Sunday, March 28, 2010

Food, and Worship (and more Sara Miles)

Up half the night two nights in a row with a kid and his virus. Up again at 5:22 this morning in anticipation of the alarm, and the 6:20am pick-up headed for church and Palm Sunday Breakfast prep. I made batches and batches of Gingerbread Pancakes this morning for 80 or 90 congregants (who also ate French Toast and sausages and fruit); got a few good reports (always nice), and only had a couple administrative "fires" to put out before stumbling home and crashing for an hour.

Tonight: Timberwolves tickets, our first trip to Target Center with the boy. Hope he doesn't suffer a relapse from all the excitement. We're going with my friend Jon and his boy (also a first-timer) and who knows whether we'll even make it through a half. I'm still so tired my head is swimming.

I worked alongside a tall skinny guy with glasses named Chip, one of the Sunday School dads, not a guy we see much in the pews but a professional short-order cook and fairly amusing character. Though he complains about his wife ALOT, it's in a manner recognizably reminiscent of my husband's, and therefore oddly tolerable. Chip knows how to mix up the five-gallon bucket of eggs -- just like Sara Miles -- and set up for loaf after loaf of Wonderbread "French" toast. We started cooking at a little after 7am, had a nice supply laid in by 8:45am when people began arriving, were out of everything by 9:15am, hauled ass to replenish and wound up with too much by 9:45. But gauged the size of the crowd fairly accurately, so few eggs were wasted. Jon helped with dishes and around the dining room, Penny organized everyone into teams on fruit and beverages (and obsessed over the temperature of the syrup), Alison prepped fruit cups and wiped dishes, and so on. Some of the Sunday School students helped serve. Chip, not in a hurry to head upstairs, relaxed by washing utensils and bowls and pans after we shut down the kitchen for worship.

I'm not a cooking pro by any means. I make great desserts. Left alone with a single task, like pancakes, I can figure out a system and turn out something tasty after an initial test-sample or two. But I like a recipe, and don't get turned on by meal preparation generally. I admire people who can set up in a kitchen, light a few burners and quietly turn out something great without seeming to strain or make mistakes. I especially admire the folks who cook the regular Monthly Community Dinners (attended by a larger crowd than this morning's), who know the recipes best suited for dining rooms of 100 or more, who can make a good hot meal without resorting to hot dogs and chili and spaghetti. (Foods I love, but poor loving when feeding the spiritually impoverished.) I am not confident enough in the kitchen to be watched -- I like a solitary project that takes a couple of hours. Holiday deserts. Breads, trifles, cheesecakes. That sort of thing.
In that way I am not one of the gang; as in most areas of my life, I'm just a little outside the gang, but I make an effort.

Yesterday at the office, while assembling worship bulletins, I YouTubed St. Gregory of Nyssa church in San Francisco, Miles' church, and spent an hour viewing clips from their Holy Week services -- a really appealing though slightly cloying mixture of traditional vestments, choirs chanting and incense burners with hippy tie-dyed robes, strings of paper cranes and Buddhist temple bells. (I also found Miles' website for The Food Pantry; unbelievably, that domain name was still around when they built the site.) I found our Palm Sunday/Passion reading and service today a bit stodgy by comparison, though I'm not really certain I'd want worship like St. Gregory's every week -- with the dancing around the altar during hymns, the lack of pews, the amateur drumming. But there is a passion for worship in those videos -- an emotional expression that transcends Protestant habits of restraint and codified ritual. On Maundy Thursday their sanctuary is filled with long tables of worshipers re-enacting the Last Supper, with bottles of wine and loaves and laughter as well as weeping. They lay tulips on the altar until they cover an icon of Christ crucified, and pass around baskets of hot cross buns during Good Friday service. They observe the Easter Vigil by candlelight, and raise Christ with praise on Easter morning. "We have two seasons at St. Gregory's" they say, "Easter, and Easter's coming."

All of this makes me think, makes me wonder.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

a bit more on Miles

Sara Miles, that is.
Her conversion occurred all at once, as the direct result of Communion. One day she just walked into a neighborhood church, sat down, sang, and when the time came gathered at the altar with everyone else to receive the bread and wine. And when she did, in spite of an utterly non-"religious" upbringing, she was filled with the sense of transubstantiation -- with the conviction of Jesus as the bread, as the wine, Jesus within her. She describes this incredible transformation very well. And more importantly, she is able to catalogue all the inconvenient ways in which her life is utterly rearranged as a result. She's clear about the precious gift and the costs, the adjustments required in becoming reconciled to all the human beings surrounding one, a necessity she emphasizes as prerequisite for following Christ. She talks about resisting change and making mistakes. And her conviction that she is called to feed people -- as a cook, as a volunteer administrator and founder of a food pantry -- is based on her first experience of Communion. Feeding the hungry becomes Communion.

That's what really turns me on. I'm sure that's right: that in all things we are called to honor and repeat the loving grace of Jesus at the Last Supper, when he feeds his followers and calls on them to honor his life and death and teaching and the God who empowered him forevermore in the breaking of bread. And while the approach with which I run our church food shelf isn't very far from Miles' own in terms of administration, I have obviously lost sight of the grace inherent. Thanks to the book, I'm taking steps to get back to that grace. Getting back to service, to serving people and feeding people and letting them feed me too in their way.

More later.

