Friday, October 1, 2010

Just musing...

At the fall theological conference in Pierre, Tony Campolo was the main speaker. He talked a lot about who we are as church today. It really made me think - in fact, expanded my thinking in oh, so many ways. 

One of the things that came to my mind was that sometimes it is just plain hard to get up the energy to go to church. Mind you, I know I work for the church but sometimes... Is that wrong? I don't know - I do know it is human. But when I miss that gathering on Saturday night or Sunday morning, I know I have missed something important. That gathering together of the Body of Christ in worship is important to my well-being. We praise, thank, confess, sing, pray, listen, eat, share, offer, and much more when we worship together. I think it is somehow just not possible to have true and vital worship if we are by ourselves.

I know that as a liturgical church it could be said that it is kind of, well, boring, for lack of a better word (I know the kids  think so). And yet, there is an underlying energy in worship - knowing that literally hundreds of thousand of people - before us, with us, and in the future - are also worshiping at the same time, in their own place, in their own language, yet using the very same words. How awesome is that!!! It gives me goose bumps! And then, think also that we are surrounded by so great a host of witnesses, as it says in Hebrews 12:1. They are around us always, as we "run the race that is set before us" - as we live out our lives as the people of God. 

Sometimes I fear for the Church - for the weekly gatherings that I so love. Many times it is as if we are only going "through the motions," without any thought or effort. Then it is easy to think that it is not that important to be there. As I have heard said, "I can worship God just as well when I am out in nature." That may be, but it doesn't work for the long haul. There is that "togetherness" part that helps us to worship fully - to share in the understanding of who God is and what it is that God is doing in our lives and in the world. 

Recently I came across a blog that kind of sets that up pretty well - what it means to worship together. It is written by Dale Cooper, former chaplain and instructor at Calvin College in Michigan, called "Coop's Column." I invite you to follow this link to read the blog on the church in today's society: Jesus-Yes - Church-Yes

I hope that YOU will worship with your fellow believers in your house of faith this week.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September is Pain Awareness Month

Pain is the most under-treated disease in America. 

Disease, you say? Yes, disease. Dis-ease. It is a terrible thing to be in pain - whether it is chronic pain or not. There is the fear of addiction to pain-relieving drugs; the idea that, really, pain is all in one's head; the fear of the pain not going away. All kinds of things come to mind. But when we are dealing with real pain, addiction is not an issue, mental health is not the issue - the issue is the pain, why we have it, and how can we relieve it.

For people with chronic pain, such as me, it is important that everyone understand how it affects our day-to-day lives. I have a disease called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). It is also called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome - Type 1 (CRPS). I never even knew there was such a disease as this. I fell on July 2, 2007, breaking my arm. That caused my sympathetic nervous system to go haywire. The only signals from my brain to my arm were pain signals, with the pain being very intense, often nearly unbearable. Since then it has spread to my other arm and both of my legs, as well as the left side of my face. I have a pain management doctor who is fabulous and without whom I would not be able to do what I do today. He has used a whole health type of treatment with me - I have had mental health therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, as well as drug treatment. 

I am lucky to live in South Dakota. Our doctors here are allowed to give us the treatment we need. They are given a goodly amount of time to have those medications work - speaking of narcotics, basically. Yes, I take a narcotic every day. The fact is I take a lot of medication every day - 17 pills a day. They are not all different pills - there are a few I take several times a day. Without these medications, I am not able to function.

The pain of RSD is like no pain I have ever had before. For me, it is mostly a burning pain. One person has described it like this: imagine replacing all the blood in your body with lighter fluid - and then lighting it. Believe it or not, I find this to be amazingly accurate. I also have allodynia, which is sensitivity to touch. That is why I always wear something over my arms. I never realized before how much air we move when we walk. That is extraordinarily painful plus it makes my bones feel like they are frozen, even though everything around them is burning. This is an odd disease. There are many people who suffer from it. There are many people who don't have access to a good doctor, like I do.

