Thursday, March 30, 2006

Back from the mountain

Today I heard that I am an "uppity feminist" who talks about stuff she has no business with.

Should I laugh or cry? Or yell?

I guess a good choice would be to ask for God's grace to love with love beyond my own.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Meeting One of My Heroes

Last week I attended a conference at which J. Lee Grady was the main guest speaker. My friend, Pat, and my daughter, Kris, were with me. Each of us was blessed and encouraged in an extraordinary way.

Grady is the editor of Charisma magazine, the author of "Ten Lies the Church Tells Women" and an advocate for women. I told him he is one of my heroes, because he took a stand which cost him friends, income, readers and platforms in the Evangelical church world. But he did it because God directed him to.

I'm still processing some of the things that happened to me last week. Some make me rejoice, some make me sad or angry, and some make me a bit afraid of how I might get "stretched" in the future. I may share some things later, as they become more clear to me.

It truly was a conference where the presence of God was with us. I've never experienced anything like it. At one point it was like a blanket whcih enveloped the whole congregation. We just sat in silence.

But I can tell you that it was a JOY to my heart to see Lee Grady interact with women. I know some wonderful men of God, but I don't think I've ever sensed the kind of respect and positive regard that just seems to exude from this man. He is down-to-earth, real, approachable, funny, and he is compleltely free and unselfconscious. And he is a champion for women in a way I cannot even describe.

He is an exuberant worshipper, very "charismatic" in style, and very prophetic (I was amazed) but he also was very frank about the abuses he is seeing in the church, both the Pentecostal/Charismatic folks and others. He travels a great deal and sees much.

While he expressed dismay and concern, he also had this to say about the direction he believes God is taking the Church:

1. From superstardom to servanthood (Glory be to God!)
2. From buildings to the organic Church
3. From pulpit to people
4. From racism to reconcilliation
5. From male-domintaed to egalitarian
6. From hidden sin to healthy holiness
7. From human ability to supernatural power
8. From excapism to conquest
9. From wimps to warriors

May it be so, Lord!

He told me I was a warrior for God. :-)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

People of the Presence

Last June one of my blog posts was about an awareness of God's presence. I asked people to share insights and experiences. A few left blog comments, others wrote me emails. Some of the stories were amazing. One of the most memorable for me was an email from a cyber buddy who told me about the time she was experiencing serious trauma as a child and was curled up in her bed feeling completely alone and lost. A silent and unseen presence came to her and wrapped her in a warm embrace, complete with soft, rather plump arms and a distinctly feminine chest. She was alone--but not alone. And she was comforted by a tender Mother God.

Last year I went through a several week period of time when I was aware of God's presence in a way that is impossible to describe but, at least to me, was very real.

I've pondered this ever since, trying to grasp just what the presence of God is, how it is revealed, why some times people are more aware of it, and so on. I also had a conversation recently with a parishioner and good friend who was wrestling with the whole charismatic idea of "experiencing" God--and just when is that real and helpful and valuable, and when does it cross the line into manipulation and emotionalism and worse.

I believer we are never to seek experiences. That leads to many kinds of trouble. We are to seek God. Sometimes a somewhat emotional experience may result, and sometimes not. To focus on the experience is to cheapen the Almighty, I think. But I have no problem with enjoying the sense of nearness or joy or freedom that sometimes comes to me as I seek a deeper awareness of God's nearness.

Sometimes at our church we use soft music, candlelight, kneeling, silence--or exuberant music, vocal prayer, and standing with arms raised in joy or surrender. Others have organ music, stained glass, beautiful anthems sung by a choir, and focused liturgy. It's all good, as far as I'm concerned, if it helps us step out of the mundane, the casual, the usual, and focus our attention on the Divine.

Can it be manipulation? Yes. But it needen't be. Personally, I sometimes need a little help quieting my mind (or releasing joy and praise).

