Saturday, December 31, 2022

New Year's Eve Gratitudes

Here it is, the last day of 2022, the year I will think of as the year of whiplash or the slightly more positive pivoting.  It was a year of thinking we were headed in one direction, then being yanked in another, in all the ways I don't want to list right now.  It was also a year of considerable blessings, especially when considering how much worse it could have been.

I am thinking of this end of the week news of those who have died, the famous ones, just in these final days of 2022 alone:  Barbara Walters, Pope Benedict, Pele.  I keep looking at these 3 names, seeing connections and distinctions, the ways they broke boundaries or established them, and the ways that various parts of society would use them, shape them and be shaped by them.

I will have a very unusual New Year's Eve--at 5:00 Hawaii time, if all goes well, our plane will depart the Honolulu airport, and we will fly and fly and fly, east to DC.  It's a direct flight, and we land at 7 a.m., so it will be unlike some other New Year's Eve flights we've had.  I'm remembering one flight that took off from Las Vegas, where the people in the seat behind us had already been partying hard while on the ground.  Happily, although they were loud drunks, they weren't combative or vomitous.  I expect tonight's flight to be quieter.

I always say that I can't sleep on planes, but perhaps I will be able to sleep tonight.  If not, if the United in-air entertainment system is working, we should be able to get good movies.  Coming here, while the plane was at the gate for 3 hours, I watched When Harry Met Sally again, and later I watched Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (a bit baffling, a bit intriguing, a lot tiring).  I watched part of Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul, which I might return to, but I found the characters tiresome, so I probably won't.

I will peek out the window from time to time, watching the ground below, the sky above, the boundaries dark, the blinking.  I will think about stars and navigation, both the Polynesians following the Southern Cross in their impossibly small canoes, the wise men following a new star (Epiphany approaches), the book lists for my seminary classes that bring me joy.  I am returning from a resort vacation for the first time in a long time not dreading what lies ahead:  no soul-draining job awaiting my input (my ongoing online teaching is not soul-draining), no physical therapy (last May's vacation--so grateful for healing from my wrist surgery, so glad I'm not facing that kind of body repair right now). 

I am a lucky woman

Friday, December 30, 2022

My New Year's Resolution: To Bask in Joy

This has been one of the strangest family vacations ever.  I realize that we are lucky in how often we have avoided sickness on family vacations that I've been part of.  I have heard the stories of people taking dream vacations to exotic locales, only to be felled by flu (just for the vacation, not in the final sense of that word). 

Our vacation to Hawaii could have been worse.  Half of the family had plans no more intense than reading and watching the Pacific--we took turns doing that from the comfort of our villa, as we tended the sick or recovered.  We've had time by the pool and time for exotic drinks.  We've cooked together, the ones well enough to eat on any given day.

Some of our family has had some variety of gastric distress.  Two of us went to bed at 6 p.m., but on separate nights.  I had a fever of 100.9, and felt chills and muscle achiness.  After 14 hours sleeping, I feel better this morning, though still sore.

We are not watching bowl games--in the past, we might have.  I wonder if it's because we cared about those games or some other reason.  I remember being baffled at my dad's sudden enthusiasm for some team that had turtles as its mascot.  I remember wondering why someone long ago chose turtles.

It's another year of some person we've never heard of proclaiming that T.S. Eliot was the last good poet, that poetry died 100 years ago.  It was the hundred year anniversary of several modernist classics, including "The Waste Land," so perhaps we should have expected these kinds of pieces.  But still, no one has gone back to Joyce's Ulysses to excoriate us all for not writing like that anymore.  Of course, that would mean that someone would have to read/re-read Ulysses, which is a much more gargantuan task than meandering through "The Waste Land."

The fact is that people don't want to read those kinds of works where the footnotes and explanatory matter take more room than the text itself.  But we are still reading and writing other types of works.  Literature is far from dead.

When we watched a TV channel with Christmas music and fun facts, there was a reference to an ordinance in 1644 that banned Christmas in England.  My dad said, "I wonder why that happened."  I was able to give a brief summary of the English Civil War--my English major font of information has come in handy in all sorts of ways this year.

It's the time of year when many people will be making resolutions and self-improvement plans.  I am done with planning.  After a year of constant pivoting, I am going to spend the next year basking in joy.  That's more likely than losing 20-50 pounds or running a half marathon/10K/5K or eating 5 servings of veggies each and every day.  I will write poems, as I have always done.  I will think about book length collections, while realizing this year is likely not the one where I put together something new.  I will be on the lookout for new opportunities, new ways to bask in joy.

I will not be re-reading Ulysses--3 times in one lifetime is probably enough for that book (I wrote part of my MA thesis on that book, which meant I returned to it far more often than most people alive today).

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Strange Theologies

It is interesting, being on a holiday trip at a resort on an island half a world away.  As I walk the grounds and listen, I sometimes feel like a ghost.  Let me record some of what I've heard and seen:

--Yesterday, I was on an elevator with two adults (1 male, 1 female) and a youngish teen girl and an elementary school aged boy; I assumed they were a family unit, because of how familiar they seemed with each other.  They had been talking about someone's gift of $1,000, which seemed to shock the adult woman.  The teen said, "Maybe it was only $700."  The adult woman said, "Anyone who can give that kind of money as a gift should be making a donation to environmental concerns."

--A few points, all of which I did not speak, as I do not go crashing into stranger's conversations anymore. I was intrigued that it was environmental concerns that should get our donation dollars.  I wondered how the worthy recipient of extra cash has changed through the years, how recently it has shifted to environmental concerns.  Did we ever think our extra donation dollars should go to food pantries or is that just me?

--This conversation was happening in an elevator at an exclusive resort.  Most of us here on vacation have flown across a vast ocean to get here.  In terms of environmental concerns, resorts on distant islands might be a better focus than who is gifting what amount of dollars.

--I spent the rest of the day occasionally wondering about the conversation I didn't hear--what was it about the gift that made the mom's hackles rise?  Why was the teen defensive about it?

--I also thought about how the world has changed since my teenage years.  I was a teen from 1978 to 1985, living in the U.S. South, in towns like Charlottesville, Virginia and Knoxville, Tennessee.  An airline flight was a rare occurrence, often happening when one needed to get somewhere quickly, like for a funeral.  Perhaps because of The Love Boat, a glamorous vacation might have been a cruise for a lucky one or two of us.  A trip to Disney World was a once in a lifetime family vacation.

--I am getting worse and worse at deciphering how old people are.  This woman with children:  are they hers or are they grandchildren?  After decades of people slathering on sunscreen and covering the gray hairs, I don't have much in the way of markers.  That, too, is a shift.  When we took multi-generational trips in my youth, it was clear which woman was my mom and which one was my grandma.

--We watched the Kennedy Center Honors show last night, just as we often have done as a family unit if we're together when it airs the last week of December.  Decades ago, the honorees seemed to have been making their art in a distant time before I was born.  This year, one of my favorite college bands, U2, was honored.  I don't really understand why the Borat character was seen as the best way to honor the band, which makes me feel out of touch in other ways.  Am I officially an old geezer now?

--Amy Grant was also one of the honorees.  Teen Kristin would be horrified.  I hated her music in the early days of her career.  Now I am in awe of what she has accomplished, even if I don't always agree with the theology.

--Of course, she may not agree with the theology of that early work.

--I spent part of yesterday looking at the syllabus for the Queer Theology class I'll be taking in 2023.  I am so thrilled.  It is not the kind of Queer Theology class that argues about how the Church should treat homosexuals.

