Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Just for fun, I have to share with you the dog version of "Twelve Days of Christmas" we use at our house....I'll cut to the chase by going to day twelve....

"On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,
Twelve punt possums,
Eleven rawhide chewys,
Ten rabbits hopping,
Nine snakes a-slithering,
Eight trees for peeing,
Seven stuffed critters,
Six dog biscuits,
Five neutered vets!
Four big bones,
Three cat turds,
Two slow squirrels,
and a collar to keep away fleas!"

Many of the European countries have a legend where, at midnight on Christmas Eve, the animals can talk.

I was up late last night, around 1 a.m. heard quite the donkey commotion outside. My two donkeys, Miss Sylvia and Miss Topaz, were out in the moonlight, braying their lungs out. I didn't make out any words of English, but as far as I'm concerned, they were living up to the Christmas Eve legend. So I stood outside and sang some Christmas songs with them. (They seem to have a preference for black gospel, so we sang "Sweet Little Jesus Boy," "No Room at the Inn," and "The Last Month of the Year" with them. They continued to bray, I'm convinced they were wanting to sing along.

So the three of us entered Christmas day with "brays and thanksgiving!"

Ya know, I had a sudden realization. As much as I like to talk about Trinity, I've never posted a picture of her on this blog. I particularly like this one. It was taken Dec. 16, a few hours after Sunday services. We had an ice storm, followed by a snowstorm, and I particularly like the icy trees mixed with the snow in this photo.

She's not a particularly big place, but she certainly is a grand old girl, built in 1917. The fun continues, as Mother Nature continues to beat up on Kirksville, every Saturday, like clockwork, keeping me busy with that snow/ice removal stuff. Today was no exception. At 6:50 a.m., when I arrived to shovel her walks, I had to laugh. Across the street, First Christian had their little snowblower dude out. Catty corner and down the street, the Methodists had a four-wheeler with a snow blade attached, cleaning their sidewalks. Trinity just had me and my little shovel. Felt like it was David against the snow Philistines!

I'll end with the picture taken above Trinity's front door. Gotta love those icicles. This is Kirksville winter the way Kirksville winter is meant to be!

Wallace's sermon today centered around today's Gospel text, Matthew 1:18-25, the problem of Mary being pregnant, and it’s not Joseph’s. Well, I was sitting in church thinking of all the legal problems. My first thought was “Wow! What if Joseph had annulled the contract; Jesus would have been a mumzer!” (Yiddish and Hebrew word for bastard. My retired Jewish friend uses the word all the time to describe people who are real shitheads. “He’s a real mumzer.”) So when I got home, I Googled a little and learned some of the “rules” for betrothal in ancient Jewish society, what the problem of being pregnant, but not by the betrothed, or the husband, and the implications of being a bastard in the society of the day.

Technically, there is no specific prohibition in the Torah against premarital sex, which is kind of interesting in itself. However, when you look at the fact the marriage contract as literally a transferal of property, it certainly is of value with regard to the bride price. Ancient Judaism is sorta funny in that regard. Women have rights with regards to sex, marital property, etc. but there are also glaring things that sort of have that “women as property” air to them.

Traditional Judaism strongly condemns the irresponsibility of sex outside of marriage. It is interesting, though, that althought it is considered to be improper and immoral, it is not technically a sin. In fact, to prevent such relations, Orthodox Jewish law prohibits an unmarried, unrelated man and woman from being alone long enough to have sexual relations. But these laws come from the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch, not from the Torah. They are rabbinic interpretations of the law. But the rub is, once you are betrothed, you’re as good as married and the laws of marriage apply, with the exception that, if you find out you got a damaged bill of goods, you can annul the contract.

Here’s what I came up with about betrothal under ancient Jewish law (thank you, Wikipedia!):

There are three ways for a Jewish couple to become betrothed (Mishna, Tractate Kiddushin 1:1):

1. With money (as when a man hands a woman an object of value, such as a ring or a coin, for the purpose of contracted marriage, and in the presence of two witnesses, and she actively accepts—basically the “bride price”);
2. Through a written contract (shtar) containing the betrothal declaration phrased as "through this contract"; or
3. By sex with the intention of creating a bond of marriage; a method strongly discouraged by the rabbinic sages and intended only for levirate marriages (where the brother marries the widow to preserve family property rights and some sort of status for the widow).

So at the very least, Joseph could declare the contract null and void b/c he had not had sex with her, and she was knocked up. In the worst case scenario, her pregnancy could have been used as proof of adultery, and he could have had her stoned. Pretty heavy stuff!

Mamzer (actually pronounced "mumzer") is the Hebrew word for bastard. Technically in Jewish law that refers to either the issue of an adulterous relationship OR incest. I doubt most people realize how tough it was in ancient times to be a mamzer.

1. A mamzer and his or her descendants are not allowed to marry a regular (non-mamzer) Jewish spouse. He or she is permitted to marry only another mamzer, a convert to Judaism, or (in the case of a man) a non-Jewish female slave. Even today in modern Israel, mamzerim are not allowed to marry Jews.

2. The children of a mamzer, whether male or female, are mamzerim; likewise their children are mamzerim forever. (The old “sins of the father” argument).

3. Mamzerim were prohibited from entering the Temple.

4. They were not allowed to be taught Torah.

5. A mamzer's house and grave were painted white to point him out, even in death.

6. According to a source in Toldot Yeshu, mamzerim in some Jewish communities were shaved bald so they were set apart from the rest of the community in many aspects of daily life. Not quite as bad as being a leper, I suppose, but close.

The topic today made me think about Joseph as a “real man.” A mensch, as it were. Joseph had to be one hell of a true-hearted guy to do what he did. A brave guy. A tough guy. I mean, think about it, in the “What if Jesus had been born in Kirksville?” mode. All the neighbors in Nazareth, you know they figured out Mary was pregnant before she got married. Word would have gotten out somehow. I can’t believe Joseph didn’t confide to someone the predicament. Someone had to get wind of the suspicion that Joseph wasn't the father. People in town are going, “What a wuss. He could have gotten rid of her and got him a REAL virgin. What does he see in that little slut, anyway?” Then, after Jesus is born, you KNOW everyone in town is looking at him and wondering who Jesus looks like. There HAD to be rumors. Who knows, maybe Joseph even had to clobber some asshole with a 2x4 over it now and then when some wise-ass got too smart mouthed.

And you KNOW even Joseph himself had to have his moments where he wondered what kind of fool he was, buying an angel’s statement in a dream. I’m sure he believed the integrity of the dream overall, because dreams are very important to people of that time, but there just had to be the occasional bad day for Joseph in that regard.

So it certainly makes a great “what if” story, and since we really don’t know squat about Joseph historically, it really drives home that he had to be a pretty solid kind of guy!

My dashboard on my computer has a widget that shows how much of the day is "light" and how much is "dark." Here it is on the shortest day of the year for Kirksville, MO. For some reason, that is my favorite widget because it makes me quite happy in the summer when 2/3 of the pie is "light" and it gives me something to complain about when it is "dark."

I realized recently that it's not the darkness that bothers me, it's the fact that it comes too early in the day. This time of year, it's hard to feed my long-eared equines in the light; I usually get home right around dusk. It becomes a race home to feed before I'm feeding animals in the dark. I don't like feeding them in the dark because even the gentlest large animals can get spooked, and the cold weather makes them frisky.

There is something in human nature that makes us recognize this is a time of the year where we need to seek out something of meaning. The pagan Solstice festivals centered around the worry that the sun might not come back. Our pineal glands certainly sense that the lack of light is there. Light deprivation leads to decreased levels of many biochemical substances, including melatonin. With some people, these changes lead to seasonal affective disorder. Sometimes I wonder if the stress of the Christmas holiday season isn't partly simply because our pineal glands are adjusting to less light, and it makes us a little "off our feed."

Most of us realize that we really don't know the exact day of Christ's birth, but for whatever reason we tied it into winter solstice. The "standard" answer is it was to tag team onto pagan festivals as a means to promote Christianity, but I tend to think there is a deeper biochemical meaning to it all. I wonder sometimes if it's simply because we need something bigger than us in the as we sit in the dark, and grump about the short days, something sits beside us that is bigger and gentler and more meaningful--that in that darkness we find meaning and hope.

Well, Northeast Missouri got hit with a snowstorm, a small ice storm, and a big ice storm in the space of 5 days.

I am sort of "the champion of snow removal" at Trinity, for lack of a better term. Our congregation is so small, it makes no sense to hire this out. I enjoy doing it; the only problem is that I have to squeeze it in to either my day off, or before/after work. Simply to prepare for Sunday's service in this mess took three sessions with the snow shovel from about an hour to an hour and 45 minutes each, and three trips to lay down ice melt, including coming in early before services. Then, on top of that, I spent most of my day off pulling off MORE ice on Tuesday, for a Lessons and Carols that eventually got cancelled.