All that to say--whew--that when a brochure came in the mall titled "People of the Presence Confernece" I took note. The cover is eye-catching, a blue background with a dove feather floating down. The featured confrence speaker is J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine. He also is one of my personal heroes, because he took a stand (and took a lot of heat) when he published Ten Lies the Church Tells Women. He has recently started something called The Mordecai Project that aims to assist women who want to be in Christian ministry. I'd post a link, but it seems something is amiss with the website.

The workshop titles are intriging as well. Here's one title: Where are the Women of Fire? and another, Prophetic or Pathetic? There's one about the new interdenominatiol practice of "healing rooms." I've been hearing about this and want to learn more. When a workshop is not in session there will be continuous worship music and prayer (live music during the day, taped at night).

I'm going. I have a mix of anticipation and a little concern. I don't like hype or manipulation, and I am all to0 aware that there is all too much of this in charismatic circles. But something seems compelling about the timing of this.

I'll report when I get back. Next week sometime.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

At the Checkout

Yesterday I went to the local grocery store to get potatoes. We're having an Irish worship celebration at my church this Sunday, complete with fiddle, pipes, gaelic harp....lots o' fun expected. And of course, corned beef, cabbage and potatoes afterwards, which was the reason for my trip to the store. the point...

As I waited in the checkout line I glanced over the headlines of the tabloids.

One cover had a large picture of a computer on a desk, and in front of the computer was an acutely miserable-looking woman blowing her nose.

And the headline?


Don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

B.B. King--"King of the Blues"

The legendary B.B. King, who recently won his fourteenth Grammy, is on his "Happy 80th Birthday Tour."

Monday night I went to hear him and the B.B. Blues Band rocking the house up in Green Bay. It was one of those casino venue shows, so the seating was not good. It was a stuffy large "ballroom" with many rows of tightly packed chairs flat on the floor, and we were on the next-to-back row. However, the show sold out in three days, so we counted ourselves fortunate to be there in any row.

It was an interesting crowd. Children, Baby Boomers, dating couples, seniors, bikers, etc. Quite a mix!

As we squeezed in and shifted around to try to get comfortable (I mean tightly packed chairs and my husband is a big guy), some slightly drunk and more-than slightly-loud concert goers filed into the back row right behind us. I had a moment of trepidation.

A few minutes later the house lights went down, stage lights went up, and the band came onstage. In seconds the crowd was enthralled. AWESOME musicians. Well, the King of the Blues would have the best in his band, after all. Wow. They were amazing. The drummer never stopped for just about the whole show. The keyboardist had a Hammond organ, a piano, and several keyboards. He often played the organ with his right hand and the keyboard with his left.

Jazz trumpets, guitars, the largest sax I have ever seen or heard (one of my favorite instruments), a bass guitarist that kept the place thumping, and more. It was fun! They played nonstop for nearly half an hour, and then someone introduced B.B. King. Out he came with his guitar, "Lucille," cradled in his arms, and the crowd jumped to their feet and gave this amazing old blues man a thundering ovation.

He sat for the entire concert, and he didn't play on every song, but when he did play it was obvious that he's still "got it." Amazing hands. Especially for an 80 year old diabetic. I watched him on the screen (being in the back rows I rarely caught a glimpse of him on stage) and marveled at his dexterity. He joked with us, rambled a bit (for which we all forgave him), and sang with that familiar gravelly voice which is only a shade different than in his younger years. Maybe it's better. He recalled his days picking cotton as a poor sharecropper, and he seemed genuinely grateful for the praise the crowd heaped on him after each number. He said that this was supposed to be his last tour--the 80th birthday finish to a long career spent mostly on the road. But he says he is not so sure that he will really stop touring.

I found myself thinking, "I hope those guys on stage really are still having fun, really are still enjoying making this amazing music." And I prayed for B.B. King. I remember reading an article by his daughter some years ago. Life was hard back home for the wife and daughter of a man they almost never saw and who was really married to "Lucille." His daughter is a Christian, and she prays for her dad, so I added my prayers to hers.