--You might ask, what is it then?  Here's a quote from the syllabus:  "This curriculum is meant to ask other questions: how is queerness (whatever that means) a site of revelation? How has our imagination been malformed by regimes of gender and sexuality alien to the gospel? How does attending to queerness teach us about social differentiation in general, and how God wants to remake the world? What in the 'normal' patterns of life is called to change in light of a queer encounter with the gospel?"

--I am SO THRILLED to be able to take this kind of class in seminary.  I am likely one of the only people at the resort yesterday who floated through her day almost giddy in happiness that this class exists and that I will be part of it.  Maybe I am less a geezer, more of an outsider.  

--Or maybe I would be surprised if I could see inside the hearts and minds of my fellow resort residents.  Maybe more of us would be interested in what Queer Theology could create:  "Finally, queer theology and queer theory examine our imagination, our habits, our relationships, the ways our bodies exist and signify together, and the possibilities – those we hope for, those we haven’t yet fathomed – for our lives" (another quote from the syllabus).

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Plagues on Our Timeline

A plague has descended upon our house.  I spent some time this morning doing some internet searching to see if that sentence is one I'm remembering correctly from a great work of literature.  I was thinking of Shakespeare, but perhaps it's from Antigone or Oedipus Rex.  Hmm.

This internet search would have been easier a few years ago, pre-pandemic (the Covid 19 pandemic).  Oh well.  A plague has descended upon our house, our house which has been relocated to Hawaii for what was supposed to be a tropical vacation.  It's not respiratory so far, but it does seem like Norovirus might be a possibility.  Or food poisoning.  I am waiting to see who feels what way this morning.  So far, I am fine.

When we walked through the airport to our gate, I saw and smelled vomit on the concourse where one catches the train between gates at Dulles.  I pulled the mask out of my pocket and kept it on until the plane was in the air.  I was far away from the crew member who collapsed vomiting in the gate area, but my mother was close and unmasked.  But the other family members who were also there haven't yet presented symptoms.  And my dad, who has shared close quarters with my mom, is fine so far.

So, maybe it's food poisoning?  Maybe my dad just has a very powerful immune system, especially for a man in his 80's?  My sister, who helped with my mom, wasn't feeling great last night [Update:  my sister is well this morning--hurrah].  Of all the ways I thought this trip might go haywire, this wasn't one that ranked high.

It could be worse.  We didn't fly Southwest.  It may be worse, when my spouse returns to our North Carolina house.  We've been getting apocalyptic messages about the troubles the Asheville water department has been having while we've been gone.  If the house isn't flooded from frozen/broken pipes, it will have been a good week to be away--we also got pleading texts from the electric company asking us to restrict electric usage.

I have been thinking of other times of plague.  I am thinking of my timeline project for Church History I class.  Part of that assignment was to choose 5 events that were more important than the other 25 events on the timeline that went from the start of the Church until 1500 and write half a page to a page explaining why we chose them.  I chose the arrival of bubonic plague in 1370.  I could write a substantial paper on why it's important, but I do think without a catastrophic event like that one, people's faith would not have been shaken, and we'd have had no Reformation, at least not in 1517 (and yes, I do realize that I'm choosing this date, and reformation urges had been happening at least 100 years previously, but I'm a Lutheran and I mark 1517 as an important Reformation date).

I am willing to bet that I am the only student with plague on her timeline--we didn't talk about it in class, and the textbook only spent a few pages on it.

I also want to record another moment which was enhanced by my Church History I class.  Sunday morning, my spouse was reading his book on John Locke, and he asked me about Arianism.  If I hadn't had the class, and/or if we didn't have Google, we might have assumed that it was a misspelling of the white nation kind of Aryanism.  But I was able to tell him, and from there we had an interesting discussion on Augustine, original sin, Pelagianism, and grace.

My spouse said, "This is why we make a good team."  He's right--and it's now one of my favorite Christmas memories.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Reading Culture

It is that time of the vacation at a distant place where I wonder if I should be doing more.  There are cliffs to dive off of, rock faces to scale, surfing or snorkeling, and a different ocean's chill waters to brave.  Or I could sit in the sun and read.  Or sit inside, in the cool AC, and read.

I'm reading for pleasure--there will be enough time for seminary reading in 2023.  But still, I feel this vague guilt, like I should be doing more with my life, even though I did make a poetry submission this morning to a journal whose submission window closes while I'm on vacation.

I have been feeling somewhat similarly about my life in DC.  Am I taking advantage of enough non-seminary activities to justify living in the city?  So now, before too much time has gone by, let me make a list of what I did do during Fall 2022 semester:

--While I had planned to go to a different museum every week, that plan did not work out.  Going downtown by way of Metro takes significantly more time than I had estimated, especially since the Metro station is a mile away.  But I did go to the Museum of African-American history.  And while I was there, I went to the Hirshhorn too, and briefly the Museum of American History.

--I went to an evening arts festival in Tenleytown.  While I didn't see much art, walking an indoor labyrinth by candlelight at St. Columba's Episcopal Church made it worthwhile.

--I went to an Evensong service at the National Cathedral.

--I went to the National Zoo twice, once to see the Zoolights at night, and once to see the animals by day.

--I went down to Williamsburg to hear The Messiah.

--I was part of an Honorflight experience, so I saw the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, the WWII Memorial in DC, and the Vietnam War Memorial too.

--Part of the reason I went to be a passive observer of art is that I went to 2 retreats where I made art, one in September (Crafts for Christmas) and one in November (the quilt retreat).

As I head into this next semester of living on campus, let me remember that it's easier to go downtown earlier in the term, when I don't need to be working on big, long/late term projects.  Let me resolve to see more museums in January and early February, when time seems more expansive.

Monday, December 26, 2022

The Southern Cross and Christmas Mysteries

My body often moves to a rhythm that's very different than the ones that others around me have.  Now I'm in a completely different time zone, to make this all more interesting.

On Saturday we got up very early to go to the airport to do the big family trip that we do every so often, this time to Hawaii.  What made this time less stressful is that we all went on the same plane:  no worries about one of us missing a connecting flight or being significantly later than planned.  No, instead we could all sit on the plane for 3 hours at the gate, waiting to take off.

It could have been worse.  When I looked across the airport to the crew that was sitting near my family, one of the crew members was stretched out on the floor, having a medical emergency.  I thought that might be the quick end to our trip, but another crew member was able to come, and eventually our plane got fuel (the pilot said the refueling apparatus on one side of the airport wasn't working at all), and eventually, after a flight that was over 11 hours, we landed.

This year, my spouse and I no longer live in the tropics of South Florida, so a tropical locale for a family trip is even more appreciated, especially by my spouse who has been longing for sun and warmth.  This week, the weather here will be perfect for him.

I am thrilled to be at a week where I can concentrate on reading for pleasure.  I read much of Chris Bohjalian's new novel, The Lioness, yesterday.  That man knows how to tell a good story; in fact, I've never been disappointed in one of his many books.

The characters in The Lionness are in the Serengeti, deep in the heart of Africa, and I am half a world away from my home base, where things are so familiar (we've been to this island and this resort once before, and Kauai earlier) and yet so different.  Yesterday my spouse's clock was off too, and we went for a walk at 4:30, local time.  I'm pretty sure we saw the Southern Cross yesterday.  I was puzzled, because it looked sort of like the Big Dipper, but it was off.  I will likely walk every morning in the hope of seeing it again.

As we drove away from the Honolulu airport on Saturday, I saw the interesting shadows made by the sun over the verdant mountain ranges and a bit later, the fiery red sunset.  Yesterday I watched the clouds rolling over the mountains, changing their shape each hour (both the shape of the clouds and the mountains).  It's really different than the Florida coastline or the North Carolina mountain ranges.  When I'm on the other side of the world, my home side, I forget how gorgeous this Hawaii landscape is.

