Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Second Leafing

Swedish National Heritage Board
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Sometimes, at the end of a very long day, I pour hydrogen peroxide over my hands and look to see where the bubbles form. At the end of such a day of children and dishes and cats and boxes and papers for the church and French for school, not to mention cooking and a trip to six flags to test all of our mental health, at the end of such a day, there are easily a dozen scratches, cuts, and scrapes on my right hand. I've barely felt the marks, it's been so busy. But here in this moment I can feel the damage done and see in the peroxide bubbles the toll these days take on my body. It is no wonder that I nearly snap in two sometimes at things that do not matter...

A pastor in my presbytery is retiring, and he left a part of his book collection at a nearby church with an invitation for others to take home books. To my delight I found several interesting nuggets in those boxes and gave them a new home in my library. One of those books is called A Faithing Oak: Meditations From the Mountain by Robert A. Raines. The first story of the book caught my attention tonight. He wrote of an infestation of the local oak trees by gypsy moths, which strip the trees of their leaves, leaving the branches unprotected. He wrote of his sorrow at the sight of a lone oak tree, and then...
One morning in that last week of June, there came a shout from a woman on the Lodge deck. She called us outside to look closely at the dried-up oak, and invited us to touch its leafless fingertips. Strange little nubbins...buds...urging forth towards a second leafing. The process of refoliation had already begun! Later in the summer we would see that oak fully leafed again. We beheld a faithing oak.
Beloveds, may we all find our way toward a second leafing. For sure as the sun rises tomorrow, there will be those who strip us of our protective coverings, leaving us to stand bare and vulnerable as the winds blow around us. And like the gypsy moths, most will not realize what they do is causing damage. Push hard against those forces though we might, we will not survive without a second leafing.

And thanks to the Rev. Dr. Philip M. Jones, whose book granted me the gift of peace this night.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Further Thoughts on the Future of the Church


As many of you know, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been rocked recently by Amendment 10A and the impending implementation of this amendment, which effectively allows for the ordination of openly partnered queer folk, where previous to this date we would only ordain secretly partnered queer folk, or openly unpartnered queer folk, or not queer folk of partnered or unpartnered stripes (both openly and secretly). This has caused much consternation and many troubled souls, although most have been polite enough to explain that this isn't about the gay (open or secret, partnered or not) as much as it is about theology and styles of interpretation of scripture (or Scripture, depending). There are many conversations happening now (both open and secret, and I imagine some of them queer) about the future of the church, which apparently seems to be death or life, depending on who you talk to and whether they are in a queer mood or not that day.

As it turns out, a Mr. Keillor has written about such a split in church before. I thought it might be instructive to share with you a few of his words. Mr. Keillor wrote of several splits in the church, including the one I am about to share with you and another (which you can find in his book) about whether women should wear pants.
We were "exclusive" Brethren, a branch that believed in keeping itself pure of false doctrine by avoiding association with the impure. Some Brethren assemblies, mostly in larger cities, were not so strict and broke bread with strangers--we referred to them as "the so-called Open Brethren," the "so-called" implying the shakiness of their position--whereas we made sure that any who fellowshiped with us were straight on all the details of the Faith, as set forth by the first Brethren who left the Anglican Church in 1865 to worship on the basis of correct principles. In the same year, they posed for a photograph: twenty-one bearded gentlemen in black frock coats, twelve sitting on a stone wall, nine standing behind, gazing solemnly into a sunny day in Plymouth, England, united in their opposition to the pomp and corruption of the Christian aristocracy.

Unfortunately, once free of the worldly Anglicans, these firebrands were not content to worship in peace but turned their guns on each other. Scholarly to the core and perfect literalists every one, they set to arguing over points that, to any outsider, would have seemed very minor indeed but which to them were crucial to the Faith, including the question: if Believer A is associated with Believer B who has somehow associated himself with C who holds a False Doctrine, must D break off association with A, even though A does not hold the Doctrine, to avoid the taint?

The correct answer is: Yes. Some Brethren, however, felt that D should only speak with A and urge him to break off with B. The Brethren who felt otherwise promptly broke off with them. This was the Bedford Question, one of several controversies that, inside of two years, split the Brethren into three branches.

Once having tasted the pleasure of being Correct and defending True Doctrine, they kept right on and broke up at every opportunity, until, by the time I came along, there were dozens of tiny Brethren groups, none of which were speaking to any of the others.
Garrison Keiller, Lake Wobegon Days (New York: Viking Press, 1985), 105-106.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Melanoma Zit

So one thing before you read:
I do not have a melanoma.