If you click on the link above you can hear just a few measures of B.B.'s signature song, "The Thrill is Gone." As we listened to him close the show with that famous number, I pondered the wonder of doing what you love at 80. He sang it with the full band backing him up, but the version you hear at the link is my favorite. Mostly just that voice and that guitar.

Even the guy talking loudly on his cell phone behind us, (really!) "I thought I'd share this experience with you!" couldn't spoil the moment.

May I be so blessed as to be 80 years old and still doing whatever I do with warmth and passion.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Doves are Heard in the Land!

Song of Solomon 2:11-13
For the winter is past, and the rain is over and gone. The flowers are springing up, and the time of singing birds has come, even the cooing of turtledoves. The fig trees are budding, and the grapevines are in blossom. How delicious they smell! Yes, spring is here! Arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.

In the northland, spring is longed for like a long-lost love. After months of rain, sleet, ice, snow, slippery roads, blizzard warnings, school (and church) closings and grey skies, we watch for any indication that winter will eventually end. We know it will, of course, but we feel like it might not.

The first day of spring falls in March--the 20th, this year. What a tease. For us March is often one of the worst months of winter, complete with at least one whopping snowstorm.

But around this time we start talking about tulip and daffodill bulbs and crocuses, and we think about packing away our sweaters and parkas and mittins. We don't do it, but we think about it. My husband is already telling me that the house is stuffy and that I have to open the windows. (It is 35 degrees outside.)

The first robin is greeted with whoops of delight at my house. I haven't seen one yet, but one of my church ladies showed me a picture she snapped on her digital camera. "Proof!" she crowed happily. This one isn't it. Note the green leaves, and no snow. This robin must be in a warmer climate.

Last Friday I slopped across our muddy church parking lot to the back door. (Another sure sign of Spring...mud in the church parking lot.) But the sun shone warmly on my face and the sky was a lovely blue. The thermometer hovered in the mid 40s. And then I heard one of those unmistakable signs of spring in the Upper Midwest. Cooing. There they were, a pair of mourning doves, standing together on the side lawn. The male is larger and darker than the female.

The first time I hear doves in spring I always think of the passage above. The sound of doves says sunny days, green grass, flowers, leafy trees, all are coming.

This morning I looked out my kitchen window and saw that the pussy willow bush is in bud. It is always the first thing in my yard to brave the elements by pushing forth some new signs of life. I immediately popped outside to see close up, padding across the rainy deck in my bare feet. No matter that today the sky is grey, snow is forcast for much of Wisconsin, or that right now my sweater feels comfy in my chilly office.

Spring will come.

The same is true of our spirits. Winter comes to us in many ways: lonliness, sadness, discontent, disappointment, frustration...but the promise of Solomon's song is real. The spiritual seasons change, just as surely as the physical ones do. Not as regularly or predictably, I admit, but change comes, nonetheless.

It's been a bit of a dark time for me. Has it been so for you? Watch with me for the signs of God's spiritual spring.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Gimme a Head With Hair

Squinting into the sun with my son, who so far has no grey hair. He broke the genetic string, apparently.

Here is the Rev Gals Friday Five Meme, courtesy of Songbird. Perhaps some "nitpicking at her house inspired the hair meme.

1) Do you like your hair?

Yep. Always have, except in the latter half of the 60s, when I ironed it. (Yes, we actually did that. Sheesh!)

2) Have you ever colored your hair? If not, would you consider it?

If you look at the previous post you will see a picture of my mother. See what lovely white hair she has? Eveyone in her side of the family was prematurely grey, which means WHITE in old age. My hair started sprouting grey in a noticable manner when I was still in high school. By my 20s it looked frosted, which was kinda cool, but then I started coloring it. My mom never did, and I have no memories of her withoug steel grey hair. She looked older than her years. So from mid twenties I colored my hair my original color, which was a very dark brown. Everyone on mom's side had dark hair and blue eyes....Irish roots? I used to resemble the younger Lisa Minnelli. I grew it out at age forty. It was a nice greyish silver color, but I looked 50. I colored it again right away! I stopped again about five years ago. The growing-out process was horrendous. I looked like a skunk, and then like a calico cat, but I persevered, and as you can see from my profile picture and these other ones, my hair is now silver. It took months!

