Thursday, February 29, 2024

Imaging Inspirations

Yesterday I went for my mammogram.  In some ways, it's no big deal; women go for mammograms everyday, and I have hopes that mine will be just as routine (in other words, it wasn't a follow up mammogram).  But yesterday, I reflected on how much has changed since my first mammogram, and that seems worth a blog post.

--My first mammogram was in 2019, just after I turned 54, which is much later than many women get their first mammogram.  But I was using earlier guidance, which said a baseline mammogram at age 50 was fine, and I hadn't seen any evidence that convinced me to get an earlier mammogram.  I might make different decisions now, an earlier baseline, but not annual mammograms until I was in my 50's.  

--When I got my first mammogram, I didn't know any women my age with a recent diagnosis (maybe I did, and they didn't tell me; I can't be sure).  Now, just 5 years later, I know several, including my sister.

--I got my second mammogram in 2021 because of my sister's diagnosis.  I paid extra then, to get the 3D imaging.  Yesterday, it was the standard mammogram.  Back then, my health insurance that my company paid for was supposed to cover preventative care, like mammograms.  It was cheaper for me to pay for the 3D imaging out of pocket, the fee charged to people with no insurance, than to cover my portion of the health insurance fees that came with extra imaging.

--I thought about how many people I know with a cancer diagnosis in the past four years, and perhaps more significantly, how many people my age and younger who are dropping dead of massive heart attacks.  Maybe it's just the result of getting older (I turn 59 this summer).  But it feels ominous, like hearing that bird flu has arrived in Antarctica.

--Why did I wait so long between my 2021 mammogram and this one?  I had no idea that there would be such a wait to get a primary care doctor in my new location.  We moved in July of 2022, a summer of hand therapists and surgeon's follow ups after my broken wrist.  I thought about a mammogram, but decided to get one later, since I had just had one ten months ago.  Going forward, I do plan to get a yearly mammogram, since so many of my contemporaries have some scary stories of regular exams and still developing cancer.

--I signed up for the very first appointment of the morning, at 7: 15.  The imaging center was in one of those Town Centre type places, which was nearby, but not well marked.  Because it was so early, I walked around the building a few times before seeing the door.  Perhaps the bank of electrical equipment should have been a cue, but I thought it was servicing the elevator in the lobby behind the locked doors.  The entrance to the imaging center was obvious because of the privacy blinds that blocked not only intrusive gazes and sunlight, but also the light from inside that would have let me know that the door existed, that there was a portal to the clinical office.  Happily, I gave myself plenty of time to arrive early.

--As I walked back to the car, I saw the shelves of a restaurant kitchen through a window, shelves with lots of huge cans of tomato based products.  Maybe it's for decoration, or maybe they really do use that much ketchup in a week.

--I have several poem ideas, which was a happy surprise.  And let me record something that is more of an inspiration than a full blown idea.  I thought about the term "tissue" and how I often think of it as a wispy kind of thing, the Kleenex in a pocket.  I thought of body tissue, which is often dense and fibrous, and yet, easy to destroy, in some ways.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Spring Weather and Hibernation

On Sunday, I went to bed at 7:15 p.m. and slept until 3 a.m., which I figured was kind of strange, but I thought I was likely up for the day.  At 6 a.m. yesterday morning, I thought that I was still tired and decided to see what would happen if I laid back down.  I watched the moon setting, and I drifted off to sleep.  I slept until almost 10.

That kind of schedule disruption can be discombobulating, but luckily, I didn't have much on my schedule, aside from the regular activities of seminary work, teaching tasks, thinking ahead to Sunday's sermon and exercising.  I went on a walk in the beautiful mid-afternoon weather and made this Facebook post:

"Lots of delights to be had on a walk on a sunny Monday in February with close to record breaking heat. But I want to remember the small children playing on their driveway with plastic flower pots on their heads, which reminded me of that Devo album cover from so long ago. I didn't want to ruin their fun or make them feel self-conscious, so I didn't take a picture--you'll just have to use your imagination."

I was walking in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt--amazing for late February.  I kept an eye on the sunset, but it was not as stunning as I thought it would be.

I did get a rough draft done of my essay that I need to submit when I apply for affiliation with United Lutheran Seminary.  Hurrah!  I had been feeling the weight of that, even though it's on a topic that I could write about for days (my call and the future of the church).  Maybe that's part of the problem, that I feel I could write about it for days, and the assignment is 5-7 double spaced pages.

What I have not done as much of is poetry writing.  Part of me thinks it's because the other parts of my life are all consuming right now.  I've gone through these phases before.  But there's always that worry that maybe poetry writing is gone forever.  And even if poetry publishing is gone forever, I want to still see the world through the eyes of my poet self, making interesting connections, seeing imagery and symbolism.  

As I look through my poetry rough draft folder, I see that I'm not as far gone as I thought.  I usually begin a draft once a week.  It's much more rare to actually revise them into something more polished.  And now, while my various school duties are more intense, that seems fine to me.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

An Old-Fashioned Friday Fish Fry at Faith Lutheran

Last night we went to an old-fashioned fish fry, the kind that a church does when it's a Friday in Lent.  We're not Catholic, but at Faith Lutheran in Bristol, TN, we do have members who grew up in other parts of the country, so they have fond memories of the fish fries done by their local churches every Friday in Lent.

In fact, in our first meeting, we were on a Zoom call.  I was in D.C., the Synod rep was in Atlanta, and the church was in the fellowship hall, getting ready for one of the fish fries.  I was impressed then, and I remain impressed after participating last night.

We headed out about 2:15, which meant we got there early enough to do a bit of helping with the last of the set up.  

I helped put pieces of cake in plastic clamshell containers, and my spouse got the fish fry area ready.  And then we hit the ground running.

I was one of the servers on the line.  When we started, I couldn't imagine we'd serve all the food, but we ran out of rolls and green beans, which after a quick run to the store, we had more to offer.  The same was not true of the macaroni and cheese.  We had enough for most people, but the church people who waited until the end didn't have any.  We had plenty of fish, both fried and baked, and a wide variety of desserts.

