Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 5 of the Great Lenten Purge - Sewing

In order to get rid of stuff, you have to acknowledge who you are now. 

I used to sew quite a bit.  I don't sew anymore.  That's okay.   What is not okay is hanging on to spools of threads of every color, zippers, and buttons that I will never use.

My mother was an amazing seamstress.  (Lord if I'd known how much this was going to be about my mother I doubt I'd have taken this on) She never had much money but she dressed like she did.   She made most of my clothes which I did not appreciate.  Because we did not have a lot of money and I dressed like I did.  I think the last thing she made for me was my wedding dress. 

Because she sewed for me and because she was so good at it and because she had no patience for teaching me anything (She paid for me to have private driving lessons because she couldn't stand to be in the car with me driving)  I did not learn to sew from her. 

Sarah in a typical Easter Dress and matching
doll dress.  How about that hat?
When my kids were little I just bought some fabric and a pattern and started making clothes for my kids. 

I never was as good as she was.  I'm not good with detail so my seams are never straight and the zipper never quite right, but it was good enough for them.  

Every Easter I made my daughter a dress with a petticoat, pinafore, matching bow AND matching dress for her doll.  Until she was eight and asked "Mom could I have a dress that's not poofy?"

I used to make really loud and gaudy matching shirts that we all wore when we went on family vacations.  It was a good way of keeping track of everyone.  If the kids wandered off, other people around knew who they belonged to.  My husband, bless his heart, wore those crazy shirts I made without complaint.  In fact,  I think he liked wearing them. 

I think the last thing I made was a gown for my daughter to wear to her winter formal.  It was very stressful because I did not want her to go to a dance looking like she was wearing a home-made gown.  She seemed happy with it but it was not enjoyable.

I haven't sewn other than to hem or take in or repair clothing for years.  I'm not interested in sewing anymore.  I don't need all that sewing stuff anymore.  I don't need to pass them by in the room I still call the sewing room  and feel guilty that I don't sew anymore.  I don't have to sew.  If I want to sew something again I'll buy another spool of thread.

I wonder if one of the difficulties of letting go of stuff is admitting that you have changed.  

You don't like what you used to like.  You don't do what you used to do.  And that's okay.  Life changes.  I'm not a young wife and mother going on family vacations with young kids anymore.  Keeping the stuff around doesn't change that.  

Keeping stuff around doesn't make time stand still, nor would I want time to stand still.  

Like I (and I imagine every other pastor in town) said on Transfiguration Sunday, you can't build those tents on the mountain top and stay there forever.

I think there's a lot here about change, letting go of the past, and making room for the future involved in getting rid of stuff. 

 I wish I could lead a lot of churches I know through this discipline.  It would help.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What's in YOUR Refridgerator?

I've renamed my Lenten Discipline to the "Great Lenten Purge" rather than Giveaway.  

It's about getting rid of stuff I don't need.  Some of the stuff I don't need - nobody needs.

Today it was the refrigerator.  Seems like a pretty mundane job we all have to do every once in a while.  

There's a wonderful little book "Father Melancholy's Daughter" about the daughter of a widowed Episcopalian priest who suffers from depression.  

She cleans out the refrigerator on Maundy Thursday.  This was not a mundane job for her:

I decided to honor Maundy Thursday by cleaning the kitchen. This was the day for getting clean and starting over. In ancient times penitents prostrated themselves before the congregation, and after prayers were read over them and hands laid on them, they were readmitted to communion.

If you were high and mighty, it was your especial duty to humble yourself on this day, in keeping with the mandatum of Christ, "that you love one another even as I have loved you." Queen Elizabeth the First, "kept her Maundy" in the great hall at Westminster by washing the feet of twenty poor women.

In monasteries all over Christendom today, abbots and superiors knelt down on bare floors, washing and patting dry the feet of the lowliest kitchen monks....

I attacked the spice shelf, unscrewing each bottle and sniffing; if there wasn't a definite smell of an herb or a spice, it went sailing into the trash bag. Better to have a clean space filled with nothing, than a cluttered space filled with things that were of no use to you anymore. My rubric for getting through this day.