It is one of those things that, when it happens perfectly, no one notices. If it doesn't happen, EVERYONE notices. When people walk up the steps on a Sunday, they don't notice a thing if the steps are clean; they only notice if it's slick.

Sometimes I get down on myself because I don't have the "usual" church service talents. I can't read music. My singing voice has elements of a lighthouse foghorn. I sound silly praying out loud. But I am a dynamo when it comes to snow and ice removal, spackling cracks on the wall, unclogging the sinks or toilet, etc. The problem is, of course, they are all gifts that when done properly, no one notices. It is their LACK that is conspicuous. There is hell-raising when it hasn't happened, and very little attention of any sort when it does. It doesn't carry intrinsic satisfaction except to me, and to the vicar, because Wallace is about the only person who is ever physically "in the neighborhood" when it is happening, and because the vicarage is next door, so he benefits from the snow removal, and he sees my truck when I'm there. He also knows I personally don't care to be publicly recognized for it, and respects that. It just embarrasses me. But it doesn't stop him from thanking me personally with this wonderful earnestness he has.

Why would a person obviously choose a task that has a built-in thanklessness to it? I guess the way to look at that one, is "put yourself in God's shoes." I'm sure at times, as we bounce around our plane of existence, God puts his mark on us, and we never noticed. Perhaps it's the absence that we notice. Take, for instance, our own personal prayer time. There are times it just flows for me, and I don't even think about what all complicated things are happening at the metaphysical level to make that happen. But in those times I feel separated from God because of my own sins, or my weariness, or my inability to put my attention into the matter, I notice the gap. I like to imagine that even God gets frustrated with us, however it is a metaphysical being shows frustration...sort of this patient parental frustration when your child seems a little on the "slow" side at getting a concept.

I also like to imagine that God is "pleased" (again, however it is metaphysical beings show pleasure) when we notice that all this stuff happened around us, without any input from us...and like me, God doesn't care for us to make a public gush of affection about it. He'd prefer we just thank Him personally and earnestly.

So one of my "preparations" this year for Advent is to think about what happens in detail when God makes things "seamless" for us. Not a bad topic for reflection!

I love the Internet. I just discovered that something I have been doing actually has a Latin name and is a whole concept. (Darn. And I thought I was unique or original.)

Over the last several months, I've been spiritually cogitating a lot, trying to figure my "slot" in the world. I'm dealing with the notion of being ok with middle age as not just being a continuation of the first half of my life. I'm dealing with transition issues on my job (learning to now be the "senior" person). I'm dealing with discovering spiritual connections beyond what I'm used to experiencing (as in getting caught up in it, not just spectating.) In other words, I'm searching for peace and stability in the midst of a lot of big and little changes.

Well, turns out that is what the concept of Otium Sanctum--”holy leisure”--is all about. (Amazing the things I can find on the Internet, huh?) Otium sanctum refers specifically to discover a sense of balance in life, an ability to be spiritually at peace through the activities of the day, an ability to rest and take time to enjoy beauty, an ability to pace ourselves.

This does not come naturally to me--a person who prefers to "act" and "do" rather than "sit" and "observantly absorb". For me, there is the tendency to interrupt the process by “doing” something. To “sit still” somehow seems a little “lazy” or “nonproductive” to me (which is why I doubt I’ll ever be anything even close to a contemplative prayer expert, but at least I'm an honest pupil).

However, what I understand about the concept of “holy leisure” is that it’s not “holy laziness”. Leisure can often involve activity. I mean, hey, I play golf for leisure, I walk for leisure, that’s not laziness. That’s physical activity. So really, otium sanctum refers to a state of spiritual activity. To buy into this concept means that there is a certain amount of discipline, attentiveness, and watchfulness. The obsessive-compulsive side of me can appreciate that.

I was feeling guilty about all this cogitation. I wasn't "doing" anything. I tend to make fun of people sitting around "thinking great thoughts". (I could rationalize this by saying "My thoughts aren't that great.") Now, I realize I AM doing something. I'm letting prayer and contemplation integrate these feelings, help me weather these changes. I do notice that as a result of this, I am a little bit calmer, a little bit more at ease. So maybe it IS working and I'm not "doing nothing" after all!

Here is a gift to this blog from one of the inhabitants of Trinity Kirksville--as you know, donkeys are highly appreciated on this blog and any good donkey literature will be considered for posting. The author only asks that you attribute her if you pass this around and please do not use for monetary gain. In other words, be a good "copyright citizen".

The Foal

The old donkey's nostrils flared at the smell coming from the little wisps of steam emanating from the pile of rags in the barn. That smell was no stranger to her--the odor of cooling blood from a placenta, thrown into the rags for disposal. This odor, familiar yet comforting, was one she knew that lingered in the barn after the birth of her own foals--the smell of new life, mixed with old, congealing blood. As her nose bumped the rag pile, she recalled her own babies, who had long been sold as soon as they were old enough to wean. Babies now long grown. Babies that, as adults, she would not recognize except for their smells. She would never forget their smells, even though many years had passed.

Her eyes scanned the man and the woman, these sleeping invaders, in her barn. She could see another tiny focus of steam in the cold night air, also arising from a rag bundle held by the woman. Slowly she inched to the steam, quietly, so as not to awaken the couple, again the nostrils flaring, those same smells of drying blood and mucus wafting into her nasal passages. As her nose closed the gap, she could see that curled in this bundle was a human foal. She could smell the drying amniotic fluid in his hair. She smelled all the aromas that her foals had, and the aromas of the mother of this foal, who very slowly opened a sleepy eye, yet did not shoo the donkey away. She was content to let the donkey nuzzle this tiny pink foal. The mother's eye closed again.

The donkey's velveteen nose ever so gently stroked the human foal, and she took in all the smells, the steam from the bundle mixing with the steam from the donkey's exhaled breath. Something was different about this foal. Not just the human smells, but there were other smells different from those of humans. Her ears twitched as she smelled spring flowers, gentle breezes. She felt a heat upon her nose like warm sunshine. The foal opened his eyes—just a little—gurgled, sighed, then fell back asleep. This foal was different than other human foals, but the donkey did not know why.

Suddenly, in the background another smell gripped her--a very faint but also familiar and far less comforting smell. She detected the tiniest bit of the stench of death. She cocked her ears in confusion. This foal was very much alive, but in the background was a lingering overtone--the dying smell of a carcass--the wet rusty smell of blood. Although it was only the faintest of smells, it filled her nostrils in a way that frightened her, and she backed away from the foal and made her way to the open door that led into the corral. She wanted to run from the dying smell but could not. She wanted so badly to bolt, to kick out, to bray uncontrollably, but for some reason she did not.

She turned from the sleeping people and looked outside, and at that moment, her gaze met the star. She had never seen one like it, and she had traveled many miles over the years in darkness, with only the stars to guide her and her master. This star filled the sky in a way she had never seen, its light falling upon her back like rivets of heat in the summer sun. As the light from this star mixed with the hair of her coat, she felt a warmth that, with each breath she took, slowly removed the lingering aroma of death from her nostrils, and filled them with yet more aromas. She could smell the sustaining smell of rich green grass, she could smell pungent sage, aromatic exotic herbs--all the things that filled her belly with contentment--and the death odor abated.

She turned so that one eye met the star, and the other met the tiny sleeping human foal. She had no idea why this foal was different. But she knew she would never forget the smell of this foal, any more than she could ever forget the smells of her own babies. She was only an old donkey, but she knew this foal was different.

©Maria L. Evans

Ok, we've established I appreciate good religious tattoos, both my own and those of my friends. I love it when my friends drop me pics of their religious tattoos that are cool enough to share. This one was inked by a local tat artist, Chad Weigert, of Why Not Tat2s here in Kirksville. Chad has won several body art awards and his work was displayed in the Body Art exhibition at the Smithsonian. I was impressed with the attention to detail and the use of liturgical color.

This Sunday's sermon had to force Carrol to meander around more apocalyptic stuff...this time the stuff in Luke 21. I was sitting there thinking about everything from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame to rattling off "War, famine, earthquakes, pestilence...nation against nation...kingdom against kingdom..."....and like the old Bugs Bunny Wagneresque cartoon goes, "Smog!"

It was not all the scary stuff in the text, but the final line that struck me--”By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Christ's message is not “Ooooo, all these bad things are gonna happen so you better get your ass in gear and repent,” it is, “Yeah, bad things will happen...but if you stick with me, you will endure these things.”