The fish fry started at 5, and the biggest crowds came at 5:15, and then again at 5:30 and periodically after that.  We didn't run out of seats, and everyone was seated in the fellowship hall, which isn't a huge space.

It was great to sit at a table at the end and eat with the team that pulled it all together and did the bulk of the work.  There was no political discussion, no theological discussion--we mainly talked recipes, since all of the food was prepared from scratch, not by the chemists at Costco.

It was a fun event, and seemed to pull from many parts of the community.  The church has 3 more fish fries scheduled, and I'd be willing to go to them all.  

Friday, February 23, 2024

Infographics and How We Learn

Today I started a file to store the infographics I've been creating for my Foundations of Worship class.  I've had 3 assignments now.  They're not exactly sketches, although I don't have qualms about putting them in that file.  But it seems better to give them their own file, now that I have three of them.

I've created three of them:  a lectionary season wheel, an infographic that explains how we came to worship on Sundays (the first Christians were Jews, after all, who likely added a communion-like observance to the end of Shabbat observance), and an infographic that explains baptism.

It's an interesting assignment, both from an artistic angle and a teaching/learning angle.  Let me be clear that we're not being graded on our artistic skill, which is good.  I've been happy with what I've produced, although it's not always matched what I had in mind.  The lectionary wheel was closest to what I had in mind when I started:

For the infographic on Sunday worship, I didn't even have much in mind for the graphic part of the assignment.  I added some sunrise/sunset colors and a drawing to suggest Shabbat and called it done, even though it's more info than graphic:

I'm not going to include the baptism infographic since it hasn't been graded, and I don't want to risk that the antiplagiarism software would flag it if I post it here before my professor grades it.

From a teaching/learning perspective, it's been interesting.  For the most part, we're condensing what we've read into key points, so it lets our professor see if we understand the reading.  Even if someone had absolutely no sketching or doodling skills, one could do this assignment, either by using fewer illustrations or by collaging.  And of course, there's now a whole world of computer generated stuff that one could create or find, if one had computing skills.

Could I use the idea of an infographic in my English classes that I teach?  It's obvious how I could use infographics in Literature classes.  But could I use them in a Composition class?  Let me ponder this.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Voting in the North Carolina Primary

Yesterday, we voted in the North Carolina primary.

I have fond memories of voting in South Carolina primaries in the late 80's and early 90's.  The state was just as Republican then as it is now, so we knew that almost any vote for a Democrat wouldn't matter in presidential contests.  In primaries, I voted for Jesse Jackson in 1988, and at the time, I thought it unlikely that I'd ever see a candidate who wasn't white win a presidential bid.  I'm thankful I was wrong.

I voted for a woman, too, but I can't remember which one.  It was likely whichever candidate the Green party had chosen.

Last night, I tried to remember why we hadn't voted in Florida primaries, and then I remembered.  The only people who Florida allows to vote in primaries are people who choose a party affiliation when they register to vote.  I have always registered as an independent.

North Carolina allows independents to vote, but only in one of the primaries:  Democrat, Libertarian, or Republican.  South Carolina used to give everyone the same ballot, as if it was a regular election day, and the voter could mix and match between parties.  They may still do that, but I haven't voted in a South Carolina election in decades, so I can't be sure.

Yesterday, I voted in the Republican primary.  In many of the races, that's the candidate who will win in this electorally strange state, so I want to help winnow that field.  On the Democratic side, I'm less concerned about ruling out any of those candidates, so I felt less compelled to vote in that primary.  As for Libertarians, we live in a time where third parties don't have much of a chance, so I'm not wasting a vote that way.

Yesterday we went to vote at the local public library which is nestled between a public high school, a public elementary school, and several churches that have been in existence for longer than the school or library buildings.    I thought about what this country has built, what it has deemed essential for the public good (schools!  libraries!  institutions that house multitudes!  separation of church and state!  caretakers of the souls who are living and dead and the graveyards!).  I said a prayer, both of thanks and supplication that they may continue to exist and thrive. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Good Kind of Tired

I feel tired today in ways that mystify me, as if yesterday was a heavy duty day.  Of course, in some ways, it was:  I drove down to Spartanburg, spent the day teaching, drove back, helped my spouse with a job application (much more cumbersome a process than it sounds, with all the information needing to be entered on a job portal that was clunky and repetitive), and then went to a neighborhood committee meeting.

Today I've got some writing to do for seminary in the morning, two different Zoom sessions this evening and quilting in between.  I shouldn't feel tired, but I do.

Let me also remember that I got a lot of work done on Monday, which also leaves me tired.  And all of this tiredness is the good kind of tired.

I feel grateful that I'm at a time when I have a lot to think about, but it's all stuff I want to be thinking about.  My brain is not filled with accreditation issues.  I am not stressed about money or home repairs (yes, we have lots of home repairs that need to be done, but I'm not stressed about them, at least not today).  I feel very lucky.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Teaching Performance Review

I only have time for the briefest of writings today.  Soon I need to get ready to head down the mountain to teach my English classes at Spartanburg Methodist College.  It's that time of the semester when I'm not sure which technique is best for my English Composition classes, but I'm about to decide on a week of mini-conferences next week and a time to write together on Thursday.  

I always feel this odd guilt, like I need to be the "sage on the stage" for every single minute that they are in class--that they've paid a certain amount, and I better make sure they get their money's worth.  In our entertainment culture, I often equate "money's worth" to "good performance."

But a time of writing with others also writing is something we don't get to experience very often.  A time of writing with a writing teacher nearby probably feels special.

Let me return to these thoughts later.  It occurs to me that I might need an additional handout today.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Week-end Update: Ups and Downs and Ups

It has been one of those week-ends that was a mix of happiness and depression.  The depression came from having a drywall person come and be less than enthusiastic about our project.  In some ways, we should have bounced back; we will want a person/team/company to do the taping, mudding, and sanding/finishing work.  We have a team scheduled to come in and hang the drywall, which at once point seemed impossible to find.  We will find someone to do the rest of it, or we'll do it ourselves.

