Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Feast Day of the Visitation and the Reminder that So Much More Is Possible

Today is the Feast Day of the Visitation, the feast day that celebrates Mary, pregnant with Jesus, going to be with Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist.  We could celebrate this feast day in any number of ways:  we could celebrate intergenerational support for each other, the ways that God doesn't abandon women who are on the margins of society, the ways that improbable situations can be harnessed for hope, and the hospitality that is evident on so many levels (the wombs of the women, Elizabeth welcoming Elizabeth).

The story in Luke leaves questions, of course.  Did Mary travel alone?  How did she stay safe?  What did Mary and Elizabeth talk about in the month (months?) that she was there?  Why did she leave before Elizabeth gave birth?  What did Joseph think about all of this?  Was Joseph even part of this narrative?

We get more of Joseph's perspective in the gospel of Matthew.  What I love about this feast day, however, is that it's focused on the women.  We don't have much celebration of women in the Christian tradition.  We should hold on to what's here, in addition to looking for ways to add more women to our celebrations.

I love this story because it reminds us that God doesn't choose those who are already ready and waiting for the call.  Imagine how many lives could have been changed if the earliest Church had emphasized this aspect of a call, this being worthy in God’s eyes even if one is not worthy in the world’s eyes. Imagine if we had centuries of the message that God loves us before we’ve done anything special at all, and even if we never live into our full potential in the eye’s of our society, God will see our value. 

Imagine if the church had given emphasis to Elizabeth, along with Mary.  I love the message that we're not too old, that our hopes and dreams might be answered after all.  We're not cast away if we're not a young woman, like Mary, with years ahead of her to be of service to God.  The definition of fertility enlarges.  

On Sunday, we heard that God doesn't call the equipped, but God equips those that God calls.  There's a bit of troubling theology here.  I believe we're all called, over and over again, a wide variety of calls.  God offers us invitations, and even if we say no, God will return with more invitations.  And when we say yes, God has resources, even if we don't.  We might even discover that we have all that we need.  God may not need to equip us at all.  Our weaknesses might turn out to be strengths.

It's a great day to celebrate those possibilities.  And even if we've been feeling like our time is passed, that it's too late for us, it's great to remember that God doesn't see us that way.  If we feel like we're too inexperienced, that we don't know what we're doing, it's great to remember that God doesn't see us that way.

It's great to remember Elizabeth's blessing:  "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill the Lord's promises to her!” (Luke 1:  45, NIV, gendered language corrected).  Elizabeth gave Mary this blessing, but I believe it extends to us all, if we're open to the idea that with God and community, so much more can be possible than if we rely on our solitary selves.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Camp Counselors, the Young and the Old

On this past Sunday of interesting juxtapositions, our regular church service was a celebration of Pentecost and a blessing of/introduction to counselors from the nearby camp, Lutheridge, where I have a house in the residential section.  

The church sanctuary was full, even fuller than it had been the week before, when we celebrated 60 years of the church's existence.  Part of that was the presence of all of the counselors, about 60 in all.  Some of the people at church seemed to be visiting--it is a holiday week-end, after all, the 3 day week-end kind of holiday.

Some of us in the congregation had worked at Lutheridge, and many of us have supported Lutheridge in a number of ways.  Given that, I was surprised by how many people in attendance on Sunday hadn't been involved with Lutheridge, even though the entrance to the camp is less than a mile than the entrance to the church.  Not for the first time have I thought about how all the various types of church work live in siloes that never interact and how sad that is, how those siloes never communicate except for asking for money.  Sigh.

But today, let me not unpack that idea further.  No, today, let me celebrate these camp counselors.  I am awed that there are still people who make the decision to spend a summer at camp, living in such very different circumstances than their peers (eating camp food, sleeping in tents, hiking all day, going up and down and up and down the hill, working/living with children).  When I was young, my dream was to work at Lutheridge--back then, there weren't enough counselor spots for all the people who had those dreams.  Now the situation is different.

I found a counselor job at a Girl Scout camp, Camp Congaree, which gave me similar but different opportunities.  I got to be a backpacking counselor.  I spent the summer with mostly women and girls, which is a kind of community that works for me, although I didn't realize it then in the way that I do now--and to be fair, we weren't living in that community in the best ways that we could, not living it in the ways I idealize now.  

Maybe no community is living its best self--that's probably the lesson I should remember from all of my years of studying and creating intentional community.

But camp counselors have a head start, in that they're a self-selected group.  And the group that we blessed on Sunday has an additional motive--they're here at Lutheridge to help with the spiritual formation of children, in addition to all the other kinds of formation that they will do.

They look so young to me, and yet, at the same time, in my head, I'm closer to their age than my own.  In real life, I am the same age as their parents, many of whom were also camp counselors.  Those camp counselors are just starting life as adult selves (adult-ish?).  I am having a hard time believing I am as old as I am, but I am much closer to my senior years than my childhood years.  Time in my head wrinkles and crunches and has a few rips here and there.

This summer, I will do more at summer camp than attend a week as an adult or a camper.  I'll deliver mail, lead middle schoolers in a week of Bible study, and perhaps assist in the camp store.  It's going to be an interesting summer, a mix of a seminary class that I'm taking, online classes that I'm teaching, and camp life.  It will be the first summer where I won't be suffocating in the intense heat.  Hopefully, it will be the first of many magnificent mountain summers.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Memorial Day Gratitudes

This morning, I'm thinking about sacrifice, as Memorial Day prompts us to do.  I'm thinking about what we might feel is worth the sacrificing of our own lives.  Would anyone die for their country these days?  Clearly Ukrainians do--and it makes sense, because Putin is untrustworthy.  You could sign a treaty and find yourself needing to fight again sooner rather than later.

This Memorial Day comes after weeks of fighting over a debt ceiling and getting insight into the unethical behavior of Supreme Court justices, which leads me to see all branches of government as deeply dysfunctional.  The upcoming presidential race fills me with dread and leaves me wondering how it all came to this.

And yet, I also have hope for the future.  The U.S. has so much wealth and so much potential and some of the ideals the nation has embraced are still valid and needed.

I spent part of last week with my parents who are living in a CCRC open only to people with military or public sector experience.  It's interesting to listen to conversations, to see retired people talk about who they served with in Vietnam, to think about how long ago that war was.  It's interesting to think about people who are younger than 30--do they know veterans?  When they think about Memorial Day, what comes up for them?

This morning, I am grateful for all who have made any kind of sacrifice to get us to a better world to inhabit.  There is still much work to be done.  There are still looming threats.  But it's a good day for gratitude, for people who have been willing to do what must be done, for those who have done their part in preserving freedoms that we currently enjoy, and for those who thought they were honoring their country, even when their sacrifice seems futile or worse (idiotic or delusional) to future generations.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day: 

God of comfort, on this Memorial Day, we remember those souls whom we have lost to war. We pray for those who mourn. We pray for military members who have died and been forgotten. We pray for all those sites where human blood has soaked the soil. God of Peace, on this Memorial Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this Memorial Day, we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Chilly, Rainy Pentecost

 I was trying to remember why I don't have Pentecost memories from last year--last year, I was at Synod Assembly.  Three years ago, we worshipped from a distance, and I contributed this Pentecost sermon by way of video; it's still one of my favorite videos that I've created.

Today I'll go to my North Carolina church for Sunday worship for the last time for 9 months.  A week from now, I'll be in transit to the Bristol Tennessee church where I'll be serving for 9 months, and my main job duty will be Sunday worship.

Today, in addition to Pentecost, we'll bless the camp counselors for Lutheridge.  Campers arrive a week from tomorrow.  Counselors have already been here, some of them for two weeks.  On Wednesday, the residential community and the counselors will have a picnic at the lake in the evening.  