I was thinking during the sermon about the fact that it is not wars and earthquakes and tidal waves and famine and pestilence that directly affects me, it is cousins in custody battles and cousins with alcoholic husbands and extended relatives with dementia and close associates who are retiring and leaving me in charge and family members with multiple chronic illnesses and anxiety disorders, and a vicar with pneumonia that make up my scary apocalyptic stuff. That “apocalypse” is much more real to me than all the natural disaster "end of the world" apocalyptic stuff. Who gives a rat's ass about the end of the world when sometimes the world in no danger of ending is a seemingly never-ending litany of shit? On some of these days, the end of the world seems like a welcome relief.

Then I got to thinking...maybe for our more fundamentalist bretheren and "sisteren", that is the weird attraction they have about the Apocalypse and their obsession with the Rapture. Maybe that is simply an attractive "escape fantasy." Maybe it gives people the opportunity to think to themselves, "This world is such an un-redeeming place that I sort of like the idea that if I'm good, Santa God will just whisk me right out of here, and I'll go to heaven and it will all be shiny happy joy joy."

That would be a little hard to do in my case, since I believe the Rapture is a 19th century invention based on Scriptural over-interpretation. I believe we're stuck with the world we're in till we die. Hey, when we die, it's the end of this world for us anyway. I believe with all my heart that the only thing that totally releases us from the darkness of our own personal apocalypses is death. No matter how close we try to get to God, and our success at getting closer, we never really quite get there. So the key is in that last sentence--endure. Ok, so I've established my Christianity is not a happy happy joy joy Christianity, it's one that is sometimes laced in an envelope of darkness.

The good news is we never endure alone. Christ endures with us. His sacrifice endures with us. That part about "gaining our souls" is very comforting to me. His words tell me that this is worthwhile work, to endure the darkness, because with each event, we gain something. We gain the understanding and awareness of our very own essence. By doing that, we can more freely give of ourselves. We become more complete.

Apocalypse? Ahhhhh, bring it on....

Well, this week's Gospel was the story of Zaccheus. Once you can get the Sunday School song out of your head, there is actually a lot of meat in that story. First of all, you have to think about EXACTLY why Zaccheus might have gotten up in that sycamore tree...

Why do I like driving a pickup truck? Because I like sitting above the bulk of the cars. Not because I want to be “bigger” but because I want to see a bigger picture. I like being able to see over little cars and see more of the road.

Then there’s the distance issue. Why is it psychologically easier for bomber pilots to drop their load on a city full of civilians than it is for an infantryman to kill an enemy bare handed? Because the bomber pilot is further removed from the blood and gore and the reality of it.

So think about this. Here’s a little short fart that no one likes. No one is going to offer to let him get in front of them to see what’s going on. So he can accomplish two things by getting up in that tree:

1. He can see a bigger picture. He can see what people are doing up the road with Jesus. He can get a better overview of what this is all about.

2. He can distance himself a little from the reality of his here and now—that those people down there don’t like him. He can think about that Jesus guy more clearly because he is not having to deal with every push, every shove down there that constantly reminds him he’s a jerk and that these people don’t like him. He can divorce himself a little from the everyday pain that might cause.

Sometimes to see the big picture, you have to take yourself out of the reality of pain that enmeshes you. You have to remember what it feels like to not have a constant irritation in your day. You have to be “above” it to see it all. We all do that in a lot of ways, sometimes with physical height, sometimes with darkness, sometimes with solitude, sometimes with activity. All of these things can take us to a place “beyond hurting.”

I have to admit I am a height junkie and a “wide open spaces” junkie. One of the things I like about my property is that I live on the “prairie” side of Highway 63 but my hunting timber is on the “hilly” side of 63. Highway 63 as it runs north of Jefferson City is more or less located on a natural divide in the state—the Grand Divide. Everything west of 63 drains to the Missouri River, and everything east of 63 drains to the Mississippi River. West of 63 consists mostly of rolling hills with some relatively high terrain in the state. East of 63 consists mostly of “flatlands.”

I think what I like about heights is that it makes everything below you small. It makes your irritants smaller. It makes what bugs you more inconsequential. It allows you to see beyond obstacles. About two years ago, I visited Gettysburg. Anything you ever read about that battle talks about “the advantage of the high ground.” Spiritually, I think this is true in both a physical sense, and in a moral sense. In the physical sense, seeing “over” and “beyond” a patch of ground makes the rough spots in the ground more inconsequential. When you can keep yourself on the moral high ground (I hate the word “moral”, it sounds so Holy Joe-ish, but I don’t know what else to do), you can more easily weather the potholes in your life. Even if the outcome is not what you wanted or is not all that great, you can weather it better because you did not add more baggage to your own feelings of being an impostor.

Seeing wide open spaces also reminds you of the connectedness in life. I remember as a kid, once in a while my grandfather would take me over to Canton, MO to the lock and dam. We would pack a lunch and just sit and watch the barges go through the lock. One of the things I remember was that I would watch a barge or two go through at ground level and then go up on the observation deck and watch the next boat or two. I remember how wide the Mississippi River seemed from the ground. I could not even fathom swimming across it. But then I would look to my left and right, and think about how this huge river starts out as a little creek coming off of Lake Itasca in Minnesota. At St. Cloud, MN, the Mississippi is no wider than the Chariton River. Then to my right, it only got wider and bigger.

I used to imagine that river running for miles and miles north and south, and imagine where might be the EXACT spot north of me where I COULD swim across that river. There is a place where insurmountable things can be crossed in our lives...but we have to have the view of distance and wide open spaces to imagine it. If we cross them at the spot where we are at, it is suicidal folly.

Or, perhaps at that spot you can cross it, but in a boat. But what boat? Not a john boat with oars! Not one with a trolling motor! It has to be a big enough boat to cross safely, or a small boat with a big enough engine. Then you have to ask, “What kind of ride do I want?” Do you want the staidness and slowness of a ferry, or do you want to put a big ol’ Mercury outboard on the john boat and blast across, in the choppy waves, with at the very least a bumpy ride and the possibility you will be thrown off course and end up somewhere further down the river; at worst you might overturn. There are arguments for and against either option. In other words, you can choose, and you just might opt for the adventure of the smaller boat. Then again, you might opt for the smoother, slower ferry ride.

If you’ve ever fished in the Mississippi, the first thing you notice is the constant push on the upstream side of the boat, and the sheer power of that river. You never stop feeling it. You never stop constantly adjusting your position to keep the river from taking you away. If you’ve ever cut the engine and let it drift, it is just scary power you are feeling.

One of my college classmates was one of the Canton ferryboat pilots every summer. Just to take his test for his ferry pilot’s license, he had to know every undertow, every whirlpool, every sand spit for a several mile stretch of the Mississippi. But to even take that big slow ferry across the river, he needed the height of the pilot house to see what he needed to see.

So yeah, even that “wee little man” Zaccheus realized he needed to understand what Jesus was all about from the high ground—a place he was not used to seeing—and once he got the height, it all became clearer.

I have to confess one of my major heresies--I find 99% of religious movies and quasi-religious movies incredibly campy; the exceptions being both versions of Ben Hur. (I especially love the chariot scene in the silent version). Even then, I still make fun of how incredibly non-lepromatous Judah Ben-Hur's mom and sister appear in both versions.

This has popped into my mind because I'm sitting here while a rerun of the 1965 flick "The Greatest Story Ever Told" is on Turner Classic Movies at the moment, which I refer to as "The Most Boring Story Ever Told." I've been so incredibly un-enamored with that one since childhood. If the real Jesus were as stiff and serious as Max von Sydow, He'd have had trouble snagging one disciple, let alone twelve. (I always felt bad for Max in this movie; he's a great actor but what was he thinkin' when he inked this gig?)

Now, it's not that this movie has its moments; I kind of groove on Donald Pleasance as the Devil. Claude Rains as Herod is not a bad choice, but Claude always had the gift of being a good actor in a bad movie. But overall, it's like the whole thrust for this film was "How many people that you would never cast in a Biblical epic can you cast in a Biblical epic?" John Wayne as a centurion with one line. Oh, gag me. (I'm expecting, "Let me tell you pilgrim, this hombre was the Son of God.") Jamie Farr as a disciple (Who's the Arab dude with the Twelve?). You even get a bit of a sneak peek for "Planet of the Apes" coming out a few years later b/c Roddy McDowall with his beard, as Matthew, looks suspiciously like Cornelius the scientific chimp, and Charlton Heston, as John the Baptist, has a lot of the look Taylor will have as a captive in "Apes."

I realize among the people who groove on religious movies, this movie still gets good press for it's cinematography and scene development, but even then, it's too "contrived" and "perfect" to do anything for me. How long did they have to look to get a snow white donkey for the Palm Sunday scene? The Last Supper scene is like they tried to recreate the painting, only in white. But I'm thinking, overall, if this were the "real" rendition of the story of Christ, Christianity would have been doomed because it would have bored the followers to death.