I did a ruthless number on the refrigerator. Out went the rest of Miriam Stacy's tuna and noodle casserole, plastic container and all, .... We had far too many plastic and metal-foil containers that jammed drawers when we tried to open them or clattered down on our heads from top cabinets, when we were looking for something else....

The big black plastic garbage bag was filling fast. One must purify one's refrigerator with the same rigor as one purified one's heart.
 Gail Godwin, Father Melancholy's Daughter

Cleaning the refrigerator can be a profound activity.

We all have those containers pushed to the back corner.  
Inside they contain stuff that at one time was wonderful but now it could kill you if you ate it.  

That's true of so much of our lives.  

It's not just the bad habits we always had.  There are things in our lives, in the way we think, the way we approach life, that were good for us at one time.  

Now they don't work anymore and hanging on to them is killing us.  

That's true of the church.  It's true of me personally.  

Why do I let them get so bad, back there in the corner of the refrigerator?  

Well at first I think I'm going to eat it one of these days.  

Then it dawns on me that I'm not not, and it's going bad.  

And I don't want to deal with it.  Push it further behind the other stuff.  Out of sight, out of mind.  

But it doesn't go away.  

It gets worse and stinks up the refrigerator.  Eventually it's best not even to open it up and look at it.  Throw the whole thing away. 

Not every wound needs to be opened up and looked at and relived and analyzed.  

There's a lot in our lives we can just throw out, unopened.  Let it go.  Forget about it. 

I'm celebrating my clean refrigerator by making some bacon wrapped, cream cheese stuffed jalapenos.  I can smell them baking now.  Tomorrow we will go through some books.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Great Lenten Give Away

I'm not one for Lenten discipline.  

It always seems to turn into being all about "ME" and what I've given up, or how I'm going to be more healthy or be a better Christian.  Whatever ME ME ME.  Kind of not what Lent is supposed to be about I think.

But an idea on Facebook captured my attention.  Forty Days, give away 40 items of "stuff".  I'd been thinking I need to get rid of more stuff before I move.  

I think it would be good to do this in a deliberate, prayerful and reflective way.  It will be a lot about me.  That's okay because it can be just as problematical avoiding thinking about yourself.  Sometimes it needs to me about me.

I've already decided I'm not going to just give away 40 things.  Because I have more than 40 things I don't need.  I'm going to do it thematically, and do some de-cluttering every day.  Except for Sunday.  And if I just can't.  

Because I'm much more into grace than discipline. 

Hanging on to stuff is an issue for me.  I attach sentimental value to things.  I like to collect things.  I like to think someday I'm going to use things I haven't used for years.  

When I watched the TV show Hoarders I saw seriously disturbed people living in horrendous conditions use some of the very same excuses for not getting rid of stuff that I have used.  That is scary stuff.

I first became convicted of this when I moved by myself in 2005.  I had an attic.  I had so much stuff I hadn't used or worn in five years.  Good stuff. Stuff other people could have used.  I realized how selfish it was to keep in the attic.  Downright sinful in fact.   

I got better but it's still a struggle.  So this is not just about cleaning house, it's a spiritual task as well. (I would have said "journey" but all the folk on the clergy Facebook page are making fun of people who use "journey" in Lent talk)

My bedroom closet
So today I started with clothes.  

I like clothes.  

I have a lot of clothes. I don't feel bad about liking and having nice clothes.  I do feel bad that I have perfectly nice clothes other people could wear hanging in the closet unworn. 

another closet just for jackets
So I went through the closets (yes plural) pretty ruthlessly.  I've done this before so I know the drill.  If it doesn't fit right or I haven't worn it in a year, it needs to go.  

There were these two jackets my Mom made for me when I was in my 20s that break both those rules.  They've escaped every other purge.  Not today.  

I think I used to keep them because they were supposed to prove my mom cared about me.  They just proved my mom liked to sew. 

