Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The green parrots of Uptown New Orleans

I understand there is a book, or a movie, or both, called "The Green Parrots of Telegraph Hill." I am here to tell you, there are green parrots in Uptown New Orleans. At least there were, B.K. I had thought they were some urban legend until I saw them myself, perched on the telephone wires above my street. My neighbor on the corner put a bird feeder in the tree beside the street, and they were always down there, feeding and making a raucous noise.

Some people told me they were parakeets -- in fact, I think it was someone from the Audubon Institute (which operates the zoo, the aquarium, and the Louisiana Nature Center). But I never saw parakeets this big, or this noisy. Where they came from I don't know: escaped from the zoo? from someone's home? stowed away on a ship from Central America, hidden among the bananas? I don't know. I just know that they like to stay high; you never see them on the ground or a low fence. So they don't have a lot of natural enemies and they DO multiply.

That was B.K. And people comment how, when they came back into the city A.K., how quiet it was. There were no birds. Did they flee the city too? Did they get swept away by the winds? Did these huge parrots get slammed into buildings and killed?

I will say this: A.K., the first birds that came back were the pigeons. Actually, I think they never left. I remember a CNN reporter in the hours before the storm noting the pigeons around the downtown area and wondering why they hadn't left. Well, pigeons roost under eaves. They probably found their safe spots out of the wind and hunkered down and rode it out. When I returned to the city, I could hear their soft cooing. Urban pigeons are tough old birds, and if you've ever tried to get rid of them, you know what I mean.

But the green parrots were gone. I never did find any dead parrots by the sides of buildings, so my theory -- that they were hurled into buildings by the winds -- didn't hold up. Perhaps they did leave. But where did they go? The winds out of the north would have blown them into the marshes of south Louisiana. They wouldn't have gone to the north anyway, because they are tropical birds. I mourned the colorful Uptown legends and figured we had seen the last of them.

Guess what? They're b-a-a-a-c-k! I thought I had heard their distinctive raucous squawks (there is nothing pretty about the sound a green parrot makes), but this morning I saw them for real. The cats were looking out the back screen door and I could hear something pinging on the roof of the garage. I went out to look, and there they were, in the Chinese tallow tree, feasting on the berries and scattering leaves and berries (and other stuff) all over the garage and ground. They are big, way bigger than any parakeet I ever saw in a cage. They are green on top and kind of whitish gray underneath. And they squawk.

They are probably a little miffed that the bird feeder my neighbor put up was a casualty of Katrina. Actually, the whole tree was a casualty of Katrina: it is all piled up on the curb, waiting for the last three months for someone to haul it away. I put a little bird feeder in the Japanese plum tree, but so far, not even the sparrows have shown any interest. I think they are waiting for the Japanese plums, which will be ripe in the spring (yes, it is December, and in New Orleans the Japanese plum trees are blooming) and are always a big hit with the local avian community, not to mention anyone who might be passing on the street and spot them.

So the green parrots of Uptown New Orleans, evacuees from the storm, are back. Where are the rest of you Orleanians? Shivering in some city Up Nawth? Hey, it's going to be 70 degrees here today. Y'awl come home.

Pastor Kathy

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A moving experience

I hate moving. I suppose just about everybody hates moving, unless they happen to be in the moving business. But I have been offline for the last ten days because I have been up to my eyeballs in packing boxes.

This move was a little different from most because I was moving into a house that was already furnished. With storage units just about nonexistent in New Orleans right now (and IF you can find one, the per-square-foot rental is more than an apartment; about $12 a square foot at one place I called), I decided to do the time-honored practice of converting the garage into a storage unit. Nice idea, except after a heavy rain I discovered that water gets into the garage, especially in the ruts created by eighty odd years of parking cars in the one-car garage (the concrete has long been broken all over the place). So I managed to locate three wooden pallets to put stuff on, which helped. Did I mention the garage also has no doors? So I ended up nailing a 12 x 9 tarp (purchased on my last trip to Atlanta, because most of the tarps in New Orleans are already on roofs) across the opening to keep the rain out (secured at the bottom with bricks). This won't stop a thief, of course, but it beats the heck out of paying $240 a month for that amount of space in a storage unit.

So...stuff had to get moved out of my grandmother's house into the garage to make way for the new stuff coming in from the country house. And some of the stuff from the country house ended up in the garage (I am saving it for a friend who lost her stuff in the flood). And this week all the stuff of two houses and several people's lifetimes ended up crammed into one house. It's a little cramped right now. And you should have seen all the stuff that got thrown out before the move.

There was stuff that was my grandfather's, my grandmother's, my uncle's, my mother's, two second cousins', and mine. If I get to see my ancestors in the afterlife, I am going to catch hell from them for throwing out their stuff. One of my neighbors came by and picked a lot of old photos out of the trash pile. She was astonished that I was throwing them away. But they weren't identified and I didn't know who they were, and I have several hundred that didn't go on the trash pile. My neighbor said she would make collages out of them. I feel a little better.

The day after I moved out of the country house, we signed the papers for its sale. The new owners had been flooded out of their home in St. Bernard Parish and had been living in the Midwest since the storm. They had found the house on the Internet. Even as we signed the papers, they had yet to be inside the house. That's pretty scary. I apologized for all the dead bugs that showed up against the walls when we moved the furniture out -- I didn't have time to vacuum -- but hey, at least they were dead. (I did remove the partly eaten, very dried out dead lizard that my hunting cat managed to push under the stereo cabinet.)

I hope the new owners enjoy living in the country house. It was a place of refuge for me after the storm, and I hope it will be a place of refuge for them. I hope they let the grass grow in the back yard in the spring so they can see the wildflowers. I wish them all the best as they try to rebuild their lives. It won't be St. Bernard Parish, but I hope it will be home for them.

Back to Cattown, U.S.A.:
The cats were locked in their cat carriers in the dining room as the movers carried furniture and boxes around. When everyone had left and it was quiet again, I let them out. They recognized "their" furniture pretty quickly. Their sofa, their chair, their bed, their porch furniture! They forgave me for locking them up and settled in for their late afternoon naps.

And now it's Christmas Eve, and I'm off to a small town across the lake for a preaching gig. I will sub for another minister for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning services, so he and his wife can visit relatives out of town. Time to take a deep breath and get back to being Pastor Kathy again.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

On leaving

I am packing up my country house outside the small town where I served a church for the last several years. We have a buyer and are scheduled to close next week. I no longer have a church, the horse has gone to Georgia, and there is really nothing left for me in the small town except this country house. I really enjoyed living here. But it is time to go.

Each day I drive up from the city and clean up and pack up. This week it has been sunny and the afternoons have been warm. I can still sit out on the back porch and look out over the grassy pasture and eat lunch. No wildflowers this time of year! The grass is neatly cut and, while still green, isn't growing. The vegetable garden that produced such a bounty of tomatoes and squash in the early summer is now overgrown with tall weeds, killed by a light frost a few weeks ago. A good round with the tiller, and the garden will be ready to go again. I hope the new owners will plant a garden here. I will really miss it.

In the evenings as I pack up to go, the stars are bright in a black sky. The moon is waxing and will be full in a few days. Venus is huge in the west these days. You can almost tell it is a planet and not a star. Mars is yellowish red, high in the east in the early evening. Orion's belt also rises in the east. I'm not sure about the other constellations. But I won't get to see this vivid display when I go back to the city. The houses are too close together, and yes, we do have streetlights again -- at least in my neighborhood, and I am NOT complaining about having them.

I will miss my quiet mornings sitting on the porch at daybreak with my coffee, surrounded by the cats. I will miss the sun streaming in the kitchen window and the Knockout rose I planted in the bed outside the window (recommended by my friend the Consulting Rosarian with the American Rose Society). I hauled it home from a nursery in Georgia a few springs ago, when I got sick on the road and spent a weekend holed up in a hotel room feeling too bad even to go outside. Not too many hotel rooms have their very own potted rose bush by the sliding glass door! My friend the consulting rosarian says to get another Knockout rose for my yard in New Orleans. Thanks, I think I will. P.S., the rose is blooming right now, in mid-December, in South Louisiana.