But Saturday afternoon, we both felt dejected at the same time, which is a difficult and sometimes dangerous time for us as a couple.  If only one of us is dejected, the other can be rational and reassuring.  We didn't have that Saturday.  So we watched Pure Deviltry, a strange movie with subtitles, about two demons who have to go to the regular world to find two people who most deserved to go to Hell.  It turned out to be oddly charming.  We started it Saturday night and finished it last night.

Yesterday was a good day at Faith Lutheran, in Bristol, Tennessee.  I finished I getting the children ready for First Communion (for more on that, see this blog post).  After worship, my spouse and I went over to the house of the church council president for a lovely lunch.  When we got home, I went over to the house of a Lutheridge friend who is selling her house and selling stuff.  We don't need much stuff, but she does have a cool glass birdbath that will be ours.

It's strange to think that I always thought of this neighborhood where we live as a place where most people wouldn't leave, but that hasn't been the case.  I understand, but it does make me sad at points, even when people aren't going far.

The sunset last night was absolutely gorgeous.  I captured some shots that might find their way into a sketchbook.

I made this Facebook post this morning:  "It seems a first worth mentioning here: I'm washing a white robe to get the Ash Wednesday ashes out. The care instructions say to treat the robe like a delicate creature, even though it's probably been on the earth longer than I have. It seems like one of those rugged poly-cotton blends designed to outlast humanity, but I'll treat it as if it was made of hand-tatted lace. We should all get that kind of treatment occasionally."

A few other points from the week-end worth mentioning:

--I need to apply to United Lutheran Seminary to be affiliated with them (as a Methodist who wants to be ordained in the ELCA, I need to be affiliated with a Lutheran seminary, and ULS does a better job with distance students and midlife students than most Lutheran seminaries).  I need 3 people to be recommenders; one must be my home pastor and one must be a professor, so I have fewer people to choose from in those two slots.  Happily, I now have a yes from each category.

--Why is it hard for me to ask for this favor?  In part, because I've already asked for what feels like a big favor, and now I have to ask again.  In part because this application process is cumbersome.  Let me get this wrapped up this week so I don't have to think about it in this way again.

--We had a great Bible study by way of Zoom on Saturday.  It's so cool to be able to stay connected with the women from my Florida church this way.  About half of us have moved somewhere else, but we still want to stay in touch.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

When a Day Zooms By

At 7:45, I started getting ready for my 9 a.m. Zoom call with my quilt group friends, the Zoom call before the Bible study on parables that I lead for my Florida church once a month at 10 a.m.  Did I need 75 minutes before the first Zoom call?  No, I did not.  I was an hour off.

Happily, I realized that I was off, and no harm done.  But it's unsettling, nonetheless, especially in this current news climate where we're always yammering on about the mental fitness of the two elderly men who are likely to face each other in the U.S. presidential election.  More than ever, I find myself thinking, does this slip of my memory signal decline?  Of course, I'd likely wonder that anyway, with a history of elders with memory issues on both sides of my parents' family tree.

Speaking of those elders, last night I dreamed about my grandmother on my mother's side.  She was living in her house, which unlike some of my dreams, was not changed from when she lived there.  We were sorting fabric together.  It was a lovely dream.

Yesterday was one of those days where I felt like I got a lot done, but because it wasn't a lot of school work, it felt like I got nothing done.  I went to the library and to the Fresh Market, where I got a lot of Valentine's treats and a mix of 3 hot cocoa tins for 75% off.  Hurrah!  

I connected with the person in charge of CPE in Spartanburg.  After talking to the person in charge of CPE at the Asheville VA Hospital, I thought it would be wise to check out nearby possibilities because the VA Hospital has limited summer possibilities (none this summer, next summer perhaps but hard to say).  The Spartanburg option has lots of flexibility, and unlike Asheville, they don't do as much in the summer as they do in the fall and spring for people who only need one unit of CPE.

I helped my spouse with some renovation chores to get the house ready for the drywall team that will be here March 4.  Soon it felt like the whole day had zoomed by, and it had.

Speaking of zooming, soon it will be time for my Zoom calls, so let me get some breakfast! 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Friday Threads, Ash Wednesday Weavings and Star Shapes

It's been an unusual week, with a midweek worship service which meant that I moved the English classes that I teach online yesterday.  I've felt the week feeling like I'm not really sure what day it is.  Let me collect a few threads here, parts of a weaving that I don't want to lose.

--I went for a walk right after I got back from my drive to Spartanburg on Tuesday.  As I was walking down a steep hill (for those familiar with Lutheridge, it was just after passing Efird, heading down the hill to the main entrance), I heard a rustle and looked over.  At first I thought I was seeing a bird swooping low, but as the creature ran away, I realized it was a deer, and the white tail was what I thought was a bird.  Wildlife sightings that aren't birds still feel magical to me.

--On Tuesday evening, we went to a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper at the Lutheran church that is right around the corner from us, a church where we have lots of connections, but I wasn't sure that we'd see anyone we know.  Still, we wanted to support the youth who are raising money to go to the nationwide youth event.

--It was a great event, pancakes with all sorts of toppings (berries, chocolate chips, whipped cream, syrup, real butter), pancakes that we ate on real plates.  As one youth said, "The church has these dishes, so we might as well use them."  The church also has an industrial dishwasher, which makes that decision easier.  We sat a table and caught up with people we don't see as often as we would like.

--The pancake supper started at 5:30, which meant we were done and back on our way by 6:45.  I need more events like this one.  Our local church also does a Pub Theology night, which I have enjoyed when we've gone, but it doesn't start until 7:00. Why is it hard for me to want to go to an event on a school night that starts at 7:00?

