Doing the Right Thing – Presby-style

For those of you new to this neck of the woods, we’re covering some classes we took at a “Synod School” first talked about here. In last week’s episode, we told you about our birdwatching class. This week we tackle the Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

Quite the change-up, don’t you think?

I warn you, this will be a longer post than usual, but have no fear! I’m including a TL:DR summary for those of you too busy for a five-minute read. (Just scroll down to the heading in orange to skip all the actual blood, sweat and tears that went into this post.)

Now, for those of you still with me… aww, I love you guys so much!

The class I took was called “The Letter from Birmingham Jail as Confessional Statement.” In short, we were discussing the recent overture that was made for the Presbyterian Church to include King’s letter into their Book of Confessions.

And just so we’re all clear, whenever I mention the Presbyterians, I’m talking about the main branch – the Presbyterian Church (USA). Often abbreviated PC(USA).

(Presbyterians are big on acronyms.)

Here’s a few fun facts:

  • The PC(USA) has only had their Book of Confessions since 1962. I didn’t know that. I figured it’d been around since… well, I’m not sure what I thought. I just figured it was longer than 1962.
  • In a previous post I said nothing is ever taken out of the Book of Confessions, so once something is added it’s permanent. Turns out I misspoke. There’s no actual rule stating nothing can be removed, only that it’s never been done. (This has nothing to do with today’s post; I just wanted to correct my previous statement.)
  • Most Presbyterians have never read the Book of Confessions. Nor do they own it. This, despite it being a history of their Church’s beliefs and completely free on the PC(USA) site.
  • I do not own, nor have I ever read, the Book of Confessions.

Okay, glad that’s out of the way. Now let’s get this puppy underway with a quick history lesson.

Dr. King wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail in response to another letter printed in the April 12, 1963 newspaper. That letter was signed by eight clergymen from various denominations and one rabbi, all of them white.

King had been arrested the morning of April 12 (this was on Good Friday) after a nonviolent protest, so someone smuggled in the newspaper for him. Not too pleased at what he read, he began writing his response to their letter in the margins of the newspaper. Eventually he was allowed some legal pads.

Here’s the letter from the eight clergymen: A Call for Unity. The link includes a little background on the men and you’ll note, these are not bad men. They agree change is needed, but that it should be “properly pursued” in courts. They continue:

We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely. (…) such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically
peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems.

In other words, “You need to stop doing your peaceful things because it’s making angry people do bad things.”

Of course, the clergymen weren’t the only ones concerned about the violence “incited” by the protests. Please note that while King’s response was finished relatively quickly, they could find no one to publish it until August. Even liberal publications were nervous about associating themselves with King.

Another thing you’ll notice if you bothered to read A Call for Unity: it signed by a Presbyterian.

Rev. Ramage was moderator of the Alabama Synod and according to the document I linked, was described as a “humble peacemaker.” In 1965 he was forced out of his pastorate by segregationists. Meaning they were not so keen with his peacemaking.

Fast forward to the present…

At the last General Assembly in 2018 (GA is the national meeting for Presbyterians and is held every other year), the Presbytery of the Twin Cities (right here in Minnesota!) made this overture:

On Adopting the “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” written by the Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. as a Contemporary Statement of Faith (But not with Constitutional Standing)

Four people from the Twin Cities Presbytery were in my class (two of them were at the wine party). You’ll note their overture said, “not with Constitutional Standing.” This means they weren’t asking for it to be included in the Book of Confessions.

After much discussion and reflection, the GA was not opposed to their overture but said there was “no category” for a Contemporary Statement of Faith without Constitutional Standing. So again, after much discussion and reflection, the overture’s wording was changed to include Constitutional Standing.

(By the way, if Presbyterians come across sounding a little anal to you, there’s a reason for that. They are.)

There are two slogans that get bandied about quite a bit by Presbyterians that are quite apt for our discussion. The first one is “Decently and in Order.”

Mostly it refers to their process of government, but somehow it just kind of describes them as a whole.