I hate moving. But I don't know anyone who admits to liking it. I will be glad when this is over.

Pastor Kathy

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Proud to call it home

Back in the 1990s, when the murder rate was about one a day and the economy was in the tank, there was a bumper sticker campaign to boost pride in New Orleans. I have no idea who started the campaign or where people got the bumper stickers, but they proclaimed in black and purple letters on a white background:

New Orleans:
Proud to call it home.

You still see the bumper stickers around. Over the years, some variations have cropped up. There's a French version:

La Nouvelle Orleans:
C'est chez moi.

A Spanish version, the words of which escape me.

A Yiddish version:

New Orleans:
Oy! Such a home!

And my personal favorite,

New Orleans:
Proud to crawl home.

(Note to Fatlanta readers: this has nothing to do with driving on I-285.)

This past week I saw a new one:

New Orleans:
Proud to swim home.

I am still proud to call it home, dammit, in spite of everything. I don't know if the city is going to make it or not, economically, at this point. I have too many friends who have decided not to come back, or who have come back and packed up and left. But I do think the city is worth saving, President Bush and Congress please note. We are Americans too, in case you have forgotten.

The lights are on in City Park for Celebration in the Oaks, a Christmas display of lights in the grand old live oaks that survived the storm. I haven't been there yet for the walking tour, but I plan to go. It's not as big as in years past, but the simple fact that a section of the park has been cleared of debris so the celebration can be held is a tribute to the can-do spirit that is present here in the city in these days. If only we could get the lights on in those darkened neighborhoods. It will happen...but it needs to happen very soon or we will lose too many people.

Mark your calendars. February 28 is Mardi Gras. It's going to be very special this year. Hope you can come. As for me, I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Pastor Kathy

Thursday, December 08, 2005


They used to call it Hotlanta. Maybe still do. I know that .38 Special had a song by that name some years back. After five days in metro Atlanta, during which I put about 400 miles on my car, I have another name for it: Fatlanta. When I first moved there in the 1970s, the metro area was five counties. Last time I checked, it was 15. Could be more by now, for all I know. I can tell people I moved my horse to "Atlanta," but actually he is two counties north of Atlanta, in a rural area at the edge of the mountains. And that "rural" area is crammed with new subdivisions, shopping centers, and traffic, traffic, traffic.

Georgia Highway 20 (not to be confused with Interstate 20) is a two-lane, rural highway that snakes its way along a curving and hilly path east to west across the north metro area, probably 25 miles or so north of I-285, the infamous Perimeter around the city. I discovered, as I tried to get to my horse's new home after dark on Friday night, that 18-wheelers are using Ga. 20 as a bypass to get from I-85 to I-75. When I left Fatlanta for south Louisiana in 2000, there was talk of building a new highway, to be called the "Outer Perimeter," about 20 miles outside of I-285. The last I heard, the feds were balking at providing funding because Fatlanta couldn't meet air quality standards because it had too many cars and too many roads already. The federal government was willing to fund bike trails, but not another interstate.

Bike trails! Well, that's nice. But you can't bike your way across a 15-county metro area as an alternate form of transportation to a car. Not even public transit works well with that kind of sprawl. So we have 18-wheelers creating their own outer perimeter on a two-lane state highway. I don't know what the current status is on the Proposed Outer Perimeter (although I am sure I could find out with a Google search), but I do know that as of right now, it's not built.

And then I talked with a friend who now lives in southern California, and he told me his commute to work was 60 miles one way. (He rides in a van pool.) Okay, maybe Fatlanta isn't quite that big -- yet. But there's a reason they stopped calling it New York of the South and started calling it L.A. of the South.

My friends hope I will move back to Fatlanta. Frankly, it makes sense. There are jobs there. The economy is doing well. You can buy all sorts of exotic things in the supermarkets. (I still can't get over the display in one store that dispenses, oh, half a dozen or more different flavors of Jelly Belly jelly beans. Coffee dispensers, yeah, we have them in New Orleans. And B.K., we had grain dispensers in Whole Foods, where you could buy bulgar wheat and golden flaxseed and all sorts of things in bulk. A.K., well, Whole Foods is taking orders over the phone for pickup, but the stores are still closed.)

But New Orleans is my home. And that's a powerful reason to stay.

More on that later.

Pastor Kathy

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A.K.: Cinder goes home

A.K., After Katrina. I have a horse named Cinder. He has been my best buddy for the last 19 years. Now age 29, he has survived two colic surgeries, four episodes of founder, and three hurricanes. Some things I can't protect him from, but I can get him out of hurricane country. Up until four years ago, Cinder had spent his whole life (as far as I know) in northern Georgia. And so, two days ago he left Louisiana to return home to Georgia, where he has a new home in an equine retirement community at the edge of the north Georgia mountains, with four other horses and a 50-year-old pony for companions. (No, I had no idea a pony could live that long either!) I'm not sure Cinder is ready for the old folks' home quite yet. As I prepared him for the seven-hour trailer ride, I tried to put shipping boots on his legs (padded wraps with Velcro fasteners to protect his legs while he was on the trailer). I got them on his front legs, but when I tried to do his back legs, he decided to object. He took off and ran up and down the pasture, and the wraps on his front legs started to slip down toward his feet. If he tripped on them, he could easily fall and break a leg -- or his neck. Finally I was able to persuade him with a carrot to stop. He blew clouds of frosty breath into the morning air -- that was the most running he had done in a LONG time -- and we came to a compromise. I took the shipping boots off, but he had to go on the trailer anyway. If he can still run like that at age 29, well, maybe I could even think about riding him again. I haven't riddden him in four years, not since before he moved to Georgia. Hmmm. Apologies for this long paragraph, dear blog readers, but sometimes the blog creator won't let me make new paragraphs, and this is one of those times.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

B.K. and A.K., part 2

A little over a year ago, I had a delightful week's vacation in my favorite vacation city, San Francisco. I rode the California Street cable car from my hotel down to the Embarcadero. I toured the new shops in the Ferry Building. I rode the "new" streetcar line down to Fisherman's
Wharf, chuckling all the time about those new-fangled ideas the people in San Francisco had come up with (I live a block and a half from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line in New Orleans). I toured Fisherman's Wharf. I looked at all the wonderful posters of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Aiplane and Janis Joplin concerts at the Hard Rock Cafe. I rode the ferry to Sausalito. I ruined my pledge to eat healthy when I hit the chocolate shop at Ghirardelli Square. I took a winery tour up to Napa and Sonoma. I shopped till I dropped at Union Square. I had a wonderful dinner with my friends Michael and Eydie Robertson. (It was through reading Michael's blog on blogpot.com that I started my own.)

And by the end of the week, I realized that what I really wanted to do was to be a tourist in my own home town. Every tourist attraction in San Francisco I compared to what we had available in New Orleans, and I was really pleased to see that New Orleans could hold its own in the world tourist market for classy attractions. And so when I left the small-town church this past summer to come back home to New Orleans, I made a vow that I would play tourist at home.

The first week in August, I went with some friends to an event called White Linen Night. On the first Saturday evening in August, an area of town where my family once owned warehouses is now known as the Arts District (or the Warehouse District). The old warehouses have been converted into trendy apartments (quickly going condo), art galleries, a children's museum (in a building my mother once owned), restaurants and shops. On White Linen Night, people dress up in white (linen if possible) and cruise the galleries.

My friends and I rode the streetcar from my house. We wandered around the galleries, toured a glass-blowing factory, ran into friends, and ended up having dinner at the Riverwalk Mall, where you can get redfish courtbouillon in the food court (not your typical mall food court) and a glass of wine and sit outside on the deck overlooking the Mississippi River at dusk and watch the lights come up.