It's going to be an interesting season, both the season of summer and the season of house reconstruction.  It also feels like I'm entering a different season in seminary terms:  more hands-on work, with an internship, more work from a distance, a time when I start to apply some of what I've learned.

My time to write this morning comes to a close.  I've gone for a walk in the early morning rain marveling at the late May chill.  A gallon of sweet iced tea steeps for later refreshment.  Let meput on my red and black clothes and get ready for a different kind of Pentecost service.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Timelines and Poems

I have always heard the conventional wisdom that when one's writer self feels uninspired, one should read poems, and/or return to the writing that made one want to be a writer.  That wisdom can work for me, but it runs the risk that I'll feel even worse about my own failures to launch.

Happily, this week I had the best kind of inspiration.  On Sunday, I read all of Jeannine Hall Gailey's Flare, Corona straight through, instead of a poem here and there, the way I read the book before I had time to consume it in one gulp.  My brain returned to the poem "This Is the Darkest Timeline" (you can read it here, and you can hear Jeannine Hall Gailey read it here).

She includes an explanatory note in the book:  "'This is the Darkest Timeline' refers to a common phrase in comic books and pop culture in which any multiverses and string theory result in one timeline that is the best and one that is the worst" (p. 101).

That comment, too, inspired me.  And so, this week, I wrote this poem, which might be finished, or it might need a last stanza to tie everything together.  I do realize I tend to overexplain in my creative writing.  So I am still letting it all percolate.

In the meantime, here is a draft for your reading enjoyment (and let me specify that while parts of the poem are true--we did install new windows that face the road, and we did get gifts of tomatoes--I do not know which herbs heal and which kill, only which herbs make food taste better, which doesn't have much dramatic impact in an apocalyptic poem).

In the darkest timeline, I am the one
with the house in the woods, the one
who knows which herbs heal and which ones kill,
and I grow both.

In a less dark timeline, you put windows
in the wall that faces the road.
You don’t anticipate the need
to keep the presence of our visitors secret.

In the brightest timeline, we escape
the lowlands, the house in a flood zone.
Neighbors bring us tomatoes to welcome
us to the area, tomatoes grown in their yards.

Friday, May 26, 2023

The American Popular Song

Last night, my mom and dad took me to the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra--what a treat!  They have season tickets, and I happened to be visiting during the time of the last concert of the season, so they got me a ticket, even though it meant they had to shift seats.  Luckily, it wasn't a huge shift, since it was from one side of the balcony to the other.  I'd have felt bad if they had to give up front row seats for me.

Michael Butterman, the conductor/music director, put together works that went together exceptionally well from composers Alberto Ginastera, Maurice Ravel, Aaron Copland, and George Gershwin.  The Ginastera and Copland pieces were from dances, with four pieces each.  The Gershwin piece was "Rhapsody in Blue," which I'm guessing is a popular choice this year, as the piece approaches its 100th birthday.  It's a piece that is so popular that some have called it the most famous piece of classical music ever (see this episode of the 1A show for more information on the piece and the composer).

Much of it is familiar, in part because it's used in advertising, from airlines to beef (one of the Copland pieces was "Hoe-Down" which made me think of the "It's what's for dinner" campaign, which always made my mouth water, even when I was a vegetarian).  I also realize that this kind of program is aimed at people like me, people who grew up hearing classical music from a variety of sources, from my parents' collection, in church, and the background music of TV shows (cheaper than hiring a team to write original music).  The house was packed in part because it was the last offering of the season, but in part because people like me have heard of these composers (except for Ginastera perhaps) and knew that we'd have an enjoyable evening.

As if to prove my point, when the guest pianist Jon Nakamatsu came out to play an encore, he played "The Entertainer" from the 1970's movie The Sting.  Almost everyone in the audience was old enough to recognize it, and there was a laugh as he began.  As he played, I remembered learning the piece in elementary school, where we would have contests to see who could play it faster.  When we did that at church, we got some strange looks for playing such secular music on church pianos or perhaps it's because we played it at such breakneck speed to show off.

It was a marvelous evening, full of great music and interesting instruments, in a space small enough to see what was happening on the stage, but modern enough to have great acoustics.  It was also the day after Tina Turner died, and it was interesting to read retrospectives and tributes on the same day that we went to the symphony, interesting to think about the American popular song, how we've expanded the idea of American and song and popular, interesting to think about what makes good music accessible to a wide variety of people.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

A Walk on the Virginia Capital Trail

Yesterday, my dad and I went out for a walk.  On the face of it, it's not a remarkable statement:  my dad and I have exercised together through the years, usually with a walk or a run, and we're both able to move right now, to walk but not run (I have arthritic feet, and he has an Achilles heel injury that persists and persists).  The weather was beautiful, somewhat rare for late May in Virginia in a time of global climate change:  warm but not too hot, not humid at all, a slight breeze. 

We went to the Virginia Capital Trail that runs right outside of their house.  We could have walked all the way from to Richmond, if we had energy enough and time.  Instead, we walked a few miles towards Jamestown and then back.  We shared the road with bicycles and a few other walkers.  The paved trail was wide enough for us all.

I can imagine that if a Saturday had gorgeous weather, the trail might get crowded, but it's a trail for everyone, regardless of the speed they're going, the people and pets with them, the types of vehicles they might use (bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, etc.).

It covers 55 miles, so it goes through various municipalities.  I asked my dad if all the various governments support the trail, and he said yes.  As we walked, debt ceiling negotiations raged (or were they stalled) in D.C., not very far to our north.  We seem to be in an age where many people go into government not to make the world better, not to make government more efficient, but to make government come to a crashing halt.

There's also a lot of citizen support for the trail, people who volunteer to keep an eye on parts of the trail, people who show up to clean up parts of the trail.  It runs along a state road, 5, and I was surprised by the lack of litter.  Some of that is the volunteer force, but some of it might be because State Route 5 doesn't have much development beside it--no fast food places to give people food wrapped in future trash.

I know this, because I traveled on State Route 5 on Tuesday, and I saw the trail that ran beside it, back before I knew that the trail had a name and an infrastructure.  That afternoon, too, was beautiful, and I was not surprised to see lots of bicycles.

We stopped along the way to look at fallen trees, to look at a creek where a turtle sunned, to look at my dad's health statistics on his smart watch.  We walked at a decent pace but not enough to leave us breathless or aching.

 Part of the joy of yesterday's walk was knowing that we won't always have these near-perfect conditions, both in our bodies and in our surroundings.  Part of the joy was in the visible reminder that people can come together to create and protect a beautiful thing like a trail or a bridge.  Part of the joy was realizing that although the world is changing, and will always change, we might be able to muddle through.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

A Different Destination from a Different Direction

In some ways, it was a typical week, although this kind of week won't be typical much longer; yesterday I had a long car trip (by long, I mean over 4 hours).  It was a long car trip, but it was to a different destination from a different direction.

Yesterday I left our Lutheridge house to drive to Williamsburg, Virginia to spend some time with my parents before my summer schedule intensifies.  I wrote out the directions on a sticky note, which I stuck to my phone.  I am not one of those people who trusts that I will always be able to access GPS, and I've gotten lost enough times by relying on my memory of the directions I had read a few days ago to know that I must write out the directions in full enough sentences that they won't be confused for a grocery list/beginning of a poem.

I drove the parts of I 40 going east, the parts that I've only traveled twice before, once as a high school student going from Knoxville to do a college visit at Lenoir-Rhyne and once traveling with one of my best high school friends, going from Raleigh back to Knoxville for our 20 year high school reunion).  Then I got on I 85, an interstate I traveled back in college when I went from Newberry, South Carolina to my parents' house in northern Virginia.