Years ago, I remember watching this movie in my pre-teen years on TV with my mom and making some comment about how boring this movie was and how goofy the casting was on this flick. I swear my mother dropped three steps back from me as if I'd be struck by lightning. "I can't believe you are making fun of a movie about Jesus! That's like...blasphemous or something! Shame on you!" (Ok, so I learned a valuable lesson. All the good works you ever did in your life will be totally tossed on the scrap heap if you dare to diss a movie about Jesus.)

It doesn't help that I have an awful tendency to start finding funny moments in serious movies. Flashback to when I went to see "The Passion of the Christ" a few years back. It was like I went on "Baptist Day" at the movie house. I got to laughing at how Fellini-oid the "albino Satan" was (I was expecting the albinos from "The Matrix" to show up any minute.) I was wonderfully amused at how disgusting Barabbas was, he reminded me of Keith Moon as "uncle Ernie" in the rock opera Tommy.

But back to The Most Boring Story Ever Told. Max's crucifixion has to go on record as "the least painful crucifixion I've ever seen on TV or at the movies". He doesn't even strain to breathe, while hung on a cross. Let's also not forget the overload of Mormon Tabernacle Choir soundtrack. Everyone in that movie is just too clean, too white robed, and too unrealistically well-groomed for Biblical times.

I'm beginning to think the best way to portray Jesus is how it was done in Ben-Hur fashion--just show His hands only or show Him from behind, and leave the rest to my imagination!

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Carrol's text this week focused on the one leper that turned back. Historically, this is preached as a story of gratitude, but Carrol raised the possibility that this man simply "went against the grain". Actually, the other nine did exactly what Jesus instructed them to do: Show themselves to the priests. It was necessary for them to do this to fully "get their life back". If you carefully read "the rules" in Leviticus, the priest makes the call. Once declared unclean, it was only until the priest dcclared that person "clean" that they could rejoin family, friends, community.

I wondered to myself, why did this one man delay this declaration? Why would he disobey Jesus and turn back to see him? Technically speaking, even though Jesus cured this man of his disease, by law Jesus had no authority to validate this cure. He still needed the seal of approval from the priests.

Perhaps it was simply because this man was a Samaritan and he was away from Samaria. He was a "double outcast". He was no longer a leper, but he was still going to be a Samaritan. Was he worried that the first priest he could find had prejudice towards Samaritans? Maybe he was thinking, “What do I have to lose? When I go to the priest, he’s still gonna know I’m a Samaritan, maybe he won’t pronounce me ‘cured’ just for spite. But this Jesus guy knows. I’ll cast my lot with this guy and let the chips fall where they may.” He no longer had to add insult to injury when it came to the festering sores of his disease--his cure had spared him the indignity of having to holler "unclean" when people came near him--but it was not going to change he was a Samaritan in hostile territory.

I got to thinking about all the ways we point out we are bad people when we feel "unclean" inside. How many times, when we could so easily sit at the feet of the One who can make us feel "clean", do we instead run away a safe distance, and start to holler, "Don't touch me! I'm unclean! Don't even get near me!"

I also thought of that childhood game where some poor unfortunate child has "cooties". Some kid would yell, "Jimmy has cooties!" All the other kids would make an "x" on their arm and holler, "Shot! Shot!" and the poor last kid to give him/herself a "shot", like poor Jimmy, "had cooties." So there you were, standing with poor Jimmy, both outcasts. Both thrown from the camp. Both isolated from your little spot in childhood community. You are thinking, "Now Jimmy, of course he has cooties. He's such a dork. He has boogers hanging out of his nose. But I do NOT have cooties. I'm too cool for cooties." I am sure, early in the course of the Samaritan's disease, he looked at other lepers and said, "I just simply am NOT a leper. No way. Dirty sinful people are lepers." But as the weeks and months went by, and his fingers began to no longer work properly, and the flesh began to peel off of him, he could no longer play that game. Yes, he was a leper.

How many times do we run from pillar to post in our psyches when it comes to sin? At first we say, "no way, not me, You've got the wrong person," to God. Then when we are convinced of our own "cootification" we act like we'll give God our cooties and hide from Him? Instead of drawing closer to him, we back further away. Instead of lessening the gap between us and God, we widen it. Maybe it's because we know that even if he "cures" us, we are still like poor dorky Jimmy, we will still have that booger in our nose. Like the Samaritan, he will probably be declared "clean" by the priest, but he will not be considered "whole" because he's still a Samaritan--the pharisees will still see him as dorky Jimmy, booger and all.

So what happens to our Samaritan? You know he has to be wondering if he's doing the right thing, going back to that Jesus guy. Perhaps Jesus will rebuke him ("Why are you back here? I told you to go to the priest! Go get your life back and get out of my face!"). Perhaps by disobeying, his sores will return--and he will have lost his one chance to start over, to rejoin life in general. But in for a dollar, in for a dime. He's made his choice. He keeps going--and what a surprise. "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." wait a minute. Jesus didn't say "Your faith cured your leprosy." He said "Your faith has made you well." Now there's a concept--we can be cured of a terrible disease and still be unwell? What's up with that?

How many times does someone declared "cured" of their cancer, always keep in the back of their mind that despite the odds, they convince themselves that everything that goes wrong means, "the cancer is back." A good friend of mine, almost 20 years out from his prostate cancer, got lower back pain one time from one of the piddly back injuries we all do. He was convinced, however, his prostate cancer was back. Only after he bullied his doctor into getting a prostate surface antigen test and the result was 0.0 was he convinced that "too much yardwork" was not "metastatic prostate cancer."

How many times do people who remarry after a stint with an abusive spouse, become hypervigilant about the subtle irritations of the new spouse? Again, another friend of mine illustrates this. She would routinely overinterpret mild surliness in her new hubby's answers to things when he was in a bad mood as having the potential that he could suddenly start beating on her like her first husband did. She would cry and withdraw from him, and he would stand there, bewildered, thinking "What the hell was THAT?"

In both of these scenarios, these people were "cured" but were still "unwell" in some ways. We forget that faith is a two way street where our lane is busier. Like the Samaritan, we have to take the risk of daring to be "well." Again, this is OUR call, not God's. God simply puts his hand out to us every day. We have to ignore the risk and keep pushing forward to be spiritually "well"...and only in the heart of that risk can we reach wellness.

Yes, Shadow's last day at Camp Kirkepiscatoid was a good one. It turned out to be a lovely fall day and she got to bask in some warm fall sun. I have been amazed at how, over the week, her "special needs" had diminished simply from being in the company of two other dogs. By the time her parents had finally returned for her, she was really not missing them that much. None of the scratching, whining, and barking of the first night. She had settled in. Maybe she even thought this was her new home. Then she got a special happy surprise when her folks finally returned. She really did greet them like she'd thought she'd never see them again.

Ah, if only I could re-adjust to a total upheaval of my world in six days!

Well, just as Shadow is starting to act like a dog who "blends in" around here, her folks will be back in two days. Right now, all three dogs are having nice "dog naps" after a hard day of playing. It has been fun to see how just having two other dogs around has made her more "normal" in a lot of ways. For her, "normal" is pathologically shy most of the time. Simply by being in the presence of two other dogs, her shyness is much less noticeable.

Funny how just being around "folks we trust" makes us more manageable, doesn't it?

Things are coming along very well at Camp Kirkepiscatoid. Shadow handled being out on the line all day today very well. Today was my day off, so I was around the house most of the day. She only barked excessively early on, and I think having both of "the boys" tied out within view calmed her down a lot.

When they came in for the evening, things were a lot calmer. Shadow didn't do the "scratch the storm door incessantly as if I'm never coming back" thing like she did yesterday when I'd take Eddie or Boomer out to potty. Everyone napped appropriately this time, including Shadow.

The one thing Shadow is learning here that is different from home is that "bugging me on the couch is not allowed." She has a habit of being annoyingly in your face and on your lap when I want to be on the laptop. She has already learned to avoid the rolled up Kirksville Daily Express when she's acting up, not to mention I had to smack her behind one time with a copy of "A Brief History of the Episcopal Church"!

Well, I've agreed to have a guest dog this week. Two of my dearest friends at Trinity are going out of town, and I've agreed to let their dog Shadow camp out with my two dogs. My two dog boys are good friends with her, so I figure all in all, it should be ok. But I do need to make it clear that Shadow. is, in some ways, a "special needs dog."

She showed up as a stray at their house, and a fearful one at that. The other dog at their house was just beginning to help her become socialized when he suffered a stroke and died. She became disconsolate, and was on "doggie downers" for a spell. She has just started becoming more socialized again, and "the boys" have helped with this. So we all figured that rather than board her and stress her out, that she should camp out with the esteemed Mr. Boomer and Mr. Eddie.

