Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tyler Clementi & Dr. Laura but really about Hope and Faith

What?  You are asking, does Dr. Laura have to do with Tyler Clementi the 18 year old who jumped from the George Washington Bridge after video of him having sex with another man were posted on the Internet?

Well I have this weird love-hate relationship with Dr. Laura.  She can be so wise and so right on in one sentence and so wrong in the next.  She talked about Tyler Clementi on her show today.  She was very sympathetic, having had nude photos of herself posted on the internet.  She expressed how that feels to be so humiliated that you just want to disappear.

What I liked about what she said was her insight as to what is is to be a teenager when every horror and pain is magnified and you don't have perspective of years of experience of weathering and surviving difficulties.   It brought to my mind the nature of faith - the clinging to the promise of a light in darkness even when you cannot see that light.

Now don't get me wrong  because I'm not saying if Tyler had just had enough faith, he would not have killed himself.  But I am saying that hope and faith can save your life.  Sometimes all you have is the promise that it will be better.  Is that not the promise of the Kingdom of God - that there is a better way, there is justice, there is love, there is kindness, there is hope even when you see nothing but cruelty and injustice right before you?  Why some people receive the gift of this saving hope and why it eludes others is a heartbreaking mystery to me.

But back to Dr. Laura and where she was wrong.  She said it was not about sexuality.  Of course it's about sexuality and homophobia.  Certainly it is wrong to invade someone's privacy.  As my son says "even if he was just sitting there watching TV it was wrong".  But you cannot tell me if Tyler was straight and had been taped having sex with a girl he would have been so devastated as to commit suicide.  This is what happens when we use words like "abomination" and even "love the sinner, hate the sin" when it comes to gay and lesbian people.

Oh the other thing that drove me crazy about Dr. Laura's commentary~  She went on and on about how she knew "exactly" how he felt.  No she didn't.  Having naked pictures of you posted on the internet when you present yourself as a moral upright citizen is humiliating but it's not the same.  You never know exactly how anyone feels.  I learned that when other widows tried to tell me they knew how I felt.  No they did not.  They were not married to Loren.  They did not know how if felt for ME to lose LOREN.  Everyone's pain is their own.   

Dr. Laura seemed to be certain that if she could have just told him she knew how he felt and what he should do about it, she could have saved him.  She really does have a Messiah complex.  Yo - Laura - it's not about you.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chicken and Dumplings Soup

I had a Jewish roommate back in my youth.  She talked on and on about her mother's chicken soup.  Then one day she decided she would make chicken soup.  She took a stalk of celery and a whole chicken and an onion and put in it in a pot and cooked it till the chicken was done.  It was the most boring thing I ever ate.  I don't believe that was her mother's recipe.

Well I'm not Jewish but this is some pretty good chicken soup.  It starts the way I pretty much start everything - onions and peppers and garlic.  I used a yellow bell pepper because the color looks so good.  Red will do as well.  Also a word about cumin - do not think cumin is just for chili or Mexican food.  It is a staple in Indian, North African and middle eastern cuisine as well.  It is very versatile.  Go ahead and put it in your chicken soup.  You will not be sorry.

1 yellow onion, slicked thin
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, sliced thin
1 Cup carrots, sliced
4 chicken thighs, with skin and bone
1 Tbl flour
1 Cup dry white wine
1/8 tsp (or whatever) cumin
1/4 tsp sage

Heat the pan.  I use a big whole cast iron pot.  Add about a tbl of olive oil.  Saute onions, peppers and garlic until translucent. Add Sage, Cumin and salt and pepper  Add the flour and stir until it's kind of gloppy.  Add 1/2 cup white wine.  Stir and cook a few minutes, then spread the onion and pepper mixeture of to the side of the pan.  Put the chicken thighs in the middle and brown on both sides - like this:

Add the rest of the wine, carrots and five cups of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, put a lid on it and leave it alone for 2-3 hours.  Your house will smell wonderful on a rainy day like today.

When the chicken is cooked, take it out, remove the skin, take it off the bone and put the meat back in the pot.

