Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Thoughts III

I have many happy holiday memories.  I will share some here, I expect.  However, this month has been particularly difficult for many reasons and has me remembering other Decembers in my life, and other holiday seasons that were full of change--painful change. 

There was the year the 17-year-old me was sleeping with a stuffed animal and putting a pillow over my head because I felt so alone and so scared.  I was certain that my fragile family was finally going to be ripped apart at the seams.  What was most frightening was not the certainty of that fact.  It was the anticipation, the vagueness of what was to come, and the awareness that I had no control over how or when or in what way my family would change forever. 

I watched as my reclusive mother, who had been disconnected from me and the rest of the family for years, became ever more obsessive and isolated.  She was alarmingly thin, and I couldn't recall the last time I had seen her actually eat.  I watched my father, never a particularly patient man, become increasingly frustrated, angry, and volatile.  I was afraid he would hurt my mother...sometimes afraid he might kill her.  And I was afraid for what would happen to him and to me if he did. 

Christmas Eve arrived.  Ken, my future husband though I did not know it, was at our house.  My mother came out of her room to join my dad and me for our traditional Christmas Eve opening of presents.  I can recall the tension on her face, the agitation, the drawn expression as she tried to smile.  She was passing out presents and rushing us with a frantic strangeness that had become all too familiar.  Every moment of normal interaction was a moment stolen from her life's mission.  She believed, along with others we knew as, "The Prayer Band," that her prayer and intercession were critical and that terrible things could happen if she were not in nearly-constant prayer.  The Prayer Band was led by an all-powerful cult leader.  Her following was small compared that that of a David Koresh or Jim Jones, but the members of the group were no less controlled.

I sent my boyfriend out the door after a bizarre evening. I was embarrassed and deeply sad, and I had a sick knot in my stomach.  In the relative safety of my room, I opened the card Ken had slipped into my hand as he left.  What I remember about it was a handwritten note, "May this be the most Merry Christmas of your life!

I tossed the card aside, thinking bitterly, "If this is the merriest....what comes next year?"  I climbed into bed and wept into my pillow and clutched a stuffed dog as I unwillingly listened to my parents argue for what seemed like hours.

The following Christmas we had no idea where my mother was.  But that is another story.

There was the year Ken, a first-time pastor serving what had turned out to be a very difficult congregation, spent a large part of December in the hospital.  I was afraid he was going to die.  I was far from family or any real friends. And I, the mom of children aged four and ten, was concerned that the month was half over and we still had no tree in our parsonage living room.  One night when I was late at the hospital, my children managed to get the lights on the tree and most of the ornaments hung. I was astonished to arrive home to a decorated tree, and I thanked them and hugged them and tried not to cry.  The next day, a deacon told me that if my husband would repent of the sin in his life, perhaps he would be healed. What sin?  He didn't know.  But there had to be something.  

There was the December, years ago, when I unexpectedly returned to my home state of California.  My dad was an active, healthy, vital man in his early 70s when the news came that he was unconscious, the victim of a brain aneurysm.  Darlaine lived in California, but Paulette, in Indiana, and I, in Wisconsin hurried to find flights and get out the the coast.  The three of us spent anxious days at his bedside, holding his hand, speaking to him, praying for God to heal him.  Then he was transferred to Scripps Memorial Hospital in the beautiful and wealthy town of La Jolla.  I hadn't been in my home state for some time, and I felt guilty to be enjoying the warm sun, the scent of the ocean, and the glorious bougainvillea flowers that covered many roofs in La Jolla.  How strange and unreal it all seemed. It was 70 degrees outside, and back home in Wisconsin it was frigid.

Grief does odd things sometimes. One day Paulette and I, needing a change of scene, wandered the halls of the hospital.  I remember a tall and glorious Christmas tree that reached to the ceiling in the hospital entry.  It didn't seem like Christmas.  We both were grateful for that, even as we listened to Christmas carols and tried not to care that it was December. We walked arm-in-arm, alternately stifling giggles or tears as we looked at a series of paintings of wealthy patrons of the hospital. There were at least 25 paintings. We made rude comments about those wealthy people.  Very rude.  But the laughter did us good.   And later we listened as a kind-eyed neurologist told us that there was no longer any hope for my father's recovery and that we would need to talk together about discontinuing life support. 

The doctor said it was likely he might live for several days afterward, slipping into death slowly.  Paulette and I hugged our sister, Darlaine, and we made the agonizing decision to go home.  We had families.  It was nearly Christmas.

I felt quite ill on the flight back, and I arrived in Wisconsin to sub-zero temperatures and howling blizzard winds and snow. Bits of ice whipped into my face and I tried not to cry as I walked from the terminal to the car. I think I was as miserable as I have ever been in my life.  My heart felt like lead.   I shivered all the way home from the airport, crawled into bed and spent several days with the flu.  My father died on December 20th. 

My mother died a few years ago, just a couple of weeks from her 92nd birthday.  It was only days after Christmas.  A kind staff member from the nursing home called me about 4 AM to let me know that my mother was taking a downward turn and was not expected to live long.  I drove to the nursing home in the dark of early morning.  The usually bustling facility was eerily quiet.  The lights on the tiny Christmas tree I had placed on a shelf in my mother's room were an incongruous spot of cheer above her bed.  The lights were dim and I stood in the darkness and listened to her labored breathing, tears in my eyes.  I had told the nurses to tell the doctor that there would be no extraordinary measures taken.  It was time.  

I spent the long hours of that day singing to my sometimes-awake but mute mother, reading scripture, telling her I loved her.  Others came too.  I told her it was okay to go home to Jesus, that I'd see her soon.  As the words to "How Great Thou Art" played on a little CD player, reaching the phrase, "When Christ shall come...." she opened her still-beautiful blue eyes, looked upward and then breathed a long breath, closed her eyes and was gone.  Later, walking past the large Christmas tree in the nursing home lobby, I wondered, "Why do so many sad things seem to happen at this time of year?" 

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Except for when it isn't. 

I cannot supply much in the way of answers to life's grief, except to note that it comes to all of us.  For those who may read this rather morose post, simply know that I understand.  And I am praying for you now.  Here is just some of what scripture says about grief. 

Psalm 34:18  The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Psalm 31:9 O’ Lord have mercy on me in my anguish. My eyes are red from weeping; my health is broken from sorrow.

Psalm 147:3 He heals the broken heartened, binding up their wounds.

Matthew 5:4  Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

John 14:27 Iam leaving you with a gift-peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give is not fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

John 14:18 No, I will not abandon you or leave you as orphans in the storm-I will come to you.
Psalm 30:5b  Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

And this one may be my favorite.  As noted in an earlier post in this little series, Jesus understood pain and grief.  He did not sugar coat the reality of pain and suffering in this world.

John 16:33 I have told you these things so that you will have peace of heart and mind, Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows, but cheer up, for I have overcome the world.

There is more to come!  How glad I am that this is not the end of all things.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Christmas Thoughts II

I love all of Chapter One from The Gospel of John, but particularly these words, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

One sentence, and yet so rich and full of implications.  Of questions.  Of impossible assertions.  The Eternal Logos of God, existing before time, "emptied himself" as the Apostle Paul said to the Philippians.  Ah, another verse rich and full of implications, questions and assertions.   The one who was God and with God emptied himself in order to become like those he created (John 10:1). 

The wonder of that is more than I can express.  What does it mean that the Son, the Word, the Creator, emptied himself?  I remember a fascinating discussion about that from a Theology class long ago.  How much of God qualities like omnipotence (all power) and omniscience (all knowing) remained?  What was emptied in order for the Eternal Word to become Mary's boy child?

I am feeling lonely this Christmas. It has nothing to do with the part of Christmas that is a holy day, the primary celebration I spoke of in part one.  That celebration, which is mostly internal, does not depend on external things for its significance.  It is all about those implications, questions, and those impossible assertions.  Impossible except this is God we are pondering. 

I will write more about loneliness later, but for now I am thinking that at least part of that emptying--whatever it involved and however it occurred--means that Jesus understood--and understands-- loneliness.  That he understands longing for a home that no longer exists.  That he missed his mother during his days tramping around the countryside and staying in the homes of others.  That he might have grieved at the loss of Joseph, who seems to have died early on. That he occasionally must have wondered what it would be like to have a pretty wife, a snug home, and work that ended when the sun set.  That he was sometimes exasperated with his band of followers.

He "emptied himself" and so was lonely sometimes. Knowing this doesn't make the loneliness go away.   But it is good to think on, nonetheless.  Jesus understands. 

The Word became like us...