I was surprised by the lack of development in this area which seems like it should be a major travel corridor as we go from North Carolina to Virginia.  Instead, I traveled through dappled forests, half expecting to see a soldier from a past century emerge from the shadows.

I took back roads to Williamsburg, a route which seemed so underdeveloped that I pulled over and plugged the address into my phone and let Google Maps direct me through the exact same directions in handwriting on the note stuck to my phone.  As I approached the James River, I thought, am I taking the route that will have me take a ferry?  Happily, there was a drawbridge, small by modern measurements, but sturdy.

On the way back, I'll enjoy the ride more--yesterday I felt a bit impatient to get there, and a bit anxious that I would end up in some strange part of Virginia, lost in a swampy coastline.  But happily, my directions yesterday got me to my parents' house.  

I went with them to be part of the group that goes to the memory care unit once a month to sing to the residents.  We start in front of a group that has no clue who we are or why we are there, but their faces are friendly.  We sing songs from the early part of the twentieth century, songs like "Bicycle Built for Two" and "Ain't She Sweet," and songs that celebrate the U.S., like "God Bless America," and we end with a service song from each branch of the military.  By the end, everyone is singing, mouthing words, and/or tapping their fingers.

I knew all of the songs--years of elementary school choir classes taught me all sorts of songs.  The experience did make me think about today's children who will likely grow up with a base of fewer communal songs to sing.  What will make them tap their fingers when they're in the memory care unit?  And the younger generation who comes to sing for/with them--how will they learn the songs?

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

A Covid Test in May

I am now waiting 10 minutes for a Covid test to sit in a tube of solution.  I don't have symptoms, and I haven't been in close proximity with anyone who is sick--at least, not that I know of.  I was in a crowded church on Sunday, and I still shudder a bit when I hear people cough.

I am testing myself because I'm headed to Williamsburg to see my parents today.  They are in their 80's, and I want them to stay healthy as long as possible.  I do see the irony, in that they have more interactions with more people than I do.

I used one of the test kits that I ordered free from the government, just before May 11, the pandemic emergency official end date.  I now have a supply of kits, but with so much disease out there, it's hard to know exactly when to use them, except for a day like today, when I'm going to see my parents, who live in a continuing care community with lots of other people at risk.

I have now used a wide variety of kits.  This one has me soaking the swab in the tube of liquid and then soaking a test strip in the tube of liquid.  It's much easier than putting drops on the test strip, especially the kits constructed of non-flexible plastic droppers.

I'm happy to report that my test shows that I don't have Covid.  I think of all the people I know who have tested positive, a wide range of people, from those who have taken every precaution to those who have taken none.  Why am I so lucky?

In part, it's a matter of luck.  We don't have jobs that require lots of interactions with living, breathing humans in person.  In pre-pandemic times, we did get a respiratory illness once a year, probably from our students.  Online classes solve that issue.

Yesterday I wondered if I might be spared, as the disease seems to be less severe over time, as more of us have more immunity, which hopefully will lead to less disease spread.  I am not as careful with masks as I once was, but it's good to remember how useful they can be.

Let me bring this blog post to a close and get ready for this trip.  It's more hours to get to my parents than it was from my seminary apartment, but it might be an easier trip because I don't have to get out of DC first.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Celebrating Sixty Years on a Busy Road

It has been awhile since we had a long day at church, a long time since we had a meal at church.  Yesterday was that day.  It was both a celebration of the church's 60 year anniversary and an installation of the new pastor.  

We went to Lutheran Church of the Nativity in Arden, NC, one of several Lutheran churches across the U.S. southeast that feel like home to me.  We went there last summer when they had a bluegrass worship service outdoors for their early service.  The church was minutes away, and we wanted to see the bluegrass worship service in action.  We discovered that the music director was one that my spouse met at Lutheridge's Music Week, and in the fall, my spouse joined the choir.

Yesterday morning, we celebrated 60 years of the church's existence.  We heard from one of the founding members, although her parents were the heavy lifters in convincing the bishop that there should be a Lutheran church between Asheville and Hendersonville.  She talked about the search for land; they wanted a plot that would be visible from the road.  They could have had little idea how successful they would be, as the church is now at the intersection of the road that goes to the airport and the road that runs between Hendersonville and Asheville--the two most travelled roads in this end of the county.

After church, there was an old-fashioned church dinner, outside under tents on the lawn.  We were lucky with the weather, which was perfect--it had not been perfect in the days running up to Sunday (too rainy and/or too windy and/or very chilly).  In the past, we might have had a potluck dinner, but yesterday's was catered by Smoky and the Pig located in Fairview, NC.  It was delicious.

At 3:00, we had another service, the installation of the pastor who had come to be the interim pastor and both the pastor and the church realized a good fit when they saw it.  I know that often the interim pastor is not allowed to be the one chosen for the permanent position, and I have no knowledge of what happened at the Synod level, but both the pastor and the church seem happy.  I have attended the church for almost a year now, both in person when I'm back in the area, and by way of streaming when I've been at seminary, and I understand the happiness.

I will be interested to see how the church moves into their next 60 years.  Some of that observation will take place from a distance, as I take a position as Synod Authorized Minister at Faith Lutheran down in Bristol.  But I will also be able to do some of the week day activities, like working with the quilting group or Tuesday night pub theology, if they continue that program in the fall.

I have been going to this church off and on for years, when I was in town.  It was interesting to look around the room and realize how many of the members I knew, even before I attended more regularly:  Lutheridge retreat friends, family friends, a variety of retired pastors, people who were camp counselors at Lutheridge when my mom was there.  Being there does feel like falling through a hole in time, in a good way.  Maybe it would be more accurate to say that being there feels like seeing all the folds of time as they rumple together in one place.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Connections and Blooms

Another week has zoomed by.  A week ago, I would have been on the road for a few hours.  And although I have had 2 naps this week, I hit the ground running when I got here.  Let me record a few snippets:

--I thought that most of the blooming season in the mountains was over, but the mountain laurel is in full bloom in a way that it wasn't two weeks ago.  There are still some dogwoods emerging.  And although it's not flowers, if I look at the tips of branches and plants, I see new growth emerging.

--I snapped this picture and called it "Flare Corona with Hydrangea and Mountain Laurel."  These poems are wonderful!

--My spouse knows I love hydrangeas, even though some people have told us that they're "old lady flowers."  Perhaps I've joined the old lady club?  But I have loved them from my youth.

--I've seen drought charts which include western North Carolina, but it's hard to believe them.  We've had rain two nights this week.  It's been lovely to sleep with the window open, hearing the patter of rain through the night.

--It's been a week of many Zoom calls:  the HR person at Spartanburg Methodist College, the person in the Southeast Synod of the ELCA who will be my mentor for my internship, the meeting with the church in Bristol where I will be the Synod Appointed Minister for the next 9 months, and a Bible study group from my Florida church.  I am glad I don't have to do these kinds of meetings all day, day after day.  But I'm grateful that I live in a time where I can meet with people without traveling vast distances.

--My spouse said, "You're going to a seminary in D.C., you're a candidate through the Florida-Bahamas Synod, you're part of a church in North Carolina, you're affiliated with the Lutheran seminary in South Carolina, and you'll be preaching at a church in Tennessee, while also having an internship with the Southeast Synod of the ELCA"--I interrupted to say, "And my parents' church in Virginia gave me a scholarship."

--I thought of his comment, and I thought of my experience last week at the seminary graduation activities.  I saw so many people that I knew from so many Lutheran contexts, and I often greeted people warmly as my brain raced to remember how I knew them:  retreats?  the spiritual direction certificate program?  my Lutheran undergraduate school?  On and on I could go.