I truly believe that if there’s a roomful of people in complete chaos and you throw a Presbyterian in their midst, by the end of the afternoon a committee will have been formed and a resolution presented for the entire group to vote on and adopt.

Afterwards they’ll have a potluck dinner.

potluck

The second motto for Presbyterians is one I really, really love: “Reformed and always Reforming.”

Now you put these two mottos together and you wind up with a church that’s quite open to change, as long as they have a whole lotta time to think, discuss, study and reflect on it.

A really long time…

During one of our sessions, the instructor explained the constitutional process for the church. It was not unlike a civics lesson.

Following the GA vote, the next step is for a committee to study the matter carefully and make their recommendation at the next GA in 2020. If they say yes, definitely proceed, then the GA studies it for their next meeting in 2022, where the delegates (equal number of ministers & elders) will vote on it. If they vote “hell-yeah-let’s-do-this,” it goes to individual presbyteries for a vote. These individual presbyteries will give it to their churches for input beforehand (again, pastors and elders get equal vote). If 2/3 of the presbyteries agree with their own “hell-yeah,” it then goes to the 2024 GA for ratification.

If you’ve been keeping track, this is a six-year process at a minimum. Things can get delayed at any point. For instance, with regards to this overture, they are still in talks with King’s family on the copyright. So as of right now, there’s not even a committee in place for the initial study period.

You see how “Decently and in Order” comes into play?

Obviously it would be a whole lot faster if we had a top-down form of government. All we’d need is for the Big Man on Top (let’s face it, it’s usually a man) to say his thing and boom, there it is.

Alas, Presbyterians insist on everyone having a say. And that is why we have this ponderously slow process.

Yet, in spite of this, reform does happen and that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Consider for example a couple of overtures that went to the same GA (I found them while hunting for the exact wording of the Birmingham overture):

  • Ovt 049  On Affirming and Celebrating the Full Dignity and Humanity of People of All Gender Identities.
  • Ovt 050  On Celebrating the Gifts of People of Diverse Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities in the Life of the Church.
  • Ovt 051 On Praying for a Movement of the Spirit to Engage Presbyterian Congregations in Nation-Wide Action to Prevent Gun Violence.

Granted, I have no idea what the outcome was on these (they didn’t ask me), but I appreciate the fact they were on the docket and getting discussed.

And while I have no proof of it, I have an inkling that might have been the whole point of this Birmingham overture – getting the Letter out there and read.

Someone in the class had asked if it was really necessary to include King’s letter to our Confessions. “Can’t we just ask churches to read it and conduct studies around it?”

To that, one of the Twin City clergy replied, “Sure… but would they?”

And there’s the rub. By getting the Letter on track for Constitutional standing, they are forcing churches to pay attention to it. And if they read it – if people are honest with themselves – they should feel convicted by it.

(Just to be clear, though we in the pews are not reading the Book of Confessions, any clergy worth their salt would let us know about any changes or additions.)

We certainly had some dynamic discussion in our class regarding King’s words, let me tell you. Even though most believed it wasn’t really a Statement of Faith as our confessions are meant to be (and in truth, although it’s an incredibly important document, I have to agree with them), they felt an urgent need for action. To get off our comfy White Moderate couches and do something.

On the final day we had a time for open discussion. Two of the comments stayed with me, both of them made by male clergy:

You know, as I read King’s letter over and over, I felt so angered by my own inaction. But also frustrated because I didn’t know what to do and I kept thinking, I wish someone would tell me. And then it occurred to me – you know what? African Americans don’t owe me anything. Women in MeToo, they owe me nothing. My Native brothers and sisters, they don’t owe me a goddammed thing. This is on me. I have to educate myself. Learn the issues; figure out what to do. It’s on me. I can’t be forcing my (*airquotes*) white-mans-guilt on anyone.

And the other guy:

I’ve been thinking… I’ve had a pulpit now for nearly 27 years and never once have I used it. I’ve never really said what I thought. And you wanna know why? It’s because I don’t want to have that meeting on Monday night. Or the angry phone call Sunday afternoon. I mean, seriously, what am I afraid of? I’m a white Cis-Male, American citizen, well-educated and in my 40s. I’m secure. I’ve practically got a freakin’ capital P over me for crying out loud. I can always get another job. I don’t have the problems so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have. And here I’ve got this pulpit and never use it! … so that’s what I decided I’m going to do. I’m going to start using it.