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Christmas Thoughts I

I love the Christmas season, and almost everything about it.  I celebrate two different, and for the most part, entirely separate occasions.

One is all about Jesus' birth. That celebration has profound significance.  I love Advent, and yesterday we began the season out at The OASIS with lighting the first candle on our beautiful Advent wreath and reading a passage from Isaiah. I love the familiar words of scripture this time of year.  I love to ponder and pray.  The wonder of incarnation, of "the-Word-became-flesh," is always deep, mysterious and moving to me. I love Christmas carols, especially the old ones, especially when they are beautifully played or sung.  I love the preparations and even the sometimes difficult attempt to preach and minister in ways that will be meaningful to those who join me at worship.  I love Christmas Eve services whether I am a pew participant or am presiding.

Then there is the other Christmas.  That celebration is about fun.  About lights.  About the big wreath on our house.  About my late mother's delicious orange nut bread that is a must-have of the season.  About baking Jule Kaga, another must-have bread of Norwegian origin.  About reading Dickens, "A Christmas Carol."  I love the entire, unabridged, wordy but delightful story.  And it is about watching "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with my grandchild, Trinity (the original cartoon, not that long, horrible, overblown movie).  It's about gifts, about decorating the tree and remembering past years, about looking forward to seeing family members and anticipating the delight we will have watching our newest grandchild, Noah.  He is a toddler now and beginning to play and to notice things in new ways. 

I don't worry about whether people say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays."  Demanding that people who don't share your faith pretend to honor your faith is a waste of time and energy.  And since I'm often at a store, when someone greets me this time of year, it is usually about that second celebration anyway, not the holy one.  Both have value but are not the same, and sometimes they don't really mix all that well.

I suspect that Jesus, if he were here in the flesh, would have fun too.  There would be plenty to cause him grief, but he would also enjoy the good things.  He might even say, "Happy Holidays" to the store clerk.  Or "Happy Hanukkah" if she were Jewish.  And he would treat her with respect and take time to really "see" her. He would smile at her.  He would let the old man go first at the checkout line. 

And he would enjoy a slice of orange nut bread and remember my mother with me.

And maybe I'd share the cassette tape my father gave me years ago--the homemade one that has banjo versions of Christmas songs and bears my father's destinctive print, in green marker, "Pretty good one!"  I don't love the music, but I love and miss my daddy so I keep the tape.  Jesus would get that.

Would he enjoy our Christmas tree with its garland of tiny Norweigan flags?  Would he smile to think of how we have remembered my husband's mother all these years by doing something she always did, continuing that little gesture in honor of family orgins?

Would Jesus like my chocolate fudge, I wonder? I think he would.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Election Fears and the 2012 Vote

I haven't written much about politics on this blog.  There are only 14 posts labeled "politics" since I started blogging in 2005, and several of those are really not all that political.  A couple, I confess, are rants and are labeled as such. 

I have many friends, and family too, from both right and left and political center.  My conservative friends, if I tell them my opinion, think I'm too liberal.  My liberal friends probably think I'm too conservative.  I also know that nothing I say will likely change anyones point of view.  And maybe I'm getting old.  Okay, I am.  There is perspective that comes with that.  I remember how afraid my father was when Kennedy, the first Catholic president, was elected.  I know he envisioned a direct phone line from the Oval Office to the Vatican and a country directed by the pope.  I remember the fear of a couple of my dad's Baptist deacon friends that Secretary of State Kissinger was the Anti-Christ.  I remember how some of my friends thought Clinton was going to usher in a Golden Age in America.  Ah....life goes on!

Facebook has been hijacked for months.  Ditto my email inbox.  Yesterday's mail had ten poliitical ads.  We got about six political phone calls.  As for the political ads on radio and television, I deplore them, and I believe none of them.  I know, from having been a victim of this, that you can use a sound bite taken out of context to make a person say anything, even things the exact opposite of their real position. (I don't believe Tommy Thompson ever said he would abolish Medicare and Medicaid.  I'd like to hear the whole paragraph.  I also don't believe Tammy Baldwin hates the middle-class.  I'd like to hear the whole paragraph.) 

And when it comes to numbers, be suspicious.  Remember Mark Twain's quote?  Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."  Mark Twain's Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review

If the only place you get your information is from TV political ads, I almost want to tell you not to bother to vote.  Since when did we Americans get so naive?

I am dismayed by the atmosphere this election.  I've never seen anything like it in my lifetime.  All of that doesn't mean that I don't care about politics.  I care, often passionately.  I love my country, and I try to vote every single time I have that option, even during primaries. Back when I was less cynical I stood on a sidewalk and passed out fliers and wore a button with my guy's name.  I was a member of The Young Republicans back in my college days.  I loved my high school civics class and my freshman political science class in college.  Once, in what seems a lifetime ago, I considered running for a local office. I actually (okay, sometimes) read the party platforms.  I have links on my computer to fact-finding sites, to Snopes, and so on.  I try to be deligient about not passing on things unless I check them out first. 

As anyone who has spent any time here knows, I am a clergywoman.  For that reason, if no other, I don't put up yard signs or write or say much about candidates.  I don't think it is appropriate for pastors to do so, even though I always encouraged people to vote their values.  I know, many of my clergy friends, both Republican and Democrat, would disagree. (Not about the values, about the yard signs.) I also didn't like putting an American flag on the church platform.  Just how I roll, okay? 

So why am I writing this now?  I am in a late-working-life career so that I can, as my husband says, "support your ministry habit."  In addition to being a minister I am an insurance agent who focuses on Medicare-related plans.  It is Medicare's annual open enrollment, so I am busy.  I've been having conversations with senior citizens.  And I am appalled and dismayed and sad that our elders are living in such fear.

The fear in this country, at least where I am, is astonishing.  It probably doesn't help that Wisconsin is a "battleground state," but in the last two weeks I have talked to several senior citizens who are nearly in a panic.  One elderly man needs to make changes to his insurance but refuses to do so until after the election.  I'm not sure if he is a Republican or a Democrat, nor whether he is for or against the Health Care Reform Act (Obmacare) but he really seems to think that things will happen right after the president is sworn in. 

Today a woman told me that Obama is going to "abolish the military completely and invite terrorists right into this country."  Another believes that if Romney is elected Medicare and Medicaid will vanish and  there will be no safety net whatsoever for low-income people---that it will all just POOF--evaporate in 2013! 

I want to remind you of some things.
  • We have checks and balances in this country.  There are THREE branches of government. They are called executive, legislative and judicial.  Sometimes this makes things very slow, but all of the power does not lie in one place. 
  • No matter who wins, he will NOT accomplish all he says he will. 
  • If you think either candidate is going to be a dictator, you need to spend some time in other countries.
  • God is not a Republican.  Nor a Democrat.
  • Americans are fiesty.  Sadly, we also have short memories. 
I think I'll stop and copy part of a post from Election Day 2008.  I'll delete the stuff that was specific to Biden, McCain, Palin and Obama and put in ellipses instead... 

I'm about to head over to the local police department, which doubles as a place to cast a ballot. I intend to rejoice. We Americans are exercising our right to vote, and we should be smiling about that, shaking hands, laughing. No one is going to intimidate me as I approach the booth. No one will be guarding the door with a gun.

To my conservative friends, on the unlikely possibility that you will read this, don't be afraid... (long paragraph about Obama and Biden deleted)

To my liberal friends, don't despair... (paragraph about McCain and Palin deleted)

God is still on the throne.

It's an election. Rhetoric gets a bit over-the-top.  Lies and distortions are told on both sides. Promises made will be impossible to keep. The advertisements will end....

Smile! WE LIVE IN A WONDERFUL COUNTRY!  We are the envy of many!  And let's go vote. And let's stop the name-calling, and the insane emails, and the fear mongering, and the hand-wringing despair.

God of All, please help us to remember that we are strangers and aliens in a world that is broken. Help us to remember that our true home is with you, and until the day we are in your holy presence there will always be a sense of lack and incompleteness. Grant that the sense of lack will not make us apathetic but instead will encourage us to pray and to work and to seek that Your will shall be done on earth as it is in Heaven. I pray that people of faith will stand together, pray together, worship together and link arms when we can. I pray for the Church of Jesus Christ to shine in these days when many are uncertain and afraid. Bless whoever is elected to be our president with wisdom and courage and insight. Draw him to yourself in whatever way needs to be. Protect him, and strengthen him for the difficult days that will be ahead. May your will be done. Amen

I'm not a happy citizen right now.  I know that America needs to change in some profound ways.  I have plenty of deep concerns about the future.  I am, sometimes, afraid.  And then I remember who I really am. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Five:What's On Your Shelf?