I think of how the trip feels so arduous, and I think of all the people in past centuries making trips far more arduous than mine to get here (or to stumble upon the place).  As I sat for over half a day on a plane, I thought about how future generations might see this plane and shake their heads at how we trusted our lives to such a slender vessel--much the way I do, when I look at those early boats that made it across a vast ocean.

We left a Christmas climate of severe cold to come here, but Christmas found us here.  We listened to part of the Christmas Day service at the National Cathedral, yes, from the city (DC) we just left.  The music and the sermon were so wonderful (go here to watch for yourself).  Throughout the day, people at the resort wore festive clothes and hats, and we ordered Christmas themed cocktails.  We created a Christmas tree out of a piece of green cloth and a paper star on top--I'll create a post with pictures later.  It was a delightful Christmas.  But I'm a Christmas person, so I always find Christmas a delight, even when it's mixed with some sadness.

It's interesting, approaching the Advent and Christmas season with a bit more knowledge from seminary.  I understand many of the reasons why the earliest church focused on the resurrection.  I am distressed with the ways that the Church through the centuries has focused on the cross.  I mourn the lost opportunities that we could have been a Christmas people instead of an Easter people.  Life out of death as our Easter message--is that more powerful than the Christmas message of God made flesh, born to walk here with us?  I could say more, and I probably will, but not today.

Today, let me wander outside to see if I can locate myself in relation to the Southern Cross--and in relation to all sorts of mysteries greater than myself.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Shortest Sermon Ever

Wishing everyone a joyous winter holiday, no matter which one you're celebrating, and a joyous day if you're not celebrating. Of course, my hope is that every day brings joy and reasons for celebration. But my Foundations of Preaching class is over, so I'll step away from my pulpit.

Friday, December 23, 2022

A Look Back at Fall 2022 and the Whole Year

For some of us, it's the time before Christmas where we feel the full-on crush of Christmas needs.  If we have friends and family members employed by churches, this is a high-stress time.  I imagine it's similar for people working in retail.  For me, this year, the bulk of my work is done, and I'm at the stage where I'm checking to see if my professors have turned in grades yet.

Let me make a list of what I want to remember about this term, Fall 2022, my first term living on campus.  Some of it I've already mentioned, I know.  But it's worth looking back, at this point in time:

--The only grade I've gotten for the Fall term, the grade for the whole course, not individual grades on assignments, is an A for Church History I.  That grade was not assured--for my first short paper, I made an 80, which is the lowest grade I've made post-undergrad studies.  It was a paper full of proofreading failures (my spell-check changed Perpetua to Perpetual, and I missed a few times it did this--grrr).  I also misspelled my professor's name.  It was not the first impression I wanted to make, and I spent a restless night wondering if I should drop the class.  I decided not to drop the class and to write an e-mail apologizing for misspelling my professor's name and poor proofreading; even if I ended up making a B in the class, I could be OK with that.  But I thought that if I worked intently, I could make an A- or maybe, maybe, an A.  

--I realized that the kind of writing that often works for classes wouldn't work for Church History I.  In my first paper, my professor was sharply critical of me bringing my 21st century views to judge the martyrs of the early church.  I had suggested that the early church may have championed martyrdom to make it more palatable to believers who were going to be facing the ultimate penalty by the state.  As I reviewed for the final exam, I thought about my early beliefs about martyrdom and how there were aspects to it that I resisted.  In fact, it's still hard for me to shake my belief that the early church turned martyrdom into the best kind of virtue because they couldn't make the empire stop killing believers.

--My Church History I class pushed me to do different kinds of writing, and so did my Foundations of Preaching class.  My teacher expected us to do a depth of exegesis that I was never quite capable of doing.  But attempting to do it pushed me in good ways.

--My Creative Process, Spiritual Practice class introduced me to new practices, along with pushing me to go deeper in forms I already knew.  Some people might think I got a good grade for doing what I'd already be doing in terms of creative stuff, but that's only partly true.

--Let me also record some memories of housing.  When I first arrived in my apartment and started getting settled, I wasn't sure what my spouse's housing plans would be in terms of where he'd be spending the most time.  It turns out that it was easier for me to come to him in North Carolina than for him to come here.  At first, I felt this guilt, like I had given misleading information in the housing application that I filled out back in March.  But then I realized that there were still 2 bedroom units empty, so I decided to stop feeling weird about claiming a 2 BR apartment for myself.

--Still, it took months before I moved anything onto the top of the dresser that would have been my spouse's if he lived here, his side of the closet.  I still haven't much.  Our housing still feels unsettled, with a house under reconstruction in North Carolina.

--Of course our housing situation is still unsettled because of the seminary's plan for bulldozing older buildings and putting in a high rise.  The seminary president will have an informational meeting by way of Zoom on Jan. 5.  I hope he has more specific information about timelines and costs that will help me make plans for next year. 

--I have so enjoyed living right on campus.  It has been great to be just steps away from my apartment when evening classes end, not half a mile or further away.  I have loved neighborhood walks.  I have loved being able to leave materials spread out without feeling like I'm in anyone's way. I have loved being able to set up a schedule that's best for me, without it impacting others too much.

--My spouse and I have had a video chat by way of Facebook once a day--it is a game changer.  So much better than talking on the phone.

Let me close (for now) by admitting that I am thinking back to this time last year, when it looked like my job might not end, but it did, when we were beginning to feel despair that we might never actually sell our house, but we did.  In so many ways, this Fall 2022 Semester leg of my seminary journey has been similar to how I imagined it (the immersion, the opportunities) but in some ways, so different with not as many people living on campus as I imagined, with fewer extracurricular opportunities.  And a year ago, I had no idea that my dream of owning a house at Lutheridge was about to come true.

What a strange time it's been, this past year, full of pivots and whiplashes, and so many blessings.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Back to the Zoo, for Animals, not Lights

I was expecting a Thursday of torrential rain, much like last Thursday, but so far, the rain has held off.  I don't expect that to be the case much longer.  We have plans for movie watching and bread baking and turkey and dumplings from a base I made last week and stashed in the freezer.

Yesterday, we had a different set of plans, to see old friends we hadn't seen in a long time:

Yesterday's forecast was for a clear and chilly day, so off we went to the National Zoo.  The last time we were there was in the 90's, and my spouse wanted to see what had changed.  We got soon after it opened, and for awhile, we were one of about five groups there.  I had taken a picture of the free passes that are required, and happily a picture on the phone did scan.  I did notice that there were other entrances from parking areas with no staff paying attention.  I don't really understand why we need to be this careful anymore.  Is it about disease?  Much of the Zoo is outdoors, and it's cold, so unlikely to be a disease hazard.  Is it about tracking numbers for grant applications?  I'm just glad we got in.

At first, I thought we might have made a mistake, coming on such a cold day.  Some of the exhibits told us that animals had been moved inside because it was too cold.  But then we saw red pandas, and I thought, well, these animals alone are worth the trip.

Then we went inside where we saw one of the giant pandas having a great time eating bamboo.  That, too was worth the effort of coming to the Zoo.

We wandered outside and inside, and I think we saw just about every exhibit that was available.  The one thing we weren't expecting:  a mother deer and her two small deer wandering through, I assume from nearby Rock Creek Park:

In some ways, it felt like we were there no time at all, but it did take up half the day, with travel time.  But that was O.K.:  we didn't have other plans.  And we wanted to do at least one activity that we can't do in other places, like the National Zoo or one of the Smithsonian museums.  Since we have been to the Smithsonian museums more recently than the Zoo, the Zoo was our choice for yesterday.  