 They are old but still look good and someone else will enjoy them.  They are not doing any good in my closet.  

At least I don't do the "Sometime I'll lose weight and it will fit" I used to do.  I've long gotten rid of clothes too small and I haven't gained weight in several years.  But why would I want to keep clothes that remind me I've gained weight?  And if I do lose weight, of course, I'll want to buy new clothes!  

I do have some clothes that I didn't realize till I got home that they didn't really fit right.  I thought it was frugal to wear them anyway.  

No.  It's not good to wear ill-fitting clothes for any reason.  

Out they went.

Tomorrow I'll go through the linen closet.  I actually need new sheets.  I keep using old ones that don't fit the mattress and slide off.  I have lots of old comforters that are stained with cat puke and wine.  I think I will give those to an animal rescue.  

Other items to go through, Christmas decorations I never take out, books, kitchen items that I haven't unpacked in a year so why do I need them?  

Sewing equipment, probably all my counted cross stitch yarn, my eyes aren't good enough for that anymore.  

I will have to go through my shoes but that's going to be hard.  I do wear all my shoes.  But I have a lot of them.  I'm going to need to build up some spiritual strength before tackling that.

What do you have in your closet you haven't used in years that someone else would use?

Monday, February 20, 2012

King Cake

I don't make this very often.  

I do serve pancakes on Fat Tuesday.  It's funny (well it's not funny) how many people do these things having no idea why.  
Of course pancakes were a good way to make sure you didn't waste any left over eggs, milk and oil that you would have to give up for your Lenten fast.  

Fast?  What's that?  

And why would anyone think it was a sacrifice to give up eggs and milk.  We take those for granted and consider them staples not the luxuries they were to many long ago and millions even today.

Doesn't seem right  celebrating Mardi Gras, if you aren't intending to go without anything in Lent.  I should talk though, I never was one for giving up stuff for Lent.

Anyway - King Cake:  

King Cake is really appropriate anytime in Epiphany (Names after the Three Kings)  but it's also become a tradition during Carnival. It's really more a sweet bread, than a cake. 


1 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup butter meleted
2 packets yeast
1/2 Cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
4 cups (more or less) flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Scald the milk and take it off the fire, add butter.  Let it cool a  little, pour in a food processor, add yeast and sugar and pulse.  Add salt, nutmeg, 1 egg and half  a cup of flour.  Pulse until blended, then add egg and keep adding flour a half cup at a time until it pulls all together.  

Take it out, put it on a flour board, knead it in flour until it's elastic.  

Note:  you really should have some experience with bread making to do this.  If that scares you, I think you could make this with frozen sweet roll dough.  

(Baking and kneading bread is not hard, just takes a little practice) 

Pour a little oil in a large bowl,  coat the dough with oil, cover, leave in a warm place for about 2 hours.  It should rise to about twice it's size.

While that's rising, make the filling:

  • 1 Cup Golden  raisins
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (this is my idea - I had some and I thought they were pretty good)
  • 1/2  Cup brown sugar.  
  • 1/4 Cup melted butter
  • 1/2 Cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 Cup Bourbon

Soak the raisins and cranberries in the bourbon while the dough is rising.  Mix it all together except for the butter

After the dough is risen, divide it in two balls.  Roll them out into a large rectangles.  Spoon the filling in the middle, then pour melted butter over the filling.  Roll them up into two logs and put them together to make a ring.  Cover and let them rise again about 40 minutes.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Mix Two cups of powdered sugar,  a tablespoon of bourbon and a few tablespoons of water.  Brush the glaze on the cake while still warm, then sprinkle alternating colored sugar - purple, gold and green. Pour any left over glaze over that.  

The Plastic Baby.  

It's traditional to stick a plastic baby (the baby Jesus) in the cake.  Who ever gets it has to make the cake next time.  

I put it in the filling.  Some people feel weird about baking plastic in a cake and stick in through  the bottom after it's done backing.  