It has been a very long time since I played the Rev Gal Blog Pals Friday Five.  The reasons are many, but Deb enticed me to play today.  Here's what she said:

Recently I decided to re-organize my study and put books of like topic and purpose together. (Of course, they don't stay that way -- but that's another matter!) I also culled out some books which I hesitated to even donate to the library book sale because they were either extremely outdated or had content that I didn't want the unexamined mind to read. (Not quite as bad as "The Total Woman" but... you get my drift!)

And here are the questions she poses to us today:

1. STUDYING: What is your favorite book or series for sermon prep or study? Or have you moved from books to on-line tools for your personal study?

I have mostly moved from books to online resources for sermon study.  I have an OLD series of commentaries (I'm talking early 1900s) that, oddly enough, serve well when I want a hard copy of something to study.  There are about 12 volumns and they are called "The Preachers Study" and I'd tell you more except I am not able to access them at the moment.  The insights are often basic but  profound.

2. IN THE QUEUE: Do you have a queue of books you are longing to read or do you read in bits and pieces over several books at a time? What's in the queue?

These days I tend to read in bits and peices, though that is not how I prefer it.  Honestly, these days I so seldom get to just be alone and sit and read for pleasure.  I'm longing to do so, but there seems to be no space for it.  I have a shelf of books, none of them new, that I hope to get to.  I haven't bought anything new because I just can't make myself do so when I already have so many unread volumns.

Someone gave me a small paperback by David W. Dyer, someone I never heard of, and it is shaking my world a bit.  The title is "Let My People Go: Freedom from Religious Bondage" and pictures a ball and chain.  I've only read two short chapters, and I am re-reading, very carefully.  Not sure what to think, but it's a bit revolutionary for pastor-types.  Making me think however, and that's a good thing.  I hope...

I'm about to purchase, "Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate" by Justin Lee.

3. FAVORITE OF ALL TIME: What's one book that you have to have in your study? Is it professional, personal, fun or artistic? (For instance, I have a copy of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It just helps sometimes.)

I can't pick a favorite book.  I mean, I don't mean to be annoying, but the Bible is where I have to start.  Sometimes in sermon prep I have to make myself NOT look at anything else for a while, so I don't get stuck in pre-conceived notions. 

4. KINDLE OR PRINT? or both? Is there a trend in your recent purchases?

I have a Kindle.  It is handy for some reading. But I much prefer books.  I like the look, the feel and the smell.   Books have good associations from my life.  My Kindle does not.

5. DISCARDS: I regularly cruise the "FREE BOOKS" rack at our local library. (I know, I know. It's a bad habit!) When's the last time you went through your books and gave some away (or threw some away?) Do you remember what made the discard pile?

I have not done this for a looooong time.  I have a large stack of boxes full of books in the basement and a stack in my office and it is on my to-do list for this month.  MUST do it.  It is difficult.  My new ministry venture, "The OASIS" meets above a thrift store, so I do have the perfect drop-off place. 

Saturday, October 06, 2012

O Wind of God

Breathe on me,
O Wind of God...
Blow sin's distraction from my mind,

Breathe on me,
O Wind of God,
Whisper wisdom from Your heart.

Blow soft--or strong,
O Breath of Life,
Scatter the debris of selfish pain.

Breath of Heaven,
Dance with me,
Fresh and clean and full of rain.

In Your hands,
Ruach Divine,
May freedom come...
And songs of joy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Romney and the 47%

The following post is not mine.  It is reprinted from here.  Click to see the original if you would like to view pictures.  Anne Robertson is a blogger and a preacher and a thinker who I have recently discovered. If you click on the link in order to read the original article, I suggest you read the comments as well.

I will post some thoughts of my own at the end of Anne's letter to Mitt Romney. 

It is personal now. You have insulted my family, and your policies embody an actual threat to my mother's life. Mitt Romney, meet my mother.

Dear Mr. Romney,

I watched your comments to those who paid $50,000 to have dinner with you. If you weren't a candidate for President, I would simply be disgusted and keep my peace. But you are trying to take the helm of my country--to shape policies that will affect my life and the lives of those I love. The video, taken when you thought no one was watching, reveals a frightening callousness that I can only pray never darkens the door of the Oval Office.

I'm sure you remember your words, as you have refused to disown or even moderate them, saying only that you somehow didn't say it just right. Au contraire, I find your words crystal clear:

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax."

It is personal now. You have insulted my family, and your policies embody an actual threat to my mother's life. Mitt Romney, meet my mother. Yes, that's her in the picture. You'll note that she has such a sense of entitlement that my brother has to feed her. Shame on her. She won't even pick up a fork.

It's true. She pays no taxes. And it's true that she will not vote for you. Actually, she won't vote for anyone. In 2004 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and I'm afraid at this stage she would be considered a "low-information voter." She does not speak and often doesn't remember how to swallow. A "good" visit is a day when she opens her eyes. My last meaningful conversation with her was almost a decade ago. She will not be voting.

You see her in this picture in the dining room of the nursing home that gives her excellent care. She is well-beyond the stage where anyone in our family could care for her. In her day, she was a shrewd money-manager, making the best of her pension as a public school teacher and the life insurance money she received when my father dropped dead at age 47. But, alas, it still was not enough.

Every scrap of savings and investment she once had are now gone, as my (Republican) stepfather did everything he could to avoid taking a dime of government money. But she has good genes. She has been in a care facility now for eight years. Her pension was enough to let her live a comfortable life in retirement, but her nursing home care is twice her monthly pension amount. We have just arranged to donate her body to science at her passing, since there will not even be funds to have a funeral.

It is now the Medicaid program that makes up the difference between her pension and the cost of her care. Mr. Romney, you haven't talked much about your running mate's proposal to cut 34% from the Medicaid program. You do realize, don't you, that 2/3 of the people on Medicaid are seniors in nursing homes like my mother? Nobody on Medicaid pays taxes. Do you care? Oh, I forgot, you addressed that with your donors:

"And-- and so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for for their lives."

What are we to do when you take away my irresponsible mother's Medicaid? Oh, yeah--you answered that, too. She should go to the Emergency Room. Are they prepared for her to live there?

Just as an aside, Mr. Romney, my parents were Republicans, embodying the best of the "compassionate conservatism" that once characterized the GOP. They were both public school teachers and guidance counselors who never did join the union, but who counted union members as lifelong friends and allies. When the teacher's union went on strike they did not cross the picket line. Instead they went and served coffee, while wincing at the misspelled signs of protesters who came to mock those on strike.

When times were tough in the seventies, my parents struggled. I remember my mother sitting down with me in those hard times and asking me about the silver service she had been given when she and my father were married. Was it something I would want one day? Times were getting tough and she was thinking of selling it, but she would find another way if I wanted it. The silver was sold. The RV that had taken our family on two cross-country camping trips was sold, as was much else. They did not ask for a handout, they made it work, even while maintaining their tithe to the Baptist church where they were officers and Sunday School teachers.

My parents took in students in crisis, fought for civil rights in our town, took out a second mortgage on our home to send me to college. And yes, they paid taxes. They did it the hard way. They gave of themselves to others in need, even when it didn't result in a tax deduction. They were people of faith, and they had no independent sources of income apart from their jobs.

My father served in the army and in the first years of their marriage they rented a small home to live in--but only during the winter. During the summer they lived in campgrounds near the California army base where my father was stationed. My mother was raised by her great-grandmother. My father's family lost their small business in the Depression. When they went to Brown University (Pembroke for my mother) as undergraduates, they could not ask their parents for a loan. They later scraped together more money to go to grad school. Both of them pulled their way up from poverty to the middle class through their own hard work and sacrifice.

Come to think of it, my mother actually might be just the teensiest bit "entitled" to help with a devastating illness in her senior years. She's been a good citizen of these United States. She has fulfilled civic duties, gave her life to public education, and did her best to embody Christ's command to love her neighbor as herself. And now, Mr. Romney, you would have her feel shame that she doesn't have $8,000 a month to pay for her care? Now that she is in need, your administration would view her as a parasite and it won't be your job as President to worry about her and people like her?

Like the Grinch, Mr. Romney, your heart appears to be at least two sizes too small. Since you have refused to articulate the details of your actual policies, I can only assume that they will reflect that too-small heart.

You have said quite plainly that your job is not to worry about people like my mother. In your estimation she sees herself as a "victim," and she feels "entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." Alzheimer's is an awful disease. But, Mr. Romney, I am so glad that my mother is not able to comprehend your words. I would not add your insult to her injury, even for all your millions.

