Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas at the Prison Chapel

This ceramic nativity set looks almost exactly like the one at the prison chapel. I wish I could show you real pictures, but cameras are prohibited.

We left my little church promptly after morning service, calling "Merry Christmas" to my parishioners as we headed out the door. It had been a good service, with several visitors. I was already tired, but now we rushed to drive about twenty-five miles to the prison where my husband, Ken, is a chaplain.

For over fifteen years I have accompanied my husband "inside" on Christmas Day. The prison is lovely, by prison standards. It started out as a reform school for boys and evolved into a men's prison some years ago. It is nestled in rolling hills about ten miles from the nearest town. This prison is unlike other Wisconsin prisons. Instead of a square cement yard surrounded by razor-wire topped walls with four guard towers, the institution is deceptively school-like at first glance. But it is a prison, nonetheless, and if one has any illusions about that they evaporate at first sight of the intimidating chain link double fences topped with coils of razor wire, the seven guard towers, and the clanging gates. What started as a school for a few hundred boys has become a crowded prison for over 1,000 men.

Ken is already at the prison chapel. Our daughter, Kris, and her husband, Daryl, accompany me inside the gatehouse. The gatehous staff are polite today--oh good. This is not always the case, and I never know what to expect. These guards are efficiently pleasant as they process us through the metal detector and on through the gate. A prison van transports us past the block "units" where inmates are housed to the pointy-topped chapel. Having originally been part of a juvenile institution means that the prison's "chapel" is not just a space in some drab meeting room, as is the case elsewhere. It is actually a separate building designed for worship. This is an unusual blessing, and the inside has a bit of the feel of life at any church, anywhere.

We head for Ken's office in the chapel basement. Upstairs, we hear a volunteer, Father Joe, conducting a Christmas Day Mass. He has a nice cantor voice, and I venture up to listen for awhile, sitting in the back row. The chapel is decorated for the Christmas season with a nativity scene very much like the one pictured above. Flashing lights abound, a bit distracting for me, but a touch of color in an otherwise drab environment. A guady Christmas tree adorns the platform next to Father Joe as he stands at the altar table. Someone has draped the drum set with many strings of flashing lights, and I wonder if it bothers the good Father? "Peace be with you" says the elderly priest, as a guard's two-way radio squawks and crackles loudly in the rear of the chapel.

We will have two Protesant worship services today. My husband checks inmates in and Kris and Daryl shake their hands and welcome them to chapel. I hear, "Merry Christmas, Ms George!" "How are you, Rev. George? Good to see you...so nice to have your daughter here...Wow, she sure looks like her daddy..." "Joyful Christmas!" "Feliz Navidad!" "Blessed Christmas, Miz George and Chaplain George..." "This is my last Christmas inside, Reverend Pastor Mrs. George. Next year I will be home." "You all have a blessed Christmas!" "Today is Jesus' birthday!" No "Happy Holiday" greeting inside the prison chapel.

In spite of smiling greetings, there is an underlying air of sadness that shows in the men's faces--too deep for words but glistening in eyes--even as mouths smile. It is impossible to forget that the congregation is all male, is all dressed in an ugly green, is mostly wishing they were elsewhere.

When the first service begins, the place is full to capacity. The choir sings a gospel version of "Silent Night" followed by a rousing, handclapping version of "Feliz Navidad." Kris and I lead them in some carols interspersed with scripture readings from Luke. Daryl reads the Gospel with expression, and when he comes to the part where Mary says, "Let it be to me as you have said," he substitutes "Hey, NO way! Can't we talk about this?" The choir gasps a bit behind us, and then men begin to chuckle as they realize he made this "error" on purpose. Several of the men quote the scripture from memory along with him as he continues. The sweet presence of God is evident.

The choir director smiles with joy as they sing. This choir diector has been in prison a long time. He is always smiling and always working hard to direct the choir well. I don't know why he is incarcerated, but I know that the love of Jesus shines in his countenance and in his words and in his songs and in his firm handshake. The men sing with abandon and joy--something that always humbles and blesses me to hear and see. Some close their eyes. Some raise their hands, and some rock to and fro. The gangly keyboard player grins at me shyly. He seems about 6 years old as he looks at me and smiles and hopes for approval. Looking at his wide and very childlike grin makes my heart both glad and sad. There are far too many inmates that, to me, seem better suited to a group home environment. For a moment I wonder what landed him in prison. I am sure that someone talked him into something.

The second service is also full. It is much like the first, except the choir director asks me to come up and sing with them as inmates arrive. I happily sing the verses to "Go Tell It On the Mountain" and the men join me with gusto on the chorus. For some reason, I sing better at the prison chapel than I do anywhere else.

We sing the lovely worship chorus, "Hallelujah." One word -- but oh, so infused with praise and depth as the little prison chapel resounds with truly glorious harmony. Many men lift their faces heavenward and they sing like an angel choir. I smile for a moment, thinking of an angel choir of felons, but it is true that this simple song, sung inside razor-wire fences, blesses me like it does nowhere else.

For both services my husband preaches from Isaiah, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." His words are accompanied by occasional clapping, calls of "Amen", words of agreement and affirmation.

We close with Holy Communion. I offer the bread and Ken holds the chalice. As the men file past, dipping their piece of bread into the cup, I think of how amazing is the love of Almighty God. I love Christmas at prison because of the intense awareness it brings me of my own blessings, my home, my family--and grace--Amazing Grace.

As we leave the chapel we look just beyond the fence. Six deer stand poised in the snow. Some inmates are oblivious or indifferent, but others stop a moment to gaze with us before they begin the walk back to their units for the afternoon "count." We hurry to the van, not wanting to be caught inside during count, which would mean a significant delay. No one comes in or goes out of prison during count.

I always anticipate the worship services when coming into the prison, which I usually do several times each year. Today, as always, I am equally happy to go, happy and relieved to head for the parking lot and home to my brightly lit house and my Christmas tree and my leftover ham. Looking out the van window, I silently pray for God to bless the men, especially the ones with hungry hearts. I pray that lonely prisoners will find true peace and joy, that hope will be renewed. Almost every year I complain about my husband always having to work on Christmas Day. And every year I leave the prison feeling humbled, blessed and a bit ashamed for having complained.

The sky is grey. The men shuffle on the road. No one hurries in prison. Some smile and wave to us as the van passes. The van's windows are dark and the inmates cannot see us inside, but they know we are there, and they know we can look out and see them. "How like God" I think to myself. "The unseen Presence who watches them, and me, with both sadness and joy." My eyes fill with tears. Once again as it has so many times this Advent season, the scripture becomes real to me. "Emmanuel--God is with us!"

Friday, December 23, 2005

RevGal Friday Five: Christmas Music

1) If you had to choose CDs as a soundtrack for the Christmas season, what would they be?

The Messiah

I have a wonderful c.d. of the arias and choruses. I also have several cassettes of the whole thing, but the c.d. is so marvellous I tend to stick with it. Last week I was alone in the church office and I cranked the volumn all the way up to listen to it...."For Unto Us a Child is Born....." GLORIOUS!

2) How do you feel about singing all the verses of "The First Noel?" (Six in our hymnal, but apparently there are nine.)

Sing 'em all. One cannot have too much Christmas music.

3) "O, Come All Ye Faithful" has a lot of verses, too. Which is your favorite?

The first. I love the call to worship! JOYFUL and TRIUMPHANT! O Lord, may it be so in my lifetime!

4) What music do you play while opening presents?

None. Too much laughing and talking going on to hear the music anyway.

5) Which carols do you consider to be Christmas Eve essentials?

What Child is This?
Silent Night
Joy to the World

and a Bonus Question:

6) What, if any, is your favorite secular Christmas song?

Feliz Navidad

I like Jose Feliciano's version. But my absolute favorite version is not recorded. My husband is a prison chaplain. Each Christmas the English speaking and Spanish speaking (singing?) choirs combine for a rousing concert in the prison chapel. It is so joyful and fun and...amazing! More about prison and Christmas later.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Krystal Got to Play the Pastor Part

Not much time for blogging. But I had to share this. Last Sunday was the day for the church Christmas program. Among other Christmas offerings, the Children's Church presented a short play about the visitors from the East.

Towards the end of the play one someone came in to tie up the loose ends, story wise, and to do some teaching about who the "three wise men" really might have been. The children had all used their real names during the little play, so when this girl, Krystal, (one of our young teens) came in I thought she was playing--herself. After a few moments, one of the others kids said his line, "Pastor...."

Hey, Krystal was playing the part of --umm--ME! :-) Cool!