Make your dumplings--- I like mine pretty simple: Basically eggs and flour - 
 Beat 3 eggs with about 1/4 cup of milk.  Stir in 2 cups of flour - eventually it will get doughy and you will have to sick your hands in their and knead it a bit.  Divide it into little balls .  Turn the heat up on your soup until almost boiling, drop the dumplings in and let them simmer for about 10 minutes.  Your kids will fight over the dumplings.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

She's Gone

Susan Hogan's ELCA news blog is done.  I could not say how I feel about it any better than Father Anonymous over at Magdalene's Egg.  Great quote   

A demand for total agreement is the telltale sign of sectarian thinking, and neither her blog nor ours -- nor the ELCA -- makes such a demand.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Sister's Opinion of "Left Behind"

I have an older sister -Cathy who has been staying with me this summer.  It's been wonderful but she has to go back at the end of the week.  (Long story I don't wish to tell.)

My sister doesn't go to church.  She was raised Roman Catholic and back when she was a kid she figured she'd committed a mortal sin so it was all over for her so to hell with it.  Regretfully she hasn't seen much of any church since to draw her back.   She cannot for the life of her figure out why Christians seem so obsessed with gay people.

She's an avid reader and she came back from a used book sale in town with a bunch of books to read on the bus ride back to California.  I'm looking at her books and I gasp in horror when I see "Left Behind".   "WHY did you buy THAT book?" I demanded.

"What?"  She never heard of the Left Behind series.  She's never heard of millennialism. She likes science fiction and thought the idea of a bunch of people mysteriously disappearing sounded pretty interesting.   She thought it was science fiction.

So she comes downstairs this morning outraged after reading the first few chapters.  "People are saying in the book that GOD took these people.  Children - little children!  Nobody would believe that.  What kind of a God does that?  Why didn't they make it the devil taking all these people?  Why did they say it was God?  That is stupid.  Nobody believes that."

"Um,  a lot of people believe that"  

"Well I don't believe that.  MY God doesn't do that.  My God doesn't take children and loved ones away from people and leave them to suffer"  She was furious.  It's the most passionate I've ever seen her about religion.  She thought the idea of "rapture"  was the most ridiculis thing she'd ever heard of.  

I did tell her Lutherans don't believe that.  "WELL THANK GOD FOR THAT!"

*My sister died of breast cancer in May 2015

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Corn Flakes are Corn Flakes and a Pastor is a Pastor

I was perusing the synod newsletter and noticed that a congregation where I interviewed back in May is STILL interviewing.  I thought I would have been a good pastor for them.  Yes I understand the Holy Spirit and all that and it wasn't meant to be.  And I could accept that they found someone else that they thought was more suitable.  But to discover they are STILL looking?  Come on.  NOBODY is that special. 

I become more and more convinced of something that crossed my mind several years ago.  This searching for the perfect match between pastor and congregation with both parties filling out pages and pages of profiles with boxes for this strength or that has not served either pastors or congregations well.  

The second call I took in Birnamwood Wisconsin, the bishop gave the congregation my name and they called me, sight unseen.  I stayed there 9 years, the longest I've stayed anywhere. 

The myth of the "perfect" match has set up both congregation and pastor for disappointment.  It has led us away from unconditional love.   It has made us focus on ourselves and made it seem as though OUR personal desires, likes, dislikes, passions and even strengths are what matter.   I think it is part of the problem of expecting pastors to do more than the traditional (dare I say CONFESSIONAL?) ministry of Word and Sacrament which is what ordained ministry is all about.  Pastor's strengths should be Word and Sacrament and if they aren't then they need to be weeded out of seminary.  It's nice that you have other passions but it's not about your passions, it's about SERVANTHOOD. 

Same with the congregation.  It's nice that you have a small group ministry but you don't need a pastor to lead that.  You need a pastor to preach  and teach the word, administer the sacraments  and I'll throw in visit the sick with that.  There is no perfect congregation or pastor.  Too bad.  Learn to live with and love them anyway.  It's like having children.  You get what you get and you love them.  Period.