Postscript from me:

I'm relatively conservative.  Not as much as my very conservative spouse, but I lean to the right, most times.  Not always.

This is a presidential election, like others I have known, where I am very unhappy with the choice I have. I don't usually post political stuff. I have very dear friends who are passionate Republicans, and other equally dear friends who are passionate Democrats. But Romney's gaffe struck a very discordant note, brought tears to my eyes, and made me think of my own mother, pictured to the left.  She died a few years ago, but she had many similarities to Anne's mother.  She was very thrifty, absolutely refused government aid for which she would have qualified in her later years, was a lifelong conservative, a giver to church and charity, and a very proud woman. 

She saved and went without so that she could gain a bit of a nest egg.  That nest egg disappeared about one year after she entered a nursing home.  She lived two more years.  She never knew that she was on Medicaid, because she had dementia.  If she had known, she would have been deeply ashamed.

I also live with someone who made some bad life choices which result in him being a recipient of services that come from your tax dollars.  I am sad about that, for many reasons.  But...the fact is that Ken and I could not afford to get him the services he needs in order to live.  Sometimes, even with his medical bills covered, it is a stretch for us to have him in our home.  I wonder, sometimes, if my conservative friends realize that it is often the families of the "47%" who would struggle along with their loved one. 

Just something to ponder...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The OASIS Begins

If you read the fragment posted earlier, my apologies.  I hadn't finished and it was supposed to be saved as a draft.

We have held two gatherings of "The OASIS" at the former Salvatorian Center/JFK Prep School near St. Nazianz, Wisconsin. This is for those who have asked for an update.

We met in a corner of the former gym. Much of the area contains items for the thrift store that is located downstairs.  The space is illuminated by old halogen lights that were probably state-of-the-art 40 years ago.   One corner has a cross, area rugs, chairs, a little sound board, and a podium.  There is an electric piano and a drum kit--and the obligatory silk version of ficus trees.  (Does anyone know why it is always ficus trees?)  Kathy, a new friend, played the electric piano for us.  Thirty -two people attended, and we needed to find a couple of extra chairs.  I wrote a litany for the occasion, we sang (a bit awkwardly) a lovely traditional Catholic hymn and a couple of newer songs.  We shared communion.  I answered some FAQs about this new gathering.

I read Ezekiel 37:1-14.  Here is is:

The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.”

Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.

Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’”  So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up...you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’

Something amusing and remarkable happened.  I shared that I had no sermon, no "study" but that I  believed the Holy Spirit had led me to share the "dry bones" passage.  "And," I added, "I started singing, 'Dem Bones' and have been singing it for two days now.  Does anyone know the song I mean?"  Kathy, behind me at the piano, started playing it.  I glanced back and she had an odd look on her face. 

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
(repeated 3 times)
Now hear the word of the Lord...

I asked, though I knew the answer, "Did I tell you I was going to read this passage?"   Then Kathy shook her head "no" and said something like this: "I had to search for a piano book from my teaching days, because I think I was 'told' I would be playing this...I practiced it last week.  And then getting ready to come tonight, I felt I should bring it with me...that I was going to play it."    She pointed to the book on the piano rack.  She smiled. I stared at her, and then I laughed, as did several of those gathered.

Can you imagine what she was thinking as I began to read that strange passage from Ezekiel?

We shared communion while Kathy softly played "Dem Bones" in the background.  That may be a first in all of Christendom.  We closed with the Lord's Prayer. 

Afterwards, we drank coffee and ate my homemade chocolate chip bars. People stayed and talked for a long time.  Except for the "Dem Bones" incident, the evening was not exciting or remarkable in any particular way.  But it was a beginning.

On our second week, there were 33 of us, including several people who were not present last week.  Chris (a different person from the Kris I've mentioned), one of the staff, rang the bell as we gathered in the candlelit church (there is no electricity)  to share acapella songs of praise.  Kathy, who also plays violin and harp, brought her violin and played "Alleluia" as we shared the bread and the cup. 

We sang several songs together--to me these were moving and holy moments.  As I had assumed after the previous time of singing in the old sanctuary, the sound of our voices filled the space and it would have been impossible to tell if there were 10 or 100 of us.  The sound in that church is just amazing.  Several people told me later that they were in tears.  The time there seemed both holy and peaceful.  Someone said to me this past week, "I could see the devastation of the beautiful old church, of course, but even in sadness I had such a sense of hope."

I briefly read, once again, from Ezekiel.   It was getting dark at that point, so we moved across the drive to the gym.  Jim and Linda and Kris shared a bit of history about Father Oshwald and others who had been part of the site in years past, discussed the current state of the property, and shared some of their hopes.  We finished with a time of extemporaneous prayer for them and others on the staff.

Once again, people stayed and chatted and munched cookies for a long time.  It seems we need to make room for that!  A visiting couple from Michigan played guitar for us and sang as the rest of us talked and drank coffee.  He told me they had spent the day with Jim and Linda Frasch and thought they might be moving nearby, that they wanted to help, and that we would likely see them again.

Next week, unless it is too cold, we will be meeting outside around a fire pit that is located to the side of the gym.  I'm thinking I might make chili.  No pattern to what is happening, as of yet!  I think this is a good thing.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The OASIS at St. Nazianz, Part 6

Here is the front of a potcard I mailed out last week.

Just a short update...

Today I went out to St. Nazianz to find out how to turn on the relatively ancient lights in the gym, and familiarize myself with the electronic things, etc.   A friend, Peggy, and her daughter, Sarah, met me there. 

As it turned out we spent some time drinking lemonade in the community kitchen of the remodeled "boiler building."  Jim and Linda have an apartment there, and others have living spaces too, but they share a common kitchen and dining room.  We met  a new friend, Dave Petri, who had dropped in to talk to the Frasch's.   He and his wife are starting a ministry in Manitowoc, "The Prodigal Project," for  people who need a live-in environment while they deal with life-controlling problems. 

They also have a handyman business that helps support their efforts.  So I think Ken and I know who we are going to call for some badly-needed repairs and projects at our house.  Hooray!  Here is his website, in case you live in the area and need a handyman like we do!

Linda and Kris took all of us over to the old church.  After wandering around a bit, we were all gathered near the front, and Linda or Kris started singing the chorus "Alleluia."  Peggy and Sarah and I joined in.   Just five female voices harmonizing...and...oh my! 

It was glorious. Our voices soared to the vaulted ceiling and all around and for a few minutes the beautiful old church was full of sound and song and praise.  I had goosebmps, and tears in my eyes, and when we finished I thanked them for singing and getting us started so we could hear...and sing too. 

"Can you imagine how it would have sounded with 600 people joining in a chant?"  Linda asked. On the way out, Kris pulled a rope to ring the bell that still hangs in the church bell tower. I really like church bells (Sadly, not a usual feature in Assembly of God church buildings). I loved the sound of the bell...thinking to mysel that it was saying, "Listen! Come to worship! Somethng new is happening here!"  

We are going to spend some time worshipping a capella in that church before it is too cold and too dark.  Even if there is only a handful of us.  Wow! 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Oasis at St Nazianz Part 5

In the spring, Ken and I went out to St. Nazianz Christian Center, its new name. We toured some of the buildings, which Ken had never seen, with Jim and Linda.  We talked a bit about their hopes for the place.  We prayed with them briefly.

On the drive back home I asked Ken if he had any sense that we were supposed to volunteer or help in some way. 

"Well, we will keep praying, and I hope things go well.  But, no."

"Me neither."  (I think, after the kitchen visitation, that I expected something profound.)

"But if there is something, you will know when the time is right.  I can't do physical work, and that seems to be what they need most.  I wish I could, but...."

"I know." 

That, it seemed, was that.  I watched, waited, prayed, kept busy at work and at home and at church.  I'm still busy at work and at home and at church...but something shifted.  Conversations, circumstances, sermons, songs--all combined to make me aware that it was time to do something.  I can't say how I knew, but I told Ken, "I am supposed to do something on a Saturday."

"Something?  What?"

"I don't know.  Some ministry.  And it is supposed to be on Saturday."

"Okay."  Always the stoic, that Ken.

Not long ago, a young man who had grown up in my former church died tragically.  I was asked to do the funeral.  Somehow in the midst of tears, wrenching conversations, loving people and trying to share some good news, I knew that the time was coming very soon.  I began to feel a sense of urgency and decided that I needed to take some sort of action.