So, during this Pain Awareness Month, please be kind to those who move slowly, those who complain of pain, and anyone you know to be in pain. Pain often does not show - we look just like the rest of you. This is one thing I have learned - be patient with everyone.

Thank you for observing Pain Awareness Month.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What IS God up to?

I asked the congregation to think about it and e-mail me or call me with their thoughts. Well, no one has done so at this point. I hope someone does before the weekend though.

We got to talking about this at our staff meeting today. Here is the thing: God is at work whether we know it, acknowledge it, or whatever! We are all sinners in need of forgiveness - and the only way we get that is from God, through Jesus Christ.

So what do I think God is up to in my life? God is definitely challenging me - sometimes big time. I still have this RSD that some days nearly drives me mad with discomfort and/or pain. I still am asking God why this had to happen to me now, when I think that God has given me the gift of music, only to take parts of it away - and in such a drastic manner. Sometimes I really have to wonder about God's idea of fairness....
And now my favorite aunt is on hospice care. She is my mother's only surviving sibling. She has Alzheimer's. Thirteen or fourteen years ago she had a six-way bypass - the first one ever done at the hospital in Grand Forks. She came through it beautifully - and lived her life with a loving and thankful attitude for all she had been given. It is hard for me to hear now of her increasing disability. It is even harder for my mother. We live six hours away. That may not seem like much but, in reality, we cannot just go up there and wait. Life here still goes on for us. My mother and my husband are going out to Montana on Monday to see my little brother and his wife. That trip may be put on hold, depending on what happens with my aunt. But the waiting is uncomfortable. So God, how come this has to happen right now? We really don't have time for it! But then God reminds us: all things in due season.

Then, just for me, there is the whole question of what is worship. How do we "do" worship in such a way that God's voice is heard? Does it matter what we do? What is the purpose? And on top of that, I am now supposed to be one of the people in the SD Synod who help other people with these questions. How in the world, God, do you expect me to do that with any kind of success if I still have all these questions? Ah. I see. It is in patience and in talking and learning together that we find out what worship is. Each day we are different people than the day before, with different experiences - good and bad - that color how we see worship. So worship is not only the coming together of the worshiping community (the corporate body of Christ), but also of our individual experiences as the child of God we are on that day and at that time. Hmmmm. What does this mean? I am thinking it means that God is up to something in each of our lives - both as the gathered community and as individuals. How clever of God to set it up that way!

So I find myself giving thanks to God for each day that I am given to live. I find myself learning to let God be God - to give God control over all of these difficulties in my life, because I really cannot control them myself - and it is silly for me to try, even though I do that all the time.... I am learning that God is ALWAYS up to something in my life. And you know what? I'll bet that God is always up to something in your life too. 

Go God!!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Conference on Worship, Theology, and the Arts

Here I am in Northfield, MN, at St. Olaf College. There are a little over 300 of us here - almost all musicians, with some pastors. What a treat to again sit in a worship space with everyone singing! The Chapel here was remodeled in 2007. It has a wonderful acoustic now, with many hard surfaces, high ceiling, and an amazing organ. What fun to be here! It has a sound kind of like some of the old European cathedrals - everything resounds. 

We all have an in-depth session we go to each morning for 2 hours. Mine is Ethnic Drumming. I have learned so much already and still have today and tomorrow to go. I do all my drumming backwards from everyone else (to keep my right hand and arm from getting fatigued) but it works just fine. Yesterday we had quite the groove going! There are 11 of us in the class and at one point we had 5 different patterns going plus the teacher did a sixth. It was wonderful. Of course, it is a good thing for us that the teacher is patient.