--Today we will go to the church that is minutes away from our Lutheridge house, and we'll be part of the celebration of 60 years, which includes a barbecue lunch.  Yummm.  I will need to start telling people why we're about to disappear on Sundays--but I could still be part of the women's quilt group that meets every Wednesday (another old lady club signifier?  But I have loved quilting since my youth).

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Catapulting into a Different Future

Yesterday, I was part of a Zoom meeting where I met some members/leaders of the church in Bristol, Tennessee where I will serve as a Synod Authorized Minister (SAM) for the next 9 months.  They were in the middle of preparing for a Friday night fish fry.  They seemed like a delightful group of people, and I'm interested to see how our time together unfolds.

I was happy to learn that they have some solid processes in place that don't rely on a pastor:  office support and an organist/musician.  They have enough children for a children's sermon, and they have one confirmand this year.  They have a team that meets periodically to do worship planning, and they asked me to participate by way of Zoom.  They asked about the possibility of resuming the 9 a.m. Sunday School in the Fall.  Through yesterday's meeting, the assistant to the Synod bishop who will be "walking" beside us was part of the Zoom so that it seemed more like a getting to know you session, rather than a job interview.

Over dinner, my spouse and I returned to the topic which has fascinated us--how we thought we were headed into one future, and now we've been catapulted, again, into a different future.  I feel fortunate, because the catapulting mechanism could have been worse.  For example, there could have been a hurricane that wiped out everything we'd worked for; we did have several hurricanes, but they wiped out just a chunk of what we'd worked for, and we were able to make insurance and tax claims that restored us economically, even if we lost time in restoring the house, time we will never get back.

A year ago, I thought I would be living in seminary housing for 2-3 years.  Then in November came news of potential bulldozing of the building in which I lived, and then in January, the news that it might happen as early as August 2023.  I decided that I needed to create a few alternate plans, just in case.  I knew that the bulldozing and construction might not happen (I've seen city government and developers in action, and I know that there are vast stretches of delay with most projects), but it sounded like it was on track.

I needed an internship site where I could work 8 hours a week for the academic year--but not knowing where I would be living made me think about different possibilities.  Could I think about a site which might be able to have me working virtually?  I thought about the Southeast Synod, which has offered a variety of interesting online opportunities (I participated in one of them and wrote this blog post about it).  I reached out to the bishop, who I knew before he was a bishop, long ago when we did planning for the Create in Me retreat.  Because I did that, I not only have an internship site, but also this SAM possibility. 

In the earlier part of this year, when I expected seminary housing to be bulldozed, I started taking a closer look at English faculty job openings.  I applied for several full-time community college jobs within an easy drive of DC, but I also applied for some around North Carolina, close to our Lutheridge house.

I didn't get a full-time job, which is good.  A full-time job would give me more money, but less flexibility.  Instead, I have been offered and have accepted a new part-time job at Spartanburg Methodist College, a small, liberal arts college an hour south.  In the fall, I will be teaching two classes back to back, in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays, first year English classes.  I will create the curriculum that adheres to broad guidelines, and I could choose any texts I wanted.  I don't remember the last time I was in control of the textbook question.  Since so much is available online, I decided not to have a required text.

I am looking forward to being back in the classroom with no college administrator duties taking my attention away from teaching.  I am looking forward to the experience of being a minister.  I am looking forward to my seminary classes too.  And I am looking forward to being in this house that I didn't own this time last year.  I will have the best of so many worlds, and I know how lucky I am.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Deferred Maintenance and New Opportunities

I don't have as much time to write today.  I have to take the car in for an oil change, a task that has been on my to-do list for many months.  Each time I've returned from seminary, I've been determined to get it done.  But other tasks got in the way.  And yes, I do see a pattern, and yes, I do see a larger metaphor for the way I'm living my life.

This summer will be partly one of taking care of deferred maintenance:  finding a dentist and getting our teeth cleaned for both of us, a mammogram for me, an annual exam for me, a dermatologist for me.

But it will also be a summer of exciting opportunities.  I'm signing up for volunteer positions at camp, which starts June 5:  mail delivery to campers, help in the camp store, and being the Bible study leader for middle school campers during the last week of camp.  I always wanted to live in the residential section so that I could do these kinds of things, and I don't want to wait for some future summer.  My schedule has a way of getting crowded.

I will write more about my other exciting opportunity tomorrow, when I know more after an afternoon Zoom meeting that happens today.  I am going to be a Synod Authorized Minister for a church in Bristol, Tennessee for the next 9 months.  It is a very part-time job, which will consist mostly of preaching on Sunday mornings.  Bristol is 2 hours away from me, but it's a beautiful drive through the mountains.

What I find interesting is that it's not very far away from one of my ancestral home places.  My mother's mother's family had a farm in Bluff City, Tennessee.  My grandfather came from his family farm in Lexington, SC to his first call as a Lutheran pastor, serving 5 churches in East Tennessee. That's where he met my grandmother, and they decided to join their lives together. 

Last week, when I drove back to seminary, I had a bit more time, so I decided to drive by the church through Bluff City.  I had this idea that I might be able to find the family farm, even though I haven't been to it since the early 80's.  It's a romantic idea that comes from too much idealistic reading in my youth, the idea that the land will be a sort of homing device, or that some sort of matrilineal homing device is part of my body, handed down from the ancestors.

Nope--I didn't find the homeplace or the church.  I was working from a memory of a map, so I don't see it as an ill omen, just an amusing story.  I realized it would be very easy to get very lost, even with my magical smart phone, so when I saw a sign that would take me back to the interstate, I went that way.

So, let me get ready for the day:  deferred maintenance and new opportunities.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Letting Our Poems Ascend from Our Brains

Today is the Feast Day of the Ascension, 40 days after Easter, 10 days before Pentecost. This feast day commemorates Jesus being taken up into Heaven.  I went searching through past posts, looking to see what I had written before.  This post has a poem, which sent me spiraling into a familiar despair:  look what I've written, oh how I loved it, I am so scared I will never write a poem again.

The beautiful thing about keeping a searchable blog or journal, either online or offline, is that I not only rediscover my past poems, but I also see how cyclical my despair is.  I came across a post from 2013 with this nugget:  

"I can't remember when I last wrote a poem, although I could easily look it up. It's probably not as long as I think.

But more importantly, I can't remember when I last felt like a poet. When did I last make interesting connections of unusual links that would make a good poem?"

It is good to remember that my brain has been making those links, even when I am not conscious of the process.  It is good to remember that I've felt like a failed poet before, often just before the times when I would go on to have creative bursts.

I shouldn't be surprised that I haven't written many poems lately.  I want to remember the writing that I have been doing:  blogging almost every day and doing a variety of writing tasks for the 6 graduate classes I've been taking--not 6 hours of graduate classes, but 6 classes.

I have a bit of a break this summer, so let me do some strategizing to reclaim my poet self, to let the poems in my brain make the ascension from my brain onto the page.

I'll close with something I wrote in 2014--it's as if my 2014 self knew what my 2023 self would need to hear (and it's probably something that 2031 Kristin will need too).

In reading the Gospel for today, I was struck by the latter part of Luke 24:9: "so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

I love that language: clothed with power from on high--how would we behave as artists if we believed we had been clothed with power from on high?

That language may be too theological, too non-rational, too believing in unearthly powers. Even if we don't believe in a Supreme Being, how might we change our behavior if we truly believed we could tap into a larger power than our own? What would happen if we acted like we were already clothed with that power?

It's an interesting mind trick, but it can work wonders.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Seeing "The Way" on the Big Screen

On Sunday May 7, I drove from seminary housing to our Lutheridge house, and I listened to Rick Steves' radio program that airs on NPR.  When I first heard the episode, I thought it was an old one--why else would they be talking about the movie, The Way?  I was delighted to learn that the movie was being re-released.