--It was great to have conversations with the youth group member who was our table's waiter.   And one of the youth members had a friend who was part of a jazz band that sounded much, much older (in a good, smoky-voiced kind of way) than their years.  These kind of events give me hope for the future.

--I had a great day on Wednesday baking bread.  I am still experimenting as I try to bake a bread that's tasty and easy for me to tear into bite sized pieces for communion.  One loaf got quite a rise.  This picture encapsulates much about my current life, from bread cooling to the two coffee makers on the counter to the poinsettias, still red and healthy:

--We had a lovely drive to Bristol,  TN on Wednesday afternoon, and on Feb. 14, that felt lucky indeed:  no snow/rain, and the setting sun was never in our eyes.  We heard a radio ad for term life insurance, which we both had as termite insurance.  The ad promised in a very gender specific way that an older man could get term life insurance (or, as we heard it, termite insurance) even if that man had diabetes or heart problems.  Hilarity ensued as we tried to interpret what we thought we had heard.

--I got this comment on one of my worship contextuality assignments:  "Thank you for your thoughtful reflection, Kristin. You have a keen and analytic eye."  My first thought was, me?--a keen and analytic eye?  I went back to the assignment, and yes, I do see why my professor said that.  What's more interesting to me is why my first impulse is to deny that I have a keen and analytic eye when it comes to my academic writing.  Hmm.  

--I know why, of course.  When I did my English Literature graduate work, I went straight out of undergraduate school, and I went from being a star student to being part of a group of stars, many of whom I perceived as shining more brightly than I could.  Looking back, I realize that was likely untrue.  Most of them just knew how to talk a good game.   The men were convinced of their brilliance, but I never saw their writing or our professor's feedback to their writing, so I have no way to judge.  However, decades of experience have shown me that those who blather on about their brilliance are not as brilliant as they think they are.

--Speaking of brilliant stars, I'll remember driving back across the mountains Wednesday night and seeing a star decoration shining through the night, a star made of Christmas lights strung in a star shape on a big board.  I had seen it as we drove across and wondered if the house still lit it up at night.  Wednesday night, the star shone brightly.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Post Ash Wednesday Weariness and Inspiration

I am a bit weary today, which isn't surprising, considering that late yesterday afternoon we headed over the mountain to Faith Lutheran in Bristol, Tennessee, celebrated Ash Wednesday, and drove home. The drive home wasn't as scary as I thought it might be, but we both agreed that we were glad that we didn't have to go much further.

I am happy that I realized I would be tired, so I moved my Thursday classes online.  In many ways, it's a catch our collective breath day, although I did give the students a writing assignment.  I'll keep my eye on my e-mail, but I don't expect my students to reach out.  They aren't a needy group.  In fact, it's hard to get a lot of them to do the work.

Yesterday I was very focused before we left, another reason for today's weariness.  I needed to write an Ash Wednesday sermon, which I did.  The first draft freaked out my poor spouse, who told me that I was bordering on heresy; these are not words I hear very often from him, so I created a new sermon, which was much better.  I also had some writing due for class, which I did.  And because I was moving my English classes online, I had some work to do, which doesn't take brainpower, but does take some amount of time.

I now feel a bit fallen out of time.  I've written notes to myself so that I remember to go to my class that meets by way of Zoom session tonight.  I had a hair appointment yesterday that was moved to today.  I am to that point in the semester where even if I'm caught up, it's never for long--so let me not sit here too much longer before I focus on the seminary work that is due today.

But let me record the last paragraph of my sermon, in case we all need something a bit more inspiring.  I gave myself chill bumps when I proclaimed that last sentence from the "pulpit" last night:

"Yes, we are dust, and to dust we shall return. But Ash Wednesday doesn’t give us the complete picture. Ash Wednesday points us to Easter, God’s ultimate Valentine message of love where God shows us that even though earthly powers and principalities join together to defeat the ultimate message of Love that Jesus brings, those powers and principalities will not succeed. Easter gives us the promise of resurrection. Everything we love will turn to dust, but dust is not the final incarnation. From that dust will come something new, something shining, something celestial in its beauty."

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day

It is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day, a confluence of holidays that will only happen again once this century in 2029.  Observant folks may remember that it happened in 2018, and people like me, who do some Google searching (which is not nearly as effective as it once was) will discover that it happened in 1923, 1934, and 1945.

I need to write a sermon for tonight's worship service at Faith Lutheran in Bristol, Tennessee, and get the Communion bread made.  I am hoping that this blogging helps to order my thoughts.  Part of the problem with an Ash Wednesday sermon is that there are so many fruitful directions.  But since there aren't many Ash Wednesdays that are celebrated on Valentine's Day, maybe I'll use this juxtaposition.

I went to my YouTube channel and was surprised in a delighted kind of way to remember how many video sermons I made during the pandemic.  Here's a video sermon that I created for Ash Wednesday 2021--it holds up well.

I am intrigued by how many of my Ash Wednesday meditations from past years didn't reference the Bible texts at all.  But in some ways, that makes sense.  I wasn't preparing a sermon after all.  But for tonight, let me think about all of the texts.  We are using the passage from Joel, not Isaiah--drat.  I love verse 12  from Isaiah 58:  "Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in."

I am also thinking about my sermon and about how few of us need reminders of our mortality.  Most of the members that will hear my sermon tonight are over 50 years old; sadly, these days, death is not unfamiliar to us.  My seminary professors might remind me to ask myself as I'm writing:  where is the good news in this?

The good news is the animating breath of God.  We are dust, yes, galactic ash, the remains of stars and galaxies.  But it is the breath of God that transforms.  And that breath of God is love itself.

I am writing this blog post as a fire burns in the fireplace, as the bread for tonight's communion is in the oven set to proofing temperature.  The first pinks of sunrise are making their way across the mountain range that I can see through the mostly leafless trees.  Yesterday I saw a field of daffodils at the North Carolina welcome center as I drove home from teaching at Spartanburg Methodist College.  Part of me loved seeing this eruption of daffodils, but part of me thought, no, no, it's too soon.