Yes I know.  People who live in a culture that offers 17 brands of cornflakes expect choice when it comes to their pastor as well.  And I suppose pastors get picky too.  I wouldn't know.  As a woman I've ALWAYS felt grateful that someone was willing to give me a try.  There were a couple of REALLY unhealthy situations that I ran away from.   But I never turned down a congregation because it wasn't a "good match" 

I think this is a situation where we need to go against culture.  I know the Methodists did this for years and have given it up because it lead to "mediocrity"  Supposedly.  I don't believe it.  I think the Bishops just got tired of hearing both pastors and congregations complain that they didn't have more cornflakes to choose from. 

So don't make it Law.  Just makes the forms simpler.  Talk more about grace, unconditional and sacrificial love, and less about strengths and "good matches".  I think we'd all be better for it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Don't ya just love it when the Butterfly opens her wings right when you snap the picture?




A Movie All Figure Skating Fans are Looking Forward to

On February 15, 1961 a plane crashed on route to landing in Brussels, Belgium and burst into flames.  Everyone on board was killed instantly, including the entire US World Figure Skating team, consisting of 18 athletes and 16 family members, coaches, and officials on their way to the World Championships.  The loss was so devastating to the entire sport that the World Championships were canceled that year.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of that loss and to celebrate Figure Skating, a movie RISE, will premier February 17, 2011.  Get out your tissues

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lessons on the Road

I keep thinking I'm going to write a book.  I waver between a book about my experiences as a pastor and a historical novel about either Mary of Egypt or the Russian St Helga.

If I were to write a book about my life - I would most certainly include this story:

I sat in the car on the road down from the house of a man in my parish dying of pancreatic cancer. I did not want to get out of the car and go into his house.

It was not because he was dying, I have no problem being in the company of dying, in fact I find it a profound privilege to share that time with the dying. I didn't want to go into his house because his family was hostile, strange and possibly downright dangerous. So I had to give my self a combination pep talk/ scolding. I reminded myself of all the martyrs who had faced worse to serve Christ. Then I took a deep breath, plastered on a fake smile and walked through the gauntlet of bearded men in undershirts smoking and leaning against the broken down cars in the front yard. They all eyed me suspiciously but let me pass.

The man was in pain. The house was filthy and smelled. His sheets were dirty and toddlers ran around in dirty diapers screaming and jumping on his bed, making him wince in pain. “JAIMIE GET YOUR ASS OUT OF HERE AND LEAVE GRANDPA ALONE!” someone screamed. The man smiled weakly “Oh it's fine”. This was when I decided dying at home is not all it is cracked up to be.

But this story begins about a year before this. I got a call from a CPE student at the hospital. She wanted me to come down so I could “interface” with her about the man's wife who was at the hospital. When I got to the hospital she kept saying that word - “interface”. And she kept calling me Ms. “You can call me Pastor”, I corrected her and then I rather irritably asked her what she meant by "interface".

“We need to discuss Mrs. So and So” she says rather patronizingly. “That the word we use now” she explained to me patiently when I asked her why she didn't just say that.

“Mrs. So and So is dying of cancer and is in a lot of pain” Mrs. So and So was not a member – only her husband came to church. She never wanted anything to do with the church.

“She's very angry”

“I imagine she is,” I said. She looked at me with a question mark on her face.

“She's in pain and she's dying. I'd be angry too.”

“But she's really angry and she needs closure” Now I'm getting angry. I got an angry dying woman to deal with AND an idiot CPE student.

I never got to see Mrs. So and So. She wanted nothing to do with me. She died cursing me, the church and God. She died the way she lived. Bitter and angry. It's a pity but it happens more often than not. I guess Hollywood has convinced us that we should all make peace with one another and with God before we die. It rarely happens that way. I'm sure I was quite a disappointment to the CPE student. I couldn't “interface” properly and I couldn't get Mrs. So and So to die the way she was supposed to.

But despite the way she died, Mrs. So and So got a church funeral. Because funerals are for the living and her husband was a faithful member and needed to bury his wife in the church.