Not knowing what else to do, I talked with the Frasch's.  I shared a little of my thoughts.  They were gracious and open but said someone was already doing something on Saturday nights.  There are only a few spots with electricity on the property.  It gets cold in Wisconsin in the winter. 

Jim asked me if Friday would be okay. I said I'd think about it, and I did.  I thought and prayed for about a week.  Nope.  Not Friday.  Saturday.  But I had already told the Frasch's that I would meet with them on Sunday to take a look at the space and see what might work. In addition to the Saturday night group, a different group is meeting there on Sunday, starting a new church and using the space for a while. 

I wondered if there could possibly be a different space to use. I wondered how to tell Jim that Friday would not do, that it had to be Saturday.  That seemed unreasonable, but I couldn't shake it. 

So a few Sundays ago I drove out to the property and entered the building that houses the thrift store and food pantry downstairs.  Upstairs is the former gym, the place where, ten years ago, my friend and I had seen lights on but one one around.  Now the space holds furniture and other large items for the thrift store. 

In one corner were rows of chairs, a cross, a podium and other things for church.  A few people were gathering, and I sat by Linda.  Jim joined us and sat on my other side. After greeting me, Linda announced, "Well, the guy who was holding services here on Saturdays is gone."


"Yes.  He told us yesterday that he wouldn't be back."

"Won't be back...period?"

Jim chimed in, "The group is relocating to Rhinelander."

"Rhinelander?"  Maybe they were thinking, "Is there an echo in here?"  I stared at Linda.

"Oh my!  I was going to tell you guys that I really believe whatever I do is supposed to be on Saturday, and I was feeling unreasonable....oh my."

"Well, I guess that's that then."  Like Ken, Jim is a man of few words, it seems.

After church we gathered in another spot in the gym, a small room in a back corner.  It contains a stove and refrigerator, and room for about 40 chairs or so.  It presently is holding a few tables and Jim and I sat with Jack, the man who is leading the church until they can locate a pastor. 

"So, you are Dorcas.  You used to pastor Jubilee AG, right?"

"Yes.  How do you know that?"

"I'm a Gideon.  We pray for all the churches and pastors in the area. I've prayed for you several time, so I remembered your name.  It is unusual.  So, Jim tells me you want to do something on Saturdays...."  Interesting conversation followed about people he knew that wanted a Saturday night place to worship.

After church I sat with Jim and Linda on the flat roof of the boiler building.  Now it is their front patio and overlooks a lake and woods.   Linda told me that they like to sit where they can face away from the property with its battered and broken buildings and weight of responsibilithy.  Like me, Linda loves the old church, even though she knows it doesn't make much sense to try to save it.  

We talked about many things.  Jim told me that if it were up to him he would just get rid of the church.  "But," he said in his matter-of-fact way, "God said no."

"God said no?  What do you mean?

"God said no.  God said, 'Save the church.'"  Jim sighed.  "So we are.  That is why we put a temporary roof on the church.  To save it.  I don't know if we will be the ones who do anything else with it.  Maybe it will be us....maybe it will be future people.  God knows."

I didn't ask Jim just how God spoke, but I wondered.  He went on to share some very practical needs, some frustrations, some ideas about church and our country and the world. 

On the visit I had mde there with Ken, Jim had shown us the miniature golf set up, the paintball area, the garden, and what will be two small lakes.  He had spoken of camps, of places for churches to come, of ideas for the various buildings.

Now he began to tell me just a little bit about why he and Linda had come there in the first place.

"I'd rather be out on the water on a boat or something."


"Yes.  It would be easier."

"Well...yeah. For sure."

"But a long time ago I had a vision of a place in the country.  A large place with grass and trees, water and plenty of room.  A place of safety and refuge.  A place of peace.  A place where people can come to be refreshed."

"Like...like an oasis?"

"Well, I think of it as an ark.  A place of God's presence.  A place for restoration and healing.  A safe place in difficult times.  Yeah, you say oasis, I say ark.  Kind of the same, in a way."

We talked for a couple of hours.  

I left knowing that the OASIS acrostic was about to be resurrected.  A few days later I called Jubilee AG and inquired about the banner.  Honey, still the church secretary, located it rolled up in a corner of a basement storage room.  Not long after, I had the banner in my possession and the present minister, Pastor Jake, had said I could have it.  I am not sure yet how I am going to cover the "Jubilee Assembly of God" part of the banner, but I'll find a way.

We are going to start meeting on September 8th at 6:30 PM in the corner of the former JFK Prep gymnasium.  Maybe sometimes, before it gets cold and dark early, we will meet in the old church and do what we can to fill it with prayer and praise. 

When winter comes we will meet in the small back room of the gym.  I overheard Jim telling someone that he thinks he has a way to section off and enclose a larger portion of the gym so that if gatherings outgrow the smaller room they can heat part of it without trying to heat the entire large space.

After we get started, perhaps I will share about the people who are coming together, some of whom I don't even know.  I don't have any idea what to expect.  I do not have much of a plan.  I know a few things.  Only a few, for now.

This is the Oasis at Saint Nazianz, and I think perhaps we will be reading Isaiah 43 from time to time.  (Smile.) 

We are not competing with any church in our area.  It is not church in the traditional sense, but it is church in the sense of people gathering together. 

I believe it is supposed to be genuinely non-denominational.  It needs to be a place where Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Pentecostals--and those who don't identify with any church at all--will feel loved and safe and welcome.  It will sometimes be informal.  It will sometimes be liturgical.  Sometimes we will sing hymns.  If one of the individuals who contacted me is able to help, we may have hymns played on a violin.  Or on the old that sits in the gym.  I hope we'll have guitars and drums and who knows what all. 

About the only thing I know for sure right now, other than the fact that this gathering is to be on Saturday, is that every week we will share in Communion, or the Eucharist, or whatever the person leading wants to call it.  We shall see. We may only continue this gathering for a short time. Or for a long time.

Do I know how to do this?  No.

Jim Frash (Linda's husband) said to me, "We are here, and God is here, and life is here now, and that's what we care about."  Later he added, "We've been waiting for you."

I'm still pondering what that might mean. 

Interesting reflections from a photographer. Some of her impressions are much like my own.

More pics from the photographer's blog--the church as it looks now, the chapel, graveyard and more.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Some religious humor, courtesy of  Wesleyan Arminian for you philisophical types.  My favorites?  C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham.  The Mark Discoll one, I confess, did make me lol.  Sadly.  I added to the list.  Can you think of any more?  Have a fun day!

Greg Boyd: It’s a possibility that the chicken crossed the road.

Rick Warren: The chicken was purpose driven.

Mark Driscoll: Because of the rooster’s leadership.

Rachel Held Evans: We’re talking about chickens here, not pigs.

Pelagius: Because the chicken was able to.

John Piper: God decreed the event to maximize his glory.

Irenaeus: The glory of God is the chicken fully alive.

C.S. Lewis: If a chicken finds itself with a desire that nothing on this side can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that it was created for the other side.

Billy Graham: The chicken was surrendering all.

Pluralist: The chicken took one of many equally valid roads.

Universalist: All chickens cross the road.

Annihilationist: The chicken was hit by a car and ceased to exist.

Fred Phelps: God hates chickens.

Martin Luther: The chicken was leaving Rome.

Tim LaHaye: The chicken didn’t want to be left behind.

Harold Camping: Don’t count your chickens until they’ve hatched.

James White: I reject chicken-centered eisegesis.

John Wesley: The chicken’s heart was strangely warmed.

John Calvin:  The chicken was predestined to cross the road.

Thomas: I won’t believe the chicken crossed unless I see it with my own eyes.

Philip: The chicken teleported to the other side.

Rob Bell: The chicken. Crossed the road. To get. Cool glasses.

Brennan Manning:  Because God's love was drawing her, dirty feathers and all.

Creflo Dollar:  The blessings and prosperity would only come if the chicken exercised faith and stepped out into the road!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Oasis at St. Nazianz Part 4

About a year ago, Honey (remember, she had been my "church secretary") called.  After the usual small talk, she said. 

"I have something to say which will make you happy."

"Um...okay.  What's up."

"Remember how you were so disturbed about the site of JFK Prep years ago when you went out there with the other pastor?"

"Yes.  Actually, I'm still pretty disturbed" (chuckle)

"Well, it changed ownership a time or two, I heard.  About a year ago, some Christian people bought it.  They have a thrift store out there and a food pantry.  And I'm not sure what else."

"Um...did you say a thrift store?" (doubtful tone)

"Yes, and Pastor Roy [who followed me at Jubilee AG] wants us to get involved and help them out, and John says..."