That imagery can work for Ash Wednesday too.  Let me see what I come up with.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Day Before Ash Wednesday

Happy Shrove Tuesday!  Happy Mardi Gras!  Last week, when I mentioned to my Tuesday/Thursday classes that we'd be meeting on Mardi Gras, I got blank looks.  I still don't know whether they were blank looks because my students haven't ever heard of Mardi Gras or because they see me as an old lady who can't possibly understand the joys of cheap, plastic beads and buckets of alcoholic drinks.

I do realize that both may be true.

I usually don't have much in the way of plans for the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  But tonight, my local Lutheran church is having a pancake supper to raise funds to send the youth to the big Gathering later this year.  And we are planning to go.

I say my local Lutheran church, which means the one around the corner from my Lutheridge house, the one with the quilt group that has become dear to my heart.  I rarely worship there anymore, because I go to my other church, Faith Lutheran in Bristol, Tennessee, where we'll celebrate Ash Wednesday together; they, too, are having a pancake supper tonight.  And I'm still a member of my South Florida church, Trinity Lutheran in Pembroke Pines; they had beignets this past Sunday.

For my three classes today, I'll present three different love poems and have them write a bit.  I decided to go with love poems and not Ash Wednesday poems, and I decided to stay away from traditional love poetry.  Here's what we'll be doing, if you want to read along:

The poem that's closest to a traditional love poem is Leah Furnas' "The Longley-Weds Know."  The one with the biggest Ash Wednesday vibe is Maggie Smith's "Good Bones"--it's a hopeful Ash Wednesday vibe, but an Ash Wednesday vibe nonetheless.  And the poem that is the one that makes me feel a spark of hope in an Ash Wednesday kind of way is Naomi Shihab Nye's "Gate A-4."

I wasn't able to find much poetry with an outright Ash Wednesday theme, apart from T. S. Eliot, whom I'm not going to tackle with first year students.  And I thought about my own--I've got a series of Ash Wednesday poems, but I don't feel like including them.  I've posted some of them here in the past.  Maybe tomorrow I'll unveil a new one.  Maybe today, I'll write a new one.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Superbowl Income Tax Sunday

I did not watch the Superbowl.  I am not a football person, and while the ads are occasionally intriguing, I'll likely see them later.  The halftime show rarely interests me, even if it's someone I like/have heard of.  It's been decades since I was invited to any kind of Superbowl party, and that's fine.  Football is so outside my frame of reference now that I can't even tell you if my local friends like football or not.

I used to go grocery shopping when the Superbowl was on--it was a pretty sure bet that the stores would be empty.  Happily, I'm at a time in my life when I have lots of opportunities to shop when other people are doing other activities, like work.

Nope, I finished doing our taxes last night.  They are less complicated than they have been in some years, but I did have my own "business," being a Synod Appointed Minister, so I had a bit more calculating to do, like mileage.  Happily, that, too, is fairly straight forward.  I put some notes to myself in this year's calendar, so that next year, when I calculate mileage, I'll remember that I had some extra trips in the Spring of 2024:  Ash Wednesday, the fish fry, and Maundy Thursday.

The biggest challenge was figuring out where to put the health insurance information.  We're on the ACA Marketplace exchange, and we need to enter some numbers so that we don't have to pay back the tax credit.  Once I figured out where the info goes, it was obvious, but it took me half an hour.

I use TurboTax to do all the calculating--again, usually a tool that makes life easier, except when I can't figure out how to find the section that will ask me for the information that I know I need to input.

And now to shift my attention to other matters.  It looks like a rainy afternoon, so I'll walk this morning, and do indoor stuff, like seminary work and grading, this afternoon.  And baking some pumpkin bread will be in order.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Sketching for Schoolwork

I am really enjoying my Foundations of Preaching class.  I'm impressed with the wide range of activities that we do to show that we've learned the material.  

I'm also surprised by which parts take the most time.  A few weeks ago, we had to make a PowerPoint to teach others about the worship traditions that formed us.  Not only did that project take less time than I had budgeted (hurrah!), but it also made my inner artist happy, although my inner tech person was exasperated with the deficiency of the software (and unwilling to learn a new system like Canva in short order).

The project for last week seemed like it would be solidly in my skill set:

A creative activity! Imagine you are trying to explain Christian concepts of time for a child/youth.


1) Draw your own lectionary wheel, with informative notes on each season. 


2) Draw an infographic on the Christian concept of time, including how "Sunday" was established as a tradition.


3) Upload drawings as your activity submission.


*You will not be graded on your artistic talent. ;) 

I spent so much time on this one.  Part of it was my fault; I didn't sketch with a pencil, so once I made a mistake, I had to start over.  It was hard for me to figure out how to divide the lectionary wheel, since some seasons like the time after Easter and the time after Epiphany vary widely from year to year.  And I wasn't sure what an infographic should include, the proportion of pictures to words.

I'm not going to post my work here, not until it gets graded.  I would hate for the plagiarism detection software to flag the work that I turned in, because the software found it here.  Plus, it speaks to another issue I had:  the photo isn't as good as the work itself.  I'm not sure that here you would be able to see it clearly.

Now it's off to Faith Lutheran, where in addition to preaching, I am leading a several week session to get children ready for First Communion.  It's an interesting endeavor, and I'm really enjoying it.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Creation Theories

Yesterday, I posted this picture, with this Facebook post:  "One of these things does more to affirm my belief in a benevolent God than the others (the cup contains coffee from a pod, and the graham crackers contain chocolate frosting). Discuss."

Yesterday was a day of modest revelations.  I read God in Creation while waiting for students to come for their individual conferences.  Moltmann is the Systematics theologian around whom we're structuring our two semesters of Systematic Theology.  So far, my reaction has been a shrug, but I really liked yesterday's reading.