Well, Shadow is going to be here for a week, so I think I will keep the readers of my blog entertained with her vacation.

Night one: Shadow barked outside for 20 minutes after her mom left. I am keeping her on a cable near where the boys' trolley lines are, so she can see them during the day. When I finally brought everyone in the house and fed them supper, we had a non-stop dog party for over an hour, complete with running, barking, and knocking a few things over. The boys finally decided it was time to take a nap but Shadow doesn't think napping is a good idea. So, she still shows no signs of sleeping by 10 p.m.

I figure she'll go to sleep when she wears out, right? Meanwhile, here is a look at her. Mr. Boomer is trying to snooze on the recliner but Miss Shadow shows no signs of thinking napping is a viable option....

Luke 17:5-10

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Ah, yes, the veritable mustard seed. Carrol got to do the sermon at Trinity this week, since Wallace was on vacation, and I bet she was happy she landed on a "classic" week in the lectionary! But she brought up some good observations about mustard seeds in general. She had bought a little container of them at Hy-Vee in the hopes they would inspire her. By her account, mustard seeds are not very inspirational when you look at them at first glance.

First of all, they're small. Second of all, they're all a little uneven; some are round, some are flatter, some are darker, some are broken open. She made a good point in her sermon...that one mustard seed isn't much, but when you put them all together, they make something, and that is, in a way, what the church is all about.

I got to thinking about that, and my mind added to it. Someone asked at coffee hour, "What do you do with mustard seeds besides make mustard?" and I answered, "I use them in barbecue." Then, on the way home, I got to thinking about the concept of mustard seeds and barbecue. Here in the midwest, people are more into the "red" BBQ sauces. When I barbecue, I like to do a little more of the "Southeast seaboard" tricks. If you ever ate real South Carolina barbecue, it's not a "red sauce" at all; it's a more mustard based sauce. I tend to baste my meat in beer and vinegar with a tad of crushed mustard seed thrown in, then top it off when it's done with a "red" sauce.

That got me to thinking of the power of those little mustard seeds. Just a few seeds change the whole character of the marinade. I challenge anyone to find the little boogers after they've been thrown in the marinade. You could look and look all day and never find them...yet you can taste them. You perceive their presence.

That's a good thing to remember when my faith is flagging and feels almost nonexistent. Maybe at that moment, to me, that faith is a tiny bit of nothing...but when you throw it in the marinade, you know it's there. Its presence is tasted--not just by you, but everyone who's tasting the barbecue. You may not even know who might be tasting it, but they know it's there, too.

Then I got to thinking about another barbecue fact about those little mustard seeds. If you really want the full flavor of them, you have to crush them, you have to break their little hulls to get all the flavor out of them. A thought flashed through my mind: Can we really open our hearts to another, can we really open our hearts to God, unless our own hearts have been crushed? Does the full flavor of our goodness maximally enhance the flavor of that marinade unless our own hearts have been broken open? The more I thought about it, the more I realized, probably not.

One of the things I'm starting to realize as I grow spiritually is that I have to shed the fear of my heart being broken open. I spent a good portion of my formative years and young adulthood "learning not to feel." Being dispassionate is a great protective device. Learning not to feel things, learning to "opt out" of some of your emotional matrix can keep a lot of hurt off your doorstep. But this imperviousness comes at a great price--because the barrier of dispassionateness keeps out the good as well as the bad. It also keeps away the more intense feelings of goodness.

I remember telling someone a few years ago, "I learned a long time ago to stop trying to be happy. I learned to settle for being pleasantly satisfied." I am finding myself eating those words. I am slowly discovering that, (at least in a relatively safe, quiet environment) that if I allow myself the luxury of vulnerability, I can at least experience fleeting, but intense moments of pure joy. The price, of course, is the pain of feeling your heart break open, and that comes with equally intense (but mercifully fleeting) moments of pain and helplessness. But perhaps those moments flavor the barbecue, too. The best tasting barbecue always has a sweet, deep flavor buried within overtones of hot and sour.

I confess I do not like the unpredictable nature of all this...but I'm starting to be a little more willing to take the risk to get to taste a sauce that good.

I have decided the four most dismissive and frustrating words in the English language are "You can't possibly understand."

My mother, who suffers from chronic pain recently, calls me on the phone because she's hurting. I try to be sympathetic. I say, "I know you're in a great deal of pain," and BLAMMO! I'm cut off at the knees.

"You can't possibly understand the kind of pain I'm feeling."

At this point, I am always thinking, "What am I supposed to say at this point? What can I possibly say? Anything I say will not be good enough. If that's how you're going to be, then why the hell did YOU call me? How can I even show I care when you dismiss my care right from the get-go? Screw it, then."

In an attempt not to take it personally, I remind myself, "This is not about me. This is about her pain. This is just transference from the pain onto me, the handy object." But it's still hard...and frustrating...and at times my response is "Oh, the hell with it."

This week, while cruising the blogosphere and following dialog with the locals, I find I'm having the exact same feelings about the upshot of the Bishops' statement in New Orleans in their attempt to define things for the Anglican Communion. Worse yet, it feels that way from all sides.

My take on the statement was "Big deal, so what." I had suspected from the get-go that 1) the HOB was going to give the AC a "non-answer" about their demands since the AC has no authority over the ECUSA, and 2) their answer would please no one--not the righty bishops, not the AC, not the GLBT crowd, not the left end of the ECUSA, because in order to deal with the AC, their answer HAD to be a non-answer. I was right on both counts.

I was okay with a non-answer. It's my opinion that what we doctrinally do in the ECUSA is not much of the AC's business. We can't force the right to fall in line with inclusivity, we can only influence over time. They can't dictate to an autonomous body. It's also my opinion that truly full inclusivity in the GLBT sense is still a ways off, until more individual attitudes are changed. We're not talking about what I wish, we're talking about "just the facts." But ECUSA is ahead of the curve, and I don't see the statement as a step backwards (BO33 from the 2006 General Convention is there, like it or not, at least until 2009.) The right wing bishops wanted to free Barabbus and hand them Gene Robinson for crucifixion, but that didn't happen.

But what I find so horribly frustrating is I am surrounded by "You can't possibly understand." I lurk a lot of sites, post on very few. The extreme right leaning crowd, frankly, is going to walk no matter what is said. There is no point discussing why I believe in full inclusivity in the church for GLBT folks to them, they have written me off as an apostate (Ok, I secretly like being an apostate, but that's another story.) But the part that hurts is that there is also no point in me throwing my .02 worth to certain GLBT folks I know who are hurting terribly and feel like the Bishops' statement was a sellout, either, because the tone of their posts told me that anything I say, because my take was not exactly the same as theirs on the Bishops' statment.

I followed and lurked along with a LOT of pain on both the OasisMissouri group and the Anglican GLBT group. Some GLBT folk are so hurt, they are talking about leaving the church. Some have made animal blessings the target of their anger ("the church authorizes animal blessings but not same sex couples.") One poster even went so far as suggest that straight people in the congregation simply see GLBT's as "their little exotic pets" so they can look cool and pretend to be inclusive. I could see that nothing I could say in an attempt to empathize would be enough. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. I was doomed to get "You can't possibly understand, you're straight."

It is not rocket science to realize this is anger that is being directed at the "handy objects"--local clergy and local fellow congregants instead of the real bad guys. Well, DUH, of course I can't totally understand, but I can get a good enough idea of the pain, to realize we still need work on "inclusivity." I would just once, though, like to not get "you can't possibly understand" when I am trying to be there to share someone's pain on this issue, and not have my head chewed off when I don't agree on every single point about the speed (or lack of) that this happens.

Sorry for being so negatively wound up, but we all need to just chill, and meanwhile, love each other the way God intended-- to love the image of God within the person inside of all those layers, who is not constrained by gender, or orientation, or looks, or opinions.

Guess what? Another cousin of mine has a serious life problem. This time it is my cousin whom I'll call Dee. Dee's husband (whom I'll call Mickey) has been struggling with some serious alcohol problems. This time he's really FUBAR'ed it. Basically, alcohol has cost his job, their home and potentially he could lose the ticket to his whole career--his professional license.

As much as love Dee and am good at fixing problems, there is nothing I can do to fix this. Zero zip nada. I can only be there for Dee and her two children. Right now, as far as her husband is concerned, well, I am so furious at Mickey, about all I can do is pray for him. "God, bless Mickey. Change me." (Repeat 1000 times or until my mind loosens up.) I'm afraid if I tried to talk to him I'd end up beaning him with a ball bat. But I tell myself he is simply very ill right now, and I have to accept his alcoholism is simply a serious and chronic illness.

