Monday, October 27, 2008

Sometimes It's That Simple

I fell into bed on Saturday night listening to the wind howl outside. It was chilly and the yard sounded restless. We both read in bed for some time before falling asleep, enjoying the silence inside that brought wild noises to our attention: cat fights and trees swaying. It sounded cold out there.

One of my favorite Garrison Keillor stories about Lake Wobegon marks this peculiar transition that happens when the weather gets cold in Minnesota. Suddenly we spend less time on our hair because it’s bound to be smushed by a hat or blown into a rat’s nest. We skimp on the make up because pale skin is too blatant to hide and deep freezes will leave snot-sicles you’ll have to wipe off anyway. In the cold of Minnesota, life is simplified to an animal instinct: we are either out there or in here.

When we’re out there we walk with our heads down into the wind, determined to get in here. And once we are in here, we’re just plain grateful. The little things don’t seem to bother us much because we are warm and safe, surviving and existing.

Last year I lived with my cousin, Haakon, and we listened to that story several times during the winter. He would crawl in his sleeping bag on the couch and I would bury my body in sweatpants, curled up in a chair with hot tea. We would relish the goodness of being in here. That Garrison Keillor story was on my mind on Sunday as the front doors flew open after church and people poured out into the sleet and mush. I was warm, standing in the narthex and draped with my alb. I was glad to be in here.

I drove out to camp for our Oktoberfest celebration, less than excited about being out there on the roads. The slush had everyone driving defensively and I was disappointed that a fall festival would send us inside. I parked and trudged up a hill, into the wind, to find the lodge. I squinted to see the lake blowing and leaves both turning and falling in all directions. How beautiful this place must be in all seasons - and how wonderful that I will be back find out!

I pulled open the door to the lodge and met the warmth. A table with hot cider and hot chocolate met me and kids ran by squealing. Families set up board games, people watched football, and children played ping pong in the basement. It was cozy in here, appreciated all the more by the journey out there. I fell into bed on Sunday night like I had the night before, listening for the wind and grateful for the winter to come and all the things it will simplify. It always does.

Image borrowed from

Friday, October 24, 2008


I found my way to the corner booth at Longfellow Grill during the lunch rush. I was surrounded by four other women, new to ministry in the Twin Cities and fellow students with me at Luther Seminary. We have been planning to come together for weeks now.

Soon we noticed that another group of pastors was sitting a few tables from us with two classmates we recognized and greeted. Later, two priests came in, wearing clerical shirts, and were greeted by our laughter and introductions. There we were, more than a dozen ministers sprinkled about the small restaurant, mixing Sunday with Thursday and saying grace over sweet potato fries.

We laughed and shared stories about being new to ministry and the worship blunders we’ve made thus far. We confided about anxieties and joys, pondered the economic crisis and its effects during stewardship season, and talked about the blurred line between Generation X and the Millennial Generation.

Instead of trying to find the official year in history this shifted, I suggested that there is a sociological barometer that makes plain a distinction to me. Years ago, parents had no patience for boredom. The moment the word fell from a child’s lips, the little one was scooted out the door, locked out, and expected to “make play” or “keep busy” outside, curing the boredom herself. Toys did not include instructions for how they were to be played with and kids created games with rules, systems, and props all their own.

Somewhere along the way, technology changed play and parents found (good) reasons to fear sending their kids out until the dinner bell rang. Now we hear, “I’m bored,” as though someone or something is supposed to come along and fix it – entertain and do the creating for them. I remember blocking off the street with orange cones and playing soccer or hockey until dark. I remember inventing imaginary adventure games that didn’t need batteries – or toys for that matter. Are those my age the end of an era?

The word entitlement came up several times, which then reminded me that I’m not above or beyond this Millennial Generation. I remember trying to talk my dad into giving me allowance “just because”, though I knew I hadn’t earned it that week. I remember wanting certain things and thinking I deserved them just because my friends had them.

Maybe I can’t be pigeon-holed into a generational definition and neither can you. Maybe each generation is made up all kinds of personalities, work ethics, parenting styles, learning methods, pros, and cons. I looked around the restaurant at strong and capable Christian leaders of all ages, using their unique gifts to partner with those who compliment and challenge them for the sake of God’s world. It made me want to say grace all over again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Saint Teresa

I share October 15 with Saint Teresa of Avila, my self-designated patron saint.