I wish I’d thought to get his name so we could all shower him with letters and cards.

Keep the faith, you big lug. You’re making us proud.

And so ends this really long episode of Synod School for the Wannabe Activist.

Stay tuned next week (or maybe the week after, kinda busy right now) when we’ll learn more about the Enneagram and Why We Are the Way We Are.

AKA: why this blogger has always made a lousy activist.

TL:DR,

  1. The Presbyterians are considering adding Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail to their Book of Confessions.
  2. You’ll likely never read the Book of Confessions – who does? – so don’t worry about it.
  3. You’ll likely never read Dr. King’s letter either, but you should. Here’s a link: READ THIS.
  4. And here’s a link to the crib notes version because, you know…  LAZY VERSION.
  5. Presbyterians have a really, really, really slow method for reform. But at least they have a method. So cut them a little slack, okay?
  6. Sometimes clergy say just the right thing. Let’s hope they live by it. (As should we.)
  7. You should consider adding more reading time to your schedule. Just sayin.

Birding with birdbrains and a stiff neck

This week we continue the tale of our Iowa Synod School trip (click here for last week’s entry).

Quick recap for those too lazy to click the link: Two weeks ago, I and 639 other Presbyterians attended a Synod School in Storm Lake, Iowa. I took four classes, one of which was a birding class called “Robins, Raptors and Ducks.”

What follows is a lowdown on what I learned…

On the first day our teacher made a confession. “I am by no means an expert on birdwatching.”

She proved this in so many ways.

She may have been the most computer-illiterate person I’d ever met. Watching her try to navigate the various birding sites was downright adorable. We’d coach her as we watched her efforts on the classroom screen – “click on the tab… no, the big one on the right… click there… I think you need to go back one… just hit the logo… no, the one at the top…”

And when she’d accidentally log herself out (at least once every morning), she never remembered her sign-in so she’d open up her email. Still keeping the projection on the screen so we saw her user name (birdlady47) as well as her 352 unopened emails. (Her Amazon purchase recently shipped!)

No surprise, she was also terribly scattered. Several times she’d rifle through her notes – “Oh, I must have left it in my room” – or lose her train of thought – “Now where was I going with that?… oh well, couldn’t have been too important.”

But what she lacked in expertise or competence, she made up for in enthusiasm. Never have I seen a woman’s face light up with such joy as she discussed bird poop, or the ecstasy she experienced watching a mama bird upchuck into a baby bird’s mouth.

And here’s another thing I loved about her: she was as fond of commonplace birds as I was. Even speaking highly of crows and pigeons. “They’re quite intelligent, you know.”

(Yes, I do know. And thank you for saying it.)

birders crows and pigeons

As I mentioned before, we were to spend two of our class times outdoors. What surprised us is that she scheduled the first one for Tuesday, only our second day in. Someone asked if we’d carpool. “I suppose we could…” she replied.

“Where should we meet?”

She thought about it. “How about over by those benches. You know the ones I mean?”

???

“You know… over by that building…,” she waved her arm vaguely. “I think it’s the science building. Or maybe it was arts.”

One of the male students – the one wearing a funny hat so presumably a world-class birder – was more precise. The next day we would meet at the benches nearest the visitor parking lot and drive to the park by the lake.

Sadly, the teacher was not real specific on which side of the park, so some of the class wound up across the lake. I was with the teacher’s group.

Here she is sitting on a bench.

Birder instructor

This is where she placed herself as soon as we arrived. She gave us no instructions, just plopped down with her binoculars.

We milled around wondering what to do.

Birders class

Eventually we figured it out. It’s a birdwatching class. We should watch birds.

Here are a few of my classmates catching sight of an I-don’t-know-what.

birders2

Frankly, I found my classmates more fascinating than the birds. Definitely easier to take pictures of; they moved around less.