It was only for one day, May 16, one show at my local movie theatre, only being shown at about 1,000 movie theatres across the country.  I made myself a note, but I didn't buy a ticket, because much can happen.  Happily, I was able to get to the theatre and see the movie:  I showed up at 6:20 p.m. and bought one of the last 5 remaining tickets.  I also treated myself to a large popcorn and a large soda, because I so rarely go to see a movie in a theatre, and I wanted the full treatment.

I hadn't seen the movie before, but I had meant to.  And these days, it seems unlikely I will get to Spain and hike the Camino de Santiago, so experiencing it this way had enormous appeal.  It was just what I hoped, and also not exactly what I expected.

There were lovely views of villages and landscapes.  It gave me a sense of how it feels to walk the Camino, although I did notice that no one sweated much and no one had bloody feet.  While the pilgrims didn't always get along, I didn't have the kind of worry I might have had with a more traditional Hollywood treatment of people on a hike, fears of violence and rape.

I was waiting for epiphanies, for wailing and weeping, and happily, this movie also avoided those kinds of typical Hollywood elements.  While there was character growth, the main character (played by Martin Sheen) was never going to transform into someone who spews emotions and tears in a typical way.  There was not deep conversation, but the pilgrims grow closer, simply through walking.

There wasn't as much in spiritual terms as I was expecting.  Not one of the main characters walks the Camino for the spiritual reasons one might expect.  But that was fine with me.  There was a bit of spirituality here and there.  I do wonder if a viewer had no understanding of the Camino or of pilgrimage or of Christianity if the spiritual/religious/Christian bits would make sense.

One of the characters was a writer, walking because of writer's block, and he becomes unblocked.  The movie had a bit more about creative/journaling process than I was expecting, not much, but a bit.

As I watched them walk, I thought about my own backpacking days.  I thought about this Facebook post that I made on Saturday:  " The air this morning (rain coming, heat coming) takes me back to Girl Scout camp, that summer when I was a backpacking counselor, back before cell phones, where we were dropped off at one point of the Appalachian Trail, and 22 rugged miles later, we'd be picked up at a different point later in the week. Three young women, including me, in charge of a group of younger women, carrying everything we needed on our backs. Why have I ever been scared of anything since then? I should feel more invincible."  That summer was 1984--wow.  

After the movie, there was a 30 minute conversation between Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, and Rick Steves.  It repeated some of the material from their interview on the NPR program, but it was also different enough to keep me there.  I so appreciate the themes that these 3 men embraced and discussed, themes of family, religion/spirituality/Christianity, what it means to be a man, travel, and community.

I feel lucky to have had a chance to have this experience and lucky that I didn't have to travel far to do it.  If the movie had been showing at a theatre at the far side of Asheville, I would have probably wimped out.  And even though it was near to me, in a new commercial development designed to make us all feel like we're in some village, I did have trouble finding my way back to the main road.  This development has been there at least 10 years--why is there not more signage?  How did I get turned around?  It was dark and rainy.

But happily, I saw the very small sign marked "private road," turned around and followed a car which got me back to the main road.  I did have my cell phone, which could have gotten me back to the main road, maybe.  I didn't feel scared or aggravated, so much as bemused.

Perhaps it was knowing that I wasn't too far away from regular civilization--the roads were paved, after all, if not well marked, and there were streetlights, which led me to think that I would eventually find a main road.

Or perhaps it was a left over bit of movie magic.  Perhaps I kept a sense of perspective because I had just spent 2.5 hours thinking about pilgrimage.

Monday, May 15, 2023

One Last Trip Back from Seminary Housing

And so it ended in much the same way as it began:  a car load of belongings, an evening spent at my sister's house, snuggles with her dog.  

Back in August, I brought the first car load of stuff to the DC area.  Yesterday, I brought the last car load back to our North Carolina house.

Back when I applied for seminary housing, in March of 2022, I thought I would be in my seminary apartment for 2 years or more.  Back when I applied for seminary housing, I didn't have a house at Lutheridge, and I didn't know that there were plans for the bulldozing of seminary housing.

As I drove yesterday, I thought back and wondered if I would make different plans then, if I knew then what I know now.  In a way, it's a ridiculous question.  If I had a time machine, I hope I would go back to the days when Apple teetered on the brink of bankruptcy; I hope I would buy the ridiculously cheap stock, which I could then sell later.  I'd buy a few shares of Starbucks, a tiny coffee company that nobody except for a few people, like my mom, knew about when she bought her shares for $12 a share.

In short, yes, I might rethink every decision I've ever made, if I had the advantage of knowledge gained in hindsight.  But then again, I might not.  Those alternate decisions would also come with good and bad consequences.

For part of yesterday's drive, I did not have the mental space for these kinds of musings.  Part of the drive took me on a detour that might have been scenic, if it hadn't been so foggy.  As I drove towards Harper's Ferry, I saw a sign that said "All lanes closed in Virginia" with a street name.  I was approaching the branch that went towards Leesburg, Virginia, so I hoped the sign was talking about that road.  I thought that I had miles and miles to go before I was in Virginia, so I'd get through the Harper's Ferry bridges, which always make me a touch nervous, and then see what was on the other side.

But it was the road between the two bridges that was closed.  I followed the detour signs, up the steep and winding road, and then down into fog.  Happily, there weren't many cars on the road with me, and it was just before dawn, so it wasn't as pitch dark as it would have been at other times of the year.

Still, the fog made the descent towards the Shenandoah River an intense experience.  It felt like I was driving into the void, which sometimes seems like a metaphor for life:  it feels like driving into the void, but the road is there, and if one proceeds with some amount of caution, one isn't likely to go over the bridge into the river below.

Do I want to stretch this metaphor into the wisdom of leaving early?  Do I want this metaphor to consider the other drivers on the road or the chance that the bridge may have fallen into the river?

The fog continued for the first several hours of the journey, and I was happy that I was travelling on a Sunday morning with fewer drivers than some of my trips.  I was astonished by how many cars on the road didn't have lit headlights.  Why wouldn't you help other drivers see you?  Here, too, the potential for life metaphor abounds.

As the fog cleared, I tried to take some pictures through the car window.  It was strange to see the Appalachians looking so Hawaiian in their deep greens and clouds drifting by.  But I didn't really capture any of it.  I loved watching the mountains shift from emerald greens to dark blues and grays as the light shifted through the morning.

Happily, my trip was fairly uneventful, and I pulled into my driveway to discover much construction work had been done in my 2 day absence--how wonderful to have an electrician in the family, family who was willing to extend the trip to see the youngest brother graduate.

We headed over to Hendersonville, where many of the cute shops were closed, but we had fun looking in the windows.  We ate at a Thai-Sushi place that wasn't too busy for Mother's Day.  It was a good end to a great week.

We have hugged the last group of family and sent them on their way, with hopes we might see them sooner rather than later.  Now it is time to focus on this week's tasks:  kitchen cabinets arrive tomorrow, and online classes start.  Let the work begin.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Last Morning in the Seminary Apartment

It is my last morning in this seminary apartment.  Later this afternoon, at 4 or 4:30, I'll head over to my sister's house for dinner where I'm spending the night.  At one point, I thought it would take me the whole week-end to get my stuff out of this seminary apartment and get it cleaned, but I no longer think it will take me that long.  I usually leave town by going up I 270, cutting cross country to Harper's Ferry and Winchester, getting to I 81 that way.  Leaving from her house cuts a smidge of time off my trip.

When I first made my plans, I knew that I didn't have to be out until May 15, and I thought I'd want to enjoy one last week-end in this apartment.  But once it's packed up, it's not nearly as cozy as before.  It's a bit of a feeling akin to sadness, knowing that this time has come to an end, that it's time to go.

