalism any better now but I like reading what other's think and discovering what they care about. I stopped reading as many fundy blogs and concentrated my reading on emerging church blogs. Fascinating to read but I am not sure I understand what and where and exactly why of the EC.
Let's see how this first post goes.