Here’s Man in Funny Hat, but he forgot his hat.

Birder funny hat

He still looks kind of funny though.

This is Charlotte. Doesn’t she look sweet?

Birder Charlotte

I met her during the ride to the park and fell in love with her. She’s an Iowan grandmother and I think by law they have to be sweet.

As for the birdwatching… you know, I gave it my best shot. Really I did. Had my binoculars out, gazed up into the trees. The whole shtick.

Then about 10 minutes in, give or take a few minutes, I felt a familiar twinge in my neck and thought, “Oh yeah – I have neck problems!”

Really, you wouldn’t think it’d be hard remembering two major surgeries, 12+ weeks of recovery, titanium plates and rods, all that jazz. But somehow I forget every time. Up until I feel the twinge, of course.

I spent the rest of the class period keeping my head level, which wasn’t too bad considering we were at a lake.

I saw some lovely Canada Geese.

birding 2

I’m humbled to learn I’ve always called them by the wrong name. I used to say Canadian Geese, but apparently they lack citizenship status and so are simply Canada Geese.

Anyway, despite correcting my head position, I wound up with one humdinger of a stiff neck. For the rest of that day and half of the next, I had the most impressive posture you ever did see. (My God, I was in pain.)

Even so, I soldiered on. No one except Husband knew (poor guy, he hears all my woes). Though when the next outdoor birdwatching day was scheduled for Thursday, I bowed out, thinking it best not to chance it.

As it turned out, it was just as well. Not only was Thursday cold and rainy, half the class wound up at an entirely different location than the rest.

When Friday’s class began, our teacher apologized. “I decided yesterday morning we’d go to a meadow instead,” she explained.

Ohhhh,” said Man in Funny Hat (he found it!), “we wondered where you went to.”

“Yeah, I didn’t know how to send you a message,” she explained, no doubt having forgot her email password. “Then I figured, oh well, they’ll probably still see some nice birds where they’re going.”

Wow… just, wow

Okay, so the birdwatching teacher was a bit of a birdbrain (and we’re not talking crow-level brain either). Even so, I did learn a few things:

  • For attracting more birds to your yard, focus on using native plants & shrubs and packing them in closely. Birds like the safety of hopping from bush to bush.
  • Black oil sunflower seed is a favorite for many birds; peanuts and mealworms are a hit too.
  • To deter squirrels, you can attach baffles to poles or else buy squirrel proof feeders. (Though my own personal nemesis, Darth Squirrel, figured them out. This is war… WAR I SAY!)
  • Over 400 million birds die every year in the U.S. just by smacking into tall buildings. (Good Lord!)
  • You can prevent birds from going kamikaze on your windows a number of ways, one of which is not cleaning them. (As if I needed a reason.)

So ends this week’s episode of Synod School for the Birds.

Stay tuned next week when we tackle the Letter from Birmingham Jail and how it will impact the Presbyterians… or will it?

The 32 Second Killing Spree

I rarely repost things from other bloggers… now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever have. But sometimes things happen in the world and I want to write about them, I try to write about them, but the words won’t come. Then someone like Mitch comes along and writes them perfectly. So please, in the wake of yet more shootings, let’s put away our biases and flippant opinions and listen to reason.
Take it away Mitch…

Mitch Teemley

Three mass shootings in a week. El Paso, Texas, Gilroy, California, and now Dayton, Ohio, where many of my friends live (none were present at the shooting). Actually, America averages more than one mass shooting a day; these three simply made it to the front page due to their larger-than-usual death tallies.

The young man who killed 9 and injured 27 in Dayton last weekend was suspended from high school for posting lists of people he wanted to kill and girls he wanted to rape. Later, the school was put on lockdown when he announced his plans for a mass shooting. He regularly sang in “pornogrind” bands performing songs that celebrate rape and torture.

Should he have been allowed to purchase 100-round magazines and a semi-automatic weapon advertised by its manufacturer as “the sound freedom makes” while producing “an orchestra of metal and hellfire”? Should he have been allowed to…

View original post 195 more words

Bloody good time with a Bloody Mary

We’re taking a break from our normally scheduled post for a brief discussion on cocktails. Specifically, regional differences in cocktails.