Part of my decision also comes from the last trip to North Carolina.  I left on Sunday, and there was less traffic.  I started thinking, maybe I could leave on Sunday again.  My spouse's sister and her fiancĂ© are spending 2 days with us on their way back from the seminary graduation--another reason for leaving earlier rather than later.

Last night, I was closing drapes for the last night here, and I looked out across the parking lot at the library building, with the few lights left on for the night.  I will miss this view.  Earlier I had watched the small children of my upstairs neighbor play just outside the building, and I reminded myself that I was never going to stay here long enough to watch small children grow up--that community is the one I'm headed to when I leave tomorrow.

At some point, I'll write a blog post about what I've learned from a year in this seminary apartment--for the most part, it's all been good.  But this morning, I'm too distracted by tasks left to do, and I'd like to take one last morning walk around the beautiful seminary neighborhood.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Rites of Passage, Resisting Empire

Yesterday we went to the graduation of my spouse's youngest brother.  We spent time with extended family, some of whom had come all the way from Indiana.  We reflected that it was great that we gathered for a graduation rather than a funeral.

Once, I went to graduations once a quarter, as a faculty member and then as an administration member.  At times, I found it tiring, but at the end of the event, I was always glad to have been a part.  There's something so thrilling about seeing people at this happy event that celebrates a major accomplishment.

Because I need to head back to seminary today to close up the seminary apartment, we drove back to our Lutheridge house last night.  It was an easy drive; it could have been otherwise, as we are in road construction season.

We had a great conversation on the way back.  We started with a topic that we often circle back to:  what is the purpose of church, of the Christian church?  We mean that both in terms of worship service, the church of Sunday mornings.  We also mean that in terms of big C church--what is the purpose of Christianity?  Can we get what Christianity gives us from some other source?  When Jesus says "I am the way" does Jesus mean he is the only way?

I believe the church fills a need that many of us have, a need to know the Divine or perhaps it's a need for transcendence, to know something bigger than oneself.  Can we get that from somewhere else?  Sure.  Can we get that consistently--from Church or somewhere else?  Maybe.

I gave some of my standard possible answers:  Church is good for those rites of passage, death and joining lives together kinds of things.  Church is also good for helping us deal with the random chaotic nature of life.  Then I gave the answer that comes closest:  we live in a soul crushing empire, one that wants to stamp out most of what is good and life giving.  Being part of Church helps us resist that empire.  Does it guarantee success?  No, of course not.  But it gives us the tiniest fighting chance, and Church molds us into people who can resist empire.

Are there other ways to resist?  Sure--and those ways also give the tiniest fighting chance.

By empire, I mean all kinds of things:  governments, systems of economics like Capitalism, all the ways that socialization warps us, all sorts of domination systems.  By Church, I mean both the community and the worship, but I find what I need to resist the domination systems more often in the community than in the worship service.  I don't see God needing our worship in the ways that so many people conceptualize it--but we need elements of it.  And there are elements of worship that are less important to me, but we keep them in because others might need them to be formed into people who can resist empire.

We got home, sat on the deck, drank in the evening light, and then went inside to watch my spouse who was part of his brother's last seminary project on Frankie San, who did important prison ministry in Columbia, SC in the last part of last century.  I said to my spouse, "What are the odds that this man, Frankie San, born in Japan, affected by the nuclear bombings, would come across the world and end up at Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC?  He would do prison ministry, where you would meet him while you were teaching Philosophy to inmates at CCI, after having written a thesis on just war and nuclear deterrence.  Thirty years later, you would be able to help your brother who was preparing for prison ministry.  What are the odds of this???!!!"

Sometimes, you just have to say, "Well done, God!  Well done!"  And I imagine God saying, "Well done, dear ones.  Keep up the good work of resisting empire and domination systems of all sorts!"

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Living Stones

When we moved to our Lutheridge house near Asheville, I had hopes that we would see family and friends more often, for both big events and casual ones.  We are in the middle of a big event:  my spouse's youngest brother graduates from Southern Seminary (LTSS, the ELCA seminary in Columbia, SC) today.

We came down yesterday for the evening Baccalaureate service, the worship service before the graduation ceremony which happens today.  The Baccalaureate service was held at Ebeneezer Lutheran church, a historic downtown church which was filled to capacity.  

We sang hymns, we had communion, and Dr. Brian Peterson delivered a powerful sermon.  Here's a picture of him delivering that sermon, a picture taken by Bishop Kevin Strickland:

The sermon was based on 1 Peter 2:  2-10, which I thought was an odd choice, but it's from the Revised Common Lectionary.  That Dr. Peterson chose to preach on it was strange, but he talked about the stones that hold up a church like the one we're in.

He talked about 3 stones that are in the chapel at the seminary:  one comes from Jerusalem where Christ had a disastrous clash with empire leading to crucifixion and resurrection, one from a place where Paul had a disastrous encounter (Athens?), and one from Worms, where Luther had a disastrous encounter leading to his going into hiding and translating the Bible into German.  The message was that even encounters that look disastrous can turn out not to be.

Unspoken, but with imagery threaded through the sermon, he made it clear that our society is in a disastrous encounter moment.  I think of it as a hinge moment, where much is being decided that will impact the next 100-500 years in ways we can scarcely comprehend.  Dr. Peterson made me feel like it might all work out.

There were also the messages that you might expect in this kind of sermon that was in a space to celebrate graduates:  the idea that we can be living stones, that we are not living stones all alone, but living stones brought together to create a larger building.  It was a very effective sermon, and I'm very grateful to have heard it.

Now to get ready for today's events.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Flooring Install in Snippets and Metaphors

I'm not sure I have a blog post about one single unified and coherent topic today.  So let me write a collection of short observations, just so I capture them.

--We finished the flooring install in the main living area of the house yesterday.

--When we first saw the house, around 2011, there was shag green carpeting throughout.  The owners before us ripped up the carpet, but didn't install new flooring.

--My spouse was really interested in bamboo flooring, so one day last summer, we bought a piece of it from LL Flooring.  We spent a fun afternoon seeing if it was as indestructible as it claimed to be.  We put a lit cigar right against it--no burn marks.  We tried to simulate dragging furniture across it.  No damage.  We took every sharp item in the house and tried to carve words into the floor sample.

--I loved our hardwood floors in our historic house in South Florida, but they were not indestructible.  They would scuff and scratch and gouge--sometimes from something that made sense, like when we moved the refrigerator.  But more often, I'd see a dent in the floor and have no memory of anything that would have left a mark.

--Our bamboo floors are engineered flooring, meaning they come in planks with waterproofing on one side.  They are supposed to slide and lock in place easily.  Some of them did.

--Is this kind of flooring more ecologically sustainable?  We pondered that question last night, as we looked up at the oak trees that grow around us.  How many planks would come from one tree?  How long would it take to grow enough trees to provide floors for our very small house?  If you've ever tried to root bamboo out of your garden, you know that it grows quickly.  So on one level, yes sustainable.

--But there's also a lot of plastic and other petroleum products that go into making this flooring.  So, on another level, not sustainable.

--Why did it take us so long to get this flooring installed?  We bought it back in early autumn, when it went on sale.  But there wasn't a great time to install it, since we didn't have an HVAC plan and we knew that new registers and vents and parts of the system would impact the floor.  We knew the kitchen remodel would come later.  We didn't want to rip out the kitchen too early.

--I'm thinking of all the types of flooring we've installed ourselves through the decades:  peel and stick linoleum squares, parquet squares that needed to be glued with industrial adhesive to the subfloor (least favorite install so far), carpet, ceramic tile, and various types of engineered wood/laminate.  We've paid someone else to install hardwood, and we've redone hardwood floors several times now, both ourselves and paying someone else.

