Monday, January 31, 2011

be afraid, be very afraid

When proposition 8 was overturned last year, my greatest sense of relief came from the clear and well-articulated statements by Judge Walker that separated arguments based on religious doctrine from constitutional law. I'd been trying to work that argument out in my head for years, and at last, what I had been struggling to say was finally put into words.

Today I'm looking for another Vaughn Walker to have a word with 173 mostly Republican congressmen (and sadly, 13 congresswomen) who want to redefine rape for the purpose of limiting further taxpayer-funded abortion.

Let me start by saying this. I'm not a fan of abortion. Eliminating potential life is something that doesn't sit well with me. I don't know that it sits well with anyone. I do, however, believe fully that the decision to have an abortion rests with the woman (and perhaps her mate, circumstances depending) who carries a fetus. The matter of choosing to have an abortion is legal, if limited, in this country.

H.R.3 of the 112th Congress is an affront to all women, and to victims of rape and incest it is a betrayal. The language of the bill uses the term "forcible rape," which has no legal or medical definition, leaving its interpretation to the beholder. Apparent in the reading of the bill, however, women or girls who suffer from diminished mental capacity, are exploited as a result of having been drugged or having consumed alcohol, or are over the age of 18 and experience incest would not be considered to have been raped. Further, tax exemptions for out-of-pocket medical expenses related to abortion would be eliminated, as would tax exemptions for insurance premiums if one of the benefits of the policy was coverage for abortions. No abortion may be permitted in a facility of the federal government, which would include all military base hospitals.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines and get ready to fight.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

shifting gears

Since my post yesterday went over like a barrel full of poop let me offer something more tasteful today. Commercials!

Two new favorites: one for Oreos, and one for Volkswagen Jetta. I couldn't embed the Oreo commercial, so you'll have to connect to you tube for viewing. The Jetta is downright clever. Not to mention fun for anyone who loves good old dance movies. Enjoy--and have a glorious Sunday!


Saturday, January 29, 2011

not for the squeamish

Unpleasant tasks are salvaged and made more palatable by humor. To take advantage of a sunny day with moderate temperatures, Ken was determined that this morning we would attend a long overdue task: poop-scooping. While walking the yard in grid patterns, shovel and hoe in hand, I couldn't help but let my mind run to the ridiculous. Let's tune in to Poop-Scooping commentators Verne and Earl.

Verne: It's a glorious day here for the first annual Poop-Scooping Tournament, and it promises to be a day of exhilarating competition. As a new event our viewers may be unaware of how it works, and what to watch for as our competitors play the game.

Earl: That's right Verne. Poop-Scooping can be full of surprises. Here's a quick run down of how the event is played, and how it's scored. Let me start with the fact that it's an annual competition. Dog poop, or terds as the professionals prefer to refer to them, goes through stages of decomposition. It takes a trained eye to recognize these different stages, bringing a sharper edge of competition into the mix.

Verne: Exactly. And we've got the perfect yard for the tournament this year. Leaves that fell after the last raking of the season serve as extraordinary camouflage for the terds, making it difficult to distinguish between old and new terds.

Earl: Indeed. Now our two players are given free run of the yard, and the object is to accumulate the most points by scooping terds that vary in age, size, and possible non-poop content. I understand that this yard is the dumping ground for three dogs, which should make for some highly unpredictable scoring. The players want to cover the territory as quickly as possible, and are free to review the ground already scooped by the opponent in case terds were missed. But here's an interesting twist, Verne. Even though this is a competition, a degree of cooperation is necessary. The players are responsible for keeping the terd barrel as close to them as possible. Seasoned players have learned through some tense rounds that keeping the barrel within reach of both of them facilitates heightened competition. It's a fascinating aspect to the game.

Verne: There are a number of strategies employed by our players toward wining this game. The most apparent to viewers will be the degree to which a player loads their shovel before heading to the barrel. Obviously the fewer trips made to the barrel cuts down on the transit time. But the flip side of that strategy is that when the shovel is overly full, care must be taken not to spill the terds that have been scooped. A full shovel slows the trip to the barrel, and that can be a hindrance.

Earl: Right Verne. Here's how the scoring works. Points are allocated for the following: number of terds scooped; variety of terds in terms of age and stages of decomposition; non-poop content in the terds, and the number of times the terd barrel is moved. Additional points are awarded for retrieving terds missed by the opponent. Demerits are given for dropping terds after scooping, and double demerits are given if a shovel loses its content on the way to the barrel. Demerits are also given each time a scooper steps in a pile of terds. A shoe-cleaning demerit is assessed at the completion of the round. It's a complex system of scoring, requiring a panel of judges to be extremely observant.

Verne: It looks like our players are getting in position to start the game. They'll have twenty minutes to prove who is the best poop-scooper among the players who qualified for this tournament.

Earl: The judges are taking their seats. The referee is positioning the terd barrel and the scoopers are gripping their tools, ready for action. Let's watch.

(the sound of a whistle indicates the start of the game)

Earl: Anne is off to a cautious start. It appears that she's scouting the ground to identify the location of the terds before he swoops in for the scoop. Ken, on the other hand, is using the one-terd approach, scooping as he encounters terds. There are pros and cons to both strategies.

Verne: That's true, Earl. And Ken is the first to the barrel! Listen to his fans cheer him on!

Earl: Anne's not far behind. She's scooped several piles, and it looks like she's got some variety in her shovel!

Verne: Look! Ken's found a pile of terd with non-poop content! Look at the mischievous grin on his face as he raises his shovel and turns it to show to Anne. He's even shaking his hips in a sort of victory dance!