If you buy a cake, they give you the baby separate. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cissy Houston Brought the World to Church Today

I confess I didn't like Whitney Houston too much.  I preferred Dolly Parton's version of "I Will Always Love You"  When I heard she died my first thought was that I thought she had already died a few years ago.  As far as I knew she was a has-been druggie and I was annoyed by all the coverage.  

I'm one of those people who keeps the TV on for noise and it's usually CNN so I was pretty annoyed all week because it was all Whitney all the time.  I had no intention of watching the funeral.  Surely there would be some cute show about kittens on Animal Planet, I thought. 

I had a funeral myself this morning.  I came home, turned on the TV and Bishop T.D. Jakes was really preaching it. I wished I had preached like him.  I could not turn off the TV.

I did not know that Whitney Houston was a person of deep faith who never left her home church.  I did not know she was insecure and never felt she was good enough.  I did not know Whitney Houston.  I did not know her to admire her but I did not know her to dislike or judge her either.

That's the thing.  We don't know these people.  What we do is use these people.  Interestingly Andrew Root spoke about this at the Luther Mid Winter Convocation.  As our identity is wrapped up in consumerism, we consume celebrities and throw them in the trash when we are done with them.

The televised funeral of Whitney Houston showed a community that did not throw Whitney away.  And thank God it was televised because I heard the Gospel being preached over and over and over again, in word and song.  And I thought of all those people who were tuned in in order to consume more, but maybe got more than they bargained for.  This was not a tribute...this was church.  Three hours of it.

 This is why I don't believe the church is going away anytime soon.  It's just not going to be the way it used to be and we are going to find it in places we did not expect, like live-streaming on CNN.  And a lot of the community will be strangers tweeting it.  But it will be the church and it will be there to tell people - You are a beloved child of God and you are not something to be used and thrown away.  Praise the Lord. Let the church say AMEN!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

On a Happier Note, If There Wasn't a St. Valentine, there Should Have Been One

The truth is, we know nothing for sure about anybody named Valentine other than he was martyred like many other early Christians on February 14 and is buried outside of Rome. Maybe there wasn't even one Valentine. Valentine was actually a pretty common name and there were a lot of Christians martyred in Rome. 

Around this time there was another one of those Roman Pagan celebrations of romance.  We do love our pagan celebrations.  It's way too complicated to get to the bottom of it.

But around the middle ages you get this wonderful story about a St. Valentine, that like most beautiful stories, is a true story, regardless of whether or not it really happened.

The Roman Emporium Claudius was smart enough to know that bachelors make better soldiers than family men so Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry.  But Christian soldiers, ever the proponents of "Family Values" wanted to get married.  Valentine was the priest to oblige them.  His acts of civil disobedience ended him up in jail.

His  jailor had a lovely blind daughter who came to visit him.  He shared the gospel with her and she became a Christian.  Some stories even claim he restored her sight.  I prefer to think of her as blind, loving Valentine only through his stories of Christ. Theirs was a loving friendship, based on Christ.  There's a romance for you.  When he was taken away to be executed, he left her a note encouraging her to be strong in Christ.  He signed it "Your Valentine"

If it didn't happen, it should have happened.  And I'd be all for recovering a St. Valentine's Day about civil disobedience, not letting the State tell you who or whether or not you can marry, and friendship.  And chocolate, because chocolate is good.  As long as it's Fair Trade.  Happy Valentines Day. 

These Two Photos Have More in Common than You May Think

so it's funny how things seem to come to your attention in different circumstances.  I hadn't thought about Reconstruction and it's end since I don't know when they showed Roots on TV?  Or maybe when I read "The Warmth of Other Suns a couple of years ago.   But a few days ago I was listening to my Great Courses Lectures on Turning Points in History on that very subject.  How the experiment of Northern radicals and Black freedman to share power in the South didn't last too long and was soon brutally repressed, forcing blacks back into slavery for intents and purposes through peonage and convict labor.  

Then the next day on NPR there was a constitutional professor talking about how the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were able to be ignored for more than 50 years because the court chose to narrowly enforce simply the wording of those amendments, not the intent.