I am finding that although I feel more spiritually grounded than I used to feel, I have trouble trusting that grounding and letting go. I sort of see that I need to develop a confidence in being spiritually grounded, when faced with messy life things that don’t fit in boxes.

I have a feeling the only way you gain that confidence, the “confidence to let go and let God be God” is to simply do it and learn from what shakes out of it. But it’s that business of having the confidence to turn loose those first few times that’s a killer.

Did you ever get to rappel over a building? When I was in college, I took non-obligatory ROTC instead of gym, because I wanted to run around in the woods and rappel off of Science Hall. One of the first things you have to learn to rappel is “trust the rope.” As you go off the side of the building, and your weight gets distributed on the rope, you have the sensation of falling (but you’re really not) until the rope goes taut. Only till then do you realize the rope will hold you. You have to resist putting a death grip on the rope with the hand that is above your head, or you can literally end up upside down or sideways while on the rope. You have the trust your hand behind you you’ve placed on the small of your back as the “brake”. But you have to go off the wall probably five or six times before you really learn to trust it.

That sensation of “falling” is EXACTLY what I am feeling when I attempt to spiritually “let go” with these messy things.

Do I believe in the last two years that I have become more spiritually grounded? Yeah, I do.

Have I learned to accept the feeling of falling and spiritually “trust the rope”? Not quite yet.

I have a intuitive sense that the only way you spiritually learn to trust your “grounding” and not get worked up by the feeling of falling is to continue to let go, and let the confidence come in its own time, as the rope holds you time and time again. You have to resist putting a white knuckled death grip on the rope with your upper hand so as not to let it turn you sideways or upside down and become panicked or disoriented.

I have to let this all play out, and I'm not happy about it. But I am still going to have to close my eyes, grit my teeth, let go, and trust the rope.

Luke 15:1-10

15Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Although there are certainly some of the parables in the Gospels that leave me scratching my head and going "Huh?????" (like the one for this upcoming Sunday), this one is a refreshing no-brainer in my world.

Although I don't like to talk about my job on this blog, I will break my own rule for a change. To make a long story short, the most important part of my job is to make sure that "your specimen belongs to you." If you were to have a biopsy, and it was sent to my lab, the absolutely, positively, most important thing that happens is that container with your biopsy and the requisition form are both labeled with your name and patient info, and when the report with the diagnosis of your biopsy is turned out, I have to be 125% confident that the diagnosis is rendered is "your" diagnosis. The "acceptable margin of error" is zero. Period. End of discussion. Render a diagnosis that isn't "yours" and harm comes to you because of it, you can collect the check. That is a res ipso loquitur, no free pass, do not pass go, do not collect $200, medical mistake. Period.

If 99 biopsies come to our lab and one is not labeled correctly, or didn't come with the specimen container, we are not in a position to say, "Oh, no biggie. We're 99% compliant, that's an acceptable error." No way. Our lab is going to call and hunt and dig until we figure out the problem. That is simply because someone had a piece of them removed and is waiting, sometimes very nervously, for the results. The 99 okay ones do not matter, the ONE is just as important.

So I understand perfectly why God searches for the "one lost sheep." I fully comprehend the obsession of it, because in this instance, ONE matters as much as many. That concept is counterintuitive to our society. We have the Star Trek movie attitude about it. (Remember the death of Spock in the second Star Trek feature film? He told Jim his death was okay "because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.") We tend to hold to that notion. We make sacrifices in life because we see the needs of others as outweighing our own "needs of one." We do it all the time and we are taught that it is a good thing to do--and mostly, it is.

Yet, in God's way of doing business, the needs of the one are as equally important as the needs of the many. I don't know about you, but I always have a hard time accepting this. There is a part of me that feels that I am not worthy of so much fuss and bother. That part of my mind tells God, "Oh, go deal with someone who needs Your services more than me; I'll take care of it. I know I could use some attention from you but oh, hell, I'll get by. I don't really deserve it, anyway."

But really, accepting that premise is incongruous with what I would do for others. If someone said, "Oh, don't bother looking for my specimen. It was just a little mole; it didn't look like anything scary for cancer, I just wanted it off so my face would look better," I would not find that an acceptable reason to stop searching for that lost biopsy. So why would I find it acceptable to let God stop looking? Yet there is that part of me that does.

Sometimes, I think it stems from our inability to accept the divine nature in ourselves. We get so steeped in our tendency to see us from the "sinful side of ourselves." Our flaws stand out worse than our good points. Sometimes, I think that the closer we feel to "whole" the bigger our flaws stand out. I think of it like having a nearly complete set of coins in a collector booklet. If I had a nearly complete set of mint state Morgan silver dollars, and lacked one for the complete set, I would not be thinking about the other fine coins in my collection--I would be obsessing over the one coin I lack. Then, even if I HAD the complete set, I would move that obsession to the next level. I would decide which coin in the set is in the relatively "worst shape" and I would improve on it, and on and on we'd go. The obsession to fix the "flaw" overtakes the joy of the beauty of the collection.

But the fact remains--God, even though he has great love of his collection, still has the same obsession we do, he still goes over and above and out of his way to find the one that he lacks. We should accept this and rejoice that we are simply "that special."

I was going to sit down and ponder the parable of the lost sheep this evening, but I got distracted when I visited MadPriest's blog tonight, so I'll have to save my serious discussion of the Gospel for later. The folks there had been discussing tacky funerary things on a couple of posts. Ok, since I'm in kind of a jocular mood, I got distracted.

I have to confess that one of the things I'm going to thank God for in my prayers tonight, is when my life comes to an end, that thanks to the Episcopal Church I'll at least have a dignified funeral. These days, a lot of what passes for "individualized expression" at funerals leaves me cold...or, worse yet, leaves me in stitches.

Don't get me wrong. I think there have been some nice touches to the modern visitation and funeral service. I like how families put up a variety of photographs. I like a eulogy that makes me grin from a fond memory (as long as the speaker keeps it short). But there's a growing trendy tacky aspect to a lot of funerals that detracts from what I see is the "real message"--that we have to look to something beyond this. Obviously, the easy "beyond" for me is the message of Christianity, but this can be taken in a secular sense, too. Even the most devout atheist wants to believe that when they are gone, there is a footprint they've left on the world that has a larger meaning.

Nowhere is this more evident than in "bad funeral poetry." Now, there's always been bad funeral poetry. But in years past it was probably more bad religious poetry; now it's just bad poetry of all varieties. Some bad poems just lend themselves to bad funeral poetry. One that seems to pop up way too often is Ann Taylor's "My Mother":

Who fed me from her gentle breast,
And hush'd me in her arms to rest,
And on my cheek sweet kisses prest?
My Mother.

When sleep forsook my open eye,
Who was it sung sweet hushabye,
And rock'd me that I should not cry?
My Mother.

Who sat and watch'd my infant head,
When sleeping on my cradle bed,
And tears of sweet affection shed?
My Mother.

When pain and sickness made me cry,
Who gaz'd upon my heavy eye,
And wept, for fear that I should die?
My Mother.

Who drest my doll in clothes so gay,
And taught me pretty how to play,
And minded all I had to say?
My Mother.

Who ran to help me when I fell,
And would some pretty story tell,
Or kiss the place to make it well?
My Mother.

Who taught my infant lips to pray,
And love God's holy book and day,
And walk in wisdom's pleasant way?
My Mother.

[Page 182]

And can I ever cease to be
Affectionate and kind to thee,
Who wast so very kind to me,
My Mother.

Ah! no, the thought I cannot bear;
And if God please my life to spare,
I hope I shall reward thy care,
My Mother.

When thou art feeble, old, and gray,
My healthy arm shall be thy stay,
And I will soothe thy pains away,
My Mother.

And when I see thee hang thy head,
'Twill be my turn to watch thy bed,
And tears of sweet affection shed,
My Mother.

For God, who lives above the skies,
Would look with vengeance in His eyes,
If I should ever dare despise,
My Mother.


The problem is that every time I hear that poem, my brain responds by reminding me of this poem....

When me prayers were poorly said,
Who tucked me in me widdle bed,
And spanked me till me arse was red?
Me Mudder.

Who took me from me cozy cot
And put me on an ice-cold pot,
And made me shit when I could not?
Me Mudder.

And when the morning light would come,
And in me crib me dribble some,
Who'd wipe me tiny widdle bum?
Me Mudder.

Who would me hair so gently part,
And hug me gently to her heart,
And sometimes squeeze me till I'd fart?
Me Mudder.

Who looked at me with eyebrows knit,
And nearly had a king size fit,
When in my Sunday pants me shit?
Me Mudder.

And when at night the bed did squeak,
Me raised me head to have a peek,
Who yelled at me to go to sleep?
Me Fadder!