In how many Evangelical or Pentecostal churches this year did the pastor part get to be filled by...gasp...a GIRL? Wow. Little things make me happy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I've Been Tagged by Dr. Platypus

With the following meme (and thanks, dear Doctor, for picking me as one of your two):

1. Pick two of your favorite blogs. Pick small-time operations--

2. Write a post on your blog saying something nice about each of your favorites. Be sure to include a link! Do not think of this as a full-blown "review," just a some kind words describing what you appreciate about this blog or some encouraging words for the blogger.

3. Leave an appreciative comment on a recent post the "target" blog. In addition to discussing and/or praising the post, add a link back to the post on your own blog.

4. Invite the "target" blogger to repeat the process by picking two of his or her favorite blogs--anybody but the blogger that did the tagging!

Okay then, here goes...my first pick is Noodling. The author is Patricia Gundry, the Queen of the Blogosphere. At last count she had 24 or 25 blogs and/or websites. Pat is an author, a cook, a wife and mom, a life coach, a friend to women preachers (and male ones too, for that matter) and an all-around amazing woman. Her book "Heirs Together" is required reading for couples who ask me to perform their wedding ceremony. Find a link to it on her blog. And lots of other great stuff too.

Second is RevGalBlogPals. This is a new blog for me, and I am still working my way through the list of bloggers there, but I admit I already have some favorites. The blogging Rev. Gals are a diverse bunch of women, and a few men too. So far it seems that they range from a Roman Catholic nun and several Episcopalians to Methodists, Lutherans, a Baptist or two to Pentecostals and several others. There's a chaplain, several senior pastors, a few in school...young, and not-so-young, married and sincle. They seem to be from liberal and conservative ends of the theological spectrum and all points in between. I already find some things I don't agree with, and much I do. Their Advent devotionals have been wonderful, and they are making me think in new ways....almost always a good thing.

Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays”

My friend, Dr. D.P. from Disert Paths gave me a shout that he coultn't post a comment. For anyone who may have tried to do so, SORRY! Somehow the setting got changed to "team members only" and there are no team members. I fixed it. And here I thought everyone was just too busy baking cookies and drinking egg nog and wrapping presents to read blogs. :-) Now, on to more important things:

Sorry I keep posting other people's stuff right now--but hey, it's Christmas time and I'm a busy pastor, wife, mom, daughter and....I'm swamped. Besides, this is REALLY good, in my opionion. I asked Brian, of Sermon Central, if I could share it, because I've been pondering this issue for days and I certainly could not say it better than he has. Thanks, Brian!

by Brian Mavis

How did Christmas get so complicated? I want to wish you a “Merry Christmas,” but that is “politically incorrect.” I could get sued by the ACLU. Of course if I say “Happy Holidays” there are some Christian groups who will come down on me with just as much wrath. I could get sued doing that too. It’s “Christianly incorrect.” Of course I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek. I’m a private citizen just writing an electronic newsletter to Christian leaders. But still, how did Christmas become so complicated? I think there is plenty of blame to lie on both sides.

In the political and business sector the word “Christmas” has been dropped in favor of “Holiday.” Governments have put up “Holiday Trees” in public places. Retailers wish customers “Happy Holidays” and hang banners selling “Holiday Trees.”

So how have some Christian leaders reacted? With lawsuits, boycotts, and petitions. Two groups, Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defense Fund, have almost 1,600 lawyer-volunteers to fight this movement against the display on public grounds of Nativity scenes and Christmas trees – and even the greeting “Merry Christmas.” And it’s working. For example, Lowe’s home-improvement stores took down “Holiday Trees” banners and put up “Christmas Tree” banners. And House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., ordered the “Capitol Holiday Tree” be renamed the “Capitol Christmas Tree.” As Jerry Falwell told ABC News, “We’ve gone on the offense now. We’ve put them on the defense. We’re kicking their butts, and they’re unhappy.”

I think the Christian groups fighting for our civil liberties have good motives, but bad strategies. Lawsuits, boycotts, and petitions. Is this fighting the good fight? Is this what Jesus would do? Is this obeying, “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Mt 5:40)? Is this applying, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does” (2 Cor 10:3)?

In addition, what are they fighting for? That we call a pine or fir tree a “Christmas tree”? There is nothing Christian or biblical about a Christmas tree. We are forsaking Christian principles in order to fight for man-made traditions. Go ahead and let Lowes, Walmart, and Macys sell “Holiday Trees”. It’s just crass commercialism anyway. It’s best that Christ’s name not get mixed up in that kind of capitalism. Do you think that these companies are changing back from “Holiday” to “Christmas” because they want to honor Christ? What a joke. They know it’s good business.

Lastly, these infringements on our civil liberties hardly amount to any legitimate persecution. I’d happily give up some of my civil liberties to honor the cause of Christ. Christianity is illegal in China and the Kingdom of God is growing like crazy. I think we (in the USA) could use more Christian persecution. Jesus said the world would hate us. Why are we so surprised and offended? And in turn, we are supposed to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us and to teach about Christ with boldness, but also gentleness and respect.

Christmas is about God sending His Son to Earth as a baby to be with us and die for us so we could be with Him and live for Him forever. That’s the Christmas I want to remember and wish onto other people.

I wish you that kind of Christmas.

© Brian Mavis 2005

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Church of Pooh

"Churches routinely refer to themselves as bodies or families. That makes the members parts of the body or members of the family. Not only do churches need each member’s money—as skeptics often accuse—they also need each member’s gifts and strengths. The world says a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, but the church says each link is strong because the whole body stands together. The older ones are there to teach the younger ones. The weaker ones can lean on the stronger ones. The body supports the individual so that each life is better." Connie Pursifel

What does this have to do with A.A. Milne, you ask?

That is the opening paragraph from "The Church of Pooh." It is a delighful post from the wife of one of my cyber buddies, Darrell Pursifel of Disert Paths. Hop or fly or bumble over there and read Connie Pursifel's entry. As a Winnie-the-Pooh fan from way back, her lovely post has me smiling and pondering at the same time.

I guess if I can write about Linus, Connie can write about Pooh.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Advent JOY

I posted this today at ECA and decided to put it here as well.

Phil 4:4-5
Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near!

Real joy is born of eager expectation--hope. We are waiting for something good, in fact, something wonderful. Hope is a confident expectation. Hope knows that "this same Jesus" who came the first time will come to us again. Advent JOY, Christian joy, is joy built on that hope.

When I was a child I loved to hear my older sister, Darlaine, (who has a wonderful, expressive voice), read stories. There was something very nice about a new story or a new book. But there was something even more pleasing to me as a child, and that was hearing the same beloved story again and again. Both of us can still quote my entire childhood book of "The Three Little Pigs!" I knew, as childre do, that the big, bad wolf wouldn't be able to blow down the third little pig’s house of stone. Snow White would eat the apple and fall asleep, but the handsome prince's kiss would wake her, and they would live happily ever after. Hansel and Gretel would get lost, but they would find their way home again. Each story speaks of the shape of a world with meaning, where evil triumphs, but only for a while, for good at last will overcome it.

Yes, these are only a child's "fairy tales" and the biblical account of Jesus is amazing and deep and rich and true. Nonetheless, there is a sense of childhood joy in the waiting time before Christmas. Advent is a time when “Everybody is leaning forward to hear what will happen, even though they know what will happen and what will not happen, when they listen hard for meaning, their meaning, and begin to hear, only faintly at first, the beating of unseen wings.” (Frederick Buechner).

"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you. But she was greatly troubled at this and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.' And Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I have no husband?' And the angel said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God'” (Lk 1:26-35).

Like children listening to a familiar story, we know how this one ends. But each year we wait again to hear it. The Christ Child was born in Bethlehem, the angels filled the sky with their glorious song, shepherds hurried to the stable. Maji travelled from afar. We seek the meaning in the story, universal yet intensely personal. What is the meaning of this wonderful thing that happened and happens each year once more?

Newspaper man Andrew Greely once wrote:


Jesus was crazy. He came into the world with the nutty idea that human beings could love one another...Peace on earth, indeed! Maybe Jesus should have stayed home. He was wrong. We cannot love one another. The best we can do is keep the levels of hatred low enough so we don?t exterminate one another before we all die ...It was a great idea, of course. Too bad it didn’t work. Still...What if he wasn?t crazy? What if he was right? What if it is possible to love one another? What if the lion can lie down with the lamb? What if...Protestant and Catholic, black and white, young and old, male and female, can love one another without fear, without hatred,
without death and destruction? What if the crib scene is what the world is really all about and everything else is phony? What would it be like if Jesus knew the way things really were? What if life does triumph over death, light over darkness, good over evil, love over hate, comedy over tragedy...? What if...?

Advent joy springs from our sure and certain hope that one day our "What if...?" will become "It's true!"