We rode home after dark on the streetcar. It started to rain. The wind blew the cool rain in the open windows at the back of the car (until the conductor walked down and shut them, darn it). Steam rose from the pavements. It was the most romantic scene I had encountered outside of the movies in a long time.

And that was B.K., before Katrina. Three months A.K., the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line is still a jumble of downed poles and power lines. The streetcars, housed in the old car barn off Carrollton Avenue near the river, survived. But the new Canal Street cars, all 24 of them, were housed in an area that flooded and were ruined, to the tune of $1 million a car. Darn, I had planned B.K. to take a ride on them when the weather got cooler.

And I had also planned, B.K., when the weather got cooler, to visit the Aquarium of the Americas, where I had a membership. The aquarium lost all its animals, except for a sea turtle and a couple of others, when the generators supplying oxygen to the tanks ran out of fuel. The Audubon Zoo only lost a couple of animals. The zoo reopened last week, and I was there. The heroic folks stayed with the animals throughout the storm and in the days after. And the cleanup crew that got all the downed branches from the live oaks cleaned up did a remarkable job.

I also had planned, B.K., to take one of those Gray Line tours of the Garden District. I used to see the tour buses, and I would see people lined up outside Anne Rice's (former) house, and I thought this is something I would like to do, (again) when the weather got cooler.

Well, the weather is now cooler (thank God!), but it's now A.K. and everything is different. I have no idea when the St. Charles Avenue streetcars will be running again. And I don't know if they will replace the Canal Street cars. How sad, because the new line had been open less than a year, if I recall. But the Aquarium of the Americas will reopen one of these days, and I dare say the Gray Line tours will be back.

And I can't WAIT for Mardi Gras!

Brace yourself, San Francisco. New Orleans is coming back.

Pastor Kathy

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

B.K. and A.K.

If you haven't looked at my blog for awhile, you may be surprised to see it has a new name. Yes, it is still Pastor Kathy's blog, but Pastor Kathy has been through some changes since her last post in June.

For one thing, in July I left the small-town church I had served for more than four years. It was not a happy departure. I have learned in the last few months that there are a lot of ministers out there whose first pastorate out of seminary was, shall we say, difficult. It's a complicated topic and one I don't plan to deal with in this blog. Suffice it to say I learned a lot from the experience, both good and bad.

So, I was boogeying along, looking for another church, starting to wrap up my business in the small town. The ecclesial authorities told me to go take this week-long class to be qualified to work as an interim minister -- the one who serves a church while they are looking for a new "permanent" minister. And that's what I was doing when life as we knew it in my part of the world ended forever.

When I left New Orleans on a hot, sunny Friday morning at the end of August, a TV news truck passed me on the interstate. I figured they were on their way to Florida to cover this hurricane that had just crossed south Florida as a category 1 and was expected to make another landfall around Apalachicola as a category 2. And that was my last thought about it until the next morning, in Atlanta, when someone called me and asked what I was doing about the hurricane.

WHAT hurricane? And suddenly this minor storm cutting across south Florida was a category 5 hurricane headed right for New Orleans. And my cats were locked up in my house, expecting someone to come over and feed them twice a day until I got back.

There was no turning around and going home. The interstates had all been redirected to head out of town. There were a couple of two-lane highways still open into the city, but where was I going to find gas? I almost did go home. I thought seriously about filling a bunch of five-gallon gas cans, putting them in the back of my SUV, and going home for the cats, probably asphyxiating myself in the process. Over the next several days, I wished over and over again that I had. But instead I went on to my conference in North Carolina and stayed there for the most horrible week of my life, not knowing what was going on at my home. Was there water up to the roof? Did the whole block burn to the ground? Did the looters break in and trash the house and kill my cats?

The short answer is "No." And ten days after the storm, I was able to slip into the closed city and rescue my felines. Sadly, a lot of people did have water up to their roofs, and some did have their homes burn to the ground. The looters for the most part were breaking into commercial establishments, not into private homes. (And if you think this would never have happened in your town, I beg to differ. What happened in New Orleans is what would happen anywhere if you were actually able to cut off the supply of illegal substances coming into the community. When the substance abusers ran out of substances, they went nuts. And they didn't get those automatic weapons in Wal-Mart. They already had them.)

So, life for me -- and for all of us affected by the storm -- is now divided into two time periods: Before Katrina and After Katrina, B.K. and A.K. for short. We have all been changed forever by this experience. Whatever our plans were B.K., they're different now. Our priorities, too.

So this blog, formerly known as A View from the Other Side of the Hill, is now The Daily Cattown News, in honor of my first journalistic effort when I was eight years old. I have left the small town of my first parish ministry to live in the Uptown New Orleans house that once was my grandmother's. At the moment I don't have a job. God will provide, in God's own time. My next job may be another parish in ministry, or it may be something else. In the meantime, I am back at the kitchen table, writing. And preaching from time to time. And ministering to folks whose lives, like mine, have been changed forever. Stay tuned.

Pastor Kathy

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Circle D Revisited

I was a child in the era of the great television Westerns. I watched them all. "Bat Masterson," starring Gene Barry, was my favorite. I would also get up at 6:30 on Saturday mornings to watch the Roy Rogers show. To be honest, I probably watched them because I was horse crazy, and Westerns were pretty much the only place on tv you could see horses. But I digress.

Somewhere in there as I learned Western lore, I learned about brands and how they branded horses and cattle. (Today they use microchips under the skin -- my horse has one -- but I am digressing again, bad habit.) And somewhere in learning about brands, I created one for my imaginary ranch. I called my ranch the Circle D. I have no idea why D and not A, B, C, or something else. But it was the Circle D. And being a creative child, I made up a song to go along with it. It used all of seven white notes on the piano. "Circle D (D, D), Circle D (D, D), it's the best ranch in the land." Well, I was six or seven years old, and I was no Mozart.

My mother's brother, however, WAS a musician. And his last name started with D. Whether he thought I came up with the Circle D as homage to my maternal family or what, I don't know. But he composed a grand piece of music to my Circle D melody. It was awesome.

My Circle D imaginary ranch went by the wayside as I grew up. I hadn't thought about it in years. But then we bought this material at church for Vacation Bible School, and the theme is the Circle G Ranch: "Where God is at the center and the love never ends." I admit it was a while before I made the connection between the Circle G and my old Circle D, but there it is. The Circle G Ranch, like mine, has its own theme song, something about "There's a place for you at the Circle G ranch." Much more inclusive than my song, which I have to admit was somewhat more grandiose in its theme.

As I write this, I am not sure what is going to happen to our Vacation Bible School. We haven't had a lot of registrations come in so far -- the opening session is two weeks from today -- and I don't know if we will have to cancel it or not. (More on that in another blog.) If push comes to shove, we will have "Vacation Bible School" in the worship service that Sunday (it's my one chance every year to sneak in a little contemporary worship) and use the material that way. I hope we get to do the whole program we have planned. It looks like so much fun.

Circle D. My musical uncle recorded the Bat Masterson theme for me off the television, circa 1958, on a reel-to-reel tape recorder and had a 78 rpm record made of it. I still have it. In fact, I sent my old turntable to a company on Long Island for repairs some years ago just so I could play the 78s I still have (they don't make many turntables any more, and the ones they do make only have 33 and 45 speeds). I should hook up the turntable and play my Bat Masterson theme song, just for old time's sake. This in an era of MP3s and iPods and all-digital music. Yeah, yeah. In this age, it's as big a challenge to get the old technology to work as it is to get the new technology to work. And that, too, is a subject for another blog.

Pastor Kathy

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Wait a minute...

