Monday, April 23, 2007

You're Soaking in It!

OK, this is totally going to date me, but, remember Madge, the manicurist from the Palmolive dish washing liquid commercials? ("It softens hands while you do the dishes!") She would give her unsuspecting customers the spiel about how this stuff was magic --- and then reveal: "You're soaking in it!"

These days, I feel like I'm soaking in it. Not Palmolive --- just life. It's crazy right now. And in times when my emotions are all over the map and just rich, for some reason, I think of that phrase: You're soaking in it!

I've taken a new call! Phew! I can finally say it now in this public spot. The 2.5 people who read this blog already know this, of course, but for ethical, professional reasons, I haven't been able to blog about this huge thing that's been going on in my life for the last several months. Hence the relative quietude.

In fact, as things heat up around here, I may be turning to this space more and more just to process stuff.

I am in the midst of saying good-byes and winding down at Westwood, a place that has been a great church home for our family for almost six years. The career part of it has been mixed - lots of transitions, and interesting staff stuff - but overall, good. It's the dear dear people and the gorgeous worship and beautiful architecture that I will miss so very much. The refrain I hear is: "We are sad for us, but happy for you and your family." I, too, am sad to leave Westwood, and I will miss this community a lot.

My new call is at Shepherd of the Valley, Apple Valley, and I am so thrilled. The pastors, staff and call committee have been phenominally welcoming, and the call process itself was just a wonder. By the final interview, I swear, there was some kind of Holy Ghost power electrifying the air in that meeting room. By the time I left there, I was certain that no matter what the call committee decided, it would be God's will, and I was happy with that. The amazing thing is, they called me before I even got home to offer me the opportunity to have my name recommended to the church council! The chairman had his phone on speaker, and when I replied "absolutely" to this opportunity, the committee erupted in cheers! So affirming, and entirely cool. I start there May 31.

And between now and then, we are getting our lovely Kingfield Bungalow ready to sell. If it weren't so clear on so many levels that this move to Apple Valley is meant to be, we would be having a lot harder time with all of these changes. We love the city. We've been very committed to having Micah enrolled at Windom. The Spanish Immersion program there has been so great for him, and it looks like we won't find that in AV, sadly. But! We are totally riding the positives of the Apple Valley move: closer to Eric's work, closer to his folks, great schools, the opportunity for us to live and work and school and worship all in the same community ...

But to get there, we will be selling our house, buying a new one, finding a nanny, adjusting to a new community ... even though it's only 30 minutes away, everything will be new, so it might as well be cross country in some respects.

Don't know how much I'll bore you 2 or 3 with the details of the house processes, but I do know entire blogs have been dedicated to this. We will be having >$15K worth of work done on the outside of the house. And we're flying brother Jon out for 6 days of painting and fixing stuff. Can't wait to see how it all turns out ... and I know the improvements are only going to make us love this place more. Sniff.

But - a whole brand new house? And job? And everything? Just amazing to consider.

We're soaking in it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Holy Week

It's the Tuesday after Easter, and I'm coming down with a cold, kind of like I always did after finals in college. 'Twas a wonderful week, though ...

On Palm Sunday, Micah got to march and wave palms at two services, not just one --- which, silly me, I thought he would love. Sometimes I forget that my eldest son is an extreme introvert with very distinct ideas about what is fun. The only way he got through the second go-round of palm waving was by looking forward to playing "Sponge Bob" on the computer in Mom's office afterwards. I am not above bribery. Plus, he'd already sung and sat very well through the earlier worship service.

During that first service on Palm Sunday, after the children had sung and paraded, I was at the lectern, reading the New Testament lesson from Philippians. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Micah sauntering towards me down the center aisle. As I continued to read, trying to act oblivious, he marched right up to the lectern and stood next to me. "Mom!" he whispered urgently as I read. "MOM!" (still whispering) ... fortunately by this time I was finished, and we were all responding "Thanks be to God." It's the first time in a while that either of the boys have charged the stage while I've been leading worship.

Maundy Thursday is one of my favorite services of the year. We didn't do the laying-on-of-hands absolution this year, though, which is something I always treasure receiving and giving. However, Jason led us through a ritual hand washing, which was very meaningful. Almost everyone present participated. Three pairs of people stood at stations with warm water scented with a bit of fragrant oil; as you approached, they reached for your hands, and washed them while reciting Jesus' command to 'love one another as I have loved you.' As an observer at the front of the sanctuary, it was so moving to see nearly everyone present submit to this ritual, and to see the smiles on their faces as they were cared for.