"Rejoice always in the Lord, I say again, rejoice! For the Lord is near!"

We know how the story ends!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Gender Wars

"Peace on Earth" ahh,--does it include conquering the "War Between the Sexes?"

Dr. Timothy George recently wrote an interesting article in "Christianity Today" about the so-called gender wars. Read it here. Then come back and read this thought-provoking response by CBE president, Mimi Haddad

Egalitarian Heritage

As part of an organization that advances a biblical foundation for gift-based rather than gender-based ministry, I appreciate Timothy George's plea for "A Peace Plan for the Gender War"[posted Nov. 17]. However, it is possible that the "gender war" among Christians exists because people erroneously assume that biblical egalitarianism grew out of the radical feminist movement, identified with people like Mary Daly and Daphne Hampson. This is false.

Our history dates back to the great revivals and the "golden era of missions." Our foremothers and forefathers include individuals like Katherine Bushnell, Frances Willard, A. J. Gordon, Catherine Booth, William Godbey, Amanda Smith, Sojourner Truth, and Pandita Ramabai. All of these individuals advanced a biblical basis for women's equality in home, church, and society. They also sought to free women for gospel service, worked to liberate slaves, and labored for all Americans to gain the opportunity to vote.

Today's biblical egalitarians affirm most of the values of those who disagree with us on the place of women. We embrace the authority of Scripture, the sacredness of the family, and the centrality of missions. This has been true since the 1800s. What is there to war about?

Mimi Haddad
President, Christians for Biblical Equality
St. Paul, Minnesota

Friday, December 09, 2005

RevGals Friday Five: Snow

1) Snow: love it or hate it?
I love it. I just got home from Christmas shopping and the sun is sparkling on the snow--more coming tomorrow. I hate driving in it, and I hate shoveling it, and I hate it a LOT in March. But for now, I love it. Beautiful!

2) First snow memory
I grew up in Los Angeles. In the winter, Angelinos "go to the snow." That means heading for the mountains for a day of some fun with sleds and snow fights. My first snow memory is doing just that with my family, winding up into the San Gabriel Mountains.

3) Best Snow Day ever (actual or imagined)
Imagined, up in the aforementioned mountains, pine trees, plenty of food, roaring fire, a few games, no t.v. but a c.d. player and some good c.d.s, my husband...and then we get snowed in for a week and can't come home.

4) Best use of snow in a movie, song, book or poem.
Robert Frost's "Through the Woods on a Snowy Evening"....or isn't that quite the right name?

5) What you are planning to do today, with or without snow.
I just did it. I shoveled snow and then worked at the church a bit and then took my mother shopping. Later I'm heading north for a night in a motel (hopefully one with a hot tub and/or pool) with a friend. Our husbands are out snow camping and hunting with muzzleloaders along with other men from church. We decided it was a good time for some relaxing and then a morning of shopping tomorrow a.m.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Love According to Linus

But first, a quote from Dorothy Day, social activist and founder of the Catholic Worker movement. She died 25 years ago.

It is not love in the abstract that counts. Men have loved a cause as they have loved a woman. They have loved the brotherhood, the workers, the poor, the oppressed - but they have not loved [humanity]; they have not loved the least of these. They have not loved "personally." It is hard to love. It is the hardest thing in the world, naturally speaking. Have you ever read Tolstoy's "Resurrection?" He tells of political prisoners in a long prison train, enduring chains and persecution for the love of their brothers, ignoring those same brothers on the long trek to Siberia. It is never the brothers right next to us, but the brothers in the abstract that are easy to love.

And here is a quote from the late cartoonist, Charles Schultz, said through Peanuts character, Linus. Linus stands with thumb in mouth and blanket in hand, as he often does. The "balloon" over his head shares his thought.

I love mankind. It's PEOPLE I can't stand.

Dorothy Day and Linus have some insight in common.

The Bible tells us that if we say we love God but do not love our brother and sisters (those near to us) that we really do not love God. So I am pondering the question: Who is near to me that I am having a difficult time loving? I expect you have one or two of those too. I am going to find a specific way to love "actually" and not just in the abstract. Any ideas?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Little Prayer from Merton

Thomas Merton's Prayer of Trust and Confidence

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Some Advent Whimsey

I've been feeling rather serious this Advent season, what with pondering church issues, postmodern-emergent issues, writing some Advent devotionals at ECA and also reading several of them each day. More about that later.

Meantime, I found this delightful little Advent calendar. It is not serious or deep or spiritual. It is short, sweet, and FUN!

You can find today's date, or you can click on any of the previous dates (so far, my favorite is the chicken) to take a look at Susan's creation. Find it here.

Friday, December 02, 2005

RevGals Friday Five: Decorations

This is what the top of our tree used to look like.

A Meme idea from the RevGalBlogPals site, with my comments, just because:

1) Do you display a nativity scene, and if so, where?
We have several. The one that always but always seems to get put out is a ceramic one made by my mother and aunt many years ag. My 89 year old mother now lives with us, and always says, "Oh...I remember when Pauline and I made those for everyone."

2) Do you put a skirt under the Christmas tree? If so, what does it look like?
Yes. It is a red fuzzy one with a white fuzzy edge. Ugh. Come to think of it, it is time to retire that one.

3) Do you hang lights on the house or put them in your windows?
Neither my husband nor I came from families that hung lights outside, and it would have been easy to do, since we were in warm, sunny Southern California. Now, DH goes into a frenzy of light hanging, and draping. It actually might not happen this year though. It is already December, and it is 11 degrees outside, and he is at work. If the outside of our house goes undecked it will seem very strange.

4) White lights or colored lights on the tree? Big bulbs or the small, pretty ones?

Colored ones, as many as possible. I like the big ones, but since we now put up a fake tree (ugh again) it has become the small ones. BUT there's a bunch of 'em, I can tell you that!

5) Do you have a tree topper? What sort? Who puts it on top of the tree?

See above photo, courtesy of freefotos.com. For a long time we had a hideously ugly red star (I told my husband it looked like Mars...I know...Mars is a planet, not a star, but still...) Now we have an angel.

The tree in our church sanctuary is really beautiful. Very tall, many tiny white lights and gold, burgundy and white decorations...balls, snowflakes, large angels. It is stunning. We usually put a nice nativity set in the entryway, but this year we moved it to the sanctuary platform. Tmis meant moving the pulpit to the side and removing the drums but I like it. In front of the altar area is a lovely round table, a gift this year from someone's father's estate. It holds our advent wreath and brass candle sticks with large candles. We have large wreaths in various places this year.

Since our sanctuary is rather plain (typical of Assemblies of God churches--no stained glass windows, etc.) this is the time of year that the sanctuary looks lovliest. We also have a bank of poinsedttias under our cross in front, and more near the Advent wreath. Maybe I'll try to take a picture.

So, what do you do for decorations at your place?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Online Advent Readings to Share From Old Friends and New

I've been part of the Egalitarian Christian Alliance (ECA) for many years now. ECA grew out of an online forum that started at Christians for Biblical Equality. (Many of us belong to CBE and originally "met" there on that forum.) When the CBE forum was discontinued, ECA was formed. ECA is an online community of friends who talk about issues related to biblical equality.

If you would like to join us for a daily reading of scripture and some thoughts related to this lovely season of the year, come over to ECA's Bible Study forum. It's a bit tricky, so look for the titles to keep straight which post is for which day. When you click on the link you will be on a lavendar page. ECA has lots of forums, and this is one of several. Scroll down a bit and you will see the list of posts. Just click on the title to open it. You are only a few days behind, so catch up quick, or join us on today's date. I'll be posting some thoughts, along with Huldasheir, Psalmist, Galina, and other ECA friends.

And you may have noticed the new link to RevGalBlogPals in the sidebar. This is a webring for women clergy and those who love them (grin). They have published a book of Advent devotionals and there is a wonderful companion website "A Light Blazes in Darkness." These are longer than the ones at ECA..

Read one in the morning and one in the evening perhaps?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Thanksgiving Prayer

Ah, what a lovely turkey. We're heading out to Minnesota to spend Thanksgiving with our children. Thanksgiving is all about food, right? Well, partly.

For a serious moment...I am posting a prayer I recently wrote while at a silent retreat. I had just spent about an hour contemplating the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

O Lord Jesus,
Thank you...
How inadequate those words. But I say them.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for...
Suffering that I might be healed.
Enduring humiliation that I might be delivered from shame.
Being bound so that I might be set free.
Dying that I might live!

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for...
Winning the victory I could never win,
Paying the debt I could never pay,
Overcoming the enemy I could never defeat.

Thank you for
Enduring it all,
The horror, the questions, the loss,
The lonliness,
So that I can say,
"I am never forsaken!"