As I was getting ready to go to school, I wished I had a pen with purple ink and a finer tip.  And I remembered the Copic multiliner pens I bought a few years ago.  They worked perfectly, for both writing on student papers in a conference and for underlining as I read.  I bought a variety of colors, and I should really use them before they dry up.  And now I have some ideas about how to do that--they aren't useful for sketching, the way I thought they would be.

But no, the real revelation was the graham cracker and chocolate frosting concoction.  When I got to campus, the glass walled conference room was being set up for the weekly Academic Affairs meeting.  As I walked back and forth to the only working printer, I kept my eyes on the graham cracker treats.  Were they sandwiching peanut butter or chocolate or Nutella?

I have noticed that the treats from the weekly meeting are often set out in the break room after the meeting, and sure enough, later in the morning, there they were.  The break room has a Keurig and pods, so I helped myself.  What a delicious treat.

I told the admin assistant how much I had enjoyed them, and lo and behold, the Vice President for Academic Affairs had made them; his mother used to make them when he was a kid.  I asked if she thought it was just frosting from a can, and she said that she thought it was from scratch:  "He cooks a lot--he even makes his own pasta!"  I thought it tasted better than canned frosting.

In fact, it tasted so good that I had three of them.  I was relieved to see that they were all gone when I came back from class.  Here's a close up of one of them:

I finished the day by going to class by way of Zoom, a good Systematic Theology class; I am intrigued by what some of my classmates assert about Adam and Eve and that garden.  Once again, I think about what a strange seminarian I am, with my poet's sensibility, my academic training/Ph.D. in literary criticism, my decades of rebellious rejection of much of traditional Christianity.  

As we talked about Adam and Eve and other creation myths (familiar to me, but not to everyone) from both that time period and much, much earlier, I started this sketch:

Why did I give Eve wings?  I didn't start with that intention.  But Eve's upper back and left shoulder had a feathery look, and I thought it worked in some ways--plus, I was covering a mistake (there's a life lesson in here somewhere).  In some ways, I think I've drawn Eve that looks more like a muppet than a human.  I'm OK with that too.

So, yes, a good day, a day that left me tired, but in a good way.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Circuit Riders for the Twenty-first Century

Friday night, we had a pastor friend over for cheese and wine and/or hot apple cider.  She owns the cabin beside us, but it's a summer cabin, with no heat, so she was staying up the hill at camp.  We talked about the challenges facing the church.  And yet, because of the challenges, some churches are thinking about exciting options.

One church has created, with the approval of their bishop, a position called a preaching fellow.  Ordained pastors come to preach for 4-12 weeks at a time.  What a cool idea.  The church doesn't have to support a pastor in all the other ways (like insurance and retirement) that can be so unaffordable, and it gets to hear from a wide variety of preachers throughout the year.

Of course, there are other logistics:  where will the pastor stay, for example.  If a church member has room, that could be a possibility.  But if it's a guest bedroom and not a cottage, that could be an issue on either side.  Four to twelve weeks is a long time to have a guest.

Some part of me thinks, wait, didn't the church do this in the past?  Didn't we call these people circuit riders?  Yes, and I wonder why we don't have some version of that today.  I can't be the only one who finds it appealing.

I arealize that there may be few pastors who are in a position to leave their other responsibilities for 4-12 weeks.  But then I thought, what if the larger Church creates an even wider variety of career paths than already exist?  If someone loves to travel and gets energized meeting new people and having new experiences, that person could be a traveling preacher, going places where needed, getting real training to be that kind of preacher--instead of the "You are retired, so you can be an interim" kind of assignment we see now.

I write about new possibilities while feeling sorrow:  we're not doing a great job supporting alternate career paths now.  Woe to the person who feels called to campus ministry or outdoor ministry.  I know that campuses all over the state of Florida are having to cut back on student support because of the state's inane anti-diversity laws.  Wouldn't it be great if the Church was ready with alternate support?  Sadly, I don't see that happening--not yet.   

Holy Spirit, I'm willing to be surprised and trying to stay open!

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

AWP (Or Not) 2024

All across the country, writers are headed to the middle of the country, to the AWP convention in Kansas City.  I will not be going for a variety of reasons.  I'm grateful that I'm not going for a variety of reasons: I'm glad I'm not spending the money, but chiefly, I'm grateful because I'm not being exposed to all the diseases that are running rampant.  Between the airline travel and the packed conference rooms and all the people who will attend even if they are sick (and when they think they aren't contagious yet/still), I'm glad to be staying home.

Yet even as I write those words, I feel a bit of a pang.  It would be so wonderful to hear Jericho Brown give the keynote address.  Some of those sessions would be inspiring.  I've given up on making connections that might open literary doors, but some part of me still wishes it could happen, and it's not likely to happen while I'm sitting in my house in North Carolina.

Part of me wonders what literary doors I'd like to have open and what I think would happen if they did.  For decades, I had the hope of a better academic job or maybe some other form and fame/fortune.  I thought about something that might turn into something I could turn into a lecture circuit.  But now, the thought of all that airline travel makes me very, very tired.

And here's what's strangest to me:  I am fairly satisfied with the life I have right now.  One reason I went to AWP in the past was because it was a way to get away from the crushing drudgery of my regular job, and I could do it without having to spend precious vacation days.  That opportunity was worth the expense to me.

These days, I'd rather be here than just about anywhere.  I am not used to this feeling.  And I hope I never take this feeling for granted.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Tuesday Tidbits: Gratitude Edition

I don't have much time to write today.  Soon it will be time to head down the mountain to teach.  Let me record a few tidbits before getting ready.

--We are having spectacular weather, with highs in the 60's.  It seems unusual for February, but I've never lived here in February.  I've enjoyed my afternoon walk later in the day, in the afternoon, when the skies are a glorious blue, and it's almost too warm for long sleeves as my walk progresses.

--I may have bought snow boots prematurely.  It's beginning to feel like it may never snow again.  I'm not complaining, although it would be nice to have the kind of snow that just drifts by the window.

