Sunday, November 23, 2014

Enough with the Black Friday Shaming Already!

Hey remember me?? 

I used to blog.  For myself.  Now I blog for the Northeastern Iowa Synod.

But I got something to say about Black Friday shaming.  I think we should stop it.  Because while you think it’s all about fighting anti-consumerism and commercialism and everything that is wrong with our economic system, it’s not.  It’s just making people who like to shop on Good Friday feel bad.  And making you feel superior because you don’t do it. 

This is the thing.  We have a crazy economic system that depends on people buying stuff.  I don’t think that is a good thing.  I don’t even understand how it can be sustainable.  And you don’t have to tell me about how bad people in retail are paid and treated.  Hello??? I worked at Staples last summer.  I went 5 hours on my feet without any breaks.  I was expected to be kind of smart about figuring out stuff, be fast on the cash register, know where to find the blue #3 sharpie, smile and take grief all for a little over minimum wage. 

I get it.  There is something wrong with our economic system. 

But we ALL participate in it.  Some of us benefit from it more than others; some of us suffer from it more than others.  But nobody gets a pass.  You don’t get to be all superior for not shopping on Black Friday. 

Disclaimer:  Yes I have shopped on Black Friday.  Got up early, took my kids, got some deals, went to lunch, and came home and took a nap.  We did this even at the evil capitalistic center – Mall of America.  Nobody died.  Nobody even got punched.  Or trampled . Most people were very pleasant.   

But then again I never tried to buy a Plasma TV for $5. 

Frankly I’m tired of seeing memes comparing Black Friday to the Hunger Games.  And people trying to make me feel like I’m more greedy and consumerist than those who shop on say, Monday.  

And if I’m tired of it, trust me; the folks in the pews are tired of it.

And you know who else is tired of it?  The good people in your pews who own stores.  They are tired of being made to feel like they are responsible for taking Jesus out of Christmas cuz they sell stuff in December.  

So let’s just stop it.

I don’t know how to fix our broken economic system.  I don’t know how to make the world a more just, fair and kind place.  I just know that making people feel bad about going shopping is not working.

So if you are looking for a deal this Friday – Sin boldly!  AND remember the poor.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


A Mighty Fortress
Is not just brick and stone

A Mighty Fortress
Is the fierce loyalty of a friend
that defeats the cruelty
   we often impose upon ourselves
A Mighty Fortress
              is a shield of grace
                             against the spears of judgment this world hurls
A Mighty Fortress
              Is a tender love that provides a balm
                             which heals the scars this life can leave
A Mighty Fortress
              Is the place where love and grace can make us brave again.
A Mighty Fortress is our God.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Visiting Poverty

I know, I never post here anymore.  I keep it because of the old stuff I posted.  For those who are still following, this is from where I do most of my writing:  God's Work, Our Blog, our synod blog.

My sister & I

The past two weeks has been something of a roller coaster of emotions as I took personal time to first celebrate with joy and pride my son’s graduation from college and then flew to California for what is probably my last visit with my sister who is in the late stages of breast cancer.

My sister has worked hard her whole life in a variety of low paying jobs, mostly waitressing and factory work.  She always enjoyed her jobs and the people she met and made the most of life.  But now she lives only on her Social Security check, in Southern California where rent is so expensive she is left with $40 a month to live on.

She lives in a cockroach infested apartment on a busy street.  But she does have a place to live. There are many homeless who sleep in cars and under shopping carts on her street. She knows and speaks to many of them.

When you are poor you wait for hours in the clinic for care.  Even if you have cancer you can wait months to see a specialist.  She needs to give herself shots after her chemo treatments and one time the doctor forgot to include a prescription for the needles.  The doctor is only available on Wednesdays.  She needed to give herself the shots beginning on Thursday.  My sister is good at coming up with creative solutions to problems.  She walked down to the local homeless shelter which has a free needle exchange program for drug addicts and talked them into giving her some needles.

When you are poor you have to be clever to survive.  People who think the poor are lazy and dumb must not actually know any poor people.  One of my sister’s neighbors spent two days, 12 hours a day wearing a hot costume and dancing on the street to attract attention to a local business for a few hundred dollars.  Out of her $40, my sister gave him $10 to wash her floor for her.  

She gets food stamps.  A few times a week she has someone take her EBT card (they don’t use stamps anymore) to the Jack in the Box on the corner to buy her a hamburger.  A lot of people resent that the poor can use food stamps to buy fast food.   But remember she has 4th stage breast cancer and is undergoing chemo.  She doesn't always feel like cooking.