Earl: Can you make out the content? Maybe the camera can move in for a better look. Yes! There it is! Pantyhose!

Verne: A pretty common bit of content found in terds. Anne is undeterred, however. She seemed to glance at Ken's shovel when he held it out, but she returned her attention to the area around her and is keeping her pace. The sign of a professional is not to be intimidated by the finds of another player. But look, her face is brightening! Apparently she's found content as well. She's making her way to the barrel with it. She gives an artful thrust of the shovel and the terd sails into the barrel. That was a perfectly executed move. Let's watch it in slow motion.

Earl: The content judge indicates that the content was a piece of sofa cushion. This is clearly a household with dogs who have a broad palate.  What an exciting Match!

Verne: That last effort by Anne seems to have increased her confidence. She needs to be careful. It looks like she's filling the shovel with an awful lot of terds.

Earl: She does need to be careful Verne. In one of the qualifying rounds leading to this tournament one of the players tipped his shovel three separate times. Not only was he given demerits, but he lost precious time having to rescoop his loads. Balancing your terd load is a critical skill in this game.

Verne: I've seen more games than I can count where it has been the deciding element in whether or not someone wins or loses.There's a reason they call the tipping point.

Earl: The points are mounting for both our players, Verne. It's very evident that experience and skill is what brought these players this far in the tournament. Let's pause and hear a word from our sponsor...


You get the idea. Have a nice day.

Friday, January 28, 2011

friday five: favorite verses

At RevGals Songbird writes: Twenty years ago, I was on a Pastoral Search Committee, and one of the questions we asked the ten candidates we interviewed in the first round was to tell us their three favorite passages of scripture. I loved hearing the variety of verses quoted and even learned some that I didn't know...

For today's Friday Five, list your five favorite passages/verses from the Bible and tell us something about why you love them.

Except for the first verse below, I really had to stop and think about these! Once I did I had a hard time narrowing down my selections. There are so many riches in scripture that offer inspiration, comfort, hope, challenge and peace.

1) He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 
This has been a long-time favorite of mine. For me it summarizes who we are to be as people of God. I especially like that two of  the "requirements" touch on how we are to act on behalf of and toward others, and just one touches on ourselves. I also love the emphasis on justice.

2) Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
I don't usually have trouble settling into stillness, but I do err on the side of forgetting to turn to God in all things. This verse serves as my plumb line when life gets chaotic.

3) Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,  "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,and before you were born I consecrated you... (Jeremiah 1:4-5a)
On the days that I despair that I am in the wrong place, missing God's message or misunderstanding his voice, this passage brings me peace.

4) Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
I don't know that I have a specific reason for liking this verse, I just do. It is especially meaningful to me, however, because it was the favorite verse of a very dear friend who died a few years ago.

5) How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation... (Isaiah 52:7)
This verse connects me to my Quaker roots with its reference to peace and the simplicity of the barefoot messenger. It also evokes landscape, which is a spiritual metaphor in my life.
image from Hope Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, MI

Thursday, January 27, 2011

discovering wealth in poverty

We saved over $60 at the grocery store yesterday. That's a big "wahooo!" But we still spent too much. Having put together the grocery list I couldn't imagine what was on it that nudged the bill so high. I have to accept some of the blame for this--Ken went to the store without me. Other than bananas and half and half, which somehow didn't make the list, he didn't do any impulse buying. What he DID do was get two. You know, the buy one, get one? You don't have to get the second one to get the savings. For every BOGO I unpacked two items from the bags.

I have decided that I will take some of those items back to the store today. It may not seem like such a big deal. After all, we WILL use those second items in due time. But right now, the half price of those discretionary purchases serve us better in the bank.

Thinking about saving pennies this morning while making coffee, I was reminded of an earlier moment in my life when money was tight. I was barely out of college. I lived in Indiana and was headed to my Mom's in New York for Christmas. With my five-month old Sheltie keeping me company in the passenger seat, I was halfway across Pennsylvania when it suddenly hit me. Having bought dog food for the visit home, I didn't have enough cash to pay the toll to get across the George Washington Bridge.

A few miles further along my journey I spotted a sign for the state highway patrol station at an upcoming exit, and I made a decision. I got off at the exit and headed to the station. I went inside, where the woman who sat nearest the door looked up and asked if she could help me. I pleaded my case, and asked if she would consider cashing a small check for me. She shook her head, noting that they weren't equipped to cash checks there at the station. I must have looked crushed, because the look on her face indicated that she was trying very hard to find a way to help me out. Then the frown leveled and she offered, "I guess I could take some cash out of the coffee fund..."  And so she did. With the $7 cash with which I was now richer, I continued east to New York and made my way across the GWB into the city.

I headed to Greenwich Village to pick up my grandmother, and then we made a brief stop at Tudor City where she dropped off a gift for her friend, Charles. She returned to the car carrying the same, small bag in which she had toted the gift for Charles. As she got back into the car I inquired, "was he not at home?" and she placed the bag in my hands before closing the car door.

"This is for you!" she proclaimed. "They're cookies from Charles. He has more than he can possibly eat, and he wanted you to have some. It's what he calls the "share the wealth" plan."

I felt rich. On this day the kindness of a stranger and the generosity of a man I barely knew eased my burden and showered me with abundance. I have not forgotten either (as is obvious by this post). I no longer remember the name of the woman at the police station, though I did, at the time, send her a Christmas card with my thanks expressed. From that encounter I learned something about creative problem-solving and going the extra distance to help a person in need.