It was roughly 25 years since our last trip--wow.  Hopefully, we'll make it back there before another 25 years goes by.  Sobering to think about how old we'll be in 25 years and what may or may not have happened, both to us as individuals, as a couple, and in terms of the larger communities where we live.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

First Days of Winter Break

It's been a whirlwind few days.  On Sunday, I left my seminary apartment to spend less than 24 hours with my parents in Williamsburg.  We went to church, and in the afternoon, I got to hear them sing in the chorus of The Messiah (for more, see this blog post).

Monday morning, I left Williamsburg, came back briefly to my seminary apartment, and then went to the airport (BWI) to pick up my spouse, who is up from North Carolina.  We found an Allegiant fare that got him here and back for less than it would cost him to drive--hurrah!  We made our way back through pre-rush hour traffic, and had a quiet evening, plus a walk to see Christmas lights.

It's become clear that my spouse needs a better winter coat, one that actually zips up, so we set out to Burlington Coat Factory, which is now just called Burlington.  

We got there early, because the website said the store opened at 7.  It may have opened early, but other stores in the indoor mall did not.  I was expecting hordes of Christmas shoppers, but we were the only ones.  We found really good deals on coats and shoes for him.  We almost never find good deals on shoes, which is how his shoes become so threadbare.

Bolstered by our success at Burlington, we went to Wegmans.  Here, too, we had successful shopping.  We did exit at the wrong level of the parking garage, where we wandered round and round, looking for our car.  Apparently we're not the only ones.  One of the employees who was getting off shift told us we had likely parked at the upper level.  She saved us some time, since we had decided to check the lower level.

I was so proud of myself, because I didn't lose the car at the airport parking garage.  I didn't think to pay attention at Wegmans, a much smaller garage.  But we did find the car and headed back to my seminary apartment.

We went to the seminary library, one last opportunity before it closes for the holiday.  My spouse checked out some Philosophy books on John Locke.  We had fun browsing and seeing how much shelf space was devoted to which philosophers, some of which had volume after volume of collected works.  It's hard to imagine that future students will see those kinds of collections gathered in volumes made of paper housed on a library shelf.  I tried not to think about the future of intellectual thought and the moment that we're in.

We spent the rest of the afternoon making a big pot of chili and experimenting with this cocktail recipe.  We got the TV to communicate with the computer so we could watch a movie.  We went to bed early.  It was a delightful day.

Today we'll venture further afield.  It's going to be one of the last nice days, weather wise, for awhile, so we'll make our way to the zoo.  Later today, we'll turn the leftover chili into nachos--yummm.

Yesterday my spouse asked, "What would you be doing if I wasn't here?"  I said I didn't know, because I've never lived here when I didn't have classwork that needed to be done.  It's been delightful, finding out.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Holiday Choirs

Yesterday morning, I hopped in the car and headed south to Williamsburg, Virginia, where my parents live.  Their chorale had an afternoon concert, and I wanted to see them.  And since I was heading down, and they would be at both church services, why not join them for the 11:00 service at St. Stephen Lutheran Church?

My mom warned me that there would be no sermon, that it would be something the children of the congregation put together.  Even better!  It's been years since I've been at a church that had enough children to do something in place of the sermon.

It was both a children's choir concert, and parts of a Christmas pageant--think cute children in simple costumes coming down the aisle to stand with the choir.  It was all of that, plus percussion.  I am convinced, now, that if we want more children's involvement in church, and easy way to do that is to put drums around the worship space.  The children continued to migrate to them, even as the service progressed.

It was a delightful service, and I'm glad I made the effort to go.  My mom played piano for part of the service, which I didn't know about beforehand.  I'm always happy to have a chance to hear her play.

The concert by the Chorale was delightful too.  My mom asked me if I'd ever heard The Messiah, and I assume she meant the whole thing, not just parts.  In fact, one of my earliest memories of choral music is from childhood, when she and my dad would sing The Messiah with a local group every year, and my sister and I would hang out in the childcare area while they practiced.  And through the years, I've been to hear many groups sing or play it.  

I do realize that most people don't hang out with classical musicians in the way that I have done.  Yesterday the conductor asked how many of us in the audience were hearing the music for the first time, and a substantial number of people raised their hands.  I continue to see it as a good sign for the future of humanity, that people are still willing to come out to hear their friends and relatives sing music they've never heard of.

In DC, I could have gone to hear The Messiah in any number of settings--but I'm so glad I made the effort to come down to Williamsburg to see my parents sing.  I am aware that we won't always have these kinds of opportunities.  Perhaps they will make it into their 90's, still singing The Messiah every year, and perhaps I'll be able to make the trip to see them more regularly.  But if not, I'm glad that I got the chance to do it this year, so many years after first hearing them sing The Messiah when I was in elementary school.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Last Exam of Fall 2022

I spent time reviewing for my Church History I final exam, although it was open book-open notes.  And thank goodness it was.  I thought I knew all the information, but the objective section of the final exam drilled deep into the depths of particulars.

We had 53 multiple choice questions, and an hour and a half to take the objective part.  For the essay part, which we could take separately, thank goodness, we had the choice of 4 questions, giving us a wide choice of topics to address--but we only had to choose one.  We had an hour and a half to write that part.

I did the objective part late in the morning yesterday, while I was still feeling rather fresh.  It was grueling.  Even when I was fairly sure of the answer, I looked up each one.  I am grateful to a small group member in another class who told us about his experience putting all the weekly lecture notes into a single Word document, which made it searchable.  I did that, and thank goodness I did.  I didn't end up with much extra time once I was finished.  I got a 51 out of 53.  I missed three questions, but got all the extra credit questions.

I took a break, took a shower, ate some lunch, and then settled into essay writing mode.  There was a question about church heresies, one question about art/architecture, one question about 3 important female figures, and one about monastic pioneers.  You might think I would choose the question about women, but nope.  I went with monastic pioneers.

I felt fairly wiped out after writing the essay, but I felt good about the essay.  I hit "submit" and went for a walk.  I spent the rest of the day watching the mid 1990's version of Little Women with Winona Ryder.  In some ways, it's a perfect Christmas movie.  I made this Facebook post:  "Today's stop on Kristin's tour of Christmas movies: "Little Women," the one from the mid-90's with Winona Ryder. Jo has just sold her hair, and Amy says, "Your one beauty!" And I'm thinking of the scenes that revolve around a hair cut in "Fleabag" almost 2 centuries later. And I'm loving Marmee's hard-earned wisdom. Come for the Christmas bits, stay for the feminism!"

I went to bed early and fell into a much deeper sleep than I've had in a long time.  It was the first night in ages that I didn't dream about all the seminary work I was doing.  I didn't wake up extra early worrying about all the grading I have to do or the seminary work that needs to be completed.

Soon, I head to Williamsburg for a day with my parents, including seeing them in a Christmas Chorale Concert.  It will be a delightful way of settling into the one time a year when I don't have work piling up:  grades are turned in, seminary work is complete, and I don't have a full-time job making demands.  I won't always be this lucky, but this year I am.  Let me settle in and enjoy this good fortune.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Poets Walking in the Woods

Earlier this week, I got an e-mail from blogger and poet Dave Bonta that ended this way:  "Just wanted to mention that I'll be in DC for 12 days starting tomorrow night, on the off-chance that you're still in town and able to get together for a walk and/or chat."  We exchanged possibilities for a walk, with yesterday being the day that was best for both of us.

So much was fortuitous:  we didn't choose Thursday, a day of relentless rain.  Dave had 12 days, which gave us lots of flexibility.  I was at the end of the term, so scheduling a walk was more possible than it would have been in, say, November, when we would have had to schedule around my classes and paper due dates and travelling that I was doing.