I do look older with this silver hair, and I wish I had waited till becoming 60 to do the deed, but I am not going back now. It was too difficult to get through the growing-out process.

3) What's the longest you've ever worn your hair? The shortest?

Wore it to my waist as a child. I had thick, shiny dark hair and I was a bit vain about it. Usually it was in braids or poneytails. Shortest? Well, I am chagrined to recall this, but I once sported a very short, kinky Afro. I think it was about 1974.

4) When and what was your worst. haircut. ever?

When I decided I was sick of long hair my mom cut it. Big mistake.

5) Tell us a favorite song or scene from a book or movie dealing with hair.

Well, since the Cream reunion concert has me thinking of flower power (lol) I guess I'll have to say "HAIR" from the musical of the same name. That song cracks me up. Hence the title of this blog post.

Now here is a woman wiht great hair. This is my friend, Deacon Pat. She is a teacher but could have been a hair dresser. Almost every Sunday she hustles me into my office where she works a small miracle on my hair. I wish she could fix my hair every morning.

And my most recent picture. Since it is black and white, I can pretentd I'm a blonde too!
That was kind of a narcissistic post, wasn't it? Blame Songbird.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Could it be Alien Body Switching?

Here is my cute 89 year old mother with her new cat, Patches, a Christmas present from my husband.

Life is ironic.

My mother lives with us. She is basically a fundamentalist who loves TBN. She NEVER watches t.v. (except TBN and ice skating). She rarely listens to music other than hymns. She never reads a book that does not have a religious theme of some sort. She thinks all movies are questionable unless they are produced by Disney.

The other night I flipped on Public Television, sitting sleepily on the couch and waiting for my husband to come home and tell me to go to bed. Instead of anything "high brow" I found myself watching the reunion concert of Cream. Ah, those guys weren't as well known as the Beatles or the Beach Boys, but the sound of their music can sure transport a Baby Boomer right back to 1966 or so. If you go to the link and click on sound samples and listen a little, you will see what I mean.

I was never a Cream fan exactly, back in the day, but I listened to the guys, admiring their talent (especially Eric Clapton--wow!), considered how tired drumming like that for two hours would make one, pondered the fact that they all looked wrinkly and--well--old.

My mother came in and sat down silently. I waited for a comment like, "What awful noise. How can you listen to that?" Instead, after a few moments of watching the t.v. with a quizzical look on her face, she said, "What kind of music is that?" I replied, "Rock. Well, rock with blues and jazz overtones...but rock. Yes." "Rock? Really? Hmmm" my mother said.

A few minutes passed. I was on the couch kind of bobbing my head and thinking of riding to the beach in my sister's little red convertable on a sunny California day about 40 years ago, many pounds lighter, sans wrinkles or grey hair, full of anticipation for life. In the back seat were our bags with swimsuits, towels, coconut smelling suntan cream, a radio, and two meatball sandwiches. And I cranked up the radio to listen to Cream cranking out "Sunshine of Your Love." Amazing what music can do for my memory!

Meanwhile, my mother was over in the recliner, silent and still, alternately gazing at me and the television.

She eventually got up, and as she headed for her room she quietly said, "They're pretty good."


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Road to Hell....etc.

Yesterday I went to my primary physician for a long-overdue physical check up.

Doc: How are you, stranger?

Me: Well, mostly okay.

Doc: How are things at the church? Still pastoring in ________?

Me: Fine, and yes.

Doc: Have you scheduled a mammogram?

Me: Umm, no, but I'll call right away.

Doc: Have you been working out a few times a week?

Me: Umm, no, but I do have an exercise bike.

Doc: Are you eating several servings of fruit and vegetables a day and cutting down on red meat?