While I was visiting she bought us a couple of steaks with her food stamps.  People with money resent that too.  But she only gets a set amount of money for food each month.  If she spends $12 on steaks this week, it means she will eat rice and beans the rest of the month (which she likes).  But why should we begrudge her the ability to buy her sister a nice dinner?  Why should we insist she buy hamburger every week rather than steak one week and beans the next?

I went grocery shopping for her and she gave me her EBT card but I refused to use it.  Of course I had money and wanted to buy her groceries so her food stamps would last longer.  But there was a less noble and generous reason I refused to use the card.  I was ashamed and did not want to be seen using the card.  “Oh don’t worry about that,” she assured me “Everyone here uses that card.  You will fit right in”

The truth was, I did not want to fit in. I did not want to be seen as one of “those people”.  But as I spent the week with her and “those people” and saw how much they cared for and took care of my sister, how hard they worked for the little they had and how clever they were at surviving, and what positive attitudes they had, I realized I could do a lot worse than “fitting right in” with this crowd.

As Christians we know we are obligated to help the poor.  But I know we can be awfully judgmental about the poor and we don’t often actually get to know them.   Jesus was about more than just "helping" the poor.  He was about abolishing the barriers we put between “us” and “them”. This past week has challenged me to think about ways we can move beyond charity to expanding our notions of who our neighbor is.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Review of the New Noah Movie

I do all my blog writing over  on the Synod Blog now.  Mostly newsy stuff but once in awhile I get to have an opinion.  This week I review the new Noah Movie. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lent is Coming

And really if I were still in the parish I'd get this Lenten Devotional for my congregation even if I didn't write part  of it.

Honestly this gig helped me pay for my insurance when I was doing my time at Staples this summer.  

Too Deep for Words:

This pocket-sized, full-color devotional takes you through Lent with daily readings from Romans. Each reading is accompanied by a photo, quote, reflection, and prayer.

And if you miss my blogging - I do all my blogging over here these days:

God's Work Our Blog

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I'm Still Here. Making Fruitcake and Remembering to be Thankful

My Swanky Office

I make fruitcake when things are going well.  It's time consuming and expensive so it's a good sign when I make fruitcake.

This is the thing.  I write a blog for a living now.  So it's just not so pressing to do it on my own anymore.  In case you missed the news, I'm the new Director for Evangelical Mission for the Northeastern Iowa Synod, ELCA.

It's a strange but wonderful position. As I described in my Staples post, I work for the ELCA but am deployed in the SYnod Office.  And I am doing stuff no other DEM is doing.  

Most DEMs are all about new starts and mission congregations.  Well we don't have many of those so my job description was written to include helping congregations use Social Media for outreach.  It's kind of scary because I keep getting introduced as the "Expert in Social Media" when I'm really not all that expert.  I've just tried some stuff that works, read some stuff and know where to find answers,.  Usually.

I'm doing stuff I love.  I work with a Bishop I admire and other incredibly hardworking, knowledgeable, talented and downright pleasant to be around staff.  I wake up in the morning thinking "Yea I get to go into work today"  I travel around to different churches to preach and people are happy to see me.  People listen to me.  It is for me, anyway, the Best Job in the World.

But this is the thing.  There are parts I don't like. Sometimes I have to do things I don't want to do.  And even though just a few short months ago I couldn't breath I was so grateful and excited to get this job, there are times now when all I do is think and grouse about those silly things I have to do that I don't like.  

What the hell is wrong with me?  I guess that is what sin is.  Because this is the thing:  Gratitude does not come easy to us.  And when it does, it doesn't stick around.  You have to work at Gratitude.  You have to make an effort.  Get lazy and you will default to bitchin and moaning about those things you don't have you wish you did or the things you do have and wish you didn't.

Don't get lazy.  It's Thanksgiving time for crying out loud. Maybe things are not going as well for you as they are for me.  Let me tell you in the darkest of my times, I have found gratitude to be all the more important.  Thinking about what I did have that was good in my life has kept me out of some deep wells of despair I could have easily plunged into. 

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"  I Thess. 5:17-18

Yea, what he said. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Landing on My Feet or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I really wanted to do interim ministry. I knew I would be good at it for a lot of reasons. I got the training and completed a successful two year interim.

But this is the thing with interim ministry. There is this thing called "downtime" when there are no churches needing an interim and so there is no work. And if you are a single mother who has lived paycheck to paycheck your entire career, well down time can be pretty terrifying.

So this summer I went to work at Staples for my "down time". I came to hate hearing this time referred to as "down time". Down time sounds so relaxing and refreshing. There was nothing relaxing or refreshing about this time. They would often "forget" to give me my break and it was not unusual for me to be on my feet for five hours at a stretch without a break. Funny story. As part of my "Training" I had to watch a video about how bad unions are and how everyone gets along we don't need no stinkin union. All I know is that if I had a union rep, I'd sure as heck get my breaks when I was supposed to!