My denomination is struggling, as are many mainline Protestant churches. Somewhere along the way, probably back in the 1960s, we lost touch with the people in the pews. The ones who are still there are dying out, and the young ones just aren't coming in the way we wish they would. There are all sorts of theories about how-come-we're-declining, but the bottom line is, we are. Some individual churches in my denomination are growing, particularly in areas of the country that are growing. But the sad truth is, many of them are small and getting smaller every year as the older members die. They struggle and they seek ways to grow, but it's an uphill battle. Meantime, new churches start up -- many of them not in denominations at all. And we mainliners watch them (with envy) and try to figure out what they are doing right and try to copy them. (Sorry, for some reason the program is not letting me make paragraph indents today, so this blog is going to be one long paragraph.) I serve on a committee of my regional body that is trying to "re-form" in light of new realities, and we have been reading, reading, reading. One of the church consultants (yes, the church has management consultants just like secular businesses do) we read insisted that the purpose of the church is to grow numerically. Period. He cites Matthew 28:18-20, "Go therefore and make disciples" -- it's known in church circles as the Great Commission. Yes, grow. Growth is good. But then this consultant goes on to trash ministers who do anything else but work at growing their churches numerically, and I have a problem with that. He refers to ministers who like to visit people in hospitals and nursing homes, etc., as "enablers." He quotes one of the ministers who read his advice as saying, "Oh, thank God! I no longer have to feel guilty because I don't like to do those nursing home visits." Whoa! Wait a minute! This consultant needs to keep reading his Bible to see what Jesus had to say about feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and those in prison, clothing the naked and so on. Growth is good, but growth without a purpose isn't. Termites and cockroaches grow numerically, too. OK, I am sure God has a purpose for them, but he has yet to reveal it to me. Anyway, if that consultant is going to call the ministers who are pastors "enablers," then I have a name for his idea of "evangelists," too: sales managers. Sorry. Just a rant.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The end, again?

I got into this blogging business last year after a conversation with my friend Michael Robertson in San Francisco. I had dinner with him and his wonderful wife while I was out there on vacation, and he told me about this blog he had started as part of a project he was working on while on sabbatical from his teaching position at the University of San Francisco. I started reading his blog and decided to give it a try myself. And here I am.

Michael's blog went through about three iterations, if I recall, changing its name and its focus (the identity-crisis thing). Finally it emerged under the title of "Darwin's Cat," which sort of echoes Pavlov's Dog, but I am not sure the blog ever had anything to do with cats, and as a cat person, I can tell you that cats do not salivate unless they are about to throw up. But I digress.

At any rate, after a year of writing his blog, Michael has given it up. I guess it was a project with a finite life and that life is now complete (I think it was originally intended to be research for a book on writing newspaper columns, but Michael quickly learned that a blog is not a newspaper column but its own animal entirely.)

But doggone it, what poor timing! Look at all the endings I have had to deal with in the space of one month!

May 13: Star Trek ends, after a 17-year continuous run on television
May 19: Star Wars ends, after a 28-year run since the first movie came out
May 30: Darwin's Cat ends, after a year's run.

Now what am I supposed to do for entertainment???

It is going to be a long, long summer...

So I guess I will have to start writing more often in this blog, for my own entertainment if nothing else. Sheesh.

As we say in the church, I am sure God's hand is in this somewhere.

Pastor Kathy

Friday, June 03, 2005

Are you still here?

That's a line from the television series Babylon 5. The Centauri ambassador, Londo Mollari, asks his aide Vir, "Are you still here?" It's more in the sense of "Haven't you left yet?" although, if I recall, he asks him this in more than one episode, and later in the series it's more like "So you haven't deserted me like everyone else has." At least it seemed so to me.

At any rate...I notice I haven't posted here since, gulp, April 4. Any readers of this blog would think I had abandoned it. Frankly, I was starting to wonder myself. Maybe I need to re-think what I am writing and how and when. My posts were turning into sermons. It's tough enough to write one sermon a week, but one a day is way too much.

So, maybe this blog will take a turn and be more about life on the other side of the hill rather than pontifications from a preacher who sometimes takes this whole business of ministry way too seriously. And maybe the entries will be more frequent and a little bit shorter. Maybe.

Life on the other side of the hill: I notice that sometimes I will mis-read something and on a second reading discover that I was only a letter or two off the mark, but what a difference a letter or two makes. Yes, thank you, I do wear glasses, and yes, I have had my eyes checked recently. Chalk it up to reading without paying particularly close attention. Or being on the other side of the hill.

Anyway, yesterday as I was sitting at a traffic light, I noticed that the car in front of me had something written on the license plate holder. "Born broken," it said. Wow, what a powerful theological statement. In the Christian understanding of original sin, we are all born broken. We're not perfect coming out of the womb, only to screw up our lives as we grow up. At least not in my Calvinist upbringing. No, we are born broken and sinful and in need of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, because we are never going to be perfect in God's eyes, but through Christ we are forgiven.

Born broken. What a wonderful confession to put on the back of one's car. Truly this must be a humble person, someone who acknowledges God as the ultimate healer of our brokenness.

And then I looked again and realized that the B was really an H. "Horn broken," it said, and added below, "Watch for finger."

As Roseanne Rosanna-Danna would have said, "NEV-er mind."

Monday, April 04, 2005

One person's weed is another person's wildflower

April is high spring in South Louisiana. Apologies to those of you who live in the frozen North and won't see spring for another month. (I went to school in the frozen North and well remember seeing a six-inch snowfall in April. The horror, the horror.)

In the frozen North people look forward to spring because they are so sick of winter. In South Louisiana we enjoy spring while we've got it, because things are about to get pretty awful. By May the lovebugs will be here (they have two seasons, May and mid-August through cool weather, and in the late summer they cover the air like clouds; you can't believe what it's like until you've lived through it), not to mention the mosquitoes (which never completely go away), the gnats, and the big black grashoppers the size of locomotives. And the heat and humidity, which go on until mid-October. And then there's hurricane season.

So we love spring while we've got it. And now that I live in the country, I really appreciate it. I live down a country road on three acres. I'm only ten minutes from my church, four miles, but some of my parishioners think I live WAY far away. Oh well.

Life in the country is a huge change for a city girl like me. I still don't understand much about my well or my septic system, except that when the power goes out, I don't have any water. Don't know much about that big silver gas tank in the side yard either, except that you have to be very careful when you lift the lid to read the gauge, because wasps like to nest under there. (Oh, yeah, I left off my list of favorite insects the wasps and the fire ants. I know God put them on the earth for a reason, but God has yet to reveal that reason to me. Maybe to keep me humble.) I do have some of the big-city conveniences like electricity, phone service, Internet access and cable TV. Good thing. I don't think I'd survive without cable and amazon.com.

At any rate...this city girl knows better than to try to keep three acres mowed by herself. I hire someone with a tractor to cut it for me. Last spring was so rainy that I couldn't get the yard cut until it dried out a bit. (We are on the edge of the swamp, too, which doesn't help matters any.) And so last year I discovered, when I couldn't get the yard cut until mid-April, that it would turn into a wildflower meadow in the spring.

Now, I don't really know the names of the flowers. There are little yellow daisy-looking flowers and white sort-of daisy looking flowers with yellow centers, only not big enough to be daisies. And there are some lovely bell-shaped blue flowers, mostly growing in the ditches on the sides of the road. And these wonderful spiky plants I wanted to call wild artichokes, but I found out they are called thistles. Nasty, stay-away-from-me jagged leaves, but the most beautiful cream-and-purple flowers (that look a little like artichokes) that, I discovered the other day, must be scented or sweet because they are full of bees and what look like chinch bugs that fly up in your face when you get too close to the flowers. So the wild artichokes/thistles are best viewed from a distance.

All my neighbors are cutting their yards. I hear tractors and riding lawnmowers all weekend long. It's a drier spring than last year. But I haven't called my yard man yet. Whenever I look out at my back yard full of wildflowers, I am loathe to see them cut down. I am sure my neighbors think I am nuts. (Wouldn't be the first time. For seven years during the 1990s, I had two red Camaros sitting side by side in my garage, and I considered it a mark of how nuts my neighbors must have thought I was, because none of them ever asked me about them.) Where I see beautiful wildflowers, my neighbors in the country just see weeds run amuck: they probably think I should have cut them down before they bloomed and started spreading seed pods everywhere.