We’ll be talking about food too, because when imbibing alcohol, the partaking of food is always a wise choice.

For some context, we’ve been doing a bit of work on our house and felt we deserved a break. So yesterday for dinner we drove to St. Cloud and went to one of our new favorites: Grizzly’s. (Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it; they’re only in Minnesota and Wisconsin.)

It’s a nice place. Even at their busiest, it tends to be quieter than other restaurants and the four or five times we’ve been there, we’ve always had great service.

But really, we go there for the food. It’s fabulous. Husband gets their pulled pork sandwich, I usually go for one of their chicken dishes. This time I got their Spicy Rotisserie Chicken with sweet potato fries. This is how they describe it:

SPICY ROTISSERIE CHICKEN
Grizzly’s wood-roasted chicken, spicy veggies, jalapeño peppers, pepper jack cheese, & roasted red pepper mayo on a toasted pretzel bun.

And this is what it looked like:

Grizzly's meal

The little thing on the top left is a fried pickle. They come with Husband’s sandwich, but he always gives them to me because he loves me.

Anyway, let’s back up to when the waiter first brought us the menu. His name was Matthew and he was taking care of us for the evening.

So Matthew comes to our table and once we accept going under his care, he offers to bring us drinks and alerts us that their Bloody Mary’s are on special.

This is something I’ve noticed about Minnesota, they seem to be big on Bloody Mary’s. Everywhere we’ve been, I’ll notice a restaurant or bar bragging about their own version of it.

Usually I don’t order a drink, I’ll just stick with water thank you. Occasionally I’ll get iced tea, but only if I know for certain they brew it. If I order alcohol at all, typically I go for a house red.

But this time I was feeling adventurous. After Husband ordered his usual (coke-is-pepsi-okay-yes-that’s-fine) I said, “A Bloody Mary sounds fun, I’ll take that.”

I’m not sure why I said “fun” but there it is.

Now, granted, I’ve not ordered many Bloody Mary’s in my life, but my expectation was that I would receive something like this:

Bloody Mary

An icy, slightly spicy tomato-based drink with celery.

What Matthew brought me was this:

Bloody Mary with snit
There were more things on the skewer but I ate them before I thought to take a picture. Sorry.

Husband wasn’t sure I was brought the right drink. I wasn’t sure either but I didn’t want to offend Matthew. So after he walked away I spent a little time with Google.

Turns out this is a Midwest version of the Bloody Mary, and that chaser of beer is called a snit. Which is a delightful name for it, when all is said and done.

As for the drink? It was very savory. And more than just a little spicy, which made me appreciate the snit. I think the glass was rimmed with Lawry’s Seasoning Salt and maybe cumin? Not sure on that.

For my edification, Google presented me with a few more examples of “Upper Midwest” Bloody Mary’s:

Making my Grizzly version look pretty pale by comparison.

Then I recalled something Brian of Bonnywood wrote regarding a drink he ordered that I think came with a cheeseburger? And I mean that literally, the cheeseburger was on a skewer in the drink. Could that have been a Bloody Mary?

(Perhaps Brian will let us know in the comments.)

In the meantime, for the rest of you, I’d like to know if there are special takes on cocktails where you live and if so, have you tried them and what did you think?

Hey, wouldn’t this be a great premise for a TV show? A group of friends taking a road trip across the country, tasting regional cocktails!

If I ask right, maybe Husband will agree to be our designated driver. What do you think?

Back in a dorm, chance meetings, and memories of my first kiss

In our last episode, you learned that I spent the week in Storm Lake, Iowa, attending Synod School with a bunch of Presbyterians. Six hundred and thirty-nine of them, to be exact.

There is much to tell. Oh-so-much. So much that you will be receiving it in doses.

Today’s dose will cover my overall impression of the week, along with the story of my first kiss. (Trust me, in some weird way, they relate.)