The stripping of the altar at the end of the service was accompanied by the reading of Psalm 88 by Brian Skellenger, a noted young actor in the Twin Cities. As he read, two families with young children carefully removed all of the paraments, and laid them on the pastors' outstretched arms. The children worked with such dignity and obvious pride. Finally they approached us and beckoned us to lean forward so they could remove our stoles. It was humbling and beautiful to have children perform this part of the service. Jason, Tania and I walked down the long center aisle in silence, bearing the liturgical garments.

On Good Friday, I preached at the noon service, which is one of the oddest times to preach, ever. See, the service follows right after a lovely meal we have for our seniors and home-bound folks, so they are all very full, and probably sleepy. Then, in our sanctuary it is REALLY bright; then, you have to remember that many of these folks won't be able to make it back for the Easter service, so you don't want to leave them with too much of a sock-in-the-gut Good Friday sermon ... Vewy, vewy weird. But it went OK, I guess.

For the evening, I wrote a service called "Sounds of Darkness" in which we broke up the passion story from the Gospel of John (apologies to the purists who think this is a bad idea). For each piece of the story, there was an accompanying sound effect, then silence, then a response. The responses included a couple of meditations, a drama, an anthem, and a few hymns. I found sound effects on the Internet, and we augmented some of them with live sounds. Overall it worked well.

For the first sound (after the description of the soldiers approaching to arrest Jesus), I found a recording of a military drill, where you could hear soldiers' marching feet, clanking of weapons, and a drill sergeant's voice barking out unintelligible orders. In my one-to-two minute meditation, I said that no weapon or army was as strong as God's love that came to us through Jesus' humbling of himself to death, and that in fact, God meets us right in the middle of that dark human impulse toward violence when he goes to the cross through Jesus. I then mentioned the 3,266 soldiers (as of that day) and tens of thousands of Iraqis who had died in the current war, because it is the military conflict most immediate in our consciousness these days. A gentleman who heard this responded with a letter stating that it was parochial of me to only mention the suffering related to the Iraq war, and not the suffering of millions of others in Sudan, Uganda, North Korea and elsewhere. I'm really not sure what his actual beef was, he also seemed to be critiquing my lack of background on the previous centuries of military rule in the ancient world. I need to contact him, but in the meantime, let me just say, when it comes to mentioning social issues in the pulpit, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

A few weeks ago, I preached on the Sunday closest to the 4th anniversary of the Iraq war. None of the pastors mentioned the war in preaching, prayers or announcements. We were soundly scolded for this neglect by a couple of parishioners. I guess I felt the weight of their criticism, and maybe I hoped to somehow right that ommission by mentioning the war in the context of Good Friday. And yet, at the same time, I don't think my mention of the way God meets us---even seeks us out---in the darkest places humans can create for themselves was an innappropriate thing to bring up on Good Friday, was it???

So. Then came Easter. Just glorious! At the largest service, we had over 900 folks there singing out their Alleluias! The moment I sat and just listened to that throng of voices is one I hope I never forget. Other high points of Easter: the installation of a beautiful liturgical art work, a canopy of Spring-colored cloths extending the length of the santuary, and all pointing to the large cross at the front. (I'll insert a picture soon.) and hundreds of flowering plants, and my own dear family in the second row, and four couples I've married in the last year or so showing up for the first time since their weddings ... a bright and lovely day.

After putting up my feet for a while in the afternoon, we gathered with the Sponheims at Don & Bev's. Good food and good company. I love when the cousins can spend some time together. Micah and Luke only have two, so we treasure them. Easter egg hunts, baskets, the requisite squabble over who got more or better goodies ... it's all part of the deal. And it is good.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The End of Winter

You can't really tell in this picture, that looks so barren, that life is bursting out everywhere. The bare branches are filled with birds, heralding the arrival of warmer weather. The lake is melting, turning bluer every moment, and scores of geese fly overhead, honking their way to the nearby lake that is already open. One morning, fog rose off the lake in a white, mystical layer, with the blue sky peeking through, and another layer of white, then blue ... captivating.
Green Lake, Spicer, MN; March 24, 2007
Underneath the frozen waves heaved up on the shore, you could hear water trickling, and once in a while a *pop* as ice cracked and gave way.

I spent last weekend with 70 women (every shape and size and color and age - 19 -80!) at our church's women's retreat. The wondrous Cathy Malotky was our speaker, and she led us in celebrating the fact that God had created us, with all of our lumps and bumps and so-called imperfections ... we prayed and laughed and worshiped and danced and drummed! It was soul-enriching, and exhausting and very very good.

Leading campfire with my buddy Kim

"For each child that's born, a morning star rises

and sings to the universe who we are"

Our elders blessed us