"Are they millionaires?"  (rude interruption)

"Um, I doubt it."

"Well, it would take millions...maybe billions you know."

"Well, they are out there and have been for a while.  I met them, and I think you might want to go see what they are doing." (undeterred tone)

"Um...okay.  Want to come with me and introduce me to the new owners?"

"Sure.  Gene [Honey's husband] has been doing some volunteering out there.  Can we bring him too?"

We never did go out to St. Nazianz together.  But one evening some time later, I stopped by Gene and Honey's house to drop off something from a mutual friend.  Sitting at an their kitchen table chatting, I eventually said, "So, what is happening with the people out at St. Nazianz?  I know we never did get out there, but I'd still like to do that."  I'm not sure what else was said, but it was nothing unusual or strange or remarkable.  I think we may have been talking about the food pantry.  Pretty mundane stuff.   

Then something strange happened.  I can only describe it as Presence.  A little stunned by something that felt pleasant but...heavy, I bowed my head, not knowing what else to do. 

Awesome is a much overused word.  But this was awesome.  I was awed by...something or someone.  It felt somewhat like a big bubble.  I know that sounds amusing, but I'm trying to describe something indescribable.  It was as though the three of us were suddenly and without warning enclosed.  Enfolded in something powerful.  I didn't want to move.  Long moments passed--I'm not sure how long.  Then, almost as suddenly as the whole experience began, it ended. Feeling a little stunned, and having a sudden realization that the others at the table might be wondering what was wrong with me, I slowly raised my head--to see my companions both slowly raising their heads too.  After a bit, I said, "What was that?  It felt like a bubble..."  Gene nodded wordlessly and Honey said, "So, you felt that too?"  We just sat, not sure what to do or say, and then we decided to pray.  We prayed for the owners of the St. Nazianz property, Jim and Linda Frasch and I'm not sure else, but it didn't take long. The prayer was nothing special.  It was, in fact, a bit awkward.  I left shortly afterwards.

Several months later, I found myself feeling angry.  It had been more than three years since I resigned my position as pastor at Jubilee.  I had expected to find some place of ministry.  Not necessarily as a pastor...but something.  Many disappointments had followed.  I had lost track of how many sincere people had told me, "There will be something.  God uses willing vessels......" 

I was (and am) working at a small financial firm in Plymouth. Among other things, I had obtained my insurance license and was hoping for growth as I focused on the senior citizen market.  But on a small table in my office I had placed a little ceramic sheep. a present from a former parishioner.  I meant it as a reminder that, whatever else I might do in life (and I've done lots of different things and worn lots of "hats") that at my core I know I am to be a "shepherd."  It might be in an official way, or it might be informal, but I know my calling is to be a pastor.  (There are many people in the Church with such gifts, and not all stand behind pulpits.)

I had tried to be patient.  One night my patience was pretty much gone and I lay awake remembering things I didn't want to think about.  Remembering hope deferred, people who had been part of a joyful journey but were no longer in my life, remembering the oasis idea, and remembering it made me more frustrated than ever.  I pictured the joy of our special "Oasis Sunday" and I recalled the words of Isaiah 43.

I wasn't complaining aloud, since my husband was asleep next to me, but I was complaining pretty loudly inside.  Something like this:  "And another thing, God, what about the new thing from Isaiah 43, the thing I kept praying and preaching about...what about the water for thirsty people...what about...I give up.  I just give up." I punched my pillow and turned over, intending to go back to sleep.  "And I never want to read that chapter again!"

There seemed to be a reply.  It was one of those "loud" things that makes no sound.  The reply was something I can't share right now.  But it shut me up with surprise. 

The next day, because of an invitation for the two of us from one of her family members, Honey and I attended one session of a retreat.  During the drive to the retreat location, I shared ust a bit of my late night pondering.  I left out plenty, but I did mention that, once again, the passage from Isaiah had been much in my thoughts.

The worship band that was leading at the retreat was wonderful, and I was enjoying participating with the singing and the worship in a way I had not been able to do for some time.  Suddenly the keyboard player, who I later learned was named Sarah, stopped.  She looked directly at me.  She began to quote a passage of scripture.  Can you guess which one?

Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?

I couldn't help it.  I think I made a little face, and I think Sarah saw me, because she continued, saying something like this, "Yes, I am speaking to you.  You are wondering if you are finished, but you are not.  You are about to enter a new season of ministry, a season of favor.  You will need help."  She emailed me a bit more a few days later.  I don't want to share everything at this point, and I'm pretty wary of "words from God." But to say I was flabbergasted would be putting it mildly.

Hearing I was a minister, someone introduced me to a woman attending the retreat who they called, "Pastor Kris."  A little conversation revealed that Kris was the main coordinator at the St. Nazianz thrift store, living there in one of the remodeled apartments (in the same building as Jim and Linda Frasch.)  We talked a little about Jim and Linda and their ministry endeavors in other areas of Wisconsin. Kris had been part of their ministry team for some time. 

She told me there was a man holding Saturday night church services in the former JFK Prep School gym.  I told her maybe I'd show up sometime.

And I went home with no idea what to do next.

Here is an article/short video from about two years ago. It features my new friend, Linda Frasch.  I hadn't met her yet, nor her husband, Jim.  And the second link shows Linda with Kris and tells more about their hopes for the property.



The Oasis at St. Nazianz Part 3

If you want to read parts one and two, click on the "Oasis Sermons and Suff" label below.   On with the story...  

A few years later, the church I served developed an O.A.S.I.S. theme. I remember the day the idea came to me.  I had been praying with a group of fellow pastors who had been participating for some months in a church revitalization project sponsored by our Assemblies of God WI and N. Michigan District.

An OASIS.  A place of peace, of restoration and refreshing.  A place of spiritual "water." 

I remembered how, some time back, and before I had even come to pastor in the little town of New Holstein, I had repeatedly read the beautiful words of Isaiah, chapter 43.  I couldn't get the words out of my head.

“Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert...
Because I give waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My people, My chosen.
This people I have formed for Myself;
They shall declare My praise."

I knew the passage referred to the nation of Israel.  I wasn't sure what it had to do with me or why I  felt so drawn to it, but I used the passage to meditate, to pray, and I preached on it more than once.  That Isaiah passage does sound like a spiritual oasis, doesn't it?

At first, I rejected the oasis idea. How silly. We aren't in tha kind of place--it's lush and green here. It is Wisconsin.  

But the oasis idea didn't die.  I eventually shared it with others at the church and together we developed an acrostic.  I remember the day, and the memory makes me smile, when the last part was put in place.  We had everything but the O.  A group of church folks were sitting with me in a classroom doing some brainstorming.  We were enjoying each other's company, but nothing much was coming of our interaction.

Then John, a deacon and a friend said suddenly, "Offer hope."  The rest of us stared at him.  It grew quiet for a moment, then we all said, almost in unison, "That's it!"  We had our completed acrostic. 

O   Offer Hope
A   Advance God's Kingdom
S    Share God's Love
I     Invest in People
S    Seek God's Purposes

I developed a Advent devotional book based on the theme and I preached a series of sermons. I preparation for a special OASIS Sunday, we build a small oasis in the entryway, complete with fountain and pool and palm trees.  We even had dessert "rocks" made from grocery bags.  Crumpled brown paper and a little spray paint can make a great scenic prop!   A friend designed a banner which hung in the sanctuary.  It was a good time at Jubilee AG, a time of hope and connection.  The label "OASIS Sermons and Stuff" links to some of that, as well as this current story. 

Of course, when I resigned some years later the banner was removed from the sanctuary wall.  It was time for new vision, new leadership and new ideas, as is always the case when a pastor leaves a church.  The banner hung in a basement hallway for a time. Then it was rolled up and stashed in a storage room. 

End of the oasis idea.  Except I couldn't quite let it go. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Oasis at St. Nazianz Part 2

I returned to the my church office next day after a night of dreaming about the old Catholic church and the other buildings I had seen--disturbing, defaced, broken relics of a bygone era.

I dreamed about beautiful stained glass windows, about St. George slaying a mythical dragon, about the wrecked library that had been built on one side and the long dorm that had been added much later.

I dreamed of how it must have looked when a group of monks worshipped there, organ music soaring to the vaulted ceiling, incense filling the air, and how it must have been years later when the JFK Prep School students were there.  I wondered about why the school building felt so intensely creepy. 

I wanted to go back to St. Nazianz, but I couldn't understand why. The place was sad, spooky, smelly and ruined. What would be the point?  Several times that night, I prayed, without quite knowing what I was praying about.