Even though we've never met in real life, I've known Dave for over a decade through his blogging, poetry, photography, and online presence on Facebook and Twitter.  We've e-mailed off and on and worked on some projects together; one of the early ones was a celebration of the birth of Emily Dickinson (in 2010?).  One might protest that we don't really "know" anyone virtually, but I would say that long-form blogging is a different way of knowing someone than one would by way of tweets.  We also have mutual friends in the blogosphere and beyond.  

In short, I felt more comfortable going for a walk with Dave than I would with someone I knew from class.  I wasn't too worried that Dave would turn out to be a serial killer--and yes, I am aware of all the serial killers who have managed to hide their true selves for decades--and yet, they didn't blog or post poems and photography, so there's that.

DC is a city full of greenspaces and parks and trails, so we met at Glover Archbold Park, at a spot where several trails meet.  I got there a bit early, which was fine, because I had a chance to take pictures of this tree and to wonder who had decorated it:

Shortly after I took this picture, Dave and his friend arrived.  We made our way down to the trail and started our walk.  

At first, the trail was easy, wet but not treacherous.  In places, we had to go more slowly because of wet leaves and mud, but that was OK.  Along the way, we talked about poetry and technology and politics and science, both climate science that tells us of a difficult future approaching (so glad we sold our South Florida house!) and the science that gives us a glimpse of what formed the land.  We hiked on top of aging sewer pipes cased in concrete.  We crossed major DC streets and descended back to the trail. 

We did not try to go across the stream, even though in my younger years, when I had better boots and had never broken a bone, I would have fearlessly forged across all sorts of obstacles.  Not this year.  I was grateful that we were all in agreement about not taking risks.

Dave had me stand next to a tree that was so tall that he estimated it was over 250 years old.

We walked for a little over an hour, and then it was time for me to head back to studying for my Church History I final that I take today.  Dave and his friend headed south to continue their rambles.  On Massachusetts Avenue, Dave's friend took this picture of us with the trail entrance behind us:

I am so glad that I had this opportunity to meet Dave in real life, glad to be reminded that if I get along with people online, I'm likely to have a pleasant time in real life.  I'm also glad that we took a trail that I probably wouldn't have been brave enough to explore on my own; it seems mysterious and less passable when viewed from the street/sidewalk than when viewed at trail level.  I'm also glad to be reminded that although I'm older than I once was, I'm more steady on my feet than I sometimes fear.

Now let me go on one of my walks that is more usual for me, a walk around the seminary neighborhood, enjoying the holiday lights.  And then, let me get ready for my final exam and take it.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Screen Time

My sister wrote me to say that if the temperature had been a bit colder yesterday, we'd have gotten a ton of snow.  Indeed--something was falling out of the sky all day, literally, yesterday.  It was mostly rain, with a bit of sleet and ice.

Happily, I didn't need to leave my seminary apartment, so I didn't, except to go downstairs to the laundry room to do one load of clothes.  I was surprised at the end of the day to find out how tired I was.  Of course, sitting in front of the computer screen all day is not exactly renewing.

You may wonder why I was in front of the computer screen.  My spouse and I had a consult with Anderson windows in the morning.  My spouse met the Anderson rep in person at our North Carolina house, and I was able to join them by way of a Facebook video call.

In the afternoon, I went to my last class of Creative Process, Spiritual Practice class, which had to be converted to a Zoom call.  While I was happy to be able to have the class, it would have been better to meet in real life.  It was the day we were presenting our final projects, and I'd have liked to have seen the projects and my classmates in person.  But a Zoom call is better than nothing.

In between I was watching a movie.  In the morning, I felt a bit tired, so I started watching Ammonite, another bout of staring at the computer screen.  I finished watching it in the afternoon.  I had thought about watching Little Women in the evening, but I was tired, and opted for an early bedtime.

Ammonite is a great movie.  Kate Winslet is amazing--and has been for decades.  She is our Emma Thompson, our Judy Dench.  I loved the depiction of 19th century life--made me more deeply appreciative of our 21st century.

In the late afternoon, I tried to study for my Church History I final exam.  That's how I discovered how fried my brain felt.  I'll do studying both this morning and afternoon, and a bit more tomorrow morning before I take the exam.  I've got until 11:59 p.m. tomorrow, but of course I'm not going to wait that long.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Wintry Mix

My grades for the online classes I've been teaching are due at noon.  Happily, I've already turned them in. As I watched winter weather advisories being issued yesterday, I thought, let me get these grades done, while I still have power and internet access.  And so I did.

This morning, looking out my window, I think I'm seeing rain, not the sleet or freezing rain that was forecast.  I have power and internet.  I am not unhappy that I turned in grades.  On the contrary, I'm amazed I was able to get it all done.  A week ago, I looked at my gradebooks and wanted to cry.  So much grading still to do--and now it's done!

Let me stress that I don't have control over the curriculum.  I plug in dates, I do grading, I shepherd the students through the assignments that course designers have created.  I don't have the power to say that a certain class has so many assignments that it should be offered in a session that only meets for 6 weeks.

One of my classes has only been meeting since late October, and that class has so many assignments.  They aren't complicated or long, but they take time, time for students to do them and time for me to grade them. Even if I only have to click a few places, it takes time.  For example, students have to turn in a response sheet for using the online tutoring.  It should be an easy grade, but for each submission, I have to click on the submission and "grade" it, meaning I enter a number, the same number, for the grade, and then I click "publish."  It takes longer than you would think.

But I'm done--hurrah!  And the campus is closed because of the potential wintry weather.  I'll still have to go to class by way of Zoom, but somehow that feels like it requires less of me.  I'm not going for a walk this morning--too much danger of ice and slipping.

So, the whole morning opens up.  My plan is to make some poetry submissions to literary journals that close for submissions on Dec. 31.  That won't take long--I don't want to spend much in submission fees, so there aren't many journals left that take submissions without a fee or for the same amount that postage and printing would take.  I'll do some laundry.  I'll do some writing.  I'll turn some turkey bones into soup.

It will be the perfect day!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Mid-December Snippets

I am more tired than I expected to be this morning.  But let me record a few snippets here and there, just so that I don't lose them:

--We are under a winter weather advisory tonight into tomorrow.  Even if it's not icy, it will be rainy.  So I decided that today should be a day of multiple walks, longer walks if possible.  I went out this morning before dawn--all the better to see some Christmas lights.  Magical!  I did have to wear my down jacket for the first time, and it worked beautifully.  I also wore the hat and scarf that a Create in Me retreat friend sent me--perfect!

--I finished reading Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Tower last night.  It wasn't nearly as compelling as it was when I first read it in high school.  I found it in a little free library back in October, and I was so happy to find it.  I do feel a bit of sorrow that I didn't love it as much as I remember.  I have revisited it before and liked it.  I'm not sure what changed this time.

--I turned in my research paper for Pastoral Care and Counseling class yesterday afternoon.  It was over 15 pages and full of scholarly citations.  It seems to do what the assignment asks.   But I find this professor difficult to anticipate in terms of what he says he wants and what gets rewarded.  He said that he expected graduate level work, which meant we needed to go beyond the books for the class, that we needed to demonstrate that we had done research.  So, I did the old-fashioned kind, in the library with books written on paper, and the 21st century kind, getting books and journal articles electronically.  I have used the research to support what I'm saying, not to supplant what I'm saying.  Fingers crossed--I have checked and doublechecked and revised and tinkered, and the paper is as good as I can make it.