From the beginning it was a battle with her daughters about what a church funeral was. Having never come to church themselves, they had no idea. I held firm that we were NOT going to sing “You are the wind between my legs” or wings, or whatever that ridicules song is called. “This is a church funeral and we are going to sing about Christ and the resurrection” I was under no illusions what this was – a battle for power and I was damned well not going to let these people who never darkened the church doorway dictate to me how to do a church funeral.

When it was all said and done I did have second thoughts and regretted that perhaps that battle was more about my ego and what would have been the harm if they sang their stupid song?

And then the father got pancreatic cancer and died almost a year later. And this time there was no question of singing anything but church hymns at the funeral.

And the daughter and her daughter and son showed up on my door saying that loosing both their parents had made them think about God and now they wanted to change their life and come to church.

Now this is like a Hollywood movie. This is what every pastor dreams of. The angels in heaven are singing over not one but THREE sinners who repent!

But the congregation was not singing. They knew this family better than I did and they did not want any part of them. These people were some good old fashioned sinners. Drinking every night at the pub. All kinds of children with all kinds of fathers (I never did get that all straight). Once they had actually chased some members off their property with a shot gun at one point.

And there were actually people on the church council who wanted to DENY them church membership. Because they were sinners. I talked about forgiveness. About the angels rejoicing in heaven over one lost sinner. About the prodigal son. Most of them realized (reluctantly) that they had to let them join. Except for one council member who was not swayed by any of that. He voted no.

It was rough. The children showed up at Sunday School and shocked the other children and the teachers with some pretty interesting language they learned. They still were seen at the bar making scenes. These people were such outcasts that they had no idea how to act around people. When I would go to their house nobody would get up from their chairs and I would just sit on the floor because I realized they never had company and so they never learned how to treat company. They came to a potluck without bringing any food because they didn't know what “potluck” meant. They never had been to one. It was really pretty sad.

I got phone calls at night by people complaining about these people joining the church.  Honestly I found the congregation's behavior much more shocking than our resident "sinners".

There was a 16 year old that I wanted to join the church as an adult and NOT put him in the confirmation class because he was older and because well, it just would not be a good idea to have him with the younger kids. People called me up complaining that THEIR kids HAD to go through confirmation, so why shouldn't he? Like confirmation was some kind of punishment. When I brought up the parable of the workers in the vineyard, one man responded “Yea! And I bet they don't even KNOW that story because they don't know the bible!”

I met with the three of them to explain some of the basics of Christianity. One night I just read to them the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Then I asked them why they thought I read them that story. “Because we've been outside of the church our whole lives and some people in the congregation are having a hard time believing we really want to change”  They got it.

I left that parish before the family had really integrated into the church. It was a church where outsiders never really fit in anyway so I have no idea how it all turned out. But I certainly learned a lot from that whole experience. Besides learning that dying at home is not always better than dying in the hospital, I learned how little a lot of life long Christians really understand the Gospel. I learned how hard it is to forgive and welcome sinners, especially sinners you've known all your life. I also learned to forgive as well. Not the prodigal family, but the congregation for their lack of forgiveness and hospitality. How easy it would have been for me to get self-righteous and arrogant myself about their unchristian behavior. The Christian walk is a long difficult struggle. It was hard for the prodigal family to give up their old ways. It was just as hard for the congregation to give up their ways of seeing that prodigal family. It's easy to forgive in the abstract, it's another story when it's right there in your face.

Life and faith and discipleship is complicated. It's not black and white and change doesn't happen overnight. It's a journey. If you get too focused on the destination you miss the important lessons along the way.

Friday, September 10, 2010

They Did it on PURPOSE??? WTF???

We all had a good laugh when this picture made the rounds.  It reminded me of the scene in Modern Family where the father claims he knows all the teen social media jargon "You know, LOL- Laugh out Loud...WTF...Why the face?"

But they knew darn well what they were doing.."We are a progressive college group located in Albuquerque, N.M., and we know that any college-aged person is a phone-weilding, text-sending machine. So why not use what they are familiar with?”

Um why not?  BECAUSE IT MAKES YOU LOOK STUPID, that's why.  And because all people are thinking of is your profane initials, not about what you want to say about your community as a place where worship, teaching and friendship take place.  Really do I have to "splain" this to you?