To this day I continue to practice Charles' "share the wealth" plan. When I have excess, and even when I don't, I try to share with others something of my abundance. I may be cash-poor, but I am surrounded by riches of other kinds, and my life is blessed.

Blessed are the poor of all kinds, for they shall know the mercy of God.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

a brief review

Sigh.

I was so proud of President Obama last night. Given the climate of Congress, the economy, and recent events, his tone and message was right on target. He inserted levity to diffuse tension, praised and challenged his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and made not a single disparaging remark. Not one.

By default I heard the opening remarks of the Republican response. So much for a cooperative spirit and focusing on the things that bind us rather than divide us. After five minutes I couldn't take the usual rhetoric and changed the channel. I had no interest whatsoever in hearing Michelle Bachmann, and wonder, still, why she was given the opportunity to set the precedent of allowing commentary from a third-party voice. When the Tea Party declares itself independent from the Republican Party, then we'll talk.

One reason I was proud of Obama is that he shifted gears for tone. Apparently the Republicans have no clue as to the significance of such a thing. The same dull drum is beat over, and over, and over again. Do you want me to listen to your point of view (and I will)? Then extract yourself from rhetoric and speak what you value, why you value it, and demonstrate how you will implement what you claim you desire.

There is no place for trash talk. Remember what your Mama taught you? If you don't have anything nice to say...

And Michelle looked stunning.

Rock on, Barack.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

becoming the next generation

I became aware of it last week. A local newscast announced that several school systems were eliminating teaching cursive writing from their curriculum. Imagine a phonograph needle scratching across a record album with that attention-grabbing screech that I don't know how to reproduce here alphabetically.

Say what? Not teach cursive writing? My mind flashed forward to a time when children were not taught to write, and then without writing reading became inaccessible, and then communication in general returned to guttural grunts and grins.

Take a breath. The end is not near. No matter that not being able to write cursively might well lead to not being able read script altogether. Scholarship related to ancient texts, letters, manuscripts, and so on. What was to become of them? As you can see, I imagine all manner of ill for our society.

Then our local university announced that all incoming freshmen in the next school year, along with upper class nursing students (?), would receive iPads in order to reduce the expense of textbooks. Eeeek!! Picture me running, screaming, from the room.

And then it hit me. I was turning into the generation of "old people" that can't deal with the progress of society and its new norms. Barely in my fifties, and I'm doomed. The technological advances of the last few years has rocketed us into realms that, at the current rate, will leave me in the dust long before retirement.

As it is I'm struggling this morning to manage downloading podcasts to my iPod so that I don't die of boredom on the treadmill at the gym (the CNN channel has no audio, leaving me to choose between ESPN, Fox News, and local programming overrun with commercials). It's true, I  have not taken advantage of podcasts before now.  Synching my iPod Nano? I can't seem to make anything work. Where are my kids when I need them?

So slowly, with fear and trembling, I am crawling into the technology of the 21st century. It's not a pretty picture. You may need to send out a search party in due time.

Friday, January 21, 2011

friday five: book report.

At RevGals Jan writes: I hope some of you received books for Christmas presents; I did and have been reading ever since. Then I discovered a new author from those recommendations that pop up on Amazon.com. Instead of buying those books, I've been checking them out at the library, which will not help Amazon's future recommendations for me at all.

So tell us what you're reading, what you would and would not recommend--five books or authors! And if you don't want to do that freestyle, here are some questions:

1. What books have you recently read? Tell us your opinion of them.
I'm afraid this will be a disappointing post, since reading is just something I don't get to do much of these days. Read recently? Define recently? I haven't read much since last fall, but at that time I was reading The Aladdin Factor, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. It's about asking for what you want. Sounds self-focused, and I guess it is, but it is helping me get past some self-imposed obstacles. It's a very easy read, and I do recommend it for anyone dealing with similar issues.

2. What books are awaiting your available time to be read?
Too many! Starting with Elizabeth Edwards' Saving Graces, and Robin Griffith-Jones' The Four Witnesses. I want to finish Peter Gomes' The Good Book, as well as Adam McHugh's Introvert's in the Church. And then there a whole batch of mysteries that await.

3. Have any books been recently recommended?
Several, but as you can see by the list above, I don't need any additions right now.

4. What genre of books are your favorite, along with some titles and/or authors you like best?
I'm a mystery fan. Can't get enough of them when I actually have time to read. I used to love Elizabeth George, but she's gotten rather dense in her plots in the last few years, and I miss the first round of characters that populated her earlier books. I like Patricia Cornwell, Lisa Scottoline, and several others whose names escape me at the moment. I also enjoy books that help me gain insight into myself or others, as well as those that inspire my faith.

5. What have you read lately that you have a strong urge to recommend? (or to condemn?)
For introverts like me, I strongly, STRONGLY recommend McHugh's Introverts in the Church. It was on sale at Cokesbury one day when I was there, and it called my name. Thank you, Holy Spirit! I also recommend this book to extroverts so that they might understand introverts better.


I'm off to diocesan convention today and tomorrow, so won't have a chance to respond to most posts, but will try to get to them!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

thankful thursday

When the mind goes blank and subject matter fails to emerge, there is always something for which to be thankful:

Starting with the connections made through this blog. I have to thank my friend Jayne for encouraging me to reach out to other bloggers, and I have been rewarded richly for doing so. Thank you, friends, for visiting, commenting, and befriending. You fill my heart, make me laugh, and inspire me. Love you ALL!!

Today (well, everyday!) I'm thankful for magnifiers. Starting with my glasses, without which I couldn't read anything smaller than a billboard. Well, that's not entirely true, but you get the idea. And now that I've returned to cross stitch I need an additional magnifier to see the canvas and to count the grids. Thank God for those!