Thank you for taking my sin, my death,
So that I may live with you forever.
Thank you for sorrow removed,
So that I might have..

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Rule of Cows

Suz posted a comment asking who I thought was meant by "cows" in the FOTF letter, and I replied that I think it was just an example of two postions that are so far apart that there is simply no room for discussion.

As for the Bible debate, well I disagree that there is no room for discussion, but that is nothing new.

Meantime, I kept trying to reply and post a link, but it didn't work. So for Suz, and all other interested persons, here is a link to The Rule of Cows. It's a bit of wisdom that the cow question brought to mind. It's not about the TNIV. But it is food for a lot of (metaphorically speaking) "cud chewing."

The Gender-Accurate Bible Blog

The Gender Accurate Bible Blog, hereafter known as TGABB, was created yesterday. Owner Pat Gundry also owns the blog "Women Preaching" which is included in my list of links (below, in the sidebar). It is still under construction, but Pat's introductory comments, as well of those of Wayne Leman, are well worth reading. Also check out comments on "Chasing the Wind." A link is also found on TGABB. Good stuff.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Bible Debate Part II

I will be posting a sidebar link to The Better Bibles Blog soon. I greatly appreciate the readable, informative, scholarly and calm approach used by Wayne Leman and his colleagues on that bog. Anyone interested in Bible translations should make a regular visit there.

Meanwhile, after reading their blog posts about Focus on the Family and the TNIV (Today's New International Version) debate, particularly Dobson's interview with Dr. Wayne Grudem, I listened to the broadcast via a link at FOTF. I was dismayed at the tone, and the fact that while Dobson admits there are differing views from "reputable Christian people," no attempt whatsoever was made to allow any sort of discussion on this admittedly "controversial" topic.
(How I wish people would stop calling this Bible translation "gender neutral." I have one, and I assure you it is no such thing.)

I wrote FOTF expressing my concern and suggesting they have someone from Zondervan on the program as well. Dr. Stan Gundry perhaps?

Here is their response:

Greetings from Focus on the Family.

It was good of you to share your reaction to our recent broadcast with Dr. Wayne Grudem, "The Problem with the _TNIV_" (October 26-27, 2005). Thoughtful, honest feedback like yours is always welcome here at Focus headquarters; as a matter of fact, we believe that the ministry's relationship with its constituents is never stronger than when it takes the form of a two-way conversation.

With regard to your assertion that this discussion was "imbalanced," we feel compelled to state the obvious - Dr. Dobson has very strong feelings on this subject. Accordingly, he has no interest whatsoever in presenting "both sides of the issue." It was never his intention to invite a mixed panel into the studio to debate the pros and cons of the _TNIV_. On the contrary, his goal from the very beginning was to inform, educate, and warn our listeners about what he regards as the *dangers* of this translation. Those who don't share his perspective are certainly free to publicize their views by any means available to them. But they shouldn't look to Dr. Dobson to provide them with a forum for arguing their case. That would be like expecting cattle producers to invite an animal-rights activist to address their national convention.

We hope that this reply has clarified our perspective for you. Thanks again for caring enough to contact us. Don't hesitate to let us know if we can be of any further assistance. God bless you.

Amy Campbell
Focus on the Family

Clarified their perspective? Well, yes indeed. Based on this letter, Dobson's intent was to "inform and educate" the public on--well--on his "strong feelings."

I don't agree with Dr. James Dobson on all issues, but I appreciate his fight against pornography and his desire to help families be healthy and strong. Dr. Dobson,in my opinion, has some valuable insights into psychological issues, and I have used some of his materials in the past. But he, by his own admission, is not a biblical scholar! Why should his "strong feelings" on biblical translation be authoritative? I am dismayed. Dobson is not, as one of my friends recently called him (tongue in cheek), "the Protestant pope." He is not the voice of authority on every topic. (No offense intended to any Roman Catholics reading this blog.)

It is increasingly clear that I can't tune in to Focus on the Family if I want to hear something a bit more reasoned than what Dr. Dobson happens to feel.

I am not saying I believe the TNIV has no flaws. I don't think a perfect Bible translation exists. Some of Grudem's comments deserve consideration--and for some lengthy but fascinating discussion, see the aforementioned blog.

But don't look to Focus on the Family for unbiased information. Be warned, Dr. Dobson thinks that sharing his opinion--in this case making some alarming remarks about the motives of reputable biblical scholars--is "educating" the public.

Christian people need to learn to think for ourselves. We are to study. We are to be right dividers of the Word of truth, according to 2 Tim. 2:15.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Since we are not all Greek and Hebrew scholars, when it comes to issues of linguistics and translation we need to hear from a variety of people who have some knowledge and expertise. We need to STOP looking to Chritian celebrity personalities, no matter how well-intentioned, to tell us what to believe and how to think. The implications are frightening.

Friday, November 04, 2005

I Gotta Lighten Up...So

janeway wallpaper
You are Captain Janeway!
One of Starfleet's finest Captains, your style is
unique in that you encapsulate the spirit of
the Federation's highest ideals. Out in the
Delta Quadrant, you came across more unknowns
than any other officer in Starfleet. Your
victories over the Borg Queen several times, as
well as species 8472, have marked you as one of
the most innovative Captains in Starfleet
history. This is partly due to your ability to
think "outside the box" . Your crew
will not only die for you, they will and have
been to the ends of the Galaxy with you.

Which Starfleet Captain Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Bible Debate

The debate that is not really a debate goes on. "Focus on the Family" continues to air what I believe to be completely misleading information about the supposed gender neutral TNIV (Today's New International Version). But I defer to someone with credentials.

See the "Better Bibles Blog" for comments from Dr. Stan Gundry. He is Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief at Zondervan, the well known (and very respected) Christian publisher of the TNIV. Dr. Gundry is upset, and he has every right to be. Please read his comments if you have any interest in Bible translation, and please write Dobson and ask for a real discussion, not a one-sided, misleading conversation. Perhaps he could invite Dr. Gundry to the program.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Listening to Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, 1913-2005, civil rights hero and catalyst for the Mongomery Bus Boycott, died Monday at age 92. I began my day listening to an archived interview with Rosa Parks from 1956. You can find a link to the recording here.

In the interview Ms. Parks says in a clear, soft voice, "The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. They placed me under arrest. And I wasn't afraid. I don't know why I wasn't, but I didn't feel afraid. I had decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen, even in Montgomery, Alabama."

A rousing gospel version of This Little Light of Mine concludes the interview. A black gospel choir singing "Jesus gave me the light, I'm gonna let it shine..." is blaring from my speakers right now. :-)

Isn't it interesting to think about just how many ways the "light" can shine? One of my favorite contemporary choruses is "Shine Jesus Shine." "Lord the light of your love is shining, in the midst of the darkness shining...Jesus, light of the world, shine upon us, set us free by the truth you now bring us..."

Rosa Parks had, according to those who knew her, "deep religious conviction." Perhaps it was her faith, the "light of Jesus," that gave this woman and many other people the strength to stand in a turbulent and violent time.

I am a person who tends to try to find the middle ground, to discover consensus, to compromise for the sake of peace. When I can't do so without being untrue to my convictions -- well, then it is time to stand. In Rosa Parks case it was time to sit. I'm not being flippant. I'm just pondering the nature of...finally having enough and refusing to budge.

More later...busy day ahead.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Apple Trees and the Fruit of the Spirit

MMmmmmm. I love apples in the fall of the year. I don't eat apples in the summertime, but when autumn comes, I love them. Funny.

I've been talking about the fruit of the Spirit in my sermons all summer long. Now when I look out the church windows from the platform, what I see is a big apple tree in the neighbor's yard. Not crabapples. I have those. I used it as an illustration this a.m. (fruit should be seen)! These are nice, pinky green apples. Last week I picked one up off the ground (it had rolled over next to the church) and took a chomp. WOW! It was tart and sweet at the same time, and crisp and juicy! And they are just letting those wonderful apples fall to the ground. It is all I can do not to take over a paper bag and swipe them. No one is ever home for me to ask if I can pick some of their wonderful apples. It is beyond me why they don't pick them themselves.

But it does make me consider...what fruit is visible as others look at my "tree?" My spiritual tree, that is. When I looked at the neighbor's apple tree, I badly wanted to pick an apple, to sniff it's fragrance, to take a bite and see if it tasted as good as it looked.

Since scripture tells us to "...taste, and see that the Lord is good!" it seems to me that a Christian life should tempt the passerby to do just that...to find out just where the character traits of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and so on, come from!

How often has someone, in a spiritual sense, wanted to see if the Lord was indeed "good" because of the reflection of the Lord they saw in my life?

I'm mixing my metaphors, but it is a question worth pondering, I think.