Next day, I told my administrative assistant, Honey, about the experience, adding that I hadn't slept well.  It made me deeply angry that such a beautiful place had been abandoned to the elements and vandals and gangs.  It still makes me angry as I recall the conversation.  It seemed wrong on some sort of deep level. It should, I felt somehow certain, be a place of blessings and good things.

Honey told me about the times the location had hosted Halloween parties, that it is rumored to be haunted, and then added that her daughter-in-law, Wendy, had been a student at JFK Prep.  I later talked to Wendy, who was sad that her alma mater was now, at best, just a hang out place for teens bent on mischief or a scare.

Unable to stop thinking about it, or wanting to return there (I didn't), I wondered what was wrong with me.  Come on, I reasoned with myself, it's just old buildings.  Okay, it really is too bad about those beautiful windows not being seen and appreciated.  From an artistic standpoint alone, someone should have done something.  But the church is not a building.  The church is people. That old place is just an abandoned building.   And it's not like you are even Catholic!  You are a Pentecostal preacher from the opposite end of the church spectrum.  You wouldn't have ever fit in worshipping there in any case.  Let it go.  End of story.

But I thought about the site of the abandoned JFK Prep School for at least a month.  I dreamed about it many times.  I felt almost compelled to go there again, and I consciously resisted.  Still, I prayed every day, sometimes several times a day, that something good would somehow happen there, that the beautiful location would be redeemed.  I prayed that if there was someone meant to change things, that they'd find out about the site and do something.

Later I heard that the woman who had purchased the property, who was reported to be a strange woman indeed, gave up and put it up for sale.  I forgot about it.  Mostly.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Caught-In-Between

This morning I read Rachel Held Evan's latest blog post: Her list of things she agrees with in the liberal and conservative church camps doesn't look exactly like mine would. I'm not posting my own lists because it doesn't matter and because I don't want to start arguments with brothers and sisters I love and value.

I am posting this link because I understand what she is saying. The spirit behind her post, and the number of people I know who don't go to church anywhere anymore, are part of why I am pondering what may be the purpose of, "The Oasis at St Nazianz." I'll share Part 2 of that story soon!

Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught-In-Between

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Oasis at St Nazianz Part 1

I have not had much to say for a while.  Now it seems time to begin sharing a story.  Some people may find the story interesting from a historical point of view.  Some may think I am superstitious. Or silly.  Or some sort of religious nut.  Some of the story seems, even to me, the teller, a bit odd.  Mystical.  Fanciful.  I know that.  But it is the truth, as much as I can make it.  I am not trying to make any sort of point.  I just feel the need to begin telling a story that I don't quite understand. 

I do not know the end of the story.  I don't even know the middle of the story.  I do know the beginning, and so...in the words of "Do Re Mi" from The Sound of Music, "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start..."

Well, not quite the beginning.  Just the beginning of my own part of the story.

About ten years ago on a sunny summer morning, I stopped working on a sermon for the church where I was serving as pastor. It was a lovely summer day, and Deena, another woman pastor (from a Methodist church not far away) had suggested a ride out to the "old JFK Prep."  She seemed surprised that I did not know what she referred to, but she promised to fill me in on the ride over.  Someone, a "friend of a friend," had purchased the property and had invited her out to take a look.

We drove through the farmland that covers most of the area where we live, and as people who live in a rural area often do, we talked of the weather and admired the lush fields of corn, alfalfa and soy beans.  We talked about our respective congregations, our families, her daughter's excitement about preparing to show off her horse at the county fair.

Finally, my companion talked a little about where we were headed. The abandoned property, she told me, had once been a campus that began as a Catholic seminary meant to train those who were considering the priesthood and then late became a somewhat prestigious private high school. There was a short-lived orphanage (a century ago), a small nunnery, dorms, a large boiler plant, and so on. She said the place had hosted dubious Halloween parties, was rumored to have been a spot for major drug deals involving gangs from Chicago, and she added that there had been plenty of late-night vandalism over the years. 
Then conversation trailed off as we arrived at an imposing stone gate, crosses etched into large granite posts.  Beyond the gates I saw many beautiful old trees with gnarled and twisted trunks, lushly green grass, and a gently curving landscape.  The JFK Prep School building, abandoned more than 20 years earlier, was directly ahead, visible beyond the trees.  "Why," I said in surprise, "It is beautiful!" 

The ruin of what had obviously once been an imposing church stood sentinel on our right, a blue tarp covering part of the roof.  A square bulding (pictured) and a long, low building of more modern origin was attached to one side. 

No one seemed to be around.  We pulled up on weed-studded gravel in front of the church and approached the door.  It was partly off its hinges and cracked and peeling paint hung in long strips.  I could see that the church still had its beautiful stained glass windows, and I was surprised that they seemed mostly intact.

We glanced at each other.  I remember gazing up at the steeple, wondering if there was still a bell.  I noticed how intensely blue the sky was, a few clouds, white and puffy, the sun bright and warm. It all seemed strange, incongruous, in stark contrast with the ruins around us.

"How terrible to let this place just....just waste away."

"Shall we go in?" 

"I'm game if you are."

"I love old places."

"What if we get in trouble?"

"Well, I was invited."

So without much difficulty we stepped over broken stones and squeezed in the door.  A stained glass portrayal of St. George slaying the dragon, vivid and beautiful, greeted us.  We were assaulted with the stench of rot and mold.  The pews, still in place in the long sanctuary, were mostly sound, but the communion rail was broken.  The walls were defaced with graffiti, some obscene, some occult, some just silly.  Debris covered much of the floor.  But the windows, tall and glorious and ablaze with color, arose on each side of the ruined sanctuary.  Rays of sunlight poured over us, illuminating the artistry of a century ago.  

We stood for long moments in silence.  Then one of us whispered, "The windows--glorious aren't they?"

"And...and all this ruin and graffiti and vandalism...and yet the windows aren't shattered."

"No.  Maybe it was some spark of...of holiness...of beauty...and people just couldn't throw rocks."

"Why are we whispering?

Nervous laugh.  "I don't know."

The two of us, Protestant ministers, made our way up the center aisle and onto the altar area of this historic Catholic sanctuary.  In spite of the ruin, the overwhelming odor, the graffiti, we were silent, feeling a need to be reverent.  To the right of the altar was a smaller window, it's purple, blue and red glass particularly striking.  I stared at it for a long time before we walked back through a sacristy, its damaged wood cabinets retaining some of the beautiful craftsmanship of  long-ago. 

We squeezed through a partial doorway and walked down a hallway lined with small dormitory rooms, complete with tiny sinks.  Some still had faded and tattered curtains in colors popular in the '70s, a bed or two.  We agreed that if someone could afford the cost of restoring the site, it would be a wonderful place for a retreat center, a shelter, a refuge.  I thought of the silent retreats I have participated in at the beautiful Norbertine Center for Spirituality in DePere, a place I love.  This should be, I thought, a place like that.

We turned back to the church.

The sadness was almost overwhelming.  It was, in the way only abandoned places can be, eerie.    And yet, it seemed to me, it was holy too.  I turned my head, hiding the tears in my eyes.  This was just wrong.  This place was beautiful and terrible.  It had been built as a place to honor God and I didn't want to think of what might have happened within the church walls over the years. 

We left the church and crossed the drive to enter a back door of the school.  We didn't go far.  The floor was covered in a deep layer of dried mud and dirt, and it was dark.  And it was very spooky in a way I can't describe.  The hair on the back of my neck stood up as my companion said, with a forced grin, "It feels...not good in here.  We'd need a gallon of anointing oil to pray over this place..."  She forced a grin, but she wasn't joking.  We exited, grateful for the sun on our faces, and headed over to the former gym, which seemed to be the soundest building on the property.  It was unlocked and someone had turned on the old halogen lights, so we figured the owner must be somewhere about.

"Wonder where the electricity is coming from?"

"Hello...hello...hello?"    No answer.

We decided not to visit the nearby cemetary. We could see the small chapel and some of the graves on a nearby knoll, but we both felt, I think, overwhelmed with the beauty and the lonliness and the sadness of the place--and the senselessness of its present state of decay and ruin.

It was time to go.  We climbed into the car and drove down the exit road and out through the stone gate, silent pillars to a bygone era.

"It would take a fortune to restore that place."

"But something should be done.  I wonder if the new owner is a billionaire?"

"I was told she wants to make the gym an art center of some sort."

"An art center?  Groan..."

I'll share more in the next entry.  For those who are interested, here are a couple of links.   I'll share more links in a future post that will show you some more of the story.