And speaking of cross stitch (I know, I know, enough already), last night I finished the duck! All critters are now complete (teddy bear, giraffe, rocking horse, bunny, clown, duck and sailboat--an honorary critter). What remains are the lesser things: a toy, shelf on which the critters sit, a ribbon banner overhead, a pinwheel and a flag. I am beyond excited to have reached this benchmark.

I am thankful for a new vestry, whose first meeting together will be tonight. I feel hopeful that we will get a great deal done this year.

I am thankful for my hubby, who brought me flowers yesterday! I still need to de-clutter the top of one cupboard to get into another and find a vase!

I am thankful for my mind, which in spite of its lapses in memory and occasional cognitive hiccups, keeps me attentive and helps me stay informed.

I am thankful for my four-legged children, who love with abandon.

I am thankful for more than you want to read, but which I hold in my heart with gladness.

And I am thankful to God for the blessing of faith, and its renewal in my life. Can I get an Amen?

Have an amazing day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

marching toward a goal

My friend Cathy is a Band Mom. More than that, she's a great Band Mom. In fact, she's a great Mom, period. I have the pleasure of working with her right now to help raise some money for her daughter's band expenses, and we're doing that--surprise, surprise--through The Pampered Chef.

Cathy hosted a party last night that was lots of fun, but poorly attended. Within 24-hours before her party she lost guests to: an out-of-town funeral, stomach flu, a child's sports injury that necessitated same-day surgery, and a run to the airport to pick up a husband whose flight was delayed by a multitude of hours. The prize for cancellations, however, goes to the last minute text saying "I'm at the hospital with a co-worker who is in labor." I know the person who sent that text: it's genuine.

For those of you who might take pity on a beleaguered Band Mom, I invite you to support her fund-raising efforts with a purchase. Incentives are outlined below. You can also help by choosing to host your own party (catalogs can be put in the mail today)! Bookings from Cathy's party add dollars to the fund. I really want to help her reach her goal.

Some details:
The guest special this month is your choice of a loaf or square baking pan FREE when you purchase $60 or more. (I apologize for this poor layout--these images would not appear in picasa to manipulate them)

I'm sweetening the pot with TWO incentives: 
1) EVERYONE who orders will receive a gift.
2) Guests who qualify for the free pan will be eligible to receive this month's host special at 60% off AND get ten percent off your order. That pretty much covers shipping costs. The rectangular baking pans pictured here are the January host special as long as you have $150 in sales.

Click on the marching band photo to order.

If you're interested in hosting your own catalog party, contact me for details on the host specials for January and February. They are both FABULOUS!.

Please share this opportunity with others! And regardless of whether or not you choose to help out with this fundraiser, hug a Mom today. All Moms are beleaguered in one way or another. Step-Moms, too!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

silent blessing

"When you listen generously to people they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time."
~Rachel Naomi Remen

One of the crashing waves of Sunday was the accusation that I don't listen. Huh. My memory might not be worth much these days, and retention of what I hear is an issue, but if I am anything I am a good listener. It's been one of my middle names for a long time. I suspect that what the accuser had in mind was that his argument wasn't persuasive and I didn't yield the ground of my opinion. Another day in the life of each and every one of us! 

This quote today, again from Gratefulness.org, got me to thinking, however. My silence on Sunday was not an option--we were in a meeting. But had there been an opportunity for me to remain silence so that the individual could rant on, I wonder if the space of generous listening would have led him to a truth he might not otherwise hear.

It has been my experience that in the presence of a good listener (a number of people come to mind, but my mother is one such individual), Rachel Remen's words are true. Frederick Beuchner notes somewhere or other that the process of writing is, for him, like opening a vein where the inner voice flows onto the page and takes the shape of words. Speaking in the presence of a generous listener can flow likewise.

I know this to be true in the conversations I have with God, particularly confessional ones. The generous silence of the divine opens a space into which I pour my fears, my regrets, my apologies and my yearnings, and the mess that spills out of me, through the course of conversation, takes on a kind of order. In the space of divine conversation God's response is to rearrange what I have shared in such a way that it appears different to me. Sometimes something has been removed, sometimes something is added. A particularly ugly offering might have its ragged edges trimmed. In the end, what God gives back to me from the generosity of his silence is a form of healing wrapped in grace. 

I try, as a listener, to be as generous as the divine model I have experienced. If that doesn't work for some people, I guess I'll just have to keep on trying.

Monday, January 17, 2011

catching my breath between the waves


I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
Louisa May Alcott
How apt that this quote of the day from Gratefulness.org should be waiting for me in my mailbox this morning. I had a stormy day yesterday, and this morning I am feeling bruised and battered from being tossed about in that storm.

Yesterday's storms came up out of nowhere. The first blew hard against my sails, and though I tried to stay on course, altering direction was the only appropriate response.  The second was like a rogue wave, roaring across the deck and knocking me flat with passive aggressive rage. There is nothing to do when hit like that except to steer into port and confront the rogue. Peaceably, of course. But as many in the world of words spoke throughout last week, words hurt. Agendas, particularly hidden ones, do damage. Pettiness detracts from the work to be done, and distracts those whose participation is needed. Sigh. Such is life in the Church. It is wearying and wearing. At the end of the day I wonder sometimes if the Kingdom is better off for having gathered, or more littered with the detritus of human brokenness.