--I've said it before, but it's worth repeating:  the home repair/restoration shows on TV make it look so easy, with no clean up required at all.  Grr.

--Years from now, will I remember that yesterday was also a day when a former president was found guilty of sexual abuse and ordered to pay $5 million dollars?  Will that guilty verdict in a U.S. court of law make a difference?  Years from now, will our floors still be in place?  Will the nation?

--I often think of my presence in home repair projects as unnecessary and sometimes even not helpful.  But handing each plank to my spouse so he didn't have to get up and down did save time.  Getting the box of planks and unwrapping it from the plastic wrap that covered the cardboard box did save time.  There was vacuuming to do.

--Smaller efforts can be essential too.  Let us see if that is true on the national scene in years to come.  Political scientists have told us that local actions can have a huge impact, even more so than national ones.  The home repair metaphors seem to hold up for the larger home repair that the nation requires.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Construction and Destruction

Yesterday was both a construction and destruction day at our Lutheridge house.  If I let myself think about the pace of house reconstruction on a daily basis, I feel like we're making progress.  If I think about what is still left to do, I'm overwhelmed.  If I think about what we've accomplished, particularly in this time of global supply chain issues and construction workers/home repair people having more to do than they have time and crews to do it, I feel like we've made amazing progress:  a new HVAC system that works much better than our old system of baseboard heat and no AC, new windows and sliding glass doors (and some wood rot issues treated), a new front door where there wasn't one before, a different way to access the loft which meant we could get rid of the staircase which took up a lot of the common area.

If you look at our house from the outside, you might think it was done:

The window install that happened back in April was incomplete because one window wasn't on the truck.  It arrived a week later, but it was a 3 week wait for the install to happen.  

Oh well, what's another month when doing home renovations?  At least here we can do renovations and be relatively sure that we won't have a hurricane destroy all our work.  Perhaps a falling pine tree, but the risk of that happening is less than a hurricane.  Our old house now has a 100% chance of a flooding event that breaches the inside of the house.  And of course, the hurricane risk is constant.  Our new house doesn't have those risks.

Here's how our kitchen looked at the end of the day yesterday:

For the sake of comparison, here's how it looked 10 months ago when we moved in:

Some people have looked at the picture and commented on the cuteness of it.  And in a way, it was cute, but some of the cabinets didn't have much usable space--we've learned a lot about accommodating corners in the decades since those cabinets were constructed. 

Those cabinets were constructed for that space and the stain that was used for them no longer exists, so keeping them and having a functional kitchen wasn't really an option.  

The new cabinets are supposed to arrive a week from today, and we're supposed to let the sit in the house for 2 weeks before we install them.  We have paid to have them installed, so fingers crossed that the installing team won't wait 4 more weeks (or more) to get that done.  

It is strange to be in this lull--I only have 2-3 weeks a year when I'm not taking classes and not teaching classes.  This week is one of those weeks.  I keep feeling like I've forgotten to do something.  But my grades are turned in, my course work done, and I will try to enjoy this lull.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Blue-Green Day in the Mountains

Yesterday was a travel day, another carload of stuff driven back to the North Carolina house.  Today, at Wesley, people will go to the National Cathedral for graduation.  I have some friends who are graduating, but it is a ticketed event, so I shall cheer them on from a distance.

Yesterday was a lovely drive, a blue-green day in the mountains of Interstate 81:  blues and greens on the mountains in all directions, no bare patches, no browns.  I am happy to have seen these mountains change across seasons.  I am happy that my days of driving that particular stretch of mountains so regularly is coming to an end.  

Last week this time, I was about to set out from this house to my seminary apartment, about to wrap up the semester--but I still had a lot to do.  And now, here I am, having finished it:  my Luke paper on call stories and hospitality, my Church History final exam that had two parts, and so much grading for the online classes that I was teaching.

I drove the whole way yesterday wanting an orange scone from Panera's, and finally, there was a Panera at one of the exits.  I stopped, and it was such a disappointing scone.  The inside was fluffy, the outside soft.  I won't be doing that again.

I left early because the Lutheridge residential community group was meeting at a brewery nearby.  That hardly narrows it down; we live in a land of many breweries.  Last night was Blue Ghost Brewery, which was just a few miles away.  After some beer flights which let us sample all sorts of beers, I had a ginger beer, which helped settle my stomach which was achy from travel (or maybe from the horrible scone).  There was barbecue from a food truck.  

But best of all, there was getting to know our new neighbors.  I already knew some of them from Lutheridge retreats and other sorts of Lutheran connections.  They're a great group, and when we thought about moving here, a ready-made community was one of the benefits.

Now I have a week off, of sorts.  I have more online classes to teach this summer, but those don't start until next week.  I have the final move of stuff out of the seminary apartment and cleaning it, but that happens this coming week-end.  My spouse's youngest brother graduates from Southern Seminary in Columbia this Thursday, so we'll go to that.  Our last window gets installed today.

Still, it feels like a week off.  It's good not to have papers and projects hanging over my head, for one week at least.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Live Blogging the Coronation

As I write, I am flipping back and forth to the coronation coverage.  Right now, it's the slow process of a very lovely carriage pulled along by horses.  And now they've arrived at Westminster Cathedral--back in a minute!

Ah the church bells!  Ah, the elderly king and queen, gingerly exiting the carriage, with their long trains that must be carried by children.  What do those children make of it?  Ah, the next generation, looking so young by comparison, the son and wife, and their little children.  How long before we watch his coronation?

It's hard not to think back to the wedding of Diana and Charles, which I might have watched in real time.  We were on vacation at Myrtle Beach with extended family, and we had a very small black and white TV, which we would have only used to watch the wedding.  I remember being mildly interested; it was a real life fairy tale, after all.  But I do remember thinking about the difference in their ages, the fact that Diana was not much older than me, and shuddering a bit.  Could they really love each other?

No, as it turns out, they did not.

I am watching this coverage on, which doesn't have commentary.  In fact, I can hear what some of the ordinary people are saying.  I'm not sure who is saying these things about Harry and whether or not he'll be here.  Hmm.  These official looking people?  Someone standing near the person with the video camera?  At this point, 6:04 a.m., we're still seeing shots of the outside of Westminster.

At 6:08, I have switched to a different site.  It was clear that something was going on inside.  I am thinking of the first King Charles, beheaded in a time of civil war.  May this King Charles have a more peaceful reign.

It is interesting to watch this coronation, these oaths that Charles III is taking, just a day after finishing my Church History II class.  We are seeing not only a king being sworn in, but the head of the Church of England.

I think of Charles, now so much older than he might have imagined he would be when he thought of what it would be like to take this throne, to rule in the ways that his ancestors did.  In some ways, these days, his age might not matter.  It's not like he's going to need to ride a horse to lead troops to battle.  It's not like he gets to make the kinds of decisions upon which economies and empires turn.

I will not comment on the fact that the Gospel reading is from Luke, where Jesus returns to Nazareth and preaches out of the book of Isaiah (Luke 4).  We end at the part where Jesus says the Gospel is fulfilled.  I didn't think we would cover the part where the hometown crowd wants to throw Jesus over a cliff--and we did not. 

I do like this sermon, about service, about the "regalia" that Jesus wore--well done, Archbishop.

I am now watching the various regalia being presented, spurs and a sword, along with words about what the king must do, protecting the kingdom, and the poor.  Very interesting to hear these words surrounded by all these treasures, with so much expense going to this coronation, this upkeep of the royal family.

I am now watching the oldest son assisting with the re-robing process.  Is it strange to be any of the other family members?  It's weird to think about how little in our society depends on birth order anymore.  But line of succession does.