The various fruit pictures I've used in this blog are from www.freefoto.com.

More on Church

In August, before I started posting about Katrina issues, I ranted a bit about the supposed feminization of the church.

Here is something
on the subject from my friend, Galina. I especially like the last part. I'll quote it for you, but remember that it's not in response to every man on the planet. It's in response to one of those articles (like the one's I read that had me steaming) that tell us how boring and "girly" church is because there is not enough "adventure" and "risk." So...read on:

Biblically speaking, the church exists to provide a place for connection, friendship and relationships for people who love Christ. It is there for Christians to gather together, experience God as a community, and go out to serve the world. Is that too boring for you? Yeah, my heart is bleeding (not!).

Adventure, risk, or danger, are not needs, they are self-centered and arrogant demands of the spoiled middle-to-upper class north-american christian males, who are forgetting how to be grateful for the "boring" safety of their society. What they need isn't churches who will organize hunting trips or mountain-climbing tours. They need to pack their bags, and go to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, or Malawi- or inner city areas - and serve the communities for whom danger isn't luxury or entertainment, it's a way of life.

The Christian life isn't about risk for the sake of risk, or having one's fill of adventure. It's about having a life that is meaningful, and dedicated to service. If it's too "girly" or too "boring", whiners don't need to join. The path of Christianity is narrow. Jesus said so. If you are not man enough to accept that challenge and carry your cross, please do everyone a favor, and find another hobby.

Thankfully, I know many such men. And women too. Thank God for people who are willing to have a meaningful, faithful life of service on a narrow path. May their tribe increase!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Is This Guy a Nutcase?

This is just one more, hopefully short, entry about "Camp Katrina" in Waveland, Mississippi.

The Katrina victims are very much on my mind because later today I will be shipping about 35 gift boxes for kids to Debra Callahan, my partner in face painting. Her church in Tennessee is sending some people down to Waveland to the K-Mart parking lot, aka Camp Katrina.

There is going to be a "Trunk or Treat" party at the distrubution center where kids will go to car trunks, apparently, for various treats. There will be lots of fun stuff for them to do. I wish I could be there, but Deb promises to give me lots of details. The Convoy of Hope has left Waveland and gone on to Picayune and elsewhere, but the Waveland Store and the New Waveland Cafe continue unabated, largely through the efforts of Christian Life Church. What this church and staff have been able to accomplish is nothing short of totally amazing.

Anyway, this morning as I got ready to go pack up our boxes (Thank you, church family at Jubilee) I remembered the crazy guy. I admit that the title of this blog entry is just what I thought when I first saw him.

He came up to the face painting table in the middle of a hot and steaming day. I was alone at the table for the moment, feeling depressed and drained. About 55 years old, with a white beard and a big smile, he was dressed in hiking boots, filthy shorts and a T shirt that was once white. He was about to enter the distrubution center for some supplies. His eyes crinkled as he grinned at me, waved his arms, and said gleefully, "Isn't this wonderful?" His speech sounded...well...sounded cultured. I guessed that he was perhaps a business person. Had been, anyway.

I was literally speechless, so said nothing. Again he gazed about and then grinned and said, "This is fabulous." I looked around too. I saw a long line of exhausted and shocked people, mostly silent (including the children). I saw bare, twisted trees, broken buildings, the filthy pavement, piles of trash, a demolished McDonalds, National Guard troops. Finally I manged to smile and say, "What, sir, is wonderful?" He waved his arms like a windmill and crowed happily, "This! Just look! Look! Look at this line of people, look at this wonderful 'cafe' and 'store.' And look at all you wonderful people coming here from all over the place to help us. Aren't people wonderful?" (I had just heard about some hoarding going on, and I was none too sure that people are wonderful.)

He went on, "You are wonderful, doing face painthing for our children. And people are giving us things for FREE! And my neighbors, who have not spoken to me for years, crawl out of their tent in the morning as I crawl out of my tent...and they say, 'Hey neighbor, are you all right over there? Are you doing okay?' People are sharing and caring and loving and talking and this is WONDERFUL!" He nodded and smiled at me once more as he headed into the distrubution tent, pushing a K-Mart cart.

He made my day!

Pehaps now I can start thinking and blogging about something else.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

And a last photo...or two

This is perhaps my favorite photograph!

And good bye to my new little Mississippi friends. My friend, Debra, and I quickly made connections with so many of these precious children. God, be with them.

Katrina Report--Last one!

At least that's the plan.

These first pictures are from a Waveland street right on the gulf. If one had looked out the front door of one of these homes, there would have been nothing to hinder the view. Just your lawn and then a narrow street and then a beautiful, white beach and the gulf waters beyond. I'm told that some of the most beautiful homes of the gulf coast were located here. In most cases, nothing, and I mean nothing, but foundations are left. I can only assume that the disintegrated houses were swept into the gulf as the storm surge receded. But this home was a strange sight to see, with the bottom floor completely gone but at least part of the second floor, including nice windows, intact. Notice again, the beautiful oak trees are stripped of foliage and the grass is "burnt" brown.

Notice these large steps. It must have been a very big house. All that is left are steps to nowhere.

Ken took these pictures of the railroad tracks. They are twisted totally out of shape. And part of the top of a house is flung onto the tracks.

These pictures are not far from the Assembly of God Church of Waveland. Perhaps we will take a team there early next year. We stopped by to see how they were doing, having been told that the church was a total loss. It was standing, but completely destroyed by mold and will have to be torn down. The pastor and his family are living in a little camper. The Presbyterian pastor was there too, and his lovely wife. The two families are good friends. The Presbyterian pastor's wife was the only woman I saw all week who had a "full face" of makeup on. Her hair was neatly combed, and she was casually but impeccably dressed. It was so unusual as to be striking.

I remember her sad eyes as she showed us her only remaining possessions, five decorative plates that had been a present from her grandmother. She was trying to remove the remains of Katrina's mud, a sticky smelly substance that stuck fast. The AG church had some running water, so she was there using the garden hose. It was a very sad sight. Tears filled her eyes as she told us they had lost everything, but she smiled when she told us that the Presbyterian church had, miraculously, been totally spared--an amazing story. A man who was not part of their church, in fact had not darkened the door of a church for many years, was riding out the storm from somewhere near the church. He told the pastor and his wife that he watched the storm surge coming in, watched it part and go around the Presbyterian Church, and come together again as it passed! He was in church the following Sunday! Wow!

I also remember the faces of many people. The beautiful young black girl who asked me to paint AK 2B on her face (Alicia Keyes to be). I did so, but I told her she just needed to be herself. That was great enough. If I see her on American Idol some day, I will recognize her. I told her so.

I remember Stephen, a sweet-faced, chubby little boy who his sisters called "Bubba." I learned that "Bubba" is not, contrary to what we northerners think, a derogatory name, but simply an affectionate term for "brother." I painted a football on his face one day, and a heart the next day (a return customer)! He waved cheerily to me as he left. He said he'd see me again the next day. I was sad to tell him that I would be on my way back home to Wisconsin. I wish I could start a sidewalk Sunday school at the K Mart parking lot, or at the Taco Bell lot where many of the children seemed to be "living."

I remember one of those children from the Taco Bell lot (if I am remembering rightly)a boy who opened his "gift box" (a shoebox full of toys from an Alliance Church in NJ) and shouted with glee because he'd received a "Woody" puppet. Think Disney's "Toy Story". His mama told us, with something like joy on her face, that Woody was "his favorite, his very favorite character!"

I remember the strikingly beautiful elderly woman who sat down under our canopy and gratefully accepted a cold bottle of Aquafina, telling us that she was 91. And had lost everything.

I remember the day we heard that some of our colleagues had helped a woman who had lost her two children during Katrina. She didn't know if they were alive, and if they were...where they were. They were in a Red Cross shelter in Utah, along with their babysitter. We all rejoiced.

I remember the children, sad-eyed and a bit fearful, most keeping a watchful eye out for the grownup with them. My mind could not comprehend the losses they have suffered. They lost their homes (in most cases), their belongings, their school, their McDonald's, their K-Mart, their entire town. I left Camp Katrina with a feeling of relief that I could return to my clean little home in my clean little town in nice, cool Wisconsin. But I can't stop thinking of those faces, those eyes, those stories. I pray for Waveland, and all along the gulf coast, every day. I don't think my life will ever be quite the same.

Thank you, Gulfport AG church, for allowing us to sleep in your rooms and rinse off in your showers and attend Sunday worship service with you. In retrospect, I see God's plan in it all.

I hope I will see these once-beautiful towns again, in better days.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Katrina Report Part Six: In the K Mart Parking Lot

You can click on any of these blog photos to see them in a larger format.