Some years ago I read a piece in a magazine that belongs in the same chapter of wisdom as the quote above from Ms. Alcott. A ship carrying passengers ran into very rough seas, and the ship was tossed about like a toy on raging waves. The passengers gathered to pray, while the captain remained at the helm. Members of the crew joined in with the passengers, and at length a woman detached herself from the group and confronted the captain. "Captain!" she demanded. "Why aren't you praying with us for the safety of your ship and its passengers?" With exasperation he looked her way and replied, "Madame, when the seas are calm I say my prayers, but when they rage I steer my ship."

I am feeling like this captain, alone at the helm trying to steer a ship full of passengers who don't grasp the choices and wisdom of my actions. I guess it's time to start praying in preparation for when the debris of these recent storms will have to be navigated.

(The above painting is by John H. H. Bevort: A sailing ship in a stormy sea)



Friday, January 14, 2011

friday five: a brand new day

representative photo of a celebratory lunch 
At RevGals Singing Owl writes: Where I am it is dark, and it is cold, and it is snowing. I really wanted to stay in bed with the electric blanket cranked this morning. Share five things that made getting out of bed worthwhile for you today! 

1) Small but essential, coffee! I am fortunate that my husband makes my coffee for me (he drinks a different blend, made in a different pot). That kindness makes the coffee that much sweeter.

2) Getting into my workout routine at the gym. I desire a schedule of four days a week at the gym, and am satisfied with three. Having read recently somewhere that a marriage should have one shared indoor activity and one shared outdoor activity, some reflection on that statement led me to a breakthrough. I have always loathed exercise (unless it's dancing), and have attributed that to the distaste of sweating. This morning I realized that most of the time when I sweat it's because I'm not in shape, and the ache of muscles gasping for oxygen is what I don't like. Aha! This will give me lots to think about on the treadmill this morning.

3) A birthday lunch. Today is the birthday of a new member of our church. She is new to the area (moved here to be with family after her husband died) and knows very few people. At last week's ECW meeting when we discovered today was her birthday, there was a spontaneous eruption of "let's go to lunch for your birthday!" And so we will.

4) A trip to WalMart (groan) to get some embroidery floss. I'm working on a cross-stitch birth announcement for my oldest grandson (yes, it's a tad late) and decided to change one of the color schemes (a pink-clothed bunny just won't do). I need to select new colors.

5) Working on said cross-stitch. The end is in sight!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

looking down the road

I'm cruising along on my cross stitch birth announcement. I'm more than half done, which propels me at the end of the day to stitch one more length of thread, or complete the section on which I'm working. I've still got at least a week's worth of evenings to go, probably more, to wrap this up, but the end is in sight, and I'm psyched.

I've got two more birth announcements to tackle when this one is complete, but then I can consider other projects, and consider them I do!

During Advent Ken and I were at Hobby Lobby and checked out a framed print of a nativity scene. It was one of the nicer ones I'd seen, and it was half price. We talked about getting it for the church, but concluded that since we are the Church of the Epiphany, not Church of the Nativity, art for the church ought to be chosen that represented our feast. At least initially.

One of the things I love about getting Christmas cards is the great variety of art that decorates the front of many of the cards. I'm always intrigued by the depictions of the Magi, which generally show them en route to the manger. Yay for accuracy! I'm a stickler about that.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to see what sorts of cross stitch patterns were available to honor the Feast of the Epiphany, and perhaps love one so much that I just had to work it. My Google search didn't turn up much in the way of patterns. I started with "Magi," stubbornly moved to "Wise Men," and finally relented to "Three Kings." The majority of what popped up were not impressive--the scale was too big, or the detail too sparse.  And then I found the pattern for the tapestry you see above. Yes, that's the completed cross stitch work. Gulp! It's called, obviously enough, The Adoration of the Magi, and the hand of William Morris is evident in its design (I love William Morris)!  For the record, it's 623 stitches across, and 416 stitches wide. Or, approximately 35" by 23"! If I were to do this it would probably take me the rest of my life. At the least I'd have to work on it in stages so as not to tire of it or allow it to prevent me from working on other things. The pattern alone is $34. Fabric and floss would be mine to procure. And then there would be the framing, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

It's daunting to consider, but I really like this print (I love the angel hovering just above the ground). I've bookmarked the pattern as I contemplate taking it on, and will look, in the meantime, for other, less involved renderings of the Magi.

What projects or creative efforts are tempting you as we while away these winter days?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

what is wrong with you people?

I caught a snippet of a conversation on NPR's Talk of the Nation the other day with Karen Armstrong. Karen is a theologian and scholar, and of late has been promoting better integration of compassion in our personal and public lives. In the snippet I heard, Karen was remarking that, in general, people are less interested in being compassionate than they are in being right.

BAM! Ain't that the truth? How astounding that Karen's presence and conversation on NPR should follow right on the heels of the shootings in Tucson.

In the days following that tragedy there has been no shortage of outrage directed at various quarters to charge groups and individuals with a form of complicity in the shooting. As the immediacy of the event has moved on to investigation and a bucketful of questions, so have the accusations been harangued as opportunistic and partisan. Here's the rub. I believe that the quick finger-pointing was opportunistic and irresponsible: that doesn't mean that the content of what was said is wrong. If anything, it is spot on. Whether or not politics played a part in Loughner's motivation, Sheriff Dupnik's declaration that angry and violent rhetoric in our country has led us down a dangerous road is true.

The cases in point have been well delineated, with Sarah Palin and her map of targets at the top of the list. And much as I think that the far right wing of the Republican party is most guilty of angry and violent words and symbols in their sound-bites (including the phrase "job-killing"), there is plenty of guilt to go around when it comes to treating others with civility and respect. Compassion? Not even a blip on the radar.