But back the term "Downtime” --Here are some other things pastors said to me during this time (and after) that I did not appreciate:

I worked at Staples at a relatively large town with a lot of ELCA churches and pastors around. Apparently a lot of ELCA pastors shop at Staples. Who knew? So a very strange dynamic would take place when they saw me. They would seem a little uncomfortable. It reminded me of right after my husband died and the couples our age we hung out with didn't really want to be around me. Because I reminded them of what could happen to them.

I think seeing me in my bright red staples shirt made pastors uncomfortable because I reminded them of just how insecure our jobs really are. They could be wearing a red shirt themselves. Actually they would be lucky to get this job.

So in their discomfort they would say stupid things to me the way, in their discomfort, people say stupid things to people in grief. Pastors know better than to say stupid things to people in grief. But they don't really know what to say to other pastors in red Staples shirts.

"Oh I think I would enjoy a little down time like you are getting" No, I'm pretty sure you would not enjoy being on your feet 7 hours all day, then having to clean the bathrooms before you can go home at night (Speaking of which, there is nothing like cleaning a public men's bathroom to really destroy your faith in humanity.)

"Oh I bet you are collecting a lot of sermon material” Um, no. Not so much. Not much material in sorting pens. A couple of funny stories to tell at dinner about stupid rude angry customers, perhaps, but a sermon? Nope.

And the line that really annoys me the most... "Oh I think it is good for us [sic] to do work like this every once in a while so we [sic] can see how real people live.

Okay let me rant about this ridicules statement for a while. WE??? Someone with a call says to ME, on leave from call making 8.25 an hour says how good this is for US??? And secondly...I grew up poor with a single mother. I know how real people live; probably a lot better than the pastor telling me how good it is for "us" to have this experience. I did farm work, cutting asparagus in the early morning before going to school when I was 14 years old. I worked my way through college and seminary doing everything from cleaning houses, waitressing, and receptionist and was even a church secretary. My husband and I raised our kids on my far less than synod guidelines salary alone because we didn't want daycare workers raising our children. I know how "real people" live, thank you very much. I was very grateful to get the Staples job because it was a lot easier and more interesting than a lot of other jobs I could have had and it helped me pay my bills during my "down time" but no it was not a lark or Sabbatical to learn how the other half lives and it was really really difficult for me to keep temper when anyone said that to me.

This is what people said to me that I did appreciate. "Joelle I know you have a lot more to offer the church and I am praying that you will get that opportunity soon". I did have a lot of people praying for me and that meant and means a lot. I know many of you who are reading this were praying and I thank you for that.

All of this is not to say that I regret this past summer because I don't. It’s one of those experiences I would not care to relive or repeat but I a glad I had it. I especially appreciate it now that it is over. I have been called and begun to serve the Northeastern Iowa Synod as Director or Evangelical Mission. And I am very excited about the position. It's an odd position in that I am actually paid by the ELCA and am considered deployed staff but I work for and answer to my synod bishop. Our synod is doing a lot of cutting edge stuff. We have a great staff that I could not be more tickled to be part of. I am going to have to stop saying shit and damn and hell and pissed off. And forgitabout the f word. So I could still use some prayers in that transition.

So stay tuned as the adventure continues.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Corn & Black Bean Salad

I'm waiting until this particular episode of my life is over to write about it.  I hope that will be soon.

In the meantime I signed up for a Fuel-Saver card at Hy-Vee Grocery store.  You buy certain items and you get cents off gas at some gas stations.  I recently saved 23 cents a gallon.  After a while it can add up.  

So sweet corn and red bell peppers were fuel saver items this week.  I made black bean and corn salad to take to work with me this week. (I'll tell you about the work when I have a new job.  Which I hope will be soon.

1 Cup cooked black beans (I cooked them in chicken stock with cumin and garlic)
1 Cup sweet corn
1 Red bell pepper, chopped
1 Red onion, chopped
1/2 C Cilantro, chopped
2 Tb  Olive Oil
1  Tb   Balsamic Vinegar

Stir in all up and refrigerate a few hours.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Evelyn Underhill, Mystic, died 1941

You know sometimes how one goes to see a church which one is told has magnificent windows--and seen from from outside they all look alike--dull, thick, grubby....Then we open the door and go inside--leave the outer world, enter the inner world--and the universal light floods through the windows and bathes us in their colour and beauty and significance, shows us things of which we had never dreamed, a loveliness that lies beyond the fringe of speech.  And so in the same way we cannot realize God and all our Lord's lovely meaning as a revelation of God and His eternal Truth and Beauty from the outside....