This is a very long ceremony.  I'm a bit bored.  I have packing to do.  And yet, at the same time, I'm impressed by the symbolism of it all.  I'm trying to avoid the voice of my inner 19 year old who is screaming about hypocrisy--yes, yes, we know.

Finally a crown for the man's head!

I do like these closing benedictions from a variety of religious traditions, all Christian.  They even let a woman deliver one of them.  It would have been cool to have benedictions from other faiths, but I am not in charge of this service.

I don't like the Archbishop of Canterbury swearing allegiance.  My hope, of course, is that if the demands of empire conflict with the demands of God, the Archbishop would choose wisely.  I will not be swearing homage.  I am a member of the break away colonies, after all.  

And now the queen has a crown.  She has smoothed hair out of her eyes, a refreshingly human touch.  As she moves to the throne and sits, she's got a shocked look, and every so often she smiles.  As far as I can tell, King Charles has yet to smile.  It's hard not to think of hostage videos.  It's hard not to think of Shakespeare quotes about heads and crowns.

The music has been glorious, as I expected.  There is congregational singing, and as the camera scans the assembly, I'm interested to see who is singing and who is not.  As with most congregations, the choir carries the day.

The king and queen come back out, with no crowns.  I imagine those crowns have been whisked back to wherever they are kept safe.  Poor crowns, which so rarely see the light of day.

They aren't going to try to commune everyone, are they?  Or maybe this service has no eucharist?  I've lost track of what I'm seeing.  Boy, I change internet tabs for one minute . . . 

And we're singing, and singing, and singing.  It really is beautiful music, though.  Just not sure where we are in terms of this ceremony.  Almost done?  The concert portion?  Is this the gift that the choristers bring?  The way they pledge allegiance to their newly crowned king?

It looks like we may finally be at the point of a recessional.  People are lined up, robes resplendent.  I must look for ways to use the word "resplendent" more often.  And they're singing "God Save the King," and heading down an aisle.  The crown (a newscaster tells us it is a different crown, an imperial state crown) is on his head; women are curtsying, some of them but not all.  King Charles looks tired, unimpressed, still no smiles.

I, too, am tired.  So much pomp and spectacle.  I have been thinking it was my only chance to see a coronation of an English monarch, but Charles III is in his mid-70's.  It's possible I might have another chance. 

I wonder what will be happening at that point in history?

Friday, May 5, 2023

God, Queer Theology, and Quilt Squares

Yesterday, I created a blog post about the creation of my final project for my Queer Theology seminary class.  Today I want to post another part of the project, the part of the curriculum that prompts us to think about how God feels about the changes we might make to our bodies, gender changes in particular.

I was inspired to do this when I was writing an earlier paper for the class.  In February, I was writing, and I looked up, and I saw quilt squares that I had been creating stretched out across my bookcases:

I wrote a few paragraphs:

In class on February 21, Dr. E__ said that God gives us agency to be co-creators of our physical selves. But I worry that our culture’s wide ranging dissatisfaction with our physical selves grieves God. As I’m writing, I’m looking at a variety of quilt squares that I’ve made over the last several months; each square is composed of a minimum of eleven smaller pieces. As its creator, how would I feel if one of those squares rearranged everything I had so carefully sewn together? If I’m being honest, if the quilt square put itself together in a way that was better than I had executed, I would be happy. But if the quilt square was bowing to societal pressure and continued rearranging itself through the years, as it would have to do to satisfy the demands of a capitalistic system that needs it unsatisfied and buying stuff, I would be sad as its creator.

Would I abandon the quilt square or the larger quilt I had envisioned? No. I am a skilled fiber artist, and I’ve been making a wide variety of fabric creations for decades. If a quilt square decided to rearrange to become more orange than green, I would find a way to work with that. If a quilt square suddenly wanted to include fabrics dyed in an infusion of tea and onion skins, I would be intrigued because I haven’t experimented with fabrics that I dyed myself. I might even contribute some materials, and I might visit the quilt square in dreams to offer encouragement.


But then realized I was heading in a completely different direction, and the paper was only allowed to be 700 words.  So I excised the paragraphs, but I saved them for later.  And I transformed them into this part of the curriculum, the part that gives groups three areas in which to dive more deeply into various issues:

Larger Context 1: Our View of God as Creator

Imagine that you are the one who put the quilt square together. If the quilt square wants to trade out one strip of fabric for a different one, would you, the creator, be offended? How would you feel if one of those squares rearranged everything you had so carefully sewn together?

If the quilt square put itself together in a way that was better than you, the creator, had executed, would you be happy? Or would you feel wrathful because the square could envision something that you couldn’t? Would you feel sad, because you had something else in mind?

Would you abandon the quilt square or the larger quilt of society you had envisioned? If a quilt square decided to rearrange to become more orange than green, would you find a way to work with that? If a quilt square suddenly wanted to include fabrics dyed in an infusion of tea and onion skins, how would you respond if you hadn’t ever done any fabric dyes yourself? Would you contribute some materials? Would you visit the quilt square in dreams to offer encouragement?

If the quilt square was bowing to societal pressure and continued rearranging itself through the years, would you be sad as its creator?

Some further questions to help us think about what kind of God we believe in:

1. Do you feel that God has given us one body, one society, with an idea that we will live into that body, that society, not making radical changes?

2. As you look at the history of God, do you see God as a constant being/force or do you see a shapeshifter God? Does this view of God impact your view of how much change is permissible in one’s body or one’s society?

3. Do you believe in a God who creates? If so, is the process of creation done or is God still creating?

4. Do you believe that God wants a co-creator? How do the parts of the Trinity interact and create?

5. Do you believe that God invites humans to be co-creators with God? If so, is that an equal status or are we invited to be God’s support staff in the process of creating?

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Queer Theology and Quilt Squares

Now that I've turned in my final project for Queer Theology class, and now that it's been graded, let me write about it here.  One of our options was to write a curriculum of some sort, and then an accompanying paper to talk about how the class influenced our creation/creative process.

I wanted to create a curriculum for people who are open minded, but perhaps confused by the topic of queerness, especially the issue of people changing genders.  My theory is that it's hard to have these conversations when they revolve around people's sexual desire and people's genitals.  Many of us are queasy about these things.

So I came up with the idea of using quilt squares to discuss these things.

Above you see a variety of squares, all of them created with roughly the same pattern, and a lot of the same fabrics, but in different patterns.  If one of those quilt squares wanted to change one strip of fabric for another strip of fabric, would it make that big a difference to how we see the quilt?

The quilt square could represent a human.  The strip of starry fabric on the outside that gets exchanged for a teal one could be a secondary sex characteristic or it could be hair color or it could be weight loss/gain or it could be implants (breast implants or a pacemaker or a new kidney).  Which of these changes would be impossible for us to accept?

I also thought about this in terms of relationships.  Here's an arrangement of quilt squares--we could determine which square is which gender, if we wanted:

If we make changes, here's a different look:

And again:

At some point, we'd talk about what this means for humans.  Does it really matter to the larger quilt if one square is with another, instead of a different square?  If it's true of a quilt, does the same hold true for humans?  If quilt squares could have children and families, would our answers change?

What I've included here is just a short overview of the curriculum that I created--the curriculum document is over 15 pages, but I'd be happy to share the whole thing with anyone who is interested.  It does not include Bible passages primarily because I believe that if we take passages out of context from a book that is thousands of years old, then those passages don't really have much to say about a complicated subject.  Doing a deep dive into a Bible study wasn't what I wanted to do for my final project--I wanted to explore a possible way to talk about these issues using quilt squares instead of real lives.

In the near future, I'll write a blog post about the theological issues raised in this curriculum.  I think that in addition to finding an interesting way to talk about issues of sexuality, gender, and society, I've created an interesting way to talk about God.