Perhaps the most telling evidence that such language has become tolerated (if not accepted) is news coming out of South Carolina. The Palmetto State Armory, manufacturer of weapons galore, is creating a limited edition assault rifle engraved with the words, "You Lie," to honor Congressman Joe Wilson. Thank you, Joe, for opening this door to an industry of vilification, bigotry and hate. (For the record, that sentence is dripping with sarcasm.) What is wrong with you people? Assault rifles have one purpose: killing people. Does this act not scream of endorsement to kill people with whom you disagree?

Beginning today, I am adding to my sporadically prayed list of causes hearts that nurture hate. Although there isn't anyone I hate, I will start with what lives in my own heart when it comes to holding myself apart from others by demeaning or belittling them. All of us have hard places within our hearts that would benefit from healing.

Karen Armstrong suggests practicing twelve ways of living a more compassionate life. Perhaps along with our prayers, we might incorporate what she has learned through her work and study. It is far more important, after all, that I am in relationship with others, rather than be right.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

god is

I have acknowledged on previous occasions that I struggle to restore my spiritual life to a place where it doesn't feel threadbare. My inclination to pray is a mere whisper, the result of deep disappointment with God. My head believes. It's my heart that just can't muster up the wherewithal to engage.

I don't, however, give up. I make internal commitments to instill a new discipline that will grow and bloom into a life of its own. I have asked God for his help. I continue to sputter and flounder and flap in the proverbial wind. I wait.

And then some Simple Little Thing will come along that kindles the flame of my spirit and I feel connected again. The latest Simple Little Thing came in the form of an ad for a calendar: 12 Things God Wants You to Remember. Each month features a short phrase of encouragement, and as I read those phrases it was as though I was filling with light.

God is for you.
God loves you.
God will guide you.
God will not fail you.
God will be with you.
God will provide for you.
God will bless you.
God will give you rest.
God will strengthen you.
God will answer you.
God will uphold you.
God will keep you.

Simple statements. Life-giving words. Hope from which to draw nourishment.

There's a phrase that Ken uses to describe his prayers for others when they are facing a difficult or significant moment, event, or phase in their lives. He assures the one for whom he cares that he will "bathe you in prayer." It's a great phrase, but better still, he is a man of deep and committed prayer, and he follows through. It helps to live with someone who prays as he does. By osmosis I feel buoyed and at least tangentially connected to the divine.

Today as my soul rests in the joy of snow-covered everything, I feel bathed in the awareness that simple statements and the gladness of the soul reveal God's presence in my heart. There is hope, and there is help, because God is.

Monday, January 10, 2011

absolution

I failed. It wasn't a small error or mistake. It wasn't catastrophic. It was significant enough to have consequences that I regret.

This failure hurts. It hurts on the surface and it hurts down deep. Soul reverberating deep.

I am trying to work my way through it. I own the failure, but that isn't enough. I wonder where to turn for help and I find that the resources for coping with failure are thin and impersonal, cliched. No surprise. Failure isn't something anyone wants to acknowledge. No one wants wants to lay out before the world, or even some small, trusted portion of it, the raw vulnerability that is failure. To fail is to reveal deficiency, incompetence, inability, or some other face of that same, dark beast. No one wants that revelation.

No one talks about failure in personal terms. Unless we work or live with someone and see the up-close-and-personal reality of their being, don't we imagine that those around us excel in what they do? Don't we want others to think the same of us? Do we not want to be admired, respected, and esteemed? How, then, do I confess to you my failing?

Yesterday our bishop made his annual visit to my parish. As vestry members filed out of an energy-filled meeting we had with him to head to worship, he lingered and turned to me. He asked me how I was. Of all the people in the world to whom I want to present my best face, I confessed my failure to him.

On reflection, to confess was presenting my best face. Not my most competent face, but the full humanity of who I am at this point in time, "warts and all." Honest. Authentic. And it helped me to turn a corner.

I have continued to reflect on the incident of failing, and have come to understand something else. What was apparent and revealed on the surface hid deeper realities. I have owned and repented of my part, but there is more to this episode than my neglect, the response and the resulting action on the part of another which, in part, has wronged me.

And so I pray. I Pray for the strength to reach out to bring to light the pain on both sides, to affirm the goodness of all parties, to forgive the actions that have led to hurt, and to have redeemed what might otherwise become buried and cancerous.

Bless me, O Lord, for sins committed. Extend your mercy to hurting hearts and light the way to reconciliation.

Friday, January 07, 2011

friday five: holiday after-action report

At RevGals Kathryn invites us to reflect on the season just concluded and take note of the good and otherwise. My husband, ever the military man, refers to this as an after-action report.

1) What food item was one of your favorites this year - a definite keeper?This was an unusual holiday for us in that we didn't share it or celebrate it with anyone--no family or friends, just us. Low-key would be a bit of an overstatement! That said, I can't get through December without doing some baking, and I tried some different recipes this year. One is definitely worth keeping: turtle graham bars. It's sort of an update on a classic my grandmother made, and borrows a bit from a toffee recipe my Mom always made during the holidays, so this one has a special place in my heart.

2) Was there a meal or party or a a gathering that stands out in your mind from this most recent holiday season?
See number 1.

3) Were you involved in a jaw-dropper gift? Were you the giver or recipient or an on-looker?
No jaw-dropper, but this was the year of the Nana gift: Tervis tumbler, picture frame, plaque, bracelet charm and necklace. I was the recipient.