But I am going to enjoy my wildflower meadow for another week or so. People pay money to travel to see fields like this in the springtime. I have it right out back of my screened porch. If this is life in the country, I'm going to enjoy it for a little while.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

More on Journeys

After I wrote that last entry, it struck me as a huge theological leap (if nothing else!) to go from Jesus' journey into Jerusalem to my own spiritual journey in, of all things, a red Camaro convertible. I apologize for any flights of fancy there.

But -- all of us are on some kind of journey through life. We get from here to there as best we can, and sometimes along the way (maybe) we stop to reflect on the meaning of it all.

Little Red was my way of affirming life in the midst of a series of misfortunes. I don't know why, but in my own life misfortunes seem to come in waves, sometimes lasting for a year or more. During my first year in seminary, I lost five loved ones. After the fifth death, I went to the place that I go when I need to be renewed -- a favorite beach on the Gulf Coast. I sat on the beach and said, "God, I am tired of starting over." When one experiences a loss, there is grief (with its many aspects), and then there is getting up and going on -- starting new relationships, having new experiences. And after those five deaths, getting up and going on was getting old.

But the next day I went out, and in my travels I found a vision for a new experience. As it turned out, I never acted on that particular vision. But for the immediate future, it gave me hope for something positive in the future, which was what I needed. Sort of like the red Camaro.

Today is Tuesday of Holy Week. Jesus came into Jerusalem either on Sunday or Monday, depending on whether you read Mark or Matthew. In any case, they both agree that he had a lot of work to do before he came to the upper room on that last night. That's something to remember, at any rate. Robert Frost, in writing about a journey, said he had "miles to go before I sleep." Miles to go and much to do.

More on Journeys

After I wrote that last entry, it struck me as a huge theological leap (if nothing else!) to go from Jesus' journey into Jerusalem to my own spiritual journey in, of all things, a red Camaro convertible. I apologize for any flights of fancy there.

But -- all of us are on some kind of journey through life. We get from here to there as best we can, and sometimes along the way (maybe) we stop to reflect on the meaning of it all.

Little Red was my way of affirming life in the midst of a series of misfortunes. I don't know why, but in my own life misfortunes seem to come in waves, sometimes lasting for a year or more. During my first year in seminary, I lost five loved ones. After the fifth death, I went to the place that I go when I need to be renewed -- a favorite beach on the Gulf Coast. I sat on the beach and said, "God, I am tired of starting over." When one experiences a loss, there is grief (with its many aspects), and then there is getting up and going on -- starting new relationships, having new experiences. And after those five deaths, getting up and going on was getting old.

But the next day I went out, and in my travels I found a vision for a new experience. As it turned out, I never acted on that particular vision. But for the immediate future, it gave me hope for something positive in the future, which was what I needed. Sort of like the red Camaro.

Today is Tuesday of Holy Week. Jesus came into Jerusalem either on Sunday or Monday, depending on whether you read Mark or Matthew. In any case, they both agree that he had a lot of work to do before he came to the upper room on that last night. That's something to remember, at any rate. Robert Frost, in writing about a journey, said he had "miles to go before I sleep." Miles to go and much to do.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


Back again to the blog after a few weeks' absence. As Londo said to Vir in Babylon 5, "Are you still here?" Oh well, you'd have to be a B5 fan to appreciate the nuances. Yes, I am still here. Still pastoring in my small-town church, still posting on the Internet.

In church-time, today is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. This morning I was talking about journeys. Life journeys, physical and spiritual. Jesus' journey began in Bethlehem and ended on a hillside outside Jerusalem. I would posit that Jesus knew his journey was going to end in Jerusalem. The different gospels each put a different accent on it, but I see Jesus as moving around from place to place, one step ahead of the people who wanted to do him in because he was stirring things up and if he wasn't stopped, he just might cause a revolution and then the Romans would slaughter everyone to put a stop to it. Jesus would preach in a place for awhile, then things would get too hot and he would move on to another town. All the while, he was kind of dancing around Jerusalem. He knew he had to go there, for the final showdown with his enemies. And he knew that Jerusalem was their city, and they held all the power there, and in the end they were going to kill him. But he had to go there. In the end, he just couldn't put it off any longer.

Jesus was on a journey. And so are all of us. Our journeys may take us to some strange places, both physical and spiritual. There will be times when we will wonder how in the world we got where we are, when our original intention was to be...somewhere else.

I've been thinking about my own journeys this week. When I was forty, a lot of stuff happened in my life. I went through a very dark time for awhile. In the space of a few weeks in the late summer and early fall, a whole bunch of things happened. I had a friend, age fifty, who was undergoing treatment for cancer, and the chemotherapy had put her in the hospital with a serious infection; we didn't know if she would live or not. I lost another good friend to cancer around that same time; he was forty-five. He was the one who first suggested that I consider going into ministry.

But I wasn't in ministry at that time. I had a writing and editing business, and I was struggling to keep my head above water financially. (Don't ever start a writing and editing business unless you have a spouse who has a fulltime job and health insurance coverage for the whole family. I didn't. But that is another story.) I had one major client, and that client was downright abusive to me. The client wanted me to sign a new contract, the wording of which concerned me to the point that I hired a publishing lawyer to review it...and was told that yes, it was a bad contract and yes, I should ask for modifications. We negotiated, the client agreed to modify the contract, and then within a week, fired me. In the long run, being out of that abusive business relationship was a good thing, but in the short run, it was financially devastating.

My car was breaking down with Something Major about once a month. And I had a family member who was doing some squirrelly things that upset me very much.

All these things happened in one month, September 1992.

So, what did I do? Two weeks after my friend died of cancer, I went out and bought a red Camaro convertible. Talk about your midlife crisis. It was gorgeous. V-8 engine. Red leather seats. 25th Anniversary logo and accessories package. It was nothing less than my affirmation of life in the midst of death all around me.

I really did need a new car. But I could have bought reliable transportation for a lot less money. But there you go. That red Camaro and I did some serious traveling on my life's journey over the next few years. In 1996 I started seminary, and let me tell you, I had the only red Camaro convertible in that seminary parking lot.

But I was commuting 60 miles a day to school, and after a few years of that, the mileage was really adding up. Little Red started running up some major repair bills. And so I bought an all-American commuter vehicle: I got an SUV. Cupholders galore. Big side mirrors for driving the expressways at rush hour. Extra radio controls on the steering wheel. Lots of storage in the back for hauling 40-pound bags of topsoil and such. I called it the Bookmobile, because I kept all my seminary books in the back seat (who needs a locker?).

And I kept the Camaro. Not out of sentimentality, but because the dealership offered me an insulting amount on a trade-in. OK, maybe there was some sentimentality there.

At any rate...Little Red has been sitting in a garage for almost five years now. I hardly ever drive her anymore. I run the engine to keep the battery up, and every now and then I take her out. But after all those years of driving the SUV, getting back into that ground-scraping car with the teeny side mirrors scares me to death, to tell you the truth.

When I was recovering after my surgery, I couldn't drive for awhile. If you have ever had abdominal surgery and you think about how hard it is to get into a Camaro, you will understand. And so the battery went dead. And the car sat there.

Until a few weeks ago, when I decided to get the house painted. And the garage. Which meant I was going to have to get Little Red out of there.

The tow truck driver couldn't even jump her off. He had to push her out of the garage to the point where he could use the tow truck to pull her around the 90-degree corner at the garage and down the driveway. But we finally got her out of there and down to the dealership.

She needed more than a battery. Five years ago, during a storm, a pine tree branch went through the convertible top (fortunately no one was in the car at the time). And being laid up for five years is not good for a car. Some stuff had rusted, some stuff was leaking. I told the folks at the dealership to fix everything. And they did. The bill was approximately equal to a month's salary...or what I paid for my first Camaro back in 1975.