Monday, March 22, 2010

So I finished an incredible book recently -- tore through it in a couple of days really, and was at once frustrated, bowled over, seduced, inspired. I'll probably read it again later, and really take my time. Underlining and like that. What's the book? "take this bread" by Sara Miles.

She, Miles, is a fascinating individual who writes casually about years of incredible experience as a war journalist and close observer of political culture. She speaks frankly and convincingly about her Christian conversion and her struggles with the Protestant status quo on multiple levels. Most importantly, she runs a food shelf -- in the sanctuary of a rather well-known Episcopal church -- which is why I bought the book in the first place. As a recent convert myself who also started a food shelf (hard on the heels of swallowing whole a brand new faith), I was sure she could speak to my personal experience -- and I wasn't disappointed. More on this a little later.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sore muscles and Glory

Post-massage (Friday)
Post-Bowling Fundraiser (Saturday)
Post-Sunday school/Worship/people flying at me every five minutes with a new request Fellowship Time...
Post-nap (2 hours, sort of, spent on the couch not quite sleeping and listening to old SuperFriends re-runs)
... and I'm still sore, really sore; still kind of groggy, and just a bit of mental exhaustion in the mix. Plus, just possibly, a touch of the cold everyone else seems to have. Kid is in the tub, yearning for his spring break; husband on the couch, chuckling over the good news that by the end of the week, insurance companies won't be able to out-and-out deny coverage to anyone. And I am in the sewing room, surround by PILES and PILES of junk that need to get put away: sewing supplies, papers from school, Sunday school materials, bills, clean laundry, etc etc. What else? Gotta clean the bathroom, finish the laundry. Worry that my son's head cold will turn into an ear infection (as it so often has in the past.)

...and enjoy what's left of the sun today. Be glad I got a nap. Maybe carve out some space to keep working through my Sarah Miles book...

Day thirty-something on antidepressants. My PMS is mostly experienced from a slight distance, which is nice. The haircut and massage this week, on top of other improvements, brought me just a glimpse of someone I used to be a long time ago -- someone with a defined sense of self, an unquestioned identity. I walked into the bathroom to dry off my son a few moments ago, and he said "It's called Courage, Mommy. When you believe in yourself." Needless to say he was thinking about something he learned in school, but maybe he's right on the mark, maybe I'm re-developing a little courage.

"Mommy, what does it mean that Jesus will turn us into glory?" My son asked me this as we stood on the curb in front of the church, waiting for our ride. "Where did you hear that?" I asked. "Pastor Craig said it. He said Jesus would turn us all into glory. What's glory?" Good question for Pastor Craig, I thought; and I must have missed that part of the children's sermon this morning. I'll have to ask him later. "It's like some kind of cloudy dust..." said my son, who has a sense of mortality these days and has expressed some curiosity about what becomes of our organic bodies after we die. I realized I should probably make something up; 'glory' being an incredibly abstract notion when grappled with by the six-year-old mind. "It's more like happiness," I replied, "When Jesus comes back we'll all be very, very happy; we'll be turned into happiness." Not much better than Glory, that, and the kid gave up. I could feel him puzzling over it in the back seat of the car.

Courage. Glory. Identity. Our physical bodies, versus our emotional and spiritual realities. This is the stuff my Sunday is made of today.

Friday, March 5, 2010

where Boom Bands are playing

"Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting. . .

NO! That's not for you!
Somehow you'll escape all that waiting and staying.
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing."

from "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss

I have a photocopy of two pages from this book, the Waiting pages, taped together and posted on my bulletin board above my desk.

Taped to the ledge above my boss' mail slot is a fortune cookie slip, which reads "Do not give up, the beginning is always the hardest."

It's Friday, and we still don't have any purchase agreements in hand, though presumably everything is underway. The realtors, lawyers and other bureaucrats are presumably looking for ways to take a final chunk out of us before conceding to various deals with us in which they prosper -- because of course, they can only feed from our veins this one time, per this one business deal -- whereas once we have the property and begin building what will surely be a center for life and empowerment in our little geography, we will continue on. We'll recover from all the dubious machinations and genuine sacrifices this deal has required of us, and we will Move On. Fuck the rest.

Why yes, I DO work for a church. :-) You can't keep letting it get you down...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Day 18

Four quilt blocks completed. Twenty-some-odd to go. Poured a glass of wine and if I'm not careful that will be that for the night.

The Minnesota House failed to stop the Governor's elimination of GAMC, which means the poorest of the poor will have to find some new source of health care assistance, while hospitals transfer those costs from the government to your pocketbook most directly. The irony some middle class white man saying that government shouldn't be responsible for caring for everyone is that if we as private citizens don't care for those in need, with compassionate intention, the costs are extracted from us anyway. We don't have the luxury, in a civilized society, of letting the poor rot in the streets -- our selfishness is only a spectacle on the way to the inevitable, which is equitable distribution of resources. People who think the social safety net is a waste of resources should go live in Haiti, where they had to move the bodies with front end loaders after the quake, and bury them in mass graves. It's a good thing Jesus loves Tim Pawlenty, since as far as I'm concerned the man is a soulless fuckhead. Wonder how Kelliher is feeling. The only soundbite I've heard today from her is a scolding given the aforementioned NIMBY deerhunter about cussing on the Floor.

Wonder how much longer I'll last tonight.