I love her because she was a sassy Spaniard born just as the Reformation was taking hold in Europe. She ran away from home to become a nun and, while sick later in life, started experiencing ecstasy and visions. Teresa was the first woman to be named a Doctor in the Church and dedicated her life to caring for the poor. Her bare feet were signs of service among those with no shoes. My saint’s writings are clever and sarcastic, often referencing her casual conversations with God the Creator and Jesus.

Her story has dark corners and strange twists, which continue to remind me that even the Church’s saints are children of a fallen humanity and entirely relatable. She never lived as though her faith confined her, but instead with great freedom and bold passion.

I knew nothing of Teresa until I spent a week at the hermitage in St. Francis, MN three years ago. Each cottage is named after a saint and the small table inside contains information about that life and service. I learned that her day on the church calendar is my birthday. I learned that she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind to God or wrestle with the strangeness of life in two kingdoms. I learned something about the patience she so often speaks of, being in silence and tranquility for 48 hours.

So I cannot help but think of her today – so many are celebrating her with the same fondness I do – and I’m honored to share today with a woman I so admire.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pumpkin Par-tay

Harvest time! I spent yesterday’s drizzly afternoon at the “pumpkin patch” in my neighborhood, a city garden shop just a few blocks away. We hoisted many onto the scale before choosing six for the wagon. They found a home in the trunk of my car until we could carve them at my parents’ house tonight.

The garage was draped in newspaper and pumpkin guts. We spent happy hour drinking beer and playfully competing as we carved each masterpiece. Matt and Bror used designs to create wolves howling at the moon and a crow in a tree. Spooky. Gabe free-handed a creepy face that reminded me of his toddler temper-tantrum stage. Cara took so much off the top from scooping it out that her little stem had to be worn to the side as a beret. Resourceful.

My dad’s pumpkin was finished within minutes and then he waited impatiently for us to finish so he could start the grill and dinner. The face he carved looked like the same face he carved on each annual pumpkin when I was little. Don’t mess with a good thing, I guess! Mom found candles and we lit them all up, admiring our work.

At dinner we talked fall: flannel sheets, crisp air, no more bugs, back to school, leaves changing, layers of fleece, and all our favorite things autumn. We all overate and Bror had to “have a lie down on the couch until things settled”. My birthday isn’t until tomorrow, but today is quite the present.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Faithful Fanfare

I was late to work this morning because I couldn’t stop watching the stock market yo-yo during breakfast. By the time I left the house, it had dipped 700 points from yesterday, “fully” recovered, and started wobbling in the red again. Barack Obama and George W. Bush had both given brief speeches addressing the crisis and a man with a clipboard had appraised our home before considering us for refinancing. Europe is also experiencing economic instability and Matt’s face dropped when he realized our honeymoon would have been much cheaper this month.

I need stronger coffee.

It is overcast with streaks of every gray in the sky and a light, restless wind pulls leaves from trees. Traffic is backed up everywhere because even detours have detours during this mad dash of fall road construction. The stained glass angel that hangs from my office window has no light to catch, but she plays her trumpet anyway.

But these things look different once I roll up my sleeves as Pastor. The stock market and clouds cannot doom away God’s abundant grace because the work I have today will not let me forget that my faith and true life exist beyond capitalism and democracy. Perhaps God has given me this pastoral vocation so my cynicism cannot overcome me!

I will spend this morning writing the prayers for Sunday’s service, remembering those less fortunate and praying for those who fear they deserve no prayers. I will create a children’s message that connects the little ones to their baptisms. I will knock on doors and tell people they are always welcome at God’s house. I will visit the sick and lonely, reminded that God comes to us when we are most vulnerable, afraid, and discouraged.

These overt and joyful chores God gives me are clear reminders that the Kingdom prevails and you have your reminders too. Who will the Holy Spirit nudge you to call or embrace today? Who will God send you to? Christ will be shared as you speak well of a coworker, wash children during bath time, or cook to feed your family.

The angel in my window was made by a 95 year old shepherd and farmer from Kansas. He remembers the Great Depression and hard times, but still he made her clothed in brilliant colors with the trumpet to her lips on sunny and cloudy days alike.

The forecast says the skies will clear this afternoon and I half wonder if it is her song that drives the gray away.