4) Was there at least one moment where you experienced true worship?
Our late Christmas Eve service was wonderful. One of our families got the idea to line the driveway into the church with luminaries. Cool! It started to snow just as the service began. More people came than we expected, so the church felt full (we're a small church), and the candlelight portion during Silent Night was magical. By the time the service concluded and we were all heading home the ground was covered in white, still snowing. It's rare to have a white Christmas in middle Tennessee, so that was just icing on the worship cake. It was a holy night.


5) What is at least one thing you want to make sure you do next year?
Two additions: After worship on the fourth Sunday of Advent my husband changed the bows on the wreaths at the church from purple to red. What fun it would be to involve the entire congregation in greening the church (though there's not a lot of decorating), with some cookies and hot chocolate to sweeten the work. I know that greening the church is not a new concept at all, but it's not something that's traditionally Episcopalian. At least not in my experience. The other is to do a blowout Epiphany service. It's our feast day, and until this year we haven't had enough kids to do a pageant. We do now, but our Christian Formation committee is still finding its legs and, well, to do it well it needs to be done well! So next  year: Epiphany pageant with a feast to follow, along with the burning of the greens. And a king cake.

BONUS: What is something you absolutetly must remember to do differently... or not at all!
The first Sunday of Advent we often have a family activity making advent wreaths. This year was a disaster. The person who offered to put it together bought birthday cake candles. I won't detail all the things that make this problematic, but I will say that things will be different next year! On the plus side, the picture above was taken that morning.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

what you see depends on where you sit

This post title comes from wise words uttered by a former supervisor. Today's post has to do with a bit of a literal spin on the phrase.


Somehow I got on an email list of a church organization. The other day one of their distributions landed in my mailbox with the following list as its focus.  It put me in mind of an article in the NY Times several months ago about how the perspective of many in the pews about what church is about is different from its intended purpose, and how demanding some pew-sitters can be about how clergy ought to do their jobs.  The italics below is my response to the pew-sitter's "wish." Take with a grain of salt my sarcasm, which laces the truth.

10 Wishes from a Pew Sitter
At the start of a new year, as a pew-sitter, I have a few wishes for the church leaders I know and love:
  1. Banish the "stand and greet your neighbor" time in the worship service.     I know your intentions are good, but it's forced, fruitless and goofy.  This is known as the passing of the peace, an ancient practice shared by early Christians to express the love of Christ among them. Good intentions have nothing to do with this "forced, fruitless and goofy" ritual. It's an incarnational expression of love.  
  2. Forget everything they taught you about three-point sermons. You're wildly successful if you can get across one point. Just one point. Then sit down.
  3. Get out and spend time with real people. Schedule lunches at your members' workplaces and schools. Listen. Get a feel for how real people live.      I'm sorry, I didn't realize that clergy weren't real people. We put our pants on one leg at a time, just like you (assuming that you are a real person).  We have hopes, dreams, disappointments and heartbreaks. People annoy us. We have bills to pay, grocery lists to make, and oil to change in our cars.  The only thing that makes us different from "real people" is our job description. And I've got news for you. Your job description is just as different.
  4. Encourage regular evaluation. Use comment cards. Ask us what we remember from last week's sermon. Then take us seriously, and adjust.  I am happy to do this. Feedback is a helpful thing when it's constructive, and if my preaching isn't reaching you, I'd like to know that. Are you ready to receive the same, take it seriously, and adjust?
  5. Crank down the volume of the band. Allow us to actually hear the voices of the flock.   I'm not really into the band.
  6. Burn the fill-in-the-blank sermon guides. They're insulting, distracting and ineffective. (Can you imagine Jesus using them? Let's see, "Feed my _______.")  No comment.
  7. Show hospitality. Encourage people to enjoy a cup of coffee-during the service.    Church is not a coffee house. If you want coffee during church, stay home and watch it on TV. I think you mean, during the service, encourage people to enjoy a cup of coffee after the service.  If you're not getting that invitation at your place, come to mine.
  8. Let us participate. Entertain our questions-during the service. Let the real people around us tell how God is working in their lives.    There you go again with the "real people" taunt. Church is not a 12-step program, it's a time to praise God. I'm all for sharing testimony. When can I schedule you to preach?
  9. Relax. Make some real friends. Spend more time with your family. Don't schedule every evening with church meetings.     You need to expand your vocabulary. I'm sure you didn't mean to suggest that my relationships are shallow and meaningless. But I'll second this motion when it comes to having time away from the responsibilities and stresses of work. There's something you need to know, however: surgeries, deaths, and crises don't happen within nine-to-five schedules.  Your need to call to discuss how to handle a difficult personality on your committee interrupted the time I was spending with my child helping her with her homework.  Apparently calling you back was not an option, because you were going to be helping your son with his homework.
  10. Get rid of the pews. Really.    This one is negotiable. As long as the chairs you have in mind don't have those really low and uncomfortable backs.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

getting my yankee up

Does the exhortation, "don't get so defensive!" annoy you? It annoys me. There are times when it's entirely suitable to feel defensive, and to want to defend. And anyway, I can feel any way I want. If I don't want to listen to what you have to say, that's another matter. But feeling and being defensive may just be legitimate.

For instance, I'm getting my Yankee up these days over criticism expressed in letters to the editor of our local rag about how New Yorkers whined about snow removal (or the lack thereof). "When we were flooded in May we didn't whine, we just pitched in and neighbor helped neighbor." This statement is true. Nashville did all of us proud in the way that middle Tennessee responded to the devastating floods last spring. "Why don't you grab your shovel and dig your way out instead of complaining that no one is doing it for you?" This from an area where school closings are announced the day before a forecast of flurries, and the typical snowfall in a given winter might accumulate to 2-3". Total. May I just say that flood recovery and snowfall are two different things.