And then on PBS last night "Slavery by Another Name" on the very same subject.

And I thought about how there is still slavery with sex trafficking.  It struck me when the point was made about how convict labor was almost worse than slavery because at least slave owners had economic incentive to keep their slaves alive and in some kind of fair condition, whereas there was no such incentive for convict labor.  The same is true for young girls in the sex industry.  They sell for much less than the price of a slave in the antebellum south.  They die at about the same rate that convicts died.   You never want to compare suffering.  But here's your choice....days or weeks or months forced to work in a mine, in knee high standing dirty water, never seeing the light of day, and enduring beatings and mental abuse or....days or weeks or months tied to a bed, forced to have sex with up to a dozen men a day, never seeing the light of day and enduring beatings, torture and mental abuse?  Does one sound better than another?

In the south, if you were black and ran away from your sharecropping landlord, the law would arrest you and bring you back to work.  If you are a 14-year-old sex slave,  you will be arrested and put in jail.  Until your pimp bails you out.  Or maybe you'll be sent back to your home, which you probably were lured into the sex trade because you ran away from the sex abuse you were enduring at home, to begin with.  Different circumstances but the hopelessness of your circumstances is the same.

I hesitate to say this, because it may sound as though I'm trying to justify what happened to Blacks in the south or make it okay, because I'm  not, but there was something to show for their labor.  Roads, public buildings, railroad tracks,  the entire economic progress and development of the south was dependent upon their labor.  And at some point later, to some extent, many are now able to benefit from some of that development and progress.   What is there to show for men having sex with minors?  

Or maybe it's just a difference in our economies.  When we were an industrial society, slaves were exploited for that purpose.  Now our economy is based on services.  I guess sex with underage boys and girls is a service.  

The PBS program pointed out how the Federal Government was not much help despite a few attempts at reform when it came to the exploitation of blacks.  Part of this was due to racism and apathy.  But I think it was also the sense of being overwhelmed at how to take on something that the entire southern economy was based on.   I think we're just as overwhelmed at trying to take on the problem of sex trafficking.  I think a big part of the tourism economy is dependent upon it. 

I don't know what to do about all this.  I just know we watch can't shows about slavery on PBS and feel good about how much more enlightened and kinder we are.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Diversionary Tactic

Yea you know that cartoon a few posts down? 

Here it is again.  It was more apropos than I thought.  I got this heads up from Diana Butler Bass's facebook page.   All this hang wringing about the poor oppressed church --- it's been a very clever diversion from the real story   a Vatican conference on clergy sex abuse, where it was just revealed more cases in Asia now   The media from the rest of the world has been on like white on rice.  While we've been crying about Obama's so called war on religion. 

Don't Think They Can't Take it All Back

Look at how women are treated  in many parts of the world.  Oh that's only "backward" cultures you say?  Look at what's going on in Israel.  Religious extremists in Israel are gaining more and more success in pushing women out of the public arena in the name of  *their* religious rights. 

Read some of John Piper and Mark Driscoll  go on about how poor men have been marginalized by the "feminization" of the church and culture.

And then read about the history of the end of Reconstruction after the civil war and how a combination of  Southern propaganda and Northern apathy made it possible for the United States to virtually ignore the 14th and 15th amendments for more than 50 years.

And all you young women enjoying the results of the hard work and sacrifices of the women before you so now you can bat your eyelashes and say "oh I'm not a feminist" don't think for a moment it can't all be taken away from us again if we aren't vigilant.  

It can.

Seriously? Religious Liberty means Thowing over Women's Reproductive Health and Freedom?

This is one of those issues that's really pissing me off. So much so I'm imposing the "You don't get to use my blog as a forum for your opinion".  That's right.   I don't want any comments about how this is about the constitution or religious freedom. You can spout that drivel somewhere else. Not here. And forget about trying to tell me how bad birth control is and how it's led to the objectification of women. If I could I'd make software that would smack you if you try to write that on my blog.