It is from within the place of prayer, recollections, worship and love, where the altar is, where the sacrifice is made, where we are all bound together in a life of communion and self-giving to God, that we fully and truly receive the revelation which is made through Christ.

Light of Christ by Evelyn Underhill

Quoted in Philip H. Pfatteichers' New Book of Festivals & Commemorations 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Chopping Down Thor's Oak

Dearmer, Percy (1904). The Little Lives of the Saints illustrated by Charles Robinson. London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co.

In today’s Huffington Post blog, Diana Butler Bass wants to Retire St. Boniface.

Boniface was an 8th century English missionary to Germany.  See what I wrote about him last year.  What I remember about him is how his last confirmation on Pentecost ended badly.

It's not that surprising that I forgot the other thing he is known for.  He was trying to convert pagans who worshiped trees.  So to show them that there was nothing divine about trees, he felled an ancient sacred oak tree.  When nothing bad happened to him, the story goes; people switched sides and became Christian.  

Now to our sensibilities, this is a horrible thing to do.   And our Christian history is stained with too many incidents of lack of respect for other cultures and the environment.   And it still goes on.  Lots of Christians still think that God is going to blow this earth up anyway so we might as well exploit and squeeze as much out of it as we can.  Save the earth?  Why the hell should we save the earth?  Jesus is coming back pretty soon and he’s bringing the nukes with him.

Of course that’s not a biblical worldview at all.   And I don’t think that was Boniface’s worldview either.  I want us to stop judging ancient people’s by our standards.  Boniface was doing what seemed right (and pretty courageous) by his time, his place and his worldview.  Look at it from his perspective.  To him these people were beholden to trees, which were simply another part of God’s creation.  As far as I read the story, he didn’t advocate a mass deforestation to exploit the commercial value of the land.  He destroyed one tree to show them that tree had no power over them.  

 Would it be okay to do that today?  Absolutely not.   But we can say it is not right to do that today without vilifying a brave man of God who wanted to show the people that they were not beholden to trees.  

We progressives are always wanting to be sensitive to other cultures (to such a fault that some people don’t want to denounce female genital mutilation for fear of “interfering with culture”).  And yet we are quick to judge people in history by our modern (or post-modern) standards.  Do not historical figures deserve the same willingness to understand their culture and their world view as other cultures today?  And if we are not willing to do that for history, what makes us think we can do it for cultures today?

So I say give Boniface a break.  We don’t have to throw him under the bus to find other ways besides destroying other culture’s sacred objects to share the Gospel.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

New Star Trek Movie is Not Really A Star Trek Movie

Star Trek:  Into Darkness uses familiar characters and story lines but it's really just another shoot people and blow up things adventure film.  It is entertaining except that I found the gratuitous violence just boring and tedious after awhile.  "Yawn...okay well...are we done cracking his skull yet?"

While I enjoyed the adventure, when I got home and thought about it I kind of felt like I had been manipulated as a Trekkie to go and see a film I probably would not have otherwise gone to see.

I understand that a movie cannot be as cerebral as the television shows and has to have more action.  But I thought the 2009 Star Trek with Chris Pine managed to make an exciting adventure film AND stay true to the star trek "feel" as well as enhancing the narrative by giving us an insight into the young Captain Kirk and what made him the captain he became. 

Into Darkness gives us no real insights other than the cliche he's a rebel who does what he thinks is right, damn the consequences.  Blah blah blah.

Take the opening scene.  The crew of the Enterprise have violated the Prime Directive.  Personally I think the whole of Star Trek is about the Prime Directive.  Can we really interact with other cultures, other people, without interfering?  What is the price of our influence?  What is the price of our refusal to get involved?  Do modern humans bring good or ill?  Or both?  For me, grappling with these questions is the real draw of Star Trek for me.

There was no such grappling in this movie.  Kirk disregards the Prime Directive because it's stupid.   We are not even supposed to question if he did the right thing; we are just supposed to feel sorry for him that such a talented and earnest young man is thwarted by stupid Federation rules.

I thought most of the dialogue was not particularly clever or insightful to the characters.  If it was a little amusing it was only because it exploits what we know of these characters from other movies and TV shows.  It is disappointing that the movie does absolutely nothing to further our understanding of them as young adults as they are forming their characters. 

Without "spoiling" it, I'll just say the main storyline is just a further exploitation and cannibalization of a familiar plot that does nothing to enhance that story either.

And my final complaint is that in trying to entertain us with the special effects of explosions and giant star-ships crashing into San Francisco, the loss of property and life that would be so devestating to real star trek era people was glossed over.  That is probably the most "un-Star Trek" part of the whole movie.

All in all I give it a "meh".