Allow me to share. Been to New York? There's no place for the snow to go!  Snowplows can only create mountains of certain sizes before the piles begin to obstruct both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. This would be known as a counter-productive act. Snow removal is done by filling dump trucks with snow and carting it off to be dumped somewhere else. When you've got two feet of snow that dump truck fills up pretty fast. Shovel? If you're in the boroughs and even have a walk to your house, you can shovel that, and perhaps a portion of the sidewalk in front of your home. Then there are the streets where parking is totally insufficient on a good day and double parking is the norm. Yeah. Let's brush the snow off the rooftops into the single lane that remains of the street and get a plow down there.

And then there's the matter of melting snow. All that water exceeds the capacity of the sewer system and the water has nowhere to go. I've stepped from a New York curb into enough slushy messes that exceeded my leaping expertise to have total compassion on those who have to be out and about in the Big Apple in such conditions.

Neighbor helping neighbor? New Yorkers know their neighbors better than any southerner on any given day. Don't talk to me about being neighborly.

To my Tennessee neighbors who want to brag on themselves and snark at New Yorkers, don't mess with me.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

on the tenth day of christmas

I went to the gym as planned, and have an appointment this morning with Marcia, the Wonder Trainer. Together we will put together a plan to strengthen and tone my various muscle groups, and improve my cardiovascular function.  Bring it on!

Yesterday I did my 30 minutes on the treadmill and discovered that my feet were dreadfully out of shape. Yes, my feet. In spite of the therapy that they receive (and which has made them better), the muscles in my feet are tight. This is the result of injuries to both feet at different times, compensatory changes to my gait as a result, and the subsequent impairment caused by that compensation. This has been going on for more than ten years. Well, actually it's been going on most of my life, but that's another story.

Last night Pampered Chef held a special meeting to announce the incentive trips for this year. For the first time they've put together a mini trip for underlings like myself. Two nights in New Orleans with all sorts of fun stuff.  The top prize is a Mediterranean cruise. Oh. My. God. does it look fabulous! Sadly, that one is out of reach unless I undergo a radical personality type makeover.

But I'm going to shoot for New Orleans, and if I make that one, then the next level trip, a Caribbean cruise, is within reach.

Two goals (well, three, but I'm happy with two). Better health habits, and better business habits. They are both a challenge. Who wants to be on my cheering squad?

And, you can always help by hosting a show. Catalogs are readily available, and the incentives are always good, if not great.

Updates will be forthcoming.

Monday, January 03, 2011

monday miscelaney

Like half of the rest of the world, I am returning to the gym today. "Say it ain't so!" Ken would be remarking, except that he's already heard me tell him I would join him this morning when he heads over there. I've been working up my resolve to deal with my weight, and my dismal effort at exercise. The time has come. I'm going to take it slow, starting with the treadmill, and see if I can meet with Marcie, wonder-girl trainer, to put together a plan. When I feel less like a slug I'll get back in the pool.

Leaving church yesterday I grabbed the Book of Worship Services to bring home. When we get back from the gym I'll tally up the statistics for 2010 and be fully prepared when the parochial report arrives to complete. Ken saw the book on the kitchen table and asked what it was, and when I told him my plans for it he responded (read with great enthusiasm), "All right, way to get ahead of things!" It occurred to me then that his observation signaled something important. For two years I've been playing catch-up with this church, trying to get records in order, procedures refined, protocols created... to be ahead of the game marks a shift in the work to be done, and what I am now free to do. Perhaps it will be possible to reduce the hours I put in to this half-time job, or at least produce more fruit from the hours spent in the vineyard. I can work with that!

The dogs have discovered bubble wrap. It's rather amusing.

The restoration of our relationship with Ashley has freed my creative spirit when it comes to my grandchildren. I had bought cross stitch patterns for birth announcements and started one for Luke ages ago. The pain of the estrangement clapped shackles around my heart in terms of creating for them. I am happy to report that the birth announcement is now "back in the light," and I am making very good progress on it. It's fairly detailed, and more than once I have asked, "What were you thinking?" when I chose it, but it's been good therapy. I am fully confident (can confidence be qualified? or is it like unique?) that I will finish it, and the one for Cross, before baby number three makes its appearance in July. Pictures will be forthcoming.

And now, time to lace-up and make a pony-tail. The treadmill awaits!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

silence

This is a day that I tend to equate with silence.
Stores closed, businesses closed, schools closed.
A day at home of quiet, solitude, meandering through the hours as I choose.
I might cook, read, clean, sew, watch television, look out the window.
It is a time that feels peculiarly mine.

No matter that my life is different now than it was when this New Day pattern was formed.
I will still cook, read, clean, sew, watch television and look out the window.
I will reflect on the clean slate that stretches before me and not look back.
I will imagine what can be drawn and danced on blank canvas.
I will fill it with color and life, and blank spaces where silence can embrace the soul.
I will hear laughter and the soundless sobs of grief that grip hearts too torn to cry.
I will smile and rejoice and hold my head high.
I will practice releasing my heart from the bonds that have trapped it and know love again.
Real love. Selfless love. Sacrificing love. Abundant love.

In the silence of this day I will imagine love,
and in that imagining I will watch it grow and bloom and flourish and thrive
and replenish itself.
Wounds will yield to promise.
Hope will transform reluctance
and grace will triumph.
As ever, grace will triumph in the seed that is that day of silence.
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