The Advent wreath
We start each day with worship following breakfast. We are going through the early part of the church year, so we started in Advent. It is interesting to see and hear some possibilities for worship. We also have worship in the evenings. On Tuesday night it was Christmas Eve. The previous services there had been big, barren branches in the chancel area. Some on the altar, some on the floor. But on Christmas Eve, the branches had been lashed together to form a manger - tall enough for a 6'+ man to stand in there to read the Gospel. Some of the sticks were also put together so as to make a star, which was the center for the day of Epiphany yesterday morning. The lessons are all for the coming year. The preaching is all on those lessons. The preachers are excellent - one of them is really funny. So I don't think we mind too much going to worship twice a day. 
The manger

The altar Christmas Eve
We are kept pretty busy. There are special interest sessions during the afternoons. Plenary sessions with some pretty heavy discussions. The theme is The News and the Good News. The speakers have discussed some pretty awesome things. The first one was a young journalist who believes that we, as Christians, ought to write more about faith, about what is happening in the world from a Christian standpoint. He was quite engaging. Then there was a theologian who spoke on how we might better understand how the news and the Good News interrelate. They really give you food for thought - some of the things are quite a bit more intellectual than what we usually hear BUT we are then forced to really think about what has been said. Last night there was a panel discussion by four people, all of whom somehow contribute to the writing and publication of The Christian Century. Very interesting take on their philosophy for printing what they do.

I keep wondering what is happening at home, though. I suppose you are having lovely, warm days. Of course, we have had those too but today is rainy. Beyond the weather, though, I wonder what things you ponder during the course of a day. Do you wonder why the news seems always to be so bad? Where is God in all of this? How can we keep being positive in the light of all of this negative-ness?

I am here to tell you that the main news is the Good News of Jesus Christ! God is with us, even now. We are fortunate to know that we have been baptized - that we are children of God. And that God will never leave us nor forsake us. We don't need to worry about this being the end of the world. God's timing is not ours. We need to trust that the Lord will take care of us, even in our fearfulness, even in our uneasy times. So take heart - rejoice in the Lord! God has done great things for us - and will keep on doing great things!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

still on vacation....

Here we are, coming to the end of vacation. What a time we have had! It has been wonderful to see family, to rest, to talk, to eat. Man, here in Louisiana the food has been absolutely AWESOME! We are so fortunate to have been able to come here and visit. Here it is, our last day, and the kitchen lady at our hotel actually waited to clear off breakfast until we came down! (we were 2 minutes late....) We had a great time talking with her.

Tonight Belle's dad made jambalaya. Can you say delicious? He made two kinds - one with salt and one without (for me). Mine had both chicken and pork meat, while the other had some type of spicy sausage in addition. I think we all ate until we were overfull. But it was SO GOOD! I should have taken a picture...

Tomorrow we fly home. It is hard to believe that we have been gone for nearly 2 weeks. It has been a great adventure. We have seen much, met many wonderful people, and just plain had a good time. Now, if only we had time to rest when we get home... Oh well, it is still great and we have so many good memories.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


We are on vacation!!! Larry and I are enjoying some time off, with no specific agenda. We flew to Maine on Friday, June 25th, to see Larry's daughter, Sheila, and his grandson, Daniel, who live in Milo, Maine. We did not see them until Saturday morning - we needed the rest on Friday night. It has been wonderful.

We went to an auction on Saturday. The Kiwanis Club in Milo puts on an auction every year, the proceeds of which go to pay for children's programs in Milo and Brownville. The whole community turns out! We got there early so that we could get seats. It is a good thing, too! It has been a long time since I have been to an auction. We all walked around, looking at what would be auctioned when we first got there. There were a lot of things that I don't think I would have put on for sale, but then there were some really cute things. Sheila bought a great wooden plant stand, a pair of solid wood chairs (very comfortable, I might add!), and a telephone chair. We are going to clean in up and it should be ready to use.

We had dinner at the Hobnobber's Pub that evening. The place was nicely done up and the food was all homemade. Ummm ummm. It was delicious! I am glad we found it. Sheila said she had never been there before so we all had a good time.

Today we went to visit some friends of Sheila's on Schoodic Lake. Yup, that is the real name. It is quite large. All spring fed, with VERY cold water. Brian took Larry, Daniel, and his own daughter out on the boat to check out the lake. Tammy (Brian's wife), their daughter, Emily, as well as Sheila and I stayed back at the cabin to make dinner. I guess the burgers were absolutely delicious. Tammy had made some blueberry pound cake that was simply out of this world. Tomorrow we get to go fishing from the bridge over the river in the middle of town. Should be fun!