And so last week I picked up Little Red at the dealership in the city and drove her back to the small town where I pastor the church -- fifty miles. It was embarrassing that I had to hunt to find the window controls and the power door locks...and I still don't remember how to adjust the right side mirror. As I drove the 24 miles across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, I noted how much faster you feel you're going when your rear end is scraping the pavement, and how much closer the side walls of the bridge look, than when I drive the SUV across.

But mostly I wondered what happened to that 40-year-old woman who bought the red Camaro convertible in September 1992, an affirmation of life in the midst of death, a financial craziness right after losing my best-paying client (but in the end the financial stuff worked out). What happened to her, and where did I lose her on the journey? When did this car, that I put 91,000 miles on all by myself, that at one time felt like an extension of my own arms and legs, become a terrifying thing to drive?

Maybe I need to drive Little Red around for awhile and see if that woman turns up again. Or if she's gone for good. And if she is, maybe I ought to sell Little Red. She's a collector's car now, probably worth a bit of money; they don't make Camaros anymore. But if that woman turns up, maybe I'll keep Little Red around awhile longer. And take her out of the garage more often.

What a journey. And not over yet.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Dark Side of Small-Town Life

I'm a city girl. I was born in a city and spent most of my previous career working in an even bigger city. When I came to a small town to pastor a church, I thought I knew a little about small towns because I had lived in a town with a population of 47,000 twenty miles outside the big city. I didn't know squat. I had been living in a bedroom community of a city, with all the amenities of a city close at hand. And 47,000 is NOT a small town. A small town of 6,000 people is a whole 'nother ball game.

To complicate matters, the local area where I live now is one of the poorest in the state. And when you live in a poor area, housing prices are low, property taxes are low, and there isn't any public money available for some of the things you take for granted in the city.

My little church has been blessed in the last year to be hosting a group of developmentally disabled adults during the week. There are six or eight adults, with a supervisor who is training them to do meaningful work. They use our education building, which otherwise would sit empty all week long.

Great. But then we started to have plumbing problems. The toilets would overflow every time we had moderate to heavy rain. And in our part of the state, let me tell you, we are famous for getting a lot of rain.

We had a plumber come out. He did what he could. We got someone from the town to check the town's side of the sewer line. The upshot of it all seems to be this: years ago, maybe in the 1940s, the town installed "temporary" sewer lines under the streets. And after sixty years or so, "temporary" just can't handle the rainwater anymore. I don't think rainwater and household wastewater are supposed to be in the same line, and excess rainwater should not be making toilets back up, but I am not a sewer expert. I just know that the experts are telling me the rainwater is backing up our toilets and when it rains, you can't use them. And we have people in wheelchairs, working all day long at our church, and they can't use the bathroom on a rainy day.

My personal solution to the problem is to go home from the church office. I live out in the country, and I have a well and a septic system. No problem. At least not yet. But the folks working at our church don't have that option.

I'm told the town doesn't have the money to fix the sewer lines. "There is nothing we can do," they say. "Many areas of the town have this problem. We just can't afford to fix it." And if I can get past my outrage that the town can't seem to find the money for as basic a service as this -- and let's face it, this is a public health issue and darn well ought to be a priority -- I take a deep breath and stop and remember how poor the area is. And if they say they don't have the money, well, they probably don't. Big cities have budget crunches too, I know, but not this bad. In a city, the newspapers and the television stations jump on the bandwagon and keep pestering and embarrassing the city officials till some budgets get juggled and the problem gets addressed. In a small town, nobody has that kind of clout. At least, I don't think so.

But I'm not giving up. I used to be a journalist, by golly, and one of our favorite expressions (now kind of quaint in the era of the Internet) was, "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel." I'm going to do a little legwork here and try to figure out what I can do. Some people think all the minister should do is preach on Sunday and visit the sick, but this one comes under the heading of social justice. People living in a community deserve basic services. And a sewer system that works is one of them.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Last night I was talking on the phone to a member of my church, and at the end of our conversation he said, "By the way, Galaxy Quest is on." And that was the rest of MY evening. I have seen the movie before, although it's been a few years. If you've never had the pleasure, let me recommend it to you. If you are a science fiction fan, you will bust a gut. There is a scene -- if you are a fan, you know exactly which one I'm talking about -- that had me laughing so hard the first time I saw it that I couldn't catch my breath. Even if you have never watched Star Trek (I actually met someone once who had never seen the show), you will laugh.

There are a lot of in-jokes and scenes that are reminiscent of different tv shows or movies, so if you are a fan, you will get them. Tim Allen even looks and sounds a lot like William Shatner, fer cryin' out loud. As for the scenes at the fan conventions -- well, they're not so far off base. Back in the early 1990s, I was privileged to live in a city that had at least one or two science fiction cons every year, and I would go with a group of my friends. We got to see most of the cast of the original Star Trek, plus a number of the actors from Next Generation. For a mere twenty dollars, you could spend a Saturday far, far from your mundane life, in a hotel ballroom transformed into a wonderful world of imagination and creativity, surrounded by folks who loved the same shows that you did, and some of them would even sell you stuff related to your favorite shows that you'll never find in Wal-Mart. I have original fan art of charactes from the shows, non-authorized-by-the-copyright-holder mousepads, t-shirts, tote bags, bootleg videos of a British show starring one of my favorite actors, you name it. I get emails from "lists" of fans of my favorite shows just about every day. So, yeah, I am a fan, and I have gone to these fan conventions, and I still go when I can.

And I will tell you, my friends who used to accompany me to these "cons" had a rule we all adhered to: Never make fun of someone dressed as a Klingon. These people are serious. And they carry bat'leths.

But I digress. Galaxy Quest is great. Watch it if you get a chance. My special delight last night was discovering that one of the actors is Tony Shahloub. Since I last saw Galaxy Quest, I have become a fan of Monk. Shahloub's role in this movie is almost a predecessor to Adrian Monk, who, in case you're not familiar with the show, is a detective who has obsessive-compulsive disorder. Someone who is obsessive about details makes a GREAT detective, but he is also hilarious in his compulsion to neatness (cleaning up a crime scene in the middle of an investigation, for instance).

So, this blog has absolutely nothing to do with theology. We all need a little fun in our lives. Or, as a character in another of my favorite shows put it, "Everyone needs to have a hobby." Enjoy.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ash Wednesday

This is the meditation I gave at our Ash Wednesday service last night. It struck me as more a blog post than a sermon, so I share it with you.

Lent has a reputation for being the grimmest season of the church year. What positive things can you say about a season that begins by bringing the partying of Mardi Gras to a crashing halt at midnight on Tuesday by sending everyone to church to get ashes on their foreheads? That continues through forty days of giving up chocolate or something equally desirable, and builds to a crescendo on Good Friday as we are asked to contemplate the torture of Jesus, who had nails pounded through his flesh and who hung by those nails on a cross? And then, thank goodness, we come to Easter. Easter, yes, Easter is great, but getting through those forty days of Lent is another story. Does it all have to be, so, well, depressing?

Let's hope not. The key word here is "hope." The season of Lent -- and the Christian life, for that matter, could be seen as just one depressing event after another if we didn't look at it through that prism called hope: hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have to begin at the end in order for the whole thing to make sense: Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, and it is in him and him alone that we have our hope.

What we do here tonight -- the imposition of ashes on the forehead as a recognition of our own mortality -- would be the most depressing thing in the world were it not for that hope. "Hey, forget it, life has no meaning, you are just dust, and to dust you shall return." No, we have hope in spite of the fact that all of us, at our own appointed times, will face death. Jesus himself has given us that hope by his death and resurrection. Because he lives, we shall live also.

In Genesis we are told that God created a human being from the dust of the ground -- the Hebrew word "adam" is a play on the words for "earth" and "human" -- and breathed the human creature into a living being. Human beings weren't created out of gold and silver, sorry to say, just plain old dirt, lest anyone get too enamored of themselves. And at the end of our earthly lives, we return to that earth from which we were created. There's a symmetry to it, humbling though it may be.