So this is the deal. The Roman Catholic church wants to run businesses, engage and yes profit in the world, but it wants to have special rules for itself, in that it doesn't want to have to include contraception coverage in their insurance for it's employees, like everyone else does.   And this is supposed to be about "religious liberty" and for that reason all us non-Catholics who care about religious liberty are supposed to say "SORRY WOMEN YOU LOSE AGAIN" and take up their cause. I call bullshit and say screw that.

I have no problem with making an exception for the church itself. I think if the Catholic Church doesn't want to provide condoms for their priests, then they should not have to. But if they want to venture out of the church and run a business in the world, then you play by the world's rules and you get your hands dirty. You can't have it both ways. And I say that for all churches who want to run businesses.

To me that is the bigger theological question. Not religious freedom. (and where in scripture are we told to force the State to give us rights?). It's about engaging in the world and how it can mean getting your hands dirty. And you can't engage in the world, profit from it or even help it and say "well I want to do this but I want you to make certain exceptions for me so I can be in business with you but can still claim that I'm better than you because I don't do these terrible things you do" .  Like provide reproductive healthcare for women.
But the fact that women are AGAIN the collateral damage from this is really what makes my head explode.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

So What are We Supposed to do DO????

I get the impression those of us who are leaders of Mainline Churches are either defensive or in denial.  The folks in denial fall into to camps.  Those who think that there's really not a big problem and if we would just keep doing things the way we always have, or go back the the way we used to do things, it will all be fine.  The other folks are doing things differently and are experiencing some success and so they believe they can buck the trend.  Those are they type that tend to put the rest of us a little on the defensive.  If they can buck the trends it must mean that the fact I'm not is because I'm not as clever, charismatic, hardworking, spiritual, hip,  or whatever, as they are.

The truth is, it's not about us leaders.  I was up to Luther Seminary for their Mid Winter Convocation this week.  The topic was the one we all don't want to think about but we know we should so when we do it just makes us feel depressed, frustrated and defensive again.  You know.  The future of the church.  

This time although I was frustrated at times, I did not come away depressed or defensive.  I came away thinking.  And I'm still thinking.  The speakers were Diana Butler Bass who has a new book coming out which I've ordered already.  Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening

She started out saying something very helpful.  She talked about the difference between Climate and Weather.  Climate is the big picture.  Weather is the conditions you are experiencing right now.  Most church leaders look out the window, see the weather and and assume that's what's going on all over.  So those leaders who are experiencing a little growth and think they've bucked the trends are like those people who see that it's snowing and snort "Global warming, hah!"  She even admitted her book Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith  was more about weather and she received a lot of pushback about that because people complained it was too optimistic.  And I confess I have the book and never finished it because it made me depressed and and defensive because her weather was sunny and mine is dismal.

The trend is not looking good for the Christian church.  Not just the Mainline either, the Evangelicals are starting to experience the same decline.

The other speaker was Andrew Root.  He's very funny.  He spoke about how the world is changing and how growing up in a world of screens and media changes where we find our identity, how we think and relate to each other and reality itself.   It was very interesting. 

But like most of these things, most of the time spent was hearing the problem defined and explained. That's important.  You have to understand the problem, the challenge, the climate.  But after awhile it began to wear on me.  BUT WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT???

I don't think anybody knows.  Both Diane and Andrew spent a little time on that.  Andrew spoke of the story of Jacob and opening the church to be a place where people can come to struggle with God.  A place where we are not afraid to show that this struggle will leave us with a limp.  When speaking how we have replaced reality with images (a presentation totally based on the French philosopher Baudrillard) he concluded that the church needs to be the place that speaks of what is real - the cross.  "The cross stands at the place between possibility and nothingness"

Well that sounds very nice in a presentation but what does it look like?  What does it mean?  How do we do that?  And will it really make any difference?
Maybe the truth is there is nothing we can do about the climate.  Maybe we just have to deal with the weather, understanding the weather is not the climate.   Keep it real.  Preach the Gospel.  Administer the sacraments.  Be honest about the struggle.  Remember it's not about you.