I'll never forget the worst episode I had with this poem. The day before I had to go to my own grandmother's funeral, I had to go to a funeral of one of her close contemporaries. The pastor, a Conway Twitty-haired leisure suit Baptist kind of dude, started reciting the Ann Taylor "My Mother" poem. I had to bury my face in my hands to hide my laughter. I peeked over and my mother was doing the same thing. Hell, after all, she was the one who taught it to me when I was a kid!

I am sure the mourners all thought we were contemplating my grandmother's funeral the next day when we were actually contemplating, "Who put me on my widdle pot and made me shit when I could not? Me mudder."

Any clergy who uses that poem in a funeral should be taken out and beaten severely. That's just all there is to it.

Who taught me dirty rhymes so raw,
Their words got stuck inside me craw,
So then at funerals I'd guffaw...
Me Mudder!

I wanted to tell of one other highlight of my trip to NYC before getting back to Kirksville and the present. Although I didn't do a lot of "tourist things" this trip, I did take a detour to St. Paul's Chapel in Manhattan. Many of you might remember it during the 9/11 tragedy as the spot where many firefighters and rescue workers rested, slept, prayed and contemplated what was going on. It was a spot of solace, virtually untouched, in an area of chaos and confusion.

My visit was on Sept. 9, only two days before the sixth anniversary of 9/11. Several exhibits were sprinkled around the periphery of the sanctuary--the origami figures sent by Japanese schoolchilren, the chasuble covered with police and fire patches, some of the thousands of teddy bears sent not long after the tragedy--tangible gestures of healing from six years ago. Here in the Midwest, we tend to think to ourselves, "They need to get over it," but standing there among all these artifacts and watching the various visitors made me realize how dismissive we are in this regard. New Yorkers so obviously still carry a lot of raw emotion over this event.

Out of all the displays, one caught me in a way no other could. One of the pews had been set aside with a firefighter's jacket draped over one arm and a pair of rubber fire boots sitting beneath it on the floor. This simply display spoke volumes, because it was a scene played many times over as weary firefighters slept beside their jackets and boots in those pews. The backrest of the pew still bore the scrape and scratch marks left from countless rescue workers. This simple display gripped me more viscerally because it could carry the same kind of power a nativity scene does, by having an iconic quality to it--an icon of hope, an icon of the disciplines of faith, an icon of self-sacrificing love.

That trinitarian image of pew, jacket, and boots stuck with me all the way home simply because it was real, rooted in the moment, yet able to transcend six years of time. It was a reminder that when we often rise to our "moments of greatness" in our lives, it is usually not something we planned. We just happened to be there at the time, and we did what had to be done, and it turns out when viewed through the retrospectoscope becomes our finest hour. God so often leads us to our greatest gifts when we are not looking for them. We so often rise to our greatest strengths in the face of when we feel we are about to fold from weariness, doubt, or fear--an amazing concept!

Well, really, I shouldn't be using the Minnesota Lutheran dialect because I was in Queens, NYC, but hey, they're all Lootruns to me, y'know? (Having been raised Missouri Synod Lutheran, I think I can get away with this.)

My absence from the blog was because I went out to Queens to visit one of my many "extended family members", who, for purposes of anonymity, I'll simply call Pastor. (Hey, when I was a kid, I thought that was EVERY Lutheran minister's first name, anyway.) Pastor was an assistant minister at another church in Queens for several years, then took a call to a parish on the other side of the borough three years ago. For purposes of this blog, I'll call her church St. Elsewhere.

The history of St. Elsewhere is very fascinating. It was originally in a German/Swedish neighborhood (many of the stained glass windows and church fixtures have German inscriptions and are dated in the 1910's.) Subsequently, the neighborhood has literally morphed into the most racially diverse zip code in the United States. Pastor's church membership reflects this; I am guessing roughly eight or ten nationalities are represented in the pews on a given Sunday. This, of course, is absolutely fascinating to me, living here in 95% white Kirksville!

But to make a long story short, Pastor, being originally from the Midwest herself, finds it frustrating at times that New Yorkers, whether they are native or immigrant New Yorkers, tend to think repairs always need to be done by "hired help". Her old church could use a lot of "little fix-it work." Her Synod recently paid for a major internal renovation, but this did not include the "little things." In order to encourage her flock that, yes, these little "fix-it" jobs could be done by willing parish she imported a Missourian to come out and do a little handy work in the company of the flock for a short spell.

It was a fun visit. I think the locals found me as "exotic" as I found them. Also, (and I would not say this out loud at Trinity much) I will confess that although I realize that theologically, my mind better fits Anglicanism, there are parts of being Lutheran I really miss. Although I have no love for the theology of the LCMS, had there been an ELCA Lutheran church in Kirksville, I may well have never ended up at Trinity.

Lutherans by and large, sing "prettier hymns." Traditional Episcopal hymns all sound a lot alike to me. They also seem to be a little heavy on sea storms and shipwrecks. Lutherans tend to like hymns by Bach, Handel, etc. Maybe I just grew up liking more "Teutonic worship music." Lutherans also tend to have more sinful food at coffee hour. Coffee hour at Pastor's church is especially delightfully wicked because all the different cultures bring a variety of sinful treats to the table!

But then, on the other hand, I realize there are parts of Lutheranism I don't miss, even in the more liberal ELCA variety. The concept of "Lutheran grace" can get a little heavy sometimes, and since I am a person who has a tendency to beat myself over the head with the "I suck" stick, the one thing I can thank Episcopal theology for is to look a little more at the Resurrection as my source of salvation rather than the death/atonement part of the story. Ditto for the confession of sin. Even ELCA Lutherans say they are "captive to sin" in the General Confession. Granted, that's a lot better than "...and we justly deserve your present and eternal punishment" schtick I used to have to say in the LCMS. But again, I like to belive that the Resurrection freed me from being a captive to any of that.

I did laugh because one of my old childhood bugaboos came back to haunt my thoughts while sitting in Pastor's church. In the Lutheran church, you do the confession of sin at the very beginning of the worship service. As a child, I used to fret over this, because I figured that gave me 30-45 minutes to think more sinful thoughts and thereby negate my confession, and not be "pure" when I approached the rail at communion time. One of the things I still laugh to myself at Trinity, since the General Confession in the Episcopal church comes much later in the service, is that I have far less time to think those evil thoughts and stand a better chance at "rail purity." (big smile and wink here)...

But we all said the confession and immediately I thought, "Oh, DAMN! It's like the old days! I have a half hour or better to sit here without sinning!"

Every now and then I fall for those cheesy Internet quizzes. This one is "the country quiz".

Hmm...which country am I?

You're Ireland!

Mystical and rain-soaked, you remain mysterious to many people, and this
makes you intriguing. You also like a good night at the pub, though many are just as
worried that you will blow up the pub as drink your beverage of choice. You're good
with words, remarkably lucky, and know and enjoy at least fifteen ways of eating a potato.
You really don't like snakes.

Take the Country Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid

I have still been cogitating over the readings for the past Sunday--particularly Sirach 10:12-18 and Luke 14:1, 7-14. It's all about swallowing one's pride. What I found interesting is that the reading in Sirach focused on the beginning of pride. Although I am well seasoned in the concept that "pride is a real problem", I had not thought much about the beginning of pride--that moment when you let pride sit in the driver's seat. Sirach 10:12 says "The beginning of pride is to forsake the Lord, the heart has withdrawn from its Maker."

We all know that moment when pride takes the wheel. Maybe someone said just the right (or wrong) thing, and you feel that little warrior inside of you go, "AAARRGGGHHH!" and you puff up like a hognose snake.

Those of you not from the Midwest may not have an appreciation of hognose snakes. My grandmother's generation called them "puff adders." A hognose snake has two responses to a threat. Its first response is to puff up to twice its size, hiss and spit, strike, and put on quite a show. But despite the nickname, it is not a poisonous snake nor is it in the adder family. It can only bite in the manner of the more benign snakes. It only has the small row of teeth common to non-poisonous snakes with the addition of "rear fangs." These rear fangs do not contain classical venom but can secrete a mildly toxic substance--however it only appears to be of use against smaller prey. In short, they puff up because they are vulnerable.

Hmmm, there's a many times to we puff up because we are vulnerable? Not only do we hiss and spit when threatened, we might puff up with our accomplishments, we might puff up with an image of ourselves that make us feel better, we call attention to our strengths to hide our inadequacies. We tell slightly spun versions of the truth to make our inequities more benign. We point to our past accomplishments to hide the fact the present scares us.

If you are playing with a hognose snake, this can be quite fun. You take a stick and poke at it and watch it puff up and carry on in a most amusing fashion. You'd think it was a cobra, the way it acts. But, if that tactic doesn't work, a hognose snake has another trick in its arsenal. It rolls on its back and plays dead, in the hopes its tormentor doesn't like dead prey. Not only plays dead but often poops on itself and emits a musky, nasty odor. Sometimes it even sticks out its tongue like it was dead. If you flip the snake back on its belly, it will flop back over on it's back just to prove to you it's dead.