When we read the New Testament, we need to keep in mind that the people of the early Christian church lived each day in the stark realization that it might be their last. They were being persecuted by the religious and civil authorities for their faith in Jesus Christ and their refusal to worship the Roman emperor. Also, they expected that Christ would return at any time; the apostle Paul recommended that people not marry if possible, because the time was so short. So for them, hope in Christ was what they lived for.

All of this can seem very remote to us, something that was written down centuries ago in the world of the Roman empire, among people whose lives and expectations were very different from ours today. And then, something can happen and it all seems a whole lot closer, a whole lot more relevant.

One of those "somethings" happened to me in the past couple of weeks. Maybe it has happened to you at some time in your life. A doctor tells you that something has turned up on a routine test. It might be cancer. It might not. More tests are needed. If it is, it means surgery...


And so for a week, I lived in the world of not-knowing, as I had more tests done and waited for the results. Maybe you have been through this too. For a week, I didn't know whether I could make any plans for the future or not. And in that week, a few thoughts came to me, and they were the kind of thoughts that might be appropriate to consider on Ash Wednesday:

1. We are all mortal. Nobody gets a free pass out of this one. Some of us have more days than others, and that is the Creator's call to make, not ours. During the week I waited for my test results, more young soldiers died in Iraq, and so did the longest-married couple in our state, who died within three days of each other at the ages of 101 and 103, respectively.

2. What we do with our lives determines how we will be remembered. A Jewish Roman citizen in Palestine, two thousand years ago, made tents for a living. But the apostle Paul is remembered, down through the ages, for his faith in Christ and the remarkable letters he set down that established the foundations of our understanding of the cross and what it means to follow Jesus.

In your own life, who has influenced you for good? Who has made a difference in your life? Who has helped you on your journey of faith? And what have you done, what are you doing, what can you do to make a difference in someone else's life?

3. Jesus is Lord. That's the bottom line. Afraid of death? Jesus has been there, done that. Do you trust him with your life, or not?

The most modern confession of our denomination, A Brief Statement of Faith, begins with these words:

In life and in death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
whom alone we worship and serve.

It is as simple -- and as complex -- as that. It's a matter of trust.

At the end of one of the darkest weeks of my life, the doctor called and said the additional tests were giving some very different results. It didn't look like cancer after all. No surgery in the immediate future (THANK YOU!!). I could make plans again.

But as you know, if you have ever been in this situation, no matter what the outcome, you are changed. You think differently about day to day living. I am still sorting it all out -- this has all happened very recently -- but I have a whole new appreciation for trusting in God. It isn't about trusting that God will fix everything the way I want it to work out. It's just about trusting God. Period. No matter how much we like to think that we are in control of what happens to us, guess what: we're not. And to be able to trust our lives to God is...well, it's a blessing. It's a blessing of the Christian life.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Stand up, stand up for...God

God gets a bum rap sometimes. God tends to get blamed for everything that goes bad. Sometimes the blame is expressed in pious terms, such as "I must have done something bad for God to be punishing me like this," or even "God never gives us more than we can handle." But in the end, it's still God getting the blame. And, well, I have a problem with that.

One of my personal sayings is "It's a good thing you can't sue God," often accompanied by a sad shake of the head. So often people look for someone else to blame, someone else to "pay" for what happened to them.

Not that God needs me to defend him, or her (God deliver me from writing words like Godself in this blog in an effort to avoid gender-based pronouns). God is big enough to deal with any slings and arrows we puny humans may toss in the Almighty's direction.

This week in our Wednesday Bible study my least-favorite verse came up. (I know people always ask the minister, "What's your favorite verse in the Bible?" but you seldom hear anyone ask "What's your least favorite?") It's 1 Samuel 16:14: "Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him." [NRSV] The first time I came up eyeball to page with that verse, I stopped and said, "Wait a minute! When did the the Lord start sending evil spirits on people?" (BTW, whenever you see the word LORD in caps and lower case in a Bible, it means the underlying Hebrew word is the divine name which is not supposed to be uttered, but which we Gentile yahoos blithely call Yahweh, or YHWH.)

I have had this verse explained to me in a number of ways, including the suggestion that the evil spirit was some sort of mental illness, possibly bipolar disorder. (Think of the descriptions in the Gospels of Jesus casting out demons from people; some of those demonic episodes sound a lot like epilepsy.)

But the notion that God sends out evil spirits really troubled me. One teacher suggested that in the worldview of the writer(s) of that time, everything came from God, both good and evil, so God was perfectly free to send an evil spirit on Saul if he wanted to.

One of my seminary professors brought to my attention a terrific book on this subject called Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Ominpotence, by Jon D. Levenson [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988, 182 pp.]. On the subject of this verse about Saul, Levenson says, "To be sure, Saul, like Pharaoh, is not an innocent man, and the 'evil spirit' that YHWH inflicts on him is at least partially punishment for disobedience...Here we confront the insidiousness of the Evil Impulse...the element in humanness that frustrates obedience to God and casts a shadow of doubt upon the purity of God's benevolence in the act of creation." [pp. 45-46]

Now, I am talking here about a theological issue that the theologians have been wrestling over since, well, since theologians were invented: if God created everything, and if God's creation was good, then where did evil come from? Like, y'know, that serpent in the garden of Eden, like, where did it come from? Where did this "evil spirit from the LORD" come from?

Well, far be it from me to say, being just a humble M.Div. and all, not even a PhD, and certainly without a string of academic publishing credentials to my name. But when God created human beings, s/he didn't create us perfect. And somewhere in that imperfection the Evil Impulse turns up. And God didn't create us with perfect bodies, either, no matter how hard we work out at the gym. Sooner or later, all our bodies give out on us, either by natural (old age) or unnatural (accidents, murder, etc.) means.

And God didn't create us with perfect knowledge. We don't make perfect decisions, and we don't know what the future is (thank you, God, for that one, in spite of how handy it would be in picking winning lottery numbers). So we build our houses in a spot where the earthquake or the hurricane or the tsunami will strike 15 years from now. If we knew it was coming, we wouldn't have done so. But we didn't know. And so when it does come to pass, we say, "How could God let this happen?"

Levenson also says, "The world is not inherently safe; it is inherently unsafe." [p. 17] Yeah. What he said. God's creation is good, but that doesn't make it safe. Somehow we have confused the two.

So, today you came here looking for a blog, perhaps some ramble about a tv show or a book, and this time you got a sermon. Well, that's why they call me Pastor Kathy. Warning to my congregation: you may end up hearing more on this subject some Sunday from the pulpit. Maybe even this Sunday. Stay tuned.

Pastor Kathy

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Left Behind?

No, not the series of books that purports to be about the Revelation to John. I'm talking about people of a certain age. Like the man said, I'm talkin' 'bout MY generation. You know, us over the hills.

I recently read an article in the AARP newsletter (yep, I joined when I turned 50...been wanting to get those nice discounts on hotels and stuff for quite awhile now...I know my friend who writes Darwin's Cat hates AARP but if we have any chance of saving Social Security, they're the ones with the clout to do it...but I digress) about writers in Hollywood filing a class action lawsuit against the major studios, charging them with age discrimination. I had been reading for a number of years in Writer's Digest magazine that if you wanted to write for Hollywood, if you were over 30, you could just forget it. Not that I ever wanted to write for Hollywood, mind you, and if I had, I guess I would have moved out there long before I was 30.

One of the people quoted in the article (sorry, I don't have it in front of me), a baby boomer like myself, said that back in the days when movies like The Big Chill and shows like thirtysomething were popular, the writers assumed that, being baby boomers and the biggest group in the population and all, that there would always be a market in Hollywood for their writing. That the people who were writing about the angst of boomers in their thirties (getting married, having babies, the struggles of the career jungle) would later write about the angst of being in their forties, fifties, sixties, etc. No one, said this writer, ever expected that one day the studio executives would all be in their 20s and looking across the table at these writers and thinking, "These guys are old enough to be my parents."