--Most of my work for the Fall 2022 term in seminary is done.  All that's left is to go to Creative Process, Spiritual Practice class tomorrow to present my creative project (quilt squares--more to come!) and to complete my Church History I final.  The final exam is in two parts, a multiple choice test on facts and an essay.  We can take them separately, and we have until 11:59 p.m. on Saturday to finish.  Our professor told us not to wait until the very last minute, because the test will close on us.  I can't imagine waiting until late at night on Saturday to start the test.  But it's good to be warned.

--Meanwhile, back at our house in the mountains of North Carolina, the HVAC install is going well, and I am so relieved.  My spouse can't make much more progress on renovations until that project is done.

--We got an announcement that there were leftovers of Italian food served Sunday night at the Faculty dinner, and we were welcome to have some.  Worrying that I was already too late, I took my containers and went right over.  There was still so much food.  I will go back today with a freezer bag or two and get some more pasta that I can stash in my freezer.  I hate the thought of all that food being tossed, but I don't want to take all of it--that's how much is left over.

--I should mention national news, the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act that will protect same-sex marriage and marriages between people of different races.  As I type those words, I find myself wondering if I'm using the right/correct/preferred language.  I've been mildly aware of the World Cup, but couldn't tell you much about it.  It reminds me of a long ago World Cup at the art school where I taught, where the IT folks begged us not to watch on our individual computers, since we didn't have enough bandwidth to do that much streaming.  They set up a computer lab for everyone to watch together.  Now, of course, many people would watch on their phones and tablets.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Season's Enchantments: Santa Lucia and Small Stoves Snippets

Today is the feast day of Santa Lucia; for more on the spiritual aspect of this holiday, see this post on my theology blog.

Today I am making the bread that I started making in 1980.  Bon Appetit ran a cover story on holiday breads, and Santa Lucia bread was the first one that I tried.  My mom and I went shopping for saffron, which was $16 for a few strands.  Shocking!  So I made it with alternate spices.  If you want to bake the bread, I created a blog post that takes you through it step by step.

I am making this bread in the smallest oven I've ever used, and I've had some small stoves in my living spaces.  I may be baking bread all morning, since I can't fit multiple loaves in the oven.  But it's a great morning for that.  It's chilly, so I don't mind having the oven on all morning.

I thought I would need the whole morning to work on my research paper for my Pastoral Care and Counseling class.  But I read it this morning, and frankly, I'm not sure there's much I can do to make it better.  Hurrah!  Yesterday I discovered that a whole section I wrote on Sunday was missing, but happily I was able to rewrite it easily.  Still, once again it makes me distrust the computer.  Grr.

I still have lots of grading to do, but I was also able to get some of that done yesterday.  I'll just keep plugging away.  I have time.

It's strange to think how close I am to the end:  the end of my term as a seminary student, the end of my semester teaching online classes, the end of the year.  And yet, I'm not there yet.

Long ago I shed the parts of the holiday season that make it most stressful.  I do only the decorating and the baking that I want to do.  We don't do much in the way of gifts anymore.  So far, I can manage the holiday grief that sometimes comes when I think about people who are no longer with us, the past holidays that I miss, the children (including me) who have grown up.

So in some ways, my Christmas is a bit more minimalist this year.  I decided not to put the ornaments out.  I won't bake cookies, particularly not the ones that need to be rolled out and cut into holiday shapes.

This year, though, there are some elements I haven't had in past years.  It's chilly, downright cold!  I know that I may get tired of cold weather in months to come, but right now, I love it.  I love walking through the beautiful neighborhoods around the seminary, enjoying the decorations both in the daylight and in the dark, when the lights shine.  Yesterday I went to see the therapy dogs; the seminary brings them to campus several times at the end of a term to offer some self-care and stress relief.  I wasn't feeling the same stress that the end of the term sometimes triggers, but it was delightful anyway.

Sunday, while I waited for my sister to come for the Zoolights trip we had planned, I made this Facebook post:  "Someone in an apartment above me is singing "Jingle Bells," either to a child in the apartment or to a child on a Zoom call. I know because it's being sung in that slow way that you sing to a child who has never learned the song (yet). I am enchanted."

I continue to be enchanted with my seminary life, small stove and all.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Zoo Lights

Yesterday I had a day of blistering productivity.  I graded and graded and graded.  I got a rough draft of my paper for Pastoral Care and Counseling done, plus I put sticky notes in books for quotes to add to the paper.  I got my apartment straightened, cleaned, and vacuumed.  I finished my paper for Leading Innovation class and turned it in.  And that was all in the morning.

I had a good video conversation with my spouse at 2, and then my sister came over.  We had plans to go to a very early dinner and then head over to the National Zoo to see the Zoo Lights extravaganza.  And that's exactly what we did.

All week, I hadn't been sure we would actually be able to go to the Zoo.  I hadn't been able to get the free passes that we needed to have, but we snagged 2 on Saturday.  I had thought it might be rainy--it wasn't.  We had no trouble navigating the Metro and the city streets (thank goodness for signs that pointed us to the Zoo).

I knew that we wouldn't be able to go inside the animal buildings, but I did think we might see some of the animals.  Nope--it was strictly a fun lights event, which was fine.  As you might expect, there were lots of lights in the shape of animals, along with lights strung from trees and along the buildings.

An unexpected delight was the carousel.  My sister asked me if we should ride it, and my first thought was no, and then I thought, "Why not?"  So we paid our $4 per ticket and waited in line, a short wait.  My sister wanted to be on the zebra, which is her favorite animal, so that's what we did.

I had trouble capturing us on camera.  Once I had clambered up on my animal, I didn't want to get off of it to take the pictures.  So my pictures are imperfect, and yet they will suffice:

The carousel was more fun than I expected--just a delight.  I love this picture:

Then we hiked back to the Metro and then we hiked back to the seminary.  By the end of the night, we had walked over 5 miles, and often at a brisk pace, because it was cold and because my sister is a fast walker.

I didn't sleep well, because my hips, legs, and feet ached so much through the night.  I should have taken some ibuprofen before bed.

Hopefully I can still harness some of yesterday's energy today.  I still have lots of grading to be done before grades are due on Thursday, along with my paper that's due tomorrow.  Happily, I don't have classes today or tomorrow, so even if I don't have yesterday's blazing productivity, I should be OK.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Video Sermon on Isaiah 2: 1-5

About a month ago, my pastor from my South Florida church asked me if I wanted to do an Advent sermon; it would be recorded, of course, because making a trip to South Florida isn't feasible in these days of the end of the semester.  At first I said no, but then I realized I was creating a sermon from the Advent lectionary (on Isaiah 2:  1-5) for my Foundations of Preaching class--so I proposed that I deliver that sermon, only a bit later than it comes in the lectionary.  My pastor said yes.

I had in mind that I would read at my laptop, recording, and that would be that.  But as I worked on the sermon for class, a theme emerged.  The sermon went from leaves in their full autumnal glory

to leaves slick and slimy on the sidewalks

to birds' nests visible in trees with no leaves.

I thought about the types of sermons I used to create, me speaking over images.  I had a bit of extra time yesterday, and I thought it wouldn't take that much more time to create a sermon with images to enrich the words.

What I didn't count on is that the Windows Video Editor has changed, so it took me awhile to make the sermon.  Then I thought of some changes I wanted to make, so I made a second draft. I could keep making draft after draft, but it was time to be finished.  I have other work to do as the semester keeps marching towards the end.

If you would like to experience my work, which will take less than 8 minutes of your time, you can go to my You Tube channel and watch my sermon on Isaiah 2:  1-5.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Church History Timeline Project

I have a variety of assignments due as the seminary semester comes to a close.  Some are expected, like having to preach a sermon for Foundations of Preaching or create a final creative project for my Religion and the Arts class.  I have a few papers due, standard grad school stuff for me.