We were not long into the week – I believe it was the second day – when we knew we’d return the next year… and the year after that and the year after that. I believe my exact thought was, “Where has this been all my life?!”

The people were charming, the food tantalizing, the information challenging, the activities fun. If I had any complaint, other than the extra-firm dorm bed…

dorm
It’s been a long time since I slept in a dorm. I didn’t miss it.

I’d say there was a lack of sufficient free-time to unpack all I was taking in. Keeping in mind I require more mental-unpacking time than your average human.

In hindsight, I could have found more free time. I didn’t have to attend every class — as it was, I skipped one birdwatching class on account of a sore neck. And of course I could have skipped the daily worship services and convocations.

I could have, but I didn’t want to. Their musicians were top-notch and the convocation speaker and worship leaders were some of the best I’ve seen. In particular, the evening worship leader. Her name was Shawna and she pastors a church in Chicago.

Here’s a picture of Shawna — keep in mind it’s with my phone and she moved around a lot: Shawna

Not sure if you can tell, but she has some mighty impressive arm tattoos. Also, her hair is rainbow colored.

If you’re thinking she doesn’t look very Presbyterian, you need to broaden your perspective on Presbyterians. Just sayin.

Back to the dorm room – did you happen to notice that plastic-wrapped blue cup on the one desk? They gave us those when we checked in.

cup

It was a quality cup, kept my tea warm, and the color spoke to me. Yet I stopped carrying it on the second day on account of it alerting everyone that we were first-timers. (Sneaky of them, don’t you think?)

Though there was an advantage to carrying that blue cup, as it turned out. When we walked into the dining hall for our first meal – completely overwhelmed by the noise and people (seriously, my first thought when we walked into the cafeteria: “This is my version of hell!”) – a woman waved enthusiastically, beckoning us to her table.

“Do you know her?” I asked Husband. He did not.

Her name was Carol V. and she was making it her mission to help Husband and I feel at home. (Based on the Enneagram class I took, I’d say she was a quintessential 2 — the Helper. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. More on that later.)

Meeting Carol V. turned out highly fortunate. She gave us plenty of tips for making the most of our week, as well as how to navigate the campus. Her best advice: hit the cafeteria line about 45 minutes after they open. Enough time to miss the families with kids, but before the soft-serve ice cream ran out.

She also encouraged us to not skip the evening activities, and there were plenty of them to be found. Monday night we attended a “Further Conversation with DeeDee” – the convocation speaker. (Husband told me I said something especially profound during the discussion, but I honestly have no memory of it. I think he imagined it.)

On Tuesday we attended “Music with the Stanfield Family,” (most of them musicians from the worship services), where once again we sat next to Carol V.

Carol knew everybody, even the musicians. She wrote down their names for us on a napkin.

band napkin

Halfway through the evening, Carol whispered in my ear, “I’m going to invite you to something, but please feel free to say no if it’s not your thing.”

I leaned closer, intrigued…

“There’s a small group of us who get together for wine–”

I think it was my “oOoh!” that led her to believe I was open to the idea.

It was happening the next evening, around 8 pm or so. She gave me the instructions: basement level of Smith Hall, enter by the South door. Go down the stairs and the long hallway. The room is through the big metal doors at the end.

“Keep this under wraps,” she added. “It’s not like we’re breaking rules, exactly. We just don’t want to… well… just keep it under wraps.”

The next night was the Synod School dance. We attended for about an hour and I’m proud to say I am now reasonably adequate in doing the box-step. Sometime after 9, we made our way to Smith Hall.

The building was terribly quiet, even down the long hallway. “Are you sure it was tonight?” Husband asked. (Of course I wasn’t sure. I’m never sure.)

We got to the big metal doors and heard some muffled voices on the other side. We knocked – the voices hushed. “This feels weird,” Husband said. I agreed and opened the door.

The room was apparently the college hang-out. A sign above the counter said, “The Underground” and I saw a cappuccino maker and popcorn machine. However our attention was drawn to the 15 or so people seated in a circle on our right, all wearing women’s housecoats. The kind of housecoats your grandmother probably wore.

housecoat

One of the men, a pastor from Wisconsin, said, “Don’t worry, we’re not crazy.”