This first link has some history, a lot of "hooey" and some good pictures of how the site looked around ten years ago, about the same time I visited with my pastor friend. Some things have not changed much. The blue tarp on the church has been replaced with a temporary roof. The boiler building is largely renovated inside, and provides a pleasant home for several families. Sadly, some of the beautiful church windows now have holes in the glass. But you will get a sense of the beauty, and the sadness, of the place as it was a while back.

From Wikipedia, about the church and the founders, and I'm not sure why the link isn't working, but just click on the link at the top of the Wikipedia page, "Are you looking for___?" and for some reason it works that way: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Ambrose_Church_(St._Nazianz,_Wisconsin)

Monday, April 09, 2012

Odds and Ends of Life


First, my apologies for not getting all the prayers up that I pIanned leading up to Easter.  I badly need a new computer at home.  Hopefully soon.
Second, I think it is time to share a picture of my grandson, Noah, and his daddy, my son, Joshua.  I can hardly believe that Noah will be a year old in June!  My daughter, Kris, and granddaughter, Trinity (who turned five in January), and I will be visiting them next week.  So excited...I don't get to see them often.  I want Noah to know who Grandma is!
Third, a few people  who read my blog once in a while and are also friends on Facebook but don't know me in "real life" have asked what I'm doing these days.  When I resigned the pastorate of Jubilee AG (three years ago, not long before Easter) I expected that my "path" would become clear in a reasonable time.  Why did I think that?  I do not know.  Wishful thinking, most likely! 
I am still working at Veritas Financial Services, a small (but excellent) firm in Plymouth, Wisconsin.  I started doing data entry and a little office support and figured it would last for a few months.  I needed the paycheck, so that was fine.  Three years later, I am still here.  After I was working about 3 or 4 months I started doing more marketing, writing articles, setting up a blog and Facebook page, and other things too.  Last year I decided to get my insurance license so that I could market Medicare-related insurance (a natural fit for me, but I won't bore you with why that's the case). 
Recently, I decided, after much soul searching, that I would stop the marketing/office part of my job, so while I still have an office at Veritas I am not working "for" the company and not getting a salary.  I get commissions on policies.  It has been slow going and a "step of faith."  However, I want to be able to focus energy on other things.  I don't think that being an insurance agent is all God has for me...not that there's anything wrong with that. ;-)  
I am almost finished with my novel, "Finding Little Big Foot" and hope to get that finished up and start looking for an agent--or otherwise getting the book published.  Have ideas for two other books, and I would love to speak and travel. I have so much to share (at least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it).  Not sure quite what to do about that or how to begin.  
I think life is likely to change soon in another big way that I am not yet free to share, but I'm watching and waiting and praying.  Isaiah 64:8 says, "And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand."  He is the potter and I am the clay.  Feeling a little smashed and not very useful lately, but refusing to take myself off the wheel.

I had a wonderful weekend, which I hope to share a little about soon.   

Saturday, April 07, 2012

An Easter Story: Part 2 "He is Risen!"

Part One is HERE.

From Luke 24
Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them,came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee,saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”

And they remembered His words. Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them. But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.

Lucifer was anxious. His initial glee at watching the suffering and death of Christ had dimmed as time had passed. He had begun to remember things that Jesus had said about being dead but later being raised to life. He remembered the dead girl that had lived again, the widow's son raised during his own funeral procession--and worst of all was that weakling Lazarus who had been dead four days and now was walking around in Bethany, a picture of health and stronger than he had ever been!

The Prince of the Power of the Air had dispatched two of his strongest demons to inspect the stone in front of the tomb and to look inside if they could. Now he awaited their return, pacing, snarling curses and hideous words of filth and hatred.


Near the garden tomb, the temple guards were growing restless. The highest ranking one among them understood their growing murmuring, even though he did not show it. This is  the most foolish assignment any of us could imagine, he thought. Are we guarding the tomb from grave robbers? It was high time they returned to their posts in Jerusalem at the great temple. The one called Jesus of Nazareth had owned little as far as the guard could tell, and even his robe had been won by a Roman soldier. What was so special about yet another man claiming to be God's anointed? Yet...something seemed strange. It was almost as if they were guarding the tomb to insure the corpse inside stayed put. I am  a fool!  He snorted in derision at his own thoughts. The dead man had been someone special, that was certain.  But the man was dead. 
Then something...shifted.  He felt it in the ground beneath his sandals, in the sudden stillness as the birds stopped their early-morning chirping, in a subtle change in the growing light of the approaching sun.  And then, with bone-chilling awareness, he heard it --the slow, grinding scrape of the huge stone moving along the ground! He whirled and saw two men in white. That was the last he knew for a while, as he and his fellow guards fell to the ground, unconscious.


Above on the paapets, the excitement was building. The saints and angels had gathered together once again, watching, waiting, looking to each other with sparkling eyes and barely suppressed laughter. "Soon...soon now..."they whispered. The seraphims flew above the throne of God, singing ceaseless praise, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!"

"Be ready! It is almost time!" Gabriel said to Michael as they stood once again on a great porch of the heavenly city. "The Almighty One is about to call to us."

Then each of them looked at the other, and both shouted aloud in joyful excitment. "There! There is the command from the Highest.  The Spirit of Life has done the work, and Christ is risen and ready for us!"

Laughing and singing, they were gone from the wall.  Behind them, a great shout of triumph arose from the gathered throng.


Mary had slept little for two nights. Her head ached and her usually sparkling eyes were swollen from weeping. She moved with her friends through the mist of early morning. The light of approaching dawn was faint, and the women stepped carefully and quietly, hoping to remain unseen. None spoke. As one and then another had joined the group, they had embraced each one in shared sorrow. Each woman added something to their store of precious spices and ointments, placing them carefully in a basket that Johanna carried.

As they neared the place of the tomb, Mary softly spoke at last, a frown creasing her forehead. "How are we going to move that enormous stone at the entrance?" No one answered, but no one stopped walking either, a group of sad and silent women in the grey before first light, sandles pattering against the earth.


Not far away, Jesus moved through the trees, gazing at the new day with a sense of wonder. How different it all seemed today! He stopped in a sun-dappled clearing and lifted his hands heavenward in praise and joy. Large holes pierced his handss, but the edges were healed and his skin was smooth and glowing with life. "Thank you, Father, for this day of wonder and joy! I will soon be home."


Mary had moved ahead of the others, trying not to cry in front of them, afraid that she would be unable to remain silent.  Now she stopped, confused and frightened. Temple guards lay sprawled on the ground, apparently senseless. At first she had thought they were dead, but then she saw the chest of one rising and falling.

She glanced back at the other women, who had also stopped.  They were  looking at her as if for direction. She shrugged, and then slowly, step by step, Mary moved around the prostrate soldiers and on to the tomb, past the entrance and then inside. There was the slab where Jesus' body should have been, and the graveclothes, neatly folded..

No body.

It was gone! Grief assaulted her anew, and she gasped in shock and anger.  "The body is gone! Someone has taken our Lord away!" Half-dazed, the others moved foreword and peered, one by one, inside the dimness of the hewn rock.

Then light that came from everywhere and nowhere filled the tomb and the area around it, illuminating the faces of the fallen guards. A strange and stirring kind of music filled the air.  The women, badly frightened and already confused from grief and lack of sleep, gasped in surprise and dropped to their knees. Some hid their faces.

Michael and Gabriel shone with a radiant spectrum of light, robes glowing as if from within the cloth itself. They reached out their hands in blessing, large smiles spreading across their faces. Michael thought to himself, as strength flowed through him and out to the women, "This is the most wonderful assignment I have even been given!"

"Get up, daughters of the Most High," encouraged Gabriel. "Why are you looking for Jesus in this tomb? Why are you looking for a live savior in a place of the dead?" The women gazed at him in awe, unable to speak at first. Finally, Mary the mother of James found her voice. "Who...who are you?"

Gabriel laughed softly, "Go on now, go tell the others. They won't believe you at first, but tell them the news. He who was dead is alive again, and death is swallowed up in victory!"

Lucifer screeched in frustration and hatred, hiding his eyes from the light and crouching down in fear.

The throne room of God rang with shouts and songs of joy. Michael looked at Mary Magdalene, she who had once been almost destoyed by the powers of evil.  "You are the first to hear the glorious news."

The ancient messangers, shining in reflected glory, spoke in unison, voices ringing with power and the authority of the One Who Sits on the Throne and of the Lamb. "He is not here! He is risen!"

As the rays of the rising sun illuminated the morning, the women ran for town.