One of the final projects for Church History class, the timeline project, has made me consider all of the course materials, all of the information, the whole term from first one angle, and then another.  It's a wonderful assignment, so I want to record it here, so I don't forget it:

a.   From readings, lectures, and class discussion, select a total of 10 items that you think are important to include, in each of the three categories: a) people, b) movements, and c) events.  These 30 (total) items should be divided evenly between 500-year periods: 10 from AD 50-500, 10 from AD 500-1000, and 10 from AD 1000-1500.  Place all 30 events on your timeline.
b.   Attach an annotated list of items organized in categories a), b), and c) above.  Next to each item, identify the item in 1-2 sentences and include its date(s).
c.   Select the 5 most important items on your timeline and write ½ to 1 page for each item, explaining its significance and relationship to the whole sweep of the church in history.
Note that there are three distinct parts to this assignment: (a) the graphical presentation; (b) the annotated list of 30 items; (c) the “Top 5” items you have chosen, with ½ to 1 page for each.

Back to me.  I made my first 30 choices, and then I set out to be sure I had chosen the "correct" 30, even though I know that there's not a correct list.  I could justify the 30 that I chose.  But of course, I could make 30 different choices and justify them.  And after that, I could make 30 new choices, complete with justifications.

Finally, I've decided to just go with the 30 choices that make the most sense to me.  Because of our Discussion posts, I know that my classmates will make different choices.  It's been good to read them and to have a glimpse into the reasons why people might be upset over this heresy or that conflict, even as I don't feel the same stir of emotion.

The whole project is due at 11:59 p.m. today, so let me get back to it.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Falling in Love with a Tree

You may or may not remember that one of the sessions for my Religion and the Arts class involved a time of sketching outside (for more, see this blog post).  I spent an hour sitting in the same spot sketching the same tree.  

I've felt a fondness for that tree and kept an eye on it as I made my way to chapel or to class.  I had wondered if the tree's leaves would change colors since it didn't change colors for weeks and weeks. After the other trees had lost their leaves, and it still hadn't changed much, I began to think it might be some sort of evergreen.

But after Thanksgiving, it had changed:

I need to do some research on this tree.  I don't know what kind of tree it is.  I haven't returned to sketch it again.  It's been cold and rainy.

I love this shot of the tree outside and the Christmas tree inside:

Here's the Christmas tree by itself:

And here's a close up shot of the leaves on the outside tree:

I do feel more of a fondness for this tree because I spent an hour in September sketching it.  It makes me think we should spend more time sketching.  Would we feel more of a bond with the planet?  Would we work harder to save the natural world if we had spent time sketching every week?

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Benediction from a Professor

Yesterday was the last day of my Tuesday classes.  I realize I say this often, but how can it be December already?  I have been trying to be observant of the passage of each day so that I don't lose a moment, so that I appreciate every scrap of time that I'm here, a seminarian, which in a way is existing out of the regular rhythms that most 57 year olds experience.

But yesterday was indeed the last day of Tuesday classes.  It seems like just yesterday that I came into the classroom, the first in-person class of my first week of Fall 2022 term, just yesterday that I was grateful for the air conditioning during a DC heat wave in late August.  I watched my professor wrestle with the technology, and I thought, OK, it's not just me who has trouble with the classroom technology--different campus, same struggles.

My professor soon captured my imagination, and that class, Foundations of Preaching, has never let me down.  I'm always happy to have attended; I always leave enriched.  Last night was no exception.

Last night concluded our second round of sermons.  I feel like we've really come into our own, or as our professor says, "You've all found your preaching voice."  One of my classmates preached her first sermon in English just six weeks ago.  Last night, you would never have known she was so new to preaching in English, as she preached again.

Our professor had some final words, and then she said, "I wasn't going to say this, but it came to the surface, so here it is:  God did not make a mistake in inviting you to do this work."  I started writing down her words, and she repeated them.  I let my tears well up and spill over as she said, "You are not here by mistake."  I was not the only one--many of us wiped our eyes.

She had advice for us as we fulfill our call.  She said that one of the most prophetic things we can do is to tell our people that God loves them just as they are.  She said that we might be surprised how many people have never heard that God loves them.  She concluded class by saying, "Never miss an opportunity to tell them" (her emphasis).

I left the class feeling blessed in all sorts of ways.  I felt like I had gotten a specific benediction and a blessing, a laying on of hands without the actual laying on of hands.  But I've also been blessed in other ways.  Our professor has a wealth of experience and expertise, and I feel blessed (in the sense of lucky) to have been in her presence for a semester.

And the wealth will continue.  Next semester I will take her Women and Preaching class, an upper level class.  I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Feast Day of Saint Nicholas

It is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, and I don't have much to offer in terms of my own decorations.  I do have a new picture:

I am not sure if these blow up creatures are supposed to go together.  Is there some new movie I don't know about?  Lyle, Lyle Crocodile Saves Christmas?  Is that Lyle the Crocodile?  Clearly the other character is Santa, the character derived from Saint Nicholas.

It's always a bit of a surprise to realize that Saint Nicholas was a real person. But indeed he was. In the fourth century, he lived in Myra, then part of Greece, now part of Turkey; eventually, he became Bishop of Myra. He became known for his habit of gift giving and miracle working, although it's hard to know what really happened and what's become folklore. Some of his gift giving is minor, like leaving coins in shoes that were left out for him. Some were more major, like resurrecting three boys killed by a butcher.

My favorite story is the one of the poor man with three children who had no dowry for them. No dowry meant no marriage, and so, they were going to have to become prostitutes. In the dead of night, Nicholas threw a bag of gold into the house. Some legends have that he left a bag of gold for each daughter that night, while some say that he gave the gold on successive nights, while some say that he gave the gold as each girl came to marrying age.

Through the centuries, the image of Saint Nicholas has morphed into Santa Claus, but as with many modern customs, one doesn't have to dig far to find the ancient root.  I don't have many Santa Claus ornaments or decorations, but I do collect favorite pictures.  Here's one my grad school friend posted years ago to her Facebook page:

I love the ecumenical nature of this picture of Santa: Santa statues coexisting peacefully with Buddha statues. And then I thought, how perfect for the Feast Day of St. Nicholas!

More recently, a new favorite Saint Nicholas image, courtesy of my cousin's wife:

In this image, Santa communicates by way of American Sign Language. As I looked at the background of the photo, I realized Santa sits in a school--the sign on the bulletin board announces free breakfast and lunch.

The photo seems both modern and ancient to me: a saint who can communicate in the language we will hear, the promise that the hungry will be filled.

In our time, when ancient customs seem in danger of being taken over by consumerist frenzy, let us pause for a moment to reflect on gifts of all kinds. Let us remember those who don't have the money that gifts so often require. Let us invite the gifts of communication and generosity into our lives.

Monday, December 5, 2022

A Perfect Week-end at the End of the Term

I have had a good week-end, particularly considering the amount of work that must be done in the next 13 days.  Let me try to capture some of the moments:

--I walked to Wegmans, the closest grocery store to me.  I actually did this twice, because I realized that I needed vegetables (Friday's trip) to go with the last of the Thanksgiving turkey, and then I realized I needed some lotion and that I could get it at Wegmans as easily/cheaply as at the least well-stocked Target in North America.  So it's been a week-end of treats, like baguettes and cheese and wine, as well as more nutritious food.

--My spouse and I had good conversations, by way of video chat, and we played Yahtzee (we both have sets of dice).  We also watched birds on the deck of our North Carolina house together.  Bird watching is bringing us joy.  It's not the only element bringing us joy, but it has been unexpected.  I thought all the birds would have migrated by now, and I'm realizing how little I really know about the migratory patterns of birds.