(You know, when you have to say that… )

We were promised the story behind the housecoats, but first we had to select our own to wear. Those were the rules. No housecoat, no wine.

Husband looked slightly terrified, but there was wine at stake. I wasn’t backing down. I selected for him a lovely pink number with small teacups all over. For me, blue satin to bring out my eyes.

As the story goes, two of the women present (and another who passed away, Marjorie) have been attending Synod School since the early 90s. They didn’t know each other at the time, neither did they realize they’d be sleeping in a dorm and using a bathroom down the hall. Without planning, they all wound up at WalMart and bought the same grandma-inspired housecoats. Hilarity ensued. They bonded.

The wine party was Marjorie’s idea. Ever since she passed away, they continued their parties in housecoats. Additional ones purchased for husbands and newcomers.

“To Marjorie!” someone shouted.

“To Marjorie!” the group returned, raising their glasses.

Several toasts later, one of the men brought up that we had missed their opening sharing time. (On account of me being a slow learner on the box-step.) The man was wondering, were we willing to tell our first kiss stories?

“Our first kiss with each other or my first kiss ever?” I asked.

Husband said, “You mean I wasn’t your first?”

“We’re gonna assume your mother kissed you first. We’re talking about your first kiss with a boy.”

Another added, “Or girl. We won’t judge.”

“But what kind of kiss?” I insisted. “There are kisses that are forced upon us and kisses we welcome.”

(This is an important distinction, it must be said. The tale of my first kiss belongs less at a wine party than to a #MeToo discussion.)

It was agreed: a welcomed kiss is a much better tale. And so it is.

“This is a bit embarrassing to admit,” I began, “but it was my first year of college.”

“Mine too!” exclaimed Carol V. (We shared a moment.)

“I was at a roller skating rink.” I said.

“Oooooh,” the group intoned.

“I met a boy. His name was Drew.”

“Ohhh, Drew!”

“He was French!”

“Ooooohhh, French!”

“But was the kiss French?” a man asked.

“Eventually!”

The conversation began to drift, but the man was insistent: “Wait, I need more details! Did the kiss happen mid-skate? How did this play out?”

“Oh, no, it happened at the dorm. He drove me home.”

“Oh, at the dorm!”

“Wait! Was it in the car or was it–”

I deflected all other questions with a toast: “To Drew!”

“To Drew!”

Indeed, let us all raise a glass to Drew. The sweet, gentle boy who taught me how to trust again.

The world could use more Drews. (And more Presbyterians, too.)

Stay tuned until next week, when we’ll cover more on our Synod School experience. Such as our birdwatching class, where we learned about geese and men in funny hats and how a stiff neck is never your friend.

I’ve gone bird watching in Iowa, among other things

Right now I am in Storm Lake, Iowa. Learning great truths and experiencing deep personal growth and doing some bird watching while I’m at it.

Or at least I assume I am. As I write this I am still at home. Such is the wonder of the WordPress scheduling tool.

A few months ago I hinted at this Storm Lake trip, way back when I told you about a birding class I signed up for. It’s part of “Synod School” – a week-long event offering both educational and recreational activities for Presbyterians in the Synod of Lakes and Prairies.

synod
I’m showing you this I don’t have to explain what the Synod is. (It’s from their website.)

Just imagine: a whole week with Presbyterians! In Iowa! (I bet you’re burning with envy right now.)

I don’t always tag along with Husband on church-related trips, but there was a reason I agreed to this time. Namely, I thought we’d tango.

One of the courses was “Beginning Ballroom Dancing.” Husband said if I went, we could take the class together. Now how could I pass that up?Shall we danceAlas, it was not to be.

Due to professional obligations, Husband had to attend a different class that, sadly, conflicted with the dance class. And beings how I didn’t want to tango alone – or with a stranger – and beings how I already asked for the time off, I selected some other classes. I could do up to four, and I decided to make two of them serious and the others just-for-fun.