And now, it is way past time for bed so I guess I will check in to go to sleep. I hope all of you are having a restful summer. The whole idea of vacation is to vacate the things you are usually doing. We are sure doing that! It is working out just fine. Thursday (July 1) we travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I hope we can continue to 'vacate' our usual things!

(This is Daniel in the pool at our hotel on Tuesday, June 29th)


Well, it has been a few days since I have written anything. I neglected to take any pictures of the church - it was amazingly beautiful.

Those of us who were there were fortunate to meet so man y other musicians and pastors. Several of the musicians in attendance were also composers whose work I knew. It was just great to meet them and get their thoughts on the event as well as on the whole idea of worship renewal. It is a pretty broad topic, when you begin to think about it.

We had so many worship services in those few days - I think there were 3 each on Tuesday and Wednesday and 2 more on Thursday morning. It was good to try different things with hymns, to hear the proclamation of the Word from pastors of varying backgrounds, to have different organists or pianists for each service. Then we met in our small groups to talk about worship. Any and every item in worship was up for discussion. It was interesting to hear what things were important to the pastors as opposed to what was important to the musicians. You may or may not know that there is a running joke in the Lutheran church about the way pastors and musicians get along - they just don't! After listening to discussion, it would be easy to believe that pastors and musicians are 2 completely different kinds of people and that the 2 could never mix. Fortunately, that is not really true.

I took a shuttle to George Bush International Airport at 1:25 pm. We flew out at 4 pm to Dallas, where we were due to leave at 7 pm for Sioux Falls. Due to weather, the flight was delayed. Then it was delayed even more because we had to wait for a flight attendant to come in from Mexico. They announced that she had arrived in Dallas but it took a half hour for her to get to the gate. I think the dissatisfaction rate climbed really high.... We finally left at 10:26 pm, arriving back in Sioux Falls at 12:30 am. Whew! It was good to be back.

My team partners - Rev. Steve Palo and Rev. Bill Tesch - and I did some planning as to how we would carry out what churchwide is wanting us to do. Steve and I will be making a presentation to the Synod Council in August. While we are working on that, we will also be working with the planning team for the Fall Conference for pastors. After that, it will just depend on what the pastors think. We will try to have a "presence" on the synod website. We are also going to try to set up a group where we can have interaction with pastors and musicians regarding any worship questions they may have. So for right now, the job is not too big - but I may just be kidding myself. A wonderful thing is that Steve and I feel much the same way about many things in worship, which is helpful. And we are well-supported by synod staff - most notably Bill Tesch and our bishop, Dave Zellmer.

So now it is just to get going - write down what we think happened in Houston, prepare a concise report, and work with the fall conference planning people. Wish us well!!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Evening Prayer

We had Texas barbecue for supper tonight. It smelled wonderful! After having a rather raucous rainshower during the afternoon, it was nice to be able to eat out in the courtyard. The combination of sight, smell, and sound was unbelievable! It was a feast everywhere you looked. People were talking to people they had just met, to people they knew, to people with whom they found a commonality. After just having shared in the feast of communion, we were now sharing bread in another way.

After eating, I went inside and sat on a bench in a busy hallway. I was observing people. Some would come by with heads down, avoiding any contact. Some would nod their head in greeting. Some would smile and say hello. And a few actually stopped to talk. Of course we first had to find out where the other person was from (we knew names because we are all wearing nametags!!) But then the talk was all about worship. What classes did we attend today, did we learn anything new, what did you think of the worship services. It made me kind of wish that as a congregation we could gather after worship and talk about what we had just heard and done.

And then the bells in the bell tower chimed. These are REAL bells – big ones, that ring out so the whole world can hear. The tradition at this church is that the bells ring right before and right after every worship service.