But that's how it worked out. The writer interviewed in the article complained that these studio execs think that older writers can't write for younger audiences. We can, we can! he insists. But they won't hire us, so how would they know!


Baby boomer and child of the 1960s, I well remember my favorite TV shows from back then (many are on cable these days, and others are on DVD, and some that are not, well, there are bootleg copies out there). And I remember some of the fortysomething writers on some of my favorite shows trying to write scripts to appeal to us up-and-coming teens, circa 1964-1967. If you are old enough to remember those years, you will remember that EVERYTHING changed in America during that very short period of time. And friends, on my favorite shows, the scripts, the dialogue, the direction, the production, the costumes, all of it was just plain embarrassing. Those folks didn't have a clue what we kids were thinking, or saying, or doing, or even wearing. So...I of all people hate to say this but...the twentysomething studio executives may have a case here.

For a long time I couldn't figure out why the television/movie market was so saturated with shows for the very young when we aging boomers make up so much of the population. Then one of my marketing savvy friends pointed out that it's all about advertising. We aging boomers have been around the block long enough to figure out what products we like to use, and we use them. We like X soap and Y car and so on, and we buy the products we know and trust. Younger folks are still trying to figure out what they like, so they are more open to advertisements for different products. And then too, hate to say it, younger folks go out more than we do. They go to the movies every week (I remember when I used to do that...and I don't anymore). So movies are geared to the young crowd that likes to go.

There are so many shows on TV and so many movies that I have absolutely no interest in seeing. "Reality" shows in particular: I can't figure out why anyone would want to see people get humiliated...or humiliate themselves. But there is a younger crowd that apparently is eating this stuff up.

I don't know how the class action lawsuit is going to turn out -- the age discrimination seems to be pretty blatant, but who knows. It is discouraging to realize that hey, maybe you really are over the hill.

BUT: if all this is so, why is it that I can sit and read Harry Potter books all day long? These are children's books, and they deal with children's themes: going to school, dealing with the angst of growing up (what do you say to that girl that you'd like to know better? how do you deal with that gang of bullies? what do you do when your teacher is unfair?). So why do they resonate with me -- and with a lot of other adults, from what I hear?

For one thing, they are well written. Hooray for J. K. Rowling (and her editor)! For another, they deal with universal themes: Harry isn't dealing with anything at school that we boomers didn't deal with (okay, leaving out the magical parts! I mean the childhood/teenage angst issues). We adults can even relate some of Harry's challenges to our own as adults if we consider them metaphorically (facing a dragon is a wonderful metaphor).

Maybe Hollywood could use some better writers. Writers who can write for all of us. Let the advertisers shake it all out. Don't assume that because I'm over 50, the only thing you can sell me is a Craft-Matic bed and burial insurance. Remember, advertisers, I'm now in the age group that has the most disposable income. You can sell me cars and computers and high-ticket items. Well, you can try, anyway.

Pastor Kathy

Monday, January 17, 2005

Life, Interrupted (Again)

No, I haven't abandoned this blog. My life got interrupted again just after New Year's, when I ended up back in the hospital with complications from my surgery last month. Do you have a half gallon of milk, juice, whatever in your refrigerator right now? Go in there and take it out. Give it a good heft (if it's full). Weighs a few pounds, doesn't it? That is how much fluid I had removed from around my right lung over a two-day period. No wonder I was in pain and having trouble taking a breath.

I have been getting better day by day, now that the "stuff" is out of me. I was able to go back to work last week and preached on Sunday, which was something I really needed to do. Check out Psalm 40. I had planned to make that my sermon text anyway, but it took on new meaning after those long days at home and in the hospital, going through test after test, wondering when I would ever feel better again.

"I waited patiently for God.
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure."

How many people, down through the ages, have read that psalm in times of trouble and taken strength from it? That desolate pit is a nasty place to be. You feel alone, everything looks dark, and you don't know how you're going to get out of there. So you wait patiently for God. Sometimes God comes in the form of a doctor with a six-inch needle (fortunately I never saw the needle) who draws all that fluid out so you can breathe again (but at first you feel even worse...and you have to trust that it will get better after the inflammation clears up).

During my week of tests and hospitalizations, I read another book. Readers of this blog will recall that after my surgery I read The Sparrow, a science fiction novel about (I kid you not) Jesuits in outer space. As I was headed out the door on my way to tests and hospital, I grabbed the biggest unread novel I could find in the house. It was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, number 4 in the series, weighing in at 700 plus pages. I read the entire thing in that week. Now, I know there are two different opinions among Christians about Harry Potter. Some Christians think these books are the devil's spawn because they deal with witches and wizards and witchcraft. Other Christians look at the books and point out that they deal with issues of good and evil and how to discern one from the other, and they say Harry Potter comes down solidly on the side of good and Christians won't be led astray here. (By the way, I have seen ads for a book called The Gospel According to Harry Potter, but I haven't read it, so I can't comment on it.)

Well, I have now read four of the five published books (number six comes out this year) and I don't think I've lost my faith over them. The only objection I had to anything in the whole series was in book two, I think it was, when a spell went wrong and Harry's friend Ron started erping frogs. Still makes me queasy to think about it.

I kinda saw a lot of parallels in the first book between Harry's getting ready to go to Hogwarts and my getting ready to go to seminary. Harry had to go to a special place -- Diagon Alley (diagonally!) -- to get his books, cauldron, robe, and wand. Well, when you go to seminary, you can't exactly get the stuff you need at Wal-Mart. You too have to go to special stores to get your stuff. There's the seminary bookstore, and there's Cokesbury (yea, Cokesbury! I well remember getting fitted for a robe there) and there are specialized catalogs for some of the books you have to read (you won't find that Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew lexicon in your neighborhood Barnes & Noble). I confess I didn't take the Hogwarts Express from platform nine-and-three-quarters to get to the seminary, but I spent many a morning sitting in traffic making the 30-mile commute.

A couple of years ago I was back at the seminary for some continuing education, and I as I walked past one of the dormitories, I saw that someone had printed out an elaborate coat of arms and taped it to a window. It said, "Gryffindor" -- which is Harry Potter's house at Hogwarts. I laughed myself silly: somebody else had seen the same parallels too! Sadly, not one of my good buddies from seminary got the joke. None of them had read Harry Potter.

Anyway...in my week of illness, I actually found some inspiration from Harry Potter #4. I hope this isn't too big a spoiler in case you haven't read the book yet, but there is a part where Harry is preparing to face a dragon. He knows when it will happen and he thinks he knows what he will do when he faces it, but it is nerve-wracking to wait for the dragon. And so he paces up and down and frets because the time passes much, much too quickly when you are waiting for something you are not looking forward to.

And there I was, knowing that the pulmonologist was coming sometime after lunch to put that six-inch needle in my back. I really, really was tired of hurting and really wanted to get this over with...but I sure wasn't looking forward to the procedure. The lunch tray came. I picked up the cover and looked at what was on the plate: macaroni and cheese and a piece of fried chicken. (My diatribe on the high-fat, high-cholesterol diet that constituted a "regular" tray in this hospital I will save for another blog.) Even the smell of it was more than I could stand. I moved the tray to a chair across the room and saved the iced tea and the chocolate chip cookie for "after." I could just see myself throwing up my lunch all over the nurse, so I decided to pass. At that point, food was pretty highly overrated as far as I was concerned.

I survived the needle in my back, which surprisingly hurt a lot less than I expected; pressure mostly. And like Harry, I was very, very glad when my encounter with the dragon was over. And the chocolate chip cookie and the iced tea with the ice long melted were very, very good.

And so now I am trying to regroup, trying to remember where I was when life was interrupted, and trying to get back into a life that does not revolve around trips to radiology for another CT scan or x-ray. It is good to be back.

Pastor Kathy