The heavily damaged K Mart stood closed and dark. Out front of our site we could see a perpetual long line of Katrina victims, most with borrowed K Mart shopping carts, waiting to enter our store for food and supplies. The heat and humidity were intense. We watched for those who needed water or a place to sit down. To the right of the store, we handed out tents, blankets, pillows and sleeping bags. That is, we handed them out when we had them. There was a limited supply, and some always stood in a long line only to be disappointed. As you can see in the photo, the line extends as far as we could see.

Notice the trees. They are battered and mostly bare. Few leaves remain...an uncanny sight in the summer heat. Every sign in Waveland is torn and broken, every business but one was closed, we saw one home in a habitable condition. But the line of people come from Waveland, Pas Christian, Picayune, Bay St. Louis, and other towns. The enormity of the devastation is hard to grasp.

The K-Mart parking lot became "Camp Katrina," home to about 40 Waveland people living in nylon tents. Additionally there was a medical tent, our Convoy of Hope store and restaurant, a large tent to house the volunteers, an Aging Services tent, and several others. Just to the side of our disbursement "store" was a shattered McDonald's and a large pile of debris. You can see in the picture that a nylon tent is located behind the restaurant. To the rear of our tent was the vacant lot full of garbage. Trash and debris were everywhere, and the stench of mold rose from the parking lot when it got wet (as it did when I poured water over my hot feet one afternoon).

Just next door to the store stood "The Waveland Cafe." A board outside held messages, pictures of missing loved ones, phone numbers, and other information.

Inside, people from many denominations cooked and served food to over 5,000 people each day.

Here, some weary people share lunch and conversation.

Behind The Waveland Store and The Waveland Cafe, a flurry of activity took place--semis arrived and forklifts offloaded the trucks and moved supplies to the makeshift warehouse tent. Then the supplies were moved, as we needed them, to the store. Here, Ken and I stand beside the bright Convoy of Hope simi trailer. It's our last night in Waveland, and we have mixed feelings as we head towards our vehicle and "home" to First Assembly in Gulfport for the last night.

Katrina Report Part Five: Outside the Door of "The Waveland Store"

The National Guard was evident. And appreciated. These two posed outside "The Waveland Store" (our disbursement center) with a Waveland resident. Afterward, he ran into the big tent to gleefully inform a buddy, "I got my picture taken with th' Army men!"

Debra and me (in the hat) with two little customers.

On our third day in Waveland, Misty, our wonderful "boss" announced that she actually had enough volunteers inside the tent so that Deb and I could go outside and talk with people, set up our little face paint table and give both the parents and the children a much-needed break. We painted hundreds of little faces. All colors: beautiful dark brown faces surrounded by black braids, white faces with blonde hair blowing into the paint, many cute freckled faces, mostly little faces, but an occasional grownup sat still and allowed us to paint a frog, pumpkin, basketball, flower or what have you on their sunburned and sweaty faces. Here are some pictures of our little canopy. We sat in the humidity and heat and passed out bottles of water, and decorated little faces with bright paints. And we smiled, and offered senior citizens a chair-- and mostly we listened to people as they cried and talked and smiled as they watched us with the children, and they told their stories as if they'd known us a long time.

These two are the firefighters, turned temporary FEMA guys, that I mentioned below. J.J. is on the left. If you can't read the sign, click on the picture and you will see that it says "Rest Area for Seniors." We had struck up an acquaintance with these two earlier in the day, and when they came by I asked if they'd sit for a photo. They somehow knew we were setting them up (I do NOT have a poker face) and they sat down rather reluctantly. After I snapped the picture, Deb showed them the sign....joke on FEMA...maybe not so funny, all things considered. But they groaned dramatically...and took it well.

Later, a woman stopped to sit. She did not look well and she was confused and argumentative. She overheard me say something to Ken about his blood sugar and she rather casually mentioned that she had not had a glucometer since Katrina came to town. Ken (also a diabetic) took her blood sugar--it was around 600! If you don't know about blood sugars, Ken says to tell you that if his was that high he'd be in a coma. He's not kidding.

J.J. then walked by, exactly at the right time to escort her to the nearby medical tent. She was quite reluctant, but it helped that he was in a sort of uniform. Later he reported to us that she had been sent to a hospital immediately.

We wondered aloud, "What if she hadn't overheard that Ken was a diabetic? What if Ken had not been around (he usually would have been inside the distribution tent)? What if we hadn't just received a shipment of glucometers to Convoy of Hope (the first we had seen)? What if J.J. hadn't walked by just at the right time to be "a government authority?" God was good to that lady, I think.

Blogspot's photo download is not working again. More later.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Katrina Report Part Four: Waveland

The debris from what was once the front of this house was scattered right to the edge of the four-lane highway. At first we did not realize that the house could not have sat on that spot...but no one builds a house quite so close to the traffic. We realized that the house had been flung to its present location from--who knows where--there was no sign of the foundation.

This little house was leaning against a telephone pole. Again, no clue as to where it began it's "flight" since there was no sign of a nearby foundation or driveway. It made me think of Dorothy's house in "The Wizard of Oz" a thought that would have made me smile if I had not already been on the verge of tears.

Along the highway to Waveland we did not see any homes that were not totally demolished, or flung about like tiny houses from a Monopoly board.

This is what remains of a boat dealership. The closer we got to Waveland, the more shocked we felt. The sight and smells are indescribable, but these pictures are not isolated, or necessarily the worst of what we saw. They are typical of what we found everywhere.

A foundation, and nothing else. No boards, bricks, glass, furniture. Nothing.

Before going over to the Convoy of Hope site, we drove down to the nearby gulf coast. The pathos of what we saw are beyond words. On the site of what was once large luxury condos was...mostly nothing at all. You can see the gulf if you look closely between the branches of the bare and twisted trees. A few piles of bricks and some scattered belongings are all that remain. Debra and I stood in silence as Ken took photos. I found myself thinking the rather morose words of Solomon in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, saith the preacher."

Steps to nowhere.

Many addresses are spray painted on some nearby surface. There is simply no means of identifying what home used to stand there.

We headed to the K-Mart parking lot and the Convoy of Hope distribution center. We found a hand made sign announcing "Camp Katrina," where many people had pitched tents on the grassy edge of the parking lot. Behind the small "dwelling" tents were several large circus-type tents, a demolished group of stores, a twisted and gutted McDonald's and the shell of what was once the Waveland Cinema. We found the Convoy of Hope people and they instantly put us to work, as I wrote in an earlier blog entry. I worked distributing clothes, and Ken passed out bleach and other cleaning supplies along with hand disinfectant, and other items. Here he is. He is probably announcing, "Just take one bottle of bleach, please!"

Here is Nurse Joan, sorting first aide supplies. Note the large pile of toilet paper alongside. One of those items we take for granted until we don't have any.

Guests shopping for free groceries and supplies inside the tent.

This guy worked all day passing out clothes, shoes, underwear, towels and socks. The work was nonstop, demanding and exhausting. At one point he opened a box of t shirts and pulled out this large American flag. Oddly, everyone got quiet for a moment, and then someone asked if they could have it to hang in front of what used to be their home.

After two days of standing on my feet for ten hours at a stretch with no breaks, I returned to First Assembly Gulfport (thank God for their showers and my cot) with some trepidation about how I was going to get through the remaining time. My back was hurting badly, and all of us were so stiff we crawled clumsily out of our van like zombies. That night I asked God to show me what to do, or to assign me something different.

More about that in Part Five.

Katrina Report Part Three: Leaving Gulfport

We drove around Gulfport a bit before heading over to Waveland. These pictures are from Gulfport, typical of what we saw everywhere.

A housing complex. Or it was. Every apartment was missing large pieces, which means that they not only have major structural damage, it means the water and mold damage is going to be extensive as well.

The tree in the front yard of this little house is huge, but the roots were shallow. It is very rainy in Mississippi, so perhaps that is why. Anyway, we saw many houses narrowly missed by trees.

Some signs of the beginning stages of cleanup were evident in Gulfport.

Heading down the highway we saw these huge billboards, at least 100 feet high with bases about 6 feet around. As you can see, these steel signs are all twisted. Farthest away, one is visible that is vertical. It's the only vertical one we saw for miles. The picture does not convey the spookiness we felt viewing these gigantic, and now twisted and torn, sentinels of the highway. The sky is blue in the picture, but when we first saw them it was dark and cloudy...and the sense of foreboding was intense. It felt like a nightmare was beginning.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Katrina Report Part Two: What We Saw

I'm taking my photo card to Wal Mart later, so I hope I can post pictures a different way. Meanwhile, here is Part Two.