Back to the nave we went. I love the service of evening prayer. It is such a wonderful way to end the day. This service started in a new way for me: we were invited to light a candle from the “altar” candle (more about that tomorrow) and then go to wherever we were seated to light a votive candle that was in front of a picture of Christ. I think that for some of you that may smack a little too close to Roman Catholicism. I sat for a bit, thinking that very thing. But as I watched other people do it, I could see on their faces that something changed for them. So I got up and lit a candle and then lit the votive – and then I understood. The opening words to the service of Evening Prayer are:

Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world.

And the people respond:

the light no darkness can overcome.

And that was what had just happened. I had lit the candle as a reminder and as a visible image of the Light of the World. It was very moving.

When the last people had lit the candles, out of the midst of us came the words above. We were all the leaders; we were all the responders. The group was small – 50 or so. But we were reminded that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. That the worship of the powerful presence of the risen Christ is a fitting way to end the day. The singing was almost entirely a cappella (without accompaniment) and was gorgeous. The service ended with the sharing of the peace. What a way to end the day!

Check it out in the front of the hymnal some week before worship begins – it begins on p. 320 in the ELW.

Goin' back to Houston, Houston...

What am I saying? I have never been to Houston before! We arrived last evening to 95 degree weather. But every place is air conditioned – some almost too cold, so a sweater or whatever is a must. But what hospitality! Everywhere you go.

Here I am at Partners in Evangelical Worship (PEWs) training. There are about 200 of us here at Christ the King Lutheran Church. It is a beautiful space, with lots of stone and lots of wood. The sanctuary just begs for people to sing. Even an unamplified voice can be heard clearly. So being gathered in a place with 199 musicians and pastors – well, you cannot imagine the sound! It is glorious to be in a place where everyone is gathered with one thing in mind – worshiping God. For those of us who lead worship week after week, it is a pleasant and re-freshing and re-vitalizing time, to worship the Lord with nothing else on our minds. As we were reflecting on our experience at the service of Holy Communion this afternoon, all those in my group (6 other people) expressed this feeling of being in the presence of God; that the Holy Spirit was at work; and that it was SO nice to be able to truly worship.

So it made me wonder what worship is like for those of you at home. What is your attiutude when you come to worship? Is it something you do because that is what you always do on Saturday night or Sunday morning? Or do you come expecting to feel the presence of God in church? Do you come prepared to worship, to participate in worship, to do the liturgy, which is, after all, the work of the people.

I wonder what would happen if each of us came to worship with a sense of awe and wonder, with a sense of excitement at meeting the Lord in this very place?

In my mind, I hear each voice singing praise to our God. I hear each voice speaking the words that we all speak week after week, but really thinking about their meaning so as to enable us to speak in a new way about our encounter with the living Christ in that very moment. I see a revitalized community, gathered in the name of Christ, with the very light of God on our faces. And I see us moving out into our greater community, glad to share the Good News with one and all, glad to love each person just as they are, glad to take a risk and reach out to others we meet.

Can you imagine what would happen in the world if every Christian did that?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A New Beginning

Well, I just realized that I could not remember how to get into my other blog so this is a new one. Memory is fickle as we get older.... :)

Life is quite amazing. As we age, it seems that some things just aren't the way they were before. Are we supposed to just sit back and let that happen? I don't know - I guess in some ways we just have to, yet there are things we can do. I won't go into what I think those things are, mostly because I'm not doing them either! The thing is, I sure would like to somehow be younger - more able is what I am thinking - but still have the knowledge I now have. I suppose that is not going to happen. Oh well, I will still look forward to all that is to come.

Do you ever think about getting older? Is it a good thing, bad thing, neutral thing? I have even heard some people say they were afraid of getting older! I suppose that maybe they were afraid of getting some of the diseases that are more common for older people. I think there is a lot to say for genetics, as to whether or not we might be prone to any of those diseases. I have told my brothers that we really have it made - we have dementia on both sides of our family, a couple of our mom's sisters have Alzheimer's; our dad has Parkinson's disease; and then there is arthritis and things like that. However, I am not really afraid. I will most certainly live my life to its fullest.

I hope you do too. I know that with the help of Christ, we can all live lives that make a difference - and that we can be the best people possible. Thanks be to God!