--I've gotten some of my writing done, along with lots of thinking about what I plan to write.  I also got some books for one of my papers.  

--I pulled out my quilt, not the small piecing, but the big quilt that I assembled at the quilt retreat:

I got so much quilting done.  I needed to watch the second season of Fleabag to make sure that I could support what I planned to write about in my paper for Pastoral Care and Counseling in Context class.

--In addition to my walks to Wegmans, I took neighborhood walks and delighted in the holiday decorations, particularly in my evening walk last night.

--I have also delighted in my own holiday decorations--all sorts of lights drape my living room window.

--I went to bed early, at 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday night, and I slept and slept and slept.  I was a bit concerned that I might be setting up an unsustainable pattern--I can't go to be every night at 7, can I?  So last night, I timed my last walk of the day for a bit later.

--I watched much of the movie Scrooged last night, which I remember liking when I saw it at the theatre when it was released decades ago, but it left me somewhat underwhelmed last night.  Happily, I could just turn it off and go to bed, closer to 9 than 7.  And I had an interesting private message exchange with a grad school friend about the film as I watched it in real time--almost as good as seeing a movie with a friend in person.

Over the next few days, I need to get actual words into documents; happily, I still have time.  I know what I want to write, which can be half the battle.  But writing does take time, so I need to factor that in.  I also have grading to do, even though grades aren't due for my online classes until next week.

But first, let me take a walk so that I can get my thoughts in order and structure my day.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Ahead, Behind, Semesters Coming to a Close

I am having one of those mornings where I thought, wait, I was ahead of my various schedules--why do I suddenly feel behind?  In part, it's because it's Sunday, and as with many Sundays, I haven't gotten as much done as I had planned.  I still have time--just not as much time as I had a week ago, two weeks ago.  One of my online classes ended yesterday, and while I have time to get grades turned in, it's a reminder of time passing, endings in view.

So, I did what I have trained myself to do:  I graded 2 batches of student papers, the shorter ones.  And now I feel a bit more at ease.

And I'm reminding myself that I've done some work, even if I haven't started the actual writing yet.  I've gotten the books from the library and downloaded the periodical articles.  I have to create a timeline for Church History I class with 30 people, events, movements, evenly divided over the 1500 years we've studied (10 from years 1-500, 10 from years 500-1000, and 10 from years 1000-1500), so I've made some lists and done a lot of thinking--and this work helps me study for the final exam.  I've preached my final sermon and have a small piece of writing to do.  I have several papers to write, and I know what I plan to say.

It's also good to remember that I only have this work to do--the weekly work of getting ready for the classes where I am a student is behind me.  While I still have a few classes to attend, I've already done the work, the weekly readings and the writings.

For the paper for my Pastoral Care and Counseling class, I'm writing on Fleabag, which means I should re-watch season 2, the focus for my paper.  I'm in the mood to do some quilting on my big quilt.  Happily, I can quilt and re-watch--and still make it to church!

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Annunciation in Fabric

On Thursday, we had our last working/creative day in Creative Process, Spiritual Practice class.  It was supposed to be fabric day, and it was.  We had material:  felt, tulle, satin, and canvas, along with black t-shirts.  We had twine and rope, both in natural color and blue, green, and deep purple.  We had two sewing kits, massive sewing kits with tools and thread spools in every shade.  We had scissors and hot glue guns and paint.

It was interesting to see what people did with the materials.  One classmate started embroidering with the thread.  One stretched out a length of canvas, plugged in a hot glue gun, and started affixing twine to it.  One stared at the materials, waiting for inspiration.  One took the paint and spread it on her hand, which she then used to make hand prints on canvas.

I took a selection of fabrics and twines, along with a pair of scissors.  I thought I would make the kind of fabric art I used to make, something with layers and the tulle spread over it.  But I didn't like the way it looked.  I cut shapes out of felt in two colors of blue and arranged them on the pink.  I sewed them all together, but the sewing was only to keep them in place, not to preserve them for history.  

Here's what I ended with:

Annunciation, Month 3

When I first started, I had a vision of rivers, but that quickly became a descending dove kind of feel.  But something about the shapes and the Advent time we're in made me think of the Virgin Mary, of pregnancy, of Jesus as a fetus.  So, if it's important to know what the artist thought she was creating, that tulle-wrapped blob at the bottom is baby Jesus in utero.

The blue shapes to me represent Mary, mother of Jesus, partway through her answer of yes, the agreeing to be part of God's plan in the invitation that the angel Gabriel conveys.  I like the shapes, the way they have an energy, the way they suggest both power and a drawing in conservation of that power.

I have really enjoyed this class, and part of me is sorry to see it come to an end.  I've enjoyed all the exploring we've done, and the books we've discussed.  I am so looking forward to the next class that I'm taking with this teacher, Chapel Visuals--that anticipation makes it easier to say goodbye to this class as the semester comes to an end.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Second Sermon for an Academic Grade

Before we get too far away from the event, I want to remember the very good experience I had giving my sermon on Tuesday night.  It was strange to go to that class after the Zoom meeting with the president where I learned that my seminary housing is likely to be bulldozed sooner rather than later.

Tuesday night, I gave my second and last sermon for my Foundations of Preaching class.  For our first sermon, we had a choice between several of the New Testament lessons that were upcoming in the Revised Common Lectionary.  For our second sermon, we had a choice between the Hebrew Bible lessons from the upcoming Revised Common Lectionary.  Each possibility allowed for only 4-5 students to choose it.

For the New Testament choices, my top choices had already been taken.  In some ways, that was great, because I approached the text without ever having spent much time with it.  For this next/last sermon, I felt overwhelmed by the choices; I liked them all similarly.  I chose Isaiah 2:  1-5, the passage about beating swords into ploughshares.

I enjoyed the exegetical work, once I knuckled down and did the work.  For each sermon, I feel I had a richer sermon, in part because of the exegetical work, in part because we had a strict time limit.  For the first sermon, we couldn't go over 7 minutes, and for the second sermon, we had 10 minutes as our max.  Having that time limit meant that we focused on what was essential.

I also gave a sermon from a written manuscript, which I wrote about in an earlier post.  I had never done that before, and I am willing to admit it makes for a better experience for me as the sermon giver--which probably means it's a better experience for the listener.

Last night, I felt calm and prepared; I volunteered to go first.  Note to self:  in the future, always volunteer to go first.  Because I have no printer and can't seem to master the way we print on this campus (there's an app that I can't get to work), my manuscript was a bit scribbled on, and I did get tripped up in one place.  I was happy that I was able to think on my feet and reassemble the sentence into something that made sense.  I don't think that anyone listening realized I made a goof.

As I walked back to my seat, my teacher said, "Kristin sounds like a prophet, doesn't she?"  I assure you, that comment was a compliment.  Later, she said that I had a perfect use of illustration.  Perfect!  This teacher does not hand out praise as if it's cheap candy.  I wrote down her comments, and I'm preserving them here.

At the end of class, our professor talked about what a good job we had all done, how we had set the bar high.  Hurrah!

I am so grateful for this class.  While I may not have time to do this kind of exegesis for each sermon, I am grateful to have had this experience.  Much like a creative writing class, I've learned techniques that will come in handy in a variety of ways.  These are techniques that I likely wouldn't have bothered to teach myself. 

I am also grateful for the example of my professor who has a wealth of information to share with us, who is so generous--and who demands that we do increasingly better.  She takes her obligation seriously, to make better preachers who will continue the important preaching work that she has done her whole life.

I'll be making a recording of the sermon for my home church in South Florida, and I'll post it to my YouTube channel in a week or so.