Again, let's extrapolate this. When our hissing and spitting doesn't make the threat go away, it is often our tendency to blame ourselves. We shrink back, shut down, opt out, go off in the corner, drink too much, withhold sex, or become unreasonably contrite, saying "I'm sorry" for anything and everything, even if it is not of our making. We will prove to you we are "dead" (or in this case "bad") by hitting ourselves with a stick and berating ourselves for being such a "sinful being." These are all substitutes for honest atonement. In other words, we tend to substitute mea culpa drama for the real thing.

This all plays out starting at the moment we ignore God's ability to lead and direct us--the beginning of pride. Of course, hognose snakes act totally on instinct and can't be changed. Humans, however, can choose to "not go there." This can sometimes be hard to do, but it can be done. We can choose to step back three steps from our instinct and take in the situation...but doing this is work. Work we often simply choose not to do.

I just hope I can follow my own advice in this regard.

Ok, it's no secret I was leaning towards a triquetra for my 2nd tattoo. Here it is (but it is still a little on the "raw" side so it's not in its perfect final healed form:

It's a good symbol on a lot of fronts. It has its roots in Scandinavian, Celtic, and early Christian symbolism. Obviously, in Christian symbolism, it represents the Trinity (often called the "Trinity knot"). In the ancient Celtic religion, it represents earth, sea, and sky. As the Celts converted to Christianity, the concept of "threes"was already a part of their religion and culture, so it was pretty easy for them to make the switch to understanding the Trinity. To the Vikings, it represented the power of Odin to bind or unbind the warrior's mind. It very likely was originally a Christian symbol first as no evidence of the symbol exists before 30 C.E. The equal size of the three "legs" of the symbol represents the equality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the intertwining of the arcs with the circle represents indivisibility.

Then again, I am old enough to remember when the symbol was on the Led Zeppelin album "Zoso" and that Jimmy Page considered it "his" symbol and all the fundamentalists who hated Led Zeppelin liked to claim it was a symbol for "666" maybe it will also give the fundies something to keep their tongues wagging and keep them away from me with their tracts and evangelizing...they might consider me a hopeless cause (Thanks be to God!)!!!!!

I chose to do it in shades of purple mostly because it is opposite of my other tattoo (both sides of my left ankle), which is purple. But one could make the argument that my favorite color, purple, is also the color of Lent, signifying penance, atonement, and a contrite heart. The secular meaning of purple is it is the universal color of "No Trespassing." In many states, (Missouri included), landowners often paint their corner fence posts purple as the wordless "No Trespassing" sign. It is roughly the size of the other tattoo (same height, a little wider) which leaves the possibility open that someday I may want to do some sort of design to connect the two, around my ankle.

I wonder at times if my love of the color purple has to do with my constant spiritual battle to become continually more contrite, to give up of "self", to try to be more attuned to God's voice and to let it lead me. But this symbol is certainly a good choice for me. In fact, it is exactly the same size as the triquetra on our church bulletin. (I actually used it for the tattoo artist to make his tracings!) So if you are clergy and reading this, you might not ever look at your artwork on the church bulletin quite the same ever again!

I definitely like these!

You might be Episcopalian if…

…It takes four people to change a light bulb in church. One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks, one to say, “but my mother donated that light bulb!” and one to talk about how much better the old one was.

…When the Holy Spirit touches you, you don't raise your hands and shout Hallelujuah, rather you scratch your chin, turn to your neighbor and whisper "hmmm, . . . that was a good point."

…You scowl when saying words like "Baptist" & "Evangelical".

… You first quote the Book of Common Prayer and then say, "Oh yeah, the Bible says this somewhere, too."

… You are personally repulsed by Campus Crusade for Christ.

… Saying a blessing before the first round of drinks doesn't seem strange to you at all.

…Coffee is a line item in the official church budget.

… you're watching "Star Wars" and when they say, "May the force be with you," you reply, "and also with you." have an uncontrollable urge to sit in the back of any room.

…you can argue theology with yourself when one else is around.

...sharing the peace during the service takes more time than the sermon.

…if the church were on fire, you would rush in and save the coffee pot.

… you know what a "dead spread" is.

… you know what an “undercroft,” a “sacristy,” and a “narthex” is.

…you believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.

…you believe your priests will visit you in the hospital, even if you don't notify them that you are there.

…you feel guilty for not staying to clean up after your own wedding reception in the undercroft.

…you believe the Bible forbids you from crossing the aisle when passing the peace.

… it's 110 degrees outside and you still have coffee after services.

ADDENDUM: More "You might be Episcopalianisms..." here.

"I am by religion like everything else. I think there is more in acting than in talking. I had an uncle who said when one of his neighbors got religion strong on Sunday, he was going to lock his smokehouse on Monday. I think he was right from the little I have observed." (Harry Truman, from a letter to Bess Wallace, February 7, 1911. Papers Relating to Family, Business, and Personal Affairs at the Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.)

Anyone who knows me knows that one of the five people I want to meet in Heaven is Harry Truman. I have been fascinated with him since childhood, because he was simply "like us." As a child, I always imagined Presidents as having perfect "oratory voices." The first time I watched a film in school (yes, I predate video; we watched 16mm films in school!) where I actually heard Truman speak, I was captivated. He sounded just like any of my male relatives or like any "down home" person from rural northern Missouri.

As I grew older, the more I learned about him, the more I admired him. Harry taught me a lot about life--about not being afraid to be the "little guy", about doing what's right when everyone thinks you're a fool, and about speaking plainly, even if it is in a somewhat graphic, rough, and illustrative way. (My friends and relatives would tell you Harry and I share a common vocabulary.)

Now, Harry called himself a "lightfoot Baptist", but the more I've learned about him the more I've come to believe that the Episcopalian way of thinking permeated his religious beliefs. Bess was an Episcopalian, and Harry paid a lot of attention to what "the Boss" (his name for Bess) had to say. When Harry spoke publicly about religion, it seems to me that he understood just the right amount of "positive vagueness", which is certainly quasi-Episcopalian, such as this 1949 radio address on the program "Religion in American Life."

I'm guessing that the only thing Harry could not handle, though, was the "top-down" structure of TEC, all those bishops and such were just too hierarchical for his populist look at the world. He often pointed to the "ground up" structure of the Baptist church. When Harry died, and was buried at the Truman Library, he had an Episcopalian burial.

Yes, Harry called himself a Baptist, but he thought a lot like an Episcopalian and he was buried like one. As much as I admire Harry, it's nice to know we will be sent off in the same way (although I am in no rush for my sendoff!)

I have been a "one-tattoo" person for many years now but lately have been cogitating over getting a 2nd one--especially since I've been admiring some of the work on the a site devoted entirely to religious tattoos. I was particularly intrigued with their page of triquetra tattoos. Trinity's bulletin has one of those on the front every week.

One can argue that the triquetra is a pagan Celtic symbol but as best as I can tell, it has also been a symbol for the Trinity in an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels from 800 C.E. So there.

My Lutheran pastor friend/extended relative has a pastor friend who has a magnificent Luther Rose on her arm. I have seen some pretty impressive Rock of Ages "Sailor's Cross" tattoos done locally. Now that a lot of the social stigmata of tastefully sized tattoos is a thing of the past, I really think there is a form of "silent evangelism" in a cool religious tattoo, as well as it being something that can enhance one's "connectedness" with God.

I know my one tattoo (the one at the top of this entry) kept me connected with Kirksville. I got it when I was living 90 miles away and was terribly homesick for Kirksville. It was a time in my life I felt I'd never find my way back to NE Missouri to live. So, I walked into a tattoo parlor and made sure I always had Kirksville with me, to last me until I could be back to stay, and had it done in "Truman State" color.

I realize some folks will point to Leviticus and the admonition to cut or tattoo our bodies but those are the same folks who seem to want to use Leviticus for all sorts of reasons besides eating shrimp or wearing cotton-poly blend.

It took me a long time just to decide on the specifics of my simple solo tattoo. I wanted it to be a "connecting" thing. I wanted it to be rich in symbolism for me. I wanted it to not look too goofy when I am in the nursing home, and be in a location that won't be totally stretched out when I am old and flabby.

So I guess you could say I am in the discernment process; I have been in this for about a year now, so I'm getting a little anxious to get it done. I do want my next one to be of a religious nature but I want it to be unique to me somehow. Symbolism has to be a part of it. I'd like this one to be a little more flashy and colorful. I want it to connect with how I see God connecting to me. I must say these triquetras are very attractive and it is a very alluring design for me. But I have to think on it some more.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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