--When I'm out on my walks through the camp, there's always a point where I swell up with gratitude, where I think about how amazed I am to live here, how lucky I feel, yet also how much planning it took to get here, including those years that weren't planning so much as yearning.

--My contract to be a Synod Appointed Minister at Faith Lutheran has been extended until June 1.  That, too, makes me very happy.

--I will begin doing some non-Sunday worship with them:  Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday.  And there will be a fish fry on Feb. 23 where they'd like me to be there so that the community gets to see that they do have a minister.

--I'm leading a 3 week class to get children ready for first communion, and I'm really loving it.  I'm making notes so that I don't have to reinvent this process every time I do it.

--We have just passed the 2 year anniversary of my severing from City College.  But we're also almost at the one year anniversary of my reaching out to the bishop to create a different kind of internship along with the letter that I wrote that eventually led to me being hired to teach in-person English classes again.  Well done, last year Kristin!

--I am also happy to discover that I like having a Tuesday-Thursday onground teaching schedule.  Leaving the house to go to campus is easier knowing that I have other week days where I will be home.  In the past, in my administrator life where I was on campus 45-60 hours, I felt such despair every morning as the time to leave the house got closer.

--I am taking 2 asynchronous seminary classes, and I'm really enjoying them.  Instead of having filmed lectures to watch, we have readings and creative engagements with the readings and each other.  These days, I like that approach just as well as the Zoom lecture meeting in place of the classroom--another reason to feel fortunate!

Monday, February 5, 2024

In Praise of Tracy Chapman

I have spent a delightful morning willing falling down an internet rabbit hole in one of the best kind of ways.  I did not stay up to watch the Grammys, but I did want to see Tracy Chapman.  And voila, because of the age we live in, I was able to do see the Tracy Chapman/Luke Combs duet shortly after it happened.  And I was able to watch it again and again, along with a lot of her other songs, that I haven't heard in decades.

I was impressed with how crystal clear her voice sounded decades ago--and it's still gorgeous.  She could probably sing with anyone and make them sound good.  I indulged in a little fantasy about what I would sing with her.  

And because so much is saved and free on YouTube, I was able to listen to a few other amazing songs.  I've been on a bit of a Sam and Dave kick--"Hold On, I'm Coming" is such a perfect song, so I listened to it again.  And then it was on to the Rolling Stones and now Bruce Springsteen is singing "Further On Up the Road."

But back to Tracy Chapman--I am so glad to see the appreciation that she has generated.  I am so glad that Luke Combs hit just the right notes of respect as he sang with her.  I am so glad that she is still able to play her guitar and sing.  I am so glad that the original album overnight has become #1 on iTunes.

I looked at the list of other nominees and performers.  I'm familiar with a lot of the newer nominees, familiar as in I've heard their names and maybe expound on their cultural importance, but not familiar as in I could hum/sing a few bars.  Once this fact might have made me feel old, but it's been decades since I kept up with "modern" music.

But I'm always grateful when the elders are honored--even when I'm sobered/astonished/chastened to realize that the music of my youth is now being recognized as a gift from the elders.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Travels and Travails of a Mail Order Purchase

When people bellow about the inefficiency of government services, they may not be talking about the U.S. Post Office, an institution that few of us are using these days.  I don't usually track packages.  Usually, they're here before I can turn on the porch light for the delivery person.

I placed an order from The Crystal Garden, a store in South Florida that carries the only incense that I don't find cloying.  Let me tell you about the journey of my package which came by way of the U.S. Post Office's Priority Mail option.

It went from Boynton Beach 50 miles south to Opa Locka.  I thought that was strange, but maybe the regional processing center is much closer by going south than north.  It's possible.

From there, it went to Columbia, South Carolina and then Greenville, South Carolina.  So far, not a surprise--that's the way I would go too.  On Monday, my package was in Greenville, just 50 miles away.  I thought it might be to me by afternoon.

Imagine my surprise when I went back to the tracking feature and found out it was headed to Knoxville, Tennessee.  It probably went right by my house (which is about 5 miles from I 26) to head to Knoxville.  And from there, the journey got stranger.

It went back by my house on its way east to Charlotte, North Carolina.  From there, it was back to Greenville, SC and then on to Hendersonville, North Carolina, just 15 miles away.  But wait!

Wednesday morning, it went BACK to Greenville.  It spent the early hours of Wednesday morning back and forth over the NC/SC border.

Wednesday late morning, I wrote, "And now it is headed to me.  At least, that's what the tracking tells me."  And voila!  Finally, it arrived.

I don't have anything wise to say to sum this up.  I know how much Amazon has spoiled me with overnight delivery options.  I understand that the mail system, with all its component parts, is a wonder; I've studied the nineteenth century and seen how people wrote letters to maximize the use of paper and the mail system which charged by the page.  I could have driven down to get my incense much faster, but I'm happy not to make the drive.  Yet I also don't want delivery drivers to have to drive past my house in 2-4 hour segments over several days to make that delivery either--it seems downright wasteful and so very late stage capitalism that it seemed worth recording here.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

My Last Day at my Last Full-time Job

Two years ago, I would be settling into what I thought would be a regular day as campus president at the Hollywood campus of City College--no, not that City College, not the famous, respected one in New York City, but the one that trained students for medical and medical adjacent careers.  Think medical assistants, vet techs, EMTs, that sort of thing.  I would settle in to my job, not realizing it was going to be my last day on the job.

I must confess, it wasn't a complete surprise.  The campus was being remodeled, and all the pressure for me to move my files and supplies into the president's office stopped two weeks before I was let go. I pushed back on the plan to combine the library and the medical assisting lab just two days before I was let go.   And for a year and a half before the end of the job, there was much reorganizing and then undoing and then reorganizing again.

Almost nobody with whom I worked remains there; we've all been let go or left of our own volition. Almost all of the campuses have closed.  Most puzzling was the Miami campus, which was moved to a different facility and underwent what looked like very expensive renovations to me, was open for a year, give or take three months, and then abruptly shuttered.  Most of the programs that were part of the school when I came to the campus are no longer in existence.  I have no idea how or if the campuses that remain are making money, but there is still a web presence.

