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.