My husband, Ken, and I left Wisconsin with a mix of anticipation and dread in our hearts. That mix of feelings was to continue throughout the trip, and even now our feelings are conflicting as we rest and recoup and ponder what we saw. After dropping my elderly mom off with a relative in Indiana and getting a last shower, shampoo and a night's sleep in a real bed, we traveled to Tennessee to pick up Debra, who is mentioned in Part I.

The trip took forever, it seemed, and we ended up spending a night somewhere in Mississippi. We were still a long way from the coast, but the motels were full of evacuees who had their stay paid for by FEMA or the Red Cross. We had a hard time finding a room. The hotel manager saw our JUBILEE ASSEMBLY OF GOD tee shirts, and he thanked us for coming. He told Ken, "The churches are pulling together. Yesterday the Salvation Army brought lunch for everyone here. Then a half hour later a black church brought lunch. Then a few minutes later a white church brought lunch." He smiled as he said he sent food home with his employees and saved what he could in the hotel fridge. ("Too bad the "white" church and the "black" church didn't work together," I thought to myself. But it was good to hear that the churches were doing what they could.)

Earlier, we had stopped at a rest area. Only in the "deep south" would restrooms be made of brick, have bright green doors, porches, and white columns! Who knew a restroom could look like a plantation house? A very elderly Black security guard offered to give us maps and tourist information. We explained that we were heading to the gulf coast to help in relief efforts. He didn't quite grasp that, and he kept talking to us about the tourist attractions, even giving us a large Mississippi tourism book. I hope no one ever tries to vandalize or steal from the rest area building. I don't think that dear old man could have helped much with "security." But he was, as southern folk often are, very gracious and called Deb or me "ma'am" about ten times. I thought, "We're not in Wisconsin anymore, Toto!"

We finally accepted the tourism book and perused it in the van as we headed down the road. In the present situation, it was eerie...filled with bright glossy photos of Gulfport casinos and the beautiful gulf coast vacation areas. It is the only way we had some idea of what the gulf coast "should" have looked like.

About 200 miles north of our destination we began to see the destruction! We still had four hours to drive, and already we saw enormous trees splintered and uprooted. As we got closer we saw that the evergreen trees were orange. Many had only a few remaining tufts of pine needles. We surmised that the salt water had "burnt" the trees to make them orange? The grass mostly looked okay, but the trees were mostly leafless, another eerie sight in the humid, 90+ degree heat of a Mississippi summer.

We began to see roof damage, blue tarps, and large sheets of plywood covering damaged buildings. Further on we saw our first national guard troops. They stood by a large truck dispensing bags of ice. There were many churches along the highway. It's the south, and churches are everywhere. Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ...some were totally destroyed, some looked okay. Many had spray painted signs advertising free clothes or food or water.

We passed a church called "The Fountain of Life Church." The sign was intact as was a faux waterfall made of what looked like plastic "rock," about ten feet high. I stared in amazement. The waterfall was untouched, complete with water still coming out of a spout at the top. Several yards Behind was the church, a pole barn kind of structure. Or it had been. Most of it was gone. But the waterfall splashed on.

We passed a large, brick Church of God building. The roof was totally gone, and I assume the interior was gone too. We got sad and quiet. After a while there was not much we could say.

I began to feel like I was in a surreal dream world. An odd feeling of "apartness."

Finally arriving in Gulfport, we headed past piles of debris to find First Assembly of God. Their gym, which had had three to four feet of water during the storm surge, was now full of supplies. Diapers, food, toiletries, toilet paper, baby formula, bottled water. So we unloaded the trailer of supplies from people back home in Wisconsin. Among the boxes of bleach, toys and other supplies, we had one glucometer and some test tape. I walked over to the little clinic located in a dry and air conditioned area of the church and delivered a few other medical supplies we brought. I asked the nurse if she could use a glucometer. She almost started crying, and then grinned as she called me, "Mrs. Santa Clause." At that very moment, an ill diabetic woman sat in the back room being examined. They had no supplies for her. She received the glucometer, test strips and instructions before going back home. God's timing?

A/G home missionary Bill Easter directed us to a room in an undamaged upstairs part of the gym. He normally works with Native Americans in Arizona but he told us that when he began to see the pictures of devastation, he and his wife, Denise, got in their camper and headed south. We set up our cots and unpacked a few clothes.

A large sign on the church sanctuary entrance warned, "DANGER! DO NOT ENTER! MOLD DAMAGE! Condemned by the Gulfport Dept. of Public Health." The sign sent a shiver down my spine...but crews were pulling out smelly carpet, so I ventured inside. The odor was pervasive and sickening. The spacious hallways smelled, the tall sanctuary smelled, the classrooms smelled. The padded pews lay in pieces on the floor, along with water damaged speakers and piles of hymnbooks. We heard later that they had tried to salvage the pews, but when they handled them they just fell apart. Later the pieces were stacked on the curb along with piles of reeking mauve carpet.

At church services in Gulfport the next morning, about fifty people packed into a small youth chapel and praised God and sang and heard a short sermon and a few survival stories. Most of the church family is still unaccounted for. Many left town and probably have not yet returned. Others...no one knew.

Somehow, we three all began to feel that our place was not at Gulfport. We weren't sure what to do, but we soon headed for nearby Waveland.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Katrina Report Part One: "Thr Fruit of the Spirit is..Kindness and Goodness"

The photo feature of Blogger doesn't apprear to be working right now.

I'm still working on the pics I want to post here of Katrina's aftermath in the Mississippi towns of Gulfport and Waveland. They will be coming.

Meanwhile, I was once again pondering the nature of spiritual fruit. If you've read my blog in the last few months you know I have been preaching through Galatians 5:22 (the "Fruit of the Spirit"). Goodness, I think, comes back to what Jesus called the "first and greatest commandment" -- that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and that we love others in the same way we love ourselves. And kindness -- is that not just the doing unto others as we'd have done to us?

I have just returned from watching love in action in Mississippi. Here are just a few instances of goodness and kindness. I saw them:

...In the beautiful brown face and sparkling eyes of Jeannie Wallis, who has worked for weeks to clean up mold-damaged First Assembly of God church in Gulfport. Her warm smile was not dimmed, and her praise to God was still vibrant, even though she had only gotten about three hours of sleep each night since the day Katrina slammed into Gulfport. She called me a "powerful woman of God." She is the powerful one!

In the voice of Pastor Norlund who vowed to do whatever was needed to help hurricane victims, to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus to the town of Gulfport--no matter how long and no matter how costly.

In the broad smiles, firm handshakes, and gentle words of two very young policemen from Ohio who had worked long days in Waveland, MS, and who didn't know when they'd get home. They smiled with genuine kindness anyway.

In the hands of my friend and former parishioner, Debra, who taught me how to do face painting so we could give little hurricane victims a few moments of normal fun. She tried hard to remember every child's name, cried when they weren't looking, and prayed for them when she could.

In J.J., a fireman from Utah turned temporary FEMA employee, who asked if I'd let him sit and talk with children for a few minutes as he,too, painted clowns and butterflies on the children's faces. He needed a break from misery almost as badly as the children did, I think, but he turned his own need into moments of joy for others. And he painted an impressive alligator! Then he let us put a KIDS ARE AWESOME sticker on his FEMA shirt, even though he said it was probably against the rules.

In the hardworking doctors and nurses at an impressive M*A*S*H type tent. They were distressed and weary but smiled with great kindness nonetheless. At the end of an exhausting day they still managed to joke with me when I asked to take their pictures.

In Misty, a tiny dynamo who supervised the volunteers at the large disbursement tent. She had been in Waveland for almost three weeks, and she still managed to direct us with energy and grace. I know she was exhausted and ill, but she hid it well and she toiled on, reminding us that we needed to "be very compassionate with these folks."

In the hard work of the people of Christian Life Church, Alabama, who were in Waveland first, before Convoy of Hope (or anyone else) arrived. They set up on the parking lot, and they did what they could with what they had, and they are still there.

In the cheery waves of national guard troops.

In an older woman whose name I never learned. She amazed me with her stamina and tireless work. She sang hymns and she smiled and she sorted clothes for hours. We had very few baby clothes to give away, but she somehow managed to find some newborn items for a sad-eyed but grateful pregnant woman who told me, "My due date is today."

In the waitress at the Gulfport "Cracker Barrel" who had lost her house, but who smiled and counted her blessings as she served us breakfast with paper plates and plastic forks.

In Thomas who cheerfully made the rounds of "Camp Katrina" all day every day to keep styrofoam coolers stocked with ice and bottled water--and who updated us with glee, and praise to God, every time someone else found a missing relative.

In Joan, who stood beside me and passed out band-aide tins and other first aide items to hundreds of weary and sometimes rude customers at the disbursement center. Joan worked long hours on her feet even though her toe was bleeding and hurting badly from a mishap with a pallet of supplies.