Me: Umm, yeah, sure. Well, sometimes.

Me (feeling sheepish): I had good intentions. Does that count?

Doc: (looking grumpy): Does it in YOUR business?

Me: Ouch.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday Musings

Genesis 3:18 "...For from dust you were formed, and to dust you shall return."

Isaiah 58:5-7 (The Message)"Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face ad parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, GOD, would like? "This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families."

I'm from a church tradition that usually does not celebrate Ash Wednesday, or for that matter, take much notice of the Lenten Season. Until about 10 years ago, I had no idea what this day was about, even though a large part of the church world celebrates it in some way.

I have vague memories of two neighbors, coming over to play one Wednesday after school. They both had smudges on their foreheads, and when I asked about it they rolled their eyes at my Protestant ignorance and said, "It's Ash Wednesday. Don't you know?" Well, no, I didn't. And I did not know how to respond to the follow up question, "What are you giving up for Lent? I'm giving up chewing gum!" The other was giving up chocolate. They could not explain why, except to say something about doing penance. My Baptist sensibilities recoiled at the very idea...and that was the end of the conversation. I expect they thought I was some sort of Protestant pagan, and as for me, I thought they were a weird pair of Pope worshippers. Ashes on the forehead? What next?

How sad for all of us. For my two friends, that they really had no idea of what the ashes meant, and for me, that I summarily wrote off all "ritual" as useless.

I admit that in my childhood Easter Sunday, with it's joyful celebration, seemed to spring out of nowhere. We seldom even had a Good Friday service, sad to say. That changed later in my church life when we relocated to the Midwest of the USA, which is basically Lutheran/Catholic country. Almost all churches "up north" do take notice of Good Friday, at least.

A few years ago I "celebrated" my first Ash Wednesday at the church of a friend. She pastors a neighboring Presbyterian congregation, and she joined with our Methodist clergywoman friend in a service of remembering--graciously allowing whoever of us Assemblies of God folk who wished to join them. I sat in the lovely old sanctuary, so different from my own, and I absorbed the peace of organ music and candlelight and ashes and prayer. It was significant. Last year they joined us here. I joked that we may have been one of the only AG congregations in the nation to have "the imposition of ashes" happening in our church.

This year we are not having a special service, but I will not let it go by unnoticed. I read the above scriptures this morning, and I've been thinking about the beginning of Lent. Tonight we will begin our usual Bible study with some silence and prayer and we will read together about the kind of "fast" that pleases God. Wow! The Message is kind of blunt, isn't it?

A Little Poem for Ash Wednesday.

"Take up your cross and follow me,"
I hear my Shepherd softly say,
And I, the sheep, with timid eyes,
I falter, I look, I stop and stay...

Dearest Master, don't you see,
How nice it is here in the grass?
How bright the sun, how sweet the flowers,
The peaceful water gleams like glass!

I'll follow where you lead me,
You know I trust you, Lord, I do,
But don't you want to stay here with me,
And the others...can't we, too...?

Can't we stay where life is calm,
In fragrant meadows, sweet and green?
Pastures of rest and plenty beckon,
Playing and sleeping, no trouble seen.

The Shepherd looks with at me with love,
"The valley ahead is where we'll go,
In the dark of grief and sorrow,
That is the place where you will grow."

My steps are slow, my heart is sad,
I don't want to...but I'll go,
To the valley of the shadow,
To that place we all must know.

For I know that he is with me,
Holding tightly to me there,
Dust we are, to dust returning,
I will follow, all the way.

After the cross of dying...dying...
In his glory I will share.
I will look to you, my Shepherd,
I will trust you, come what may.

If no grief there is no joy,
If no loss, no victory won.
After dying comes the living,
After darkness comes the dawn.

"For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
Saint Paul

I can't stop humming the hymn, "Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care..." And I know it's bad poetry, but the best I could do on a busy afternoon. ;-)

For a wonderful post on dying to self, see Hazlenut Reflcetions. Thank you Emily.