I learned a long time ago that my skin reflects how much stress I am experiencing. It happens in different ways, and rarely repeats itself, but in times of heavy stress, my skin reacts badly. I'm not saying this is unique to me, just that it's true for me.

When I exercise, I flush so red people think I'm having a heart attack. Years ago, when starting my first professional YMCA job, I broke out in little splotches head to toe. Doc said it was pityriasis rosea, a harmless rash that appears randomly and never repeats. Took 6 weeks of turtlenecks and long pants before that went away.

When I gave birth to my first child, I developed another rash--this time it itched worse than chicken pox, worse than mosquito bites, worse than mosquito bites mixed with chicken pox. This time Doc said it was PUPPS: Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy. Again, there are many theories about why this rash forms, but not much is known. It clears up a few weeks after delivery. In the meantime, mami is miserable.

So it should not have been a surprise to me that in the last few weeks one of the moles I've been watching suspiciously for years began to grow. It seemed to be growing quickly and forming a round, raised bump where the mole was. By this point in my adulthood, you would think I would know better than to google skin rshes, but there I was Sunday night on the interwebs worrying over this bump.

Being the accomplished googler that I am, I discovered a rare, fast-growing melanoma that looked exactly like the bump on my neck. It was clear that I had a nodular melanoma and would be dead in 4 weeks. (For more on how I come by a touch of hypochondria honestly, see my post "Abomination Unto the Lord" on the use of aspirin in children.)

Even while my rational brain was arguing disgustedly with the part of my brain that still believes in fairies, I began to think through these last weeks of my life. What would happen with the children? Did I still need to pack my house for our move in August? Should I still take French? I searched for the insurance card and the doctor's phone number so I could call on Tuesday and make an appointment.

Brains are funny things. I could feel myself short of breath, which I was sure meant that my lungs were filling with fluid. It was hard to swallow--the tumor beneath the mole, perhaps. The bump itself was painful to touch, and the skin all around hurt too. I was very sad.

I facebooked a friend who said, "You don't have a melanoma. But just in case, I will give your eulogy." I had coffee scheduled with another friend for later in the week, and I was glad I would get a chance to see her one last time.

In the meantime, my rational brain hijacked my body, told the fairy loving part of me to shut up, and went to sleep. By morning it was obvious to me that this melanoma was, in fact, a gigantic zit. The largest zit known to humankind, but a zit nonetheless. I still have an appointment to get a checkup with the doctor, but it was still just a zit.

My friend over coffee confirmed for me: "You don't have a melanoma, Katie. It's not even the right color." I tried to explain to her that in rare cases a melanoma does not have pigment. She looked at me like I had completely lost it and laughed. I'm grateful for my friends who keep me planted on the ground.

As I've settled into the fact that my skin has once again played tricks on me, several insights have come to mind:

1. Never google "skin rash" of any kind. Never. Just make an appointment to see the Doc and use your mother's home remedy.

2. I am under way too much stress.

3. This melanoma zit reminds me of the church and the various Fellowshippers, Nexters, Laymanners, Unicorns, SillyWalkers, etc. worried to DEATH about the future of the church. Certain that we are dead in four weeks or less, many people in our denomination have taken to reading stats and blogs on the interwebs (and thank you for popping by here, btw), and diagnosing gloom and doom for Christ followers of the Presby type. It's over. It's done. It's dead, Jim.

I'm asking if all the hoopla about the certain and ugly-painful death of the church isn't just a gigantic zit instead of a melanoma. I wonder if we aren't so incredibly fixated on this admittedly hideous zit that we don't see the rest of the body. Every person I've talked to in the last few days has pointed to this dreadful zit on the front of my neck and asked, "What's that???" It's easy to get fixated on something like this. But if I want my skin to stop breaking out, I will need to tend to the stressors in my life causing that. I've been around a while, I know how to do this.

So tomorrow I will get an eyebrow pencil, and I will draw a butterfly on my neck using the zit as a spot its wing. And I will go about my day doing the things I need to do to lower my stress and be more productive. I'll get to my doctor appointment next week, and focus on eating right, exercise, and getting enough sleep.

And that's probably what the church needs to do, too. Draw a butterfly around our gigantic hideous zit, stop calling it a melanoma, and get about the business of being church. Exercise, eat right, get enough sleep. Take care of one another, love the stranger, love God.