In the kitchen and the serving line at the "Waveland Cafe" tent. Church folks from many different denominations labored long hours in stifling heat and humidity to serve free meals to thousands of victims and volunteers alike.

Weeks ago at Jubilee A/G (my church) we prayed for the people of God to shine in the aftermath of the hurricane We were all shocked at the images we saw on our t.v. screens. At that time I didn't know that I would travel to the gulf coast and witness the horror of Katrina firsthand. We prayed for the Church of Jesus Christ to be His hands, his feet, his heart, his voice. I am rejoicing to say that I saw this happening.

The fruit of the Spirit is love...expressed through kindness and goodness. How rare that is, and how beautiful when found.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Back From Waveland, MS

We just arrived home a couple of hours ago. It is like returning from a nightmare. I'm exhausted and sore, but otherwise fine. I took lots of pictures. After a few days of rest -- and figuring out my new digital camera, I'll be posting a great deal.

Here is a link to a CNN story about Waveland whick is where we ended up working the most.

Waveland is a horror of sights, sounds, and smells.

But in addition to horrible things, I saw wonderful things too.

More later. For now I've got to get some sleep.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Dancing With Katrina

This interesting blog contains photos that I found fascinating and heartbreaking.

For me, its a frantic day of too much to do as we prepare to head to Mississippi.

I am excited and scared at the same time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A Different Take on the Federal Response

Thank you, DP (he sure does indirectly help this blog out a lot) for the link to this thought provoking article. I'd better post it, since I posted a link to CNN's story questioning the response. Frankly, I have no idea what to think about much of this, but I do know the important thing is to deal with the current issues of devastation and suffering.

I have been on the phone almost all day. I'm exhausted--and I haven't left yet. HA!

Things are changing by the minute, it seems. As it turns out, we are not going to Biloxi, but we are going to a town not far away. There are many cities and towns all along the gulf coast. We will be going to a town called Gulfport. So far, almost no help has arrived. We are going to First Assembly of God. I’m told it used to be a lovely building but is now a mess. And they won’t even know we are coming as there is no phone coverage or way to contact them. The pastor lost his home, as did most of the congregation. As the storm gathered strength, people arrived at the church. They ended up with about 250 people huddled in the basement, from what I’m told. Afterwards they used some food they had in the church kitchen, then Convoy of Hope got in with some basic toiletries and food. They distributed clothes and some other stuff. However, the mold grew really fast and was so bad that the health dept. made the people in the church leave. I don’t know where they went, but the district presbyter I spoke with today said there are still about 50 people there in the church, including the pastor. I don’t know if the church is cleanable….but they do have power now. We are taking some tents with us precious little. I don’t have a clue what we are gonna find…but I am more at peace than I have been for days. I have an odd sense that for some reason we are supposed to go to Gulfport, and not Biloxi. Like what difference does it make….the need is hugh everywhere?! Well, we shall see. We are taking a trailer full of cleaning supplies, some water, and our gear. Thinking about taking bicycles that we don't use....seems like maybe that would be helpful, gas being costly.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Biloxi or Bust

It looks like Ken and I will be heading to Biloxi, Mississippi soon with a few others from Wisconsin. We will be working with
Convoy of Hope to provide meals for National Guard troops, police and other rescue teams. We'll also be taking in supplies. We're gathering information now and coordinating with Convoy of Hope, FEMA, and our Assembly of God District Office. I'll share more as things develop. Ken says he just "wants to head south..." but we can't do it. They are feeding thousands each day and are desperate for help right now, we are told, but I don't think they are going anywhere before next week. Sad to say.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Wise Words About the Problem of Suffering

No, not from me. These words are from a friend, "Quiet Earthling." She shared this devotional at an inner city coffe house ministry. She should be a pastor.

The Problem of Suffering

I am sure most of us have been following the news from New Orleans and the devastation that hurricane Katrina brought. It's scary to see a beautiful, popular city with rich culture and history go to a 3rd world country level overnight. It makes us realize very clearly how fragile life is.

When September 11 hit, my husband was back in NY. In a space of two hours, everyone knew that things would never be the same. Things we relied on and trusted were forever exposed to be fragile and uncertain.

So here's a really old question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Or maybe let me rephrase that, why do bad things happen to normal, ordinary people?

People have different ideas regarding that.

Some people say that bad things happen because God wants to punish human sin. And certainly, it's God's prerogative to do that, if He so chooses. But Jesus discouraged this kind of thinking. When people brought him to a man who was blind from birth, they started asking Jesus, "hey, what's going on here? Who sinned? Was it him, or his parents?" Jesus said, "Not the man, and not the parents, but let the works of God be made manifest in this man!" In other words, Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do." (The Message)

Some people will say that God wants to teach us a lesson and he uses natural disasters to do that. While God can certainly teach us lessons through things that happen to us, I can't see what lesson all of us could learn from this - other than that it really sucks to be hit by a hurricane. Once again, Jesus never actually tried telling people who were sick or injured that He was trying to teach them a lesson through their adversities. He simply helped them.

Some people can say that God has bad things happen to us in order to build our character, and this certainly sounds reasonable, because we can develop better character in adversity. But what about people who actually died in New Orleans? How did it help build THEIR character? What about infants who are hungry and thirsty, and injured? Is it helping build THEIR character? How? Once again, Jesus never sit down with the lepers and blind people to tell them that God was trying to build their character through their problems. He simply reached out and helped them.

How many people here remember the book of Job? Job was a very wealthy man, he lived a good life and had everything. One day, something bad happenned to him. His entire family was killed. All of his possessions were destroyed or taken away. And then he himself got really sick. His friends came to comfort him, and they tried telling him the same things we often hear: "We are sure you did something bad, and God is trying to punish you - and it's too bad for you that you don't know what it is; or "God's trying to teach you something here", or "Maybe you should just not say anything, Job...") You can imagine that none of those things were very helpful to him. Finally, God spoke to Job ... but his answer was not what they expected. Instead of talking about building Job's character, or punishing Job's sin, God spoke about the complexities of the universe. He spoke about animals getting food, and eagles, and sea creatures, and snow, and oceans, and all of it working together. It's like he was saying, "Look, the universe is a very complex place. It's a place that you'll never understand completely. There may not be a simple cause-effect thing here, there may be complex reasons beyond your comprehension at this point." And if we think about it for a minute, knowing WHY may not always help us in our situation. Jesus certainly didn't sit down with the people who were sick and injured (and probably asking "why") to explain to them why certain things happenned to them, and the complex causes and forces behind the events in their lives. He sipmly reached out and helped them.

And I think this is how we are called to respond, too.

I remember that once I shared with a friend (iswari ) that I had trouble with something because I couldn't figure out God's purpose in this. She said that she never tried looking for God's purpose in a time of trouble - just his presense. This made a lot of sense to me.

When we see bad things (like Katrina) happenning, we can't really figure out why. Sure we can think of the different things that could have been in place to make the damage less (better evacuation procedures, better town levee, and so on) - but ultimatley we don't know WHY it happenned. We don't know why that tropical storm became a hurricane and headed for New Orleans. But just because we don't know why, doesn't mean shouldn't do what Jesus did, reach out and help out. Now, many of us don't have a lot of money do be donating to Red Cross right now. And most of us can't just take off and go down there to volunteer. But this doesn't mean we can't still do something in this situation. And one thing we can certainly do, is be good to each other and help make this little part of the world a better place, right here, and right now. And even if it doesn't help the people in New Orleans directly, it does make the world as a whole a better place. And indirectly, the good things that we do here will spill over to the rest of the world, because everything and everyone in the world are connected.

Finally, what do we do when bad things happen to us? Sometimes asking "why" is useful. Certainly we need to take responsibility for our own situation, and the choices we've made. But eventually, there comes a time where we should give up the "why" question, and simply say, "Okay, this is how things are now. What steps can I take to make things better for myself?"

One place to go would be good friends who won't keep trying to tell us that we must have done something wrong, and we are being punished, or that we should learn some kind of lesson from this - but nobody quite knows what that lesson might be. But it's good to go to a place where our friends will simply listen to us, give good practical advice on how to change our situation around, and how to get help.

Finally, we can go to God with our troubles. And because God did experience human existence when he walked the earth in flesh, in the person of Jesus, he KNOWS first-hand what it's like to live in a place that is dangerous and harsh. He knows how fragile and uncertain and unfair life can be. And because He knows, he can be there for us like nobody else can.

The book of Hebrews says, "

15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." or in other words:

14Now that we know what we have--Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God--let's not let it slip through our fingers. 15We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all--all but the sin. 16So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (The Message)