I am not sorry I lost that job.  In fact, lately I've been feeling sorrow that I stayed in administration as long as I did.  I have administrator skills, which not everyone does, but those tasks do not bring me joy.  And my goodness, the toxic and broken people who are in administration!  It's a job hazard that I never considered.  I may be extraordinarily lucky, but in all my time in a variety of schools across several states, I've never seen faculty/librarians/staff who are as broken and toxic as some of the administrators and corporate types that don't teach.

Because of that job loss, other doors have opened, and I've been able to walk through them.  I've had the experience of living on a seminary campus, and we now have a paid for house in the North Carolina mountains--both of those are dreams come true.  I've been able to be a part-time minister, a job that has been even more rewarding than I expected, and I expected it to be rewarding.  I've gotten a part-time job teaching English classes at Spartanburg Methodist College--at last, I'm at the small, liberal arts college that was my career goal when I went to grad school.

On Thursday, I helped a student with an essay which was about navigating high school during the Covid years.  For a brief moment, I was staggered by all the losses contained in those years.  Instead of weeping, I said to the student, "Be sure to keep this essay.  Some day, you'll have grandchildren or grandnieces and grandnephews who will want to know this history, and you won't remember.  But you'll have it written down."

For much the same reason, I write about the upheavals in my life.  It's good to remember.  And it's good to feel gratitude, even in the midst of loss and upheaval.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Festivals Halfway through Winter

We are at the halfway point of winter--halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Today is Candlemas, where Christians celebrate the presentation of Jesus at the Temple (also known as the Feast Day of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple), and pagans long ago celebrated the goddess Brigid (and the feast day of St. Brigid was yesterday), and some Wiccans today will be celebrating at Imbolc, or a variation of any number of pagan holidays. It's also Groundhog's Day. It's one of those times when we can almost perceive the shifting of the seasons. It's not spring yet, but it will be soon.

Candlemas is the feast day that speaks to me. Candlemas celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the temple. It's the last feast holiday that references Christmas. We could see it as the final festival of Christmas, even though most of us have had the decorations packed away since even before Epiphany.

This article by Eleanor Parker tells us about the long history of Candlemas, and she focuses on the medieval time period, where the Christmas celebrations extended throughout January:  "Short days and bad weather limited the work that could be done anyway, and the general gloom made festivity all the more welcome — much more cheerful than Dry January."

Even though electricity has made us feel we need to be just as productive in January as in July, the natural light moves in its own seasonal cycle.  I have always wished that Christmas came in late February, so that we had the lights and the festive decorations for consolation throughout all the darker months in the northern hemisphere.

Some churches and monasteries will bless the year's supply of candles.  In past times, according to this article by Diana Butler Bass, Christians would bring their candles to the church for blessing and then there would be a candle lit procession through town.  In a more agricultural age, it's a time of lambing, a time of getting ready for spring planting, a time where we might see snowdrops poking out through the snow/ground.

It's good to have these holidays that remind us of illumination; I'm a fan of the growth that can happen in the dark, too, but that's a different blog post.  We live in a time of despair, and the gloomy weather doesn't help us feel cheerful.  Being surrounded by the glow of candles can lift our spirits, and it's a cheap fix.

And it's also a reminder that God is at work in the world, even when we don't always see that happening, that spring is on the way if we can just hold on a bit longer.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

A Poem for the Feast Day of Saint Brigid

Today is the feast day of St. Brigid, one of the patron saints of Ireland.  She is one of the early Christians who stood at the intersection of Christianity, Druidism, and the other pagan religions of Ireland.  She is also one of those extraordinary women who did amazing things, despite the patriarchal culture in which she lived.

She founded founded some of the first Christian monasteries in Ireland, most famously the legendary one in Kildare.  She also founded a school of art that focuses on metal working and illumination.  The illustrated manuscript, the Book of Kildare, was created under her auspices.  Unfortunately, it's been lost since the Reformation, so we know it by its reputation only.

Monastic, administrator, artist--it's no wonder that her story calls to me from across the centuries.

I didn't really know much about Brigid until about 2011 or 2012, when I read several blog posts about her.  In 2013, I drove all the way to Mepkin Abbey on her feast day.  I thought about her life as I drove across cold landscapes.  I finally wrote a draft of the poem that appears below.

Years ago, I wrote this:  "I will try to imagine Saint Brigid through a more realistic lens.  I will write a poem where she tells me that she accomplished all sorts of things along the way, while all the time struggling to create her great illuminated work.  I will imagine something that she did that we know nothing of.  I will imagine that she will feel sad when she realizes that modern people don't even know of her great work, but instead of her institutions at Kildare and beyond.

I will think about a woman at midlife 1500 years from now, a woman who reads about my life.  What will amaze her?  How will she see the ways that I did, indeed, live an authentic life, even as I lost sight of that fact in the daily minutiae?  If she blogged about me, what would seem important enough to include?  How would she finish this sentence:  In the last half of her life, Berkey-Abbott accomplished ______________  ?"

I have yet to write about Brigid's lost work, but I did write the poem that imagines Brigid through a more realistic lens.  It was published in Adanna, and I'm happy to repost it here.  If you want additional background on Brigid, see this blog post.

The True Miracle of Saint Brigid

You know about the baskets
of butter, the buckets of beer,
the milk that flowed
to fill a lake.

You don’t know about the weeks
we prayed for the miracle
of multiplication but instead received
the discipline of division.

I managed the finances to keep us all fed.
By day, I rationed the food.
At night, I dreamed of a sculpture
manufactured of metal.

I didn’t have the metal
or the time, but in the minutes
had, I illuminated
any scrap of paper I could find.

Lost to the ashes:
The Book of Kildare, but also
my budget ledgers, flowers
and birds drawn around the numbers.