These are the four I’m taking:

1) Robins, Raptors and Ducks: This is the one I told you about. We’re instructed to bring a pair of binoculars and a journal to write in. On two of the days we’re going to NW Iowa Watchable Wildlife areas to “test our skills.” I’ll let you know how that works out.
(No, I haven’t bought a pith helmet… yet.)

2) Mark and Radical Discipleship: One of my serious classes – it was the radical part that appealed to me. The course description read, “We will explore the timeless issues of poverty, gender, justice, liberation, equality, etc., using the Gospel of Mark as a guide.” If the class turns out radical enough, I’ll let you know.

3) The Letter from Birmingham Jail as a Confessional Statement: My other serious class, I feel it requires an explanation. You see, the Presbyterians have a constitution. It’s made up of two books: The Book of Order and the Book of Confessions. The Book of Order has all kinds of policies and procedures of how things are done or not done in the church, and this book changes a lot. The Book of Confessions is filled with statements of faith, such as the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed, among others. This book never changes. Meaning once something is added, it’s never removed. Therefore, adding something to it is a Big. Hairy. Deal.
Right now there’s a movement afoot to add Dr. King’s Birmingham Jail letter. That’s what this class is covering and I thought it sounded intriguing. I’ll let you know what I find out.

4) The Enneagram for Soul Strength: Maybe it sounds odd, but I chose this as a “just-for-fun” class. If you know what the Enneagram is – no worries if you don’t – it’s kind of like a personality test that assigns you a number. The instructor emailed ahead of time with some links for taking the test and to be honest, when I saw that she emailed all 27 participants without using bcc and that her note was written in Comic Sans, I judged her. And then when three people responded saying, “looking forward to it” using reply all?!
I judged them, too.
And then I wondered if this wasn’t some kind of clever ruse on the part of the instructor to test our personalities.
Anyway, I took the test and found out I’m a 5. And then I looked up some other tests online and took them too. They all said I was a 5. And then I read something that said of all the Enneagram types, the 5 is the most likely to take the test over and over again to make sure they’re getting the right information.
So, yeah. Guess I’m a 5.

There’s supposed to be a number of evening activities during the week as well, one of which is a “Synod School Dance.” (Maybe we’ll pick up some tango tips?) All of this is taking place at Buena Vista University – a Presbyterian college right next to the lake. Husband and I will be sharing a dorm room. (No kidding.)

In short, I shouldn’t have any trouble finding things to write about. I’m taking along my laptop and tablet and I’m hoping there’ll be plenty of time for this writing and also for keeping up with my blogger buddies. Heck, maybe I’ll even draw a bird or two. Who knows?

So until next week, this is me in Iowa (not really but yeah) saying: Keep it real, keep it interesting, and keep on dancing. 🕺🏾

Rockin’ the cradle: Heavy metal for the kiddos

Yes! It’s true — what we’ve all been longing for has finally happened.

Metallica wrote a children’s book!

Metallica book

I know what you’re thinking.

You thought it was enough singing little Timmy to sleep with the soft, melodic tones of “Creeping Death” and “Seek & Destroy.” Must you read to him as well?

But hear me out: this way Timmy can learn heavy metal and his ABC’s. At the same time!

No more will he ask why mommy wears so much leather, or wonder at the meaning of daddy’s tattoo — the one with the bloody hammer and the words, “KILL ‘EM ALL.”

Preorder your copy now and receive it in time for Christmas!

metal christmas

Full Disclosure: I’m 99.9% sure the target audience for this book are fans and collectors. Not children. Also, a portion of the sales goes to charity.

So there’s that.

And before any metalheads accuse me of casting aspersions on their band, let me set you straight: I recognize Metallica’s talent and influence. They are legend.

They’re not my cup of tea, but I recognize their talent.

When I was in high school my taste ran more toward oldies (Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens). Though I was also fond of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. (I believe I was about Timmy’s age when “Dark Side of the Moon” came into being.)

Oh, and sometimes in the early evening when the cloud cover was just right (for some reason it worked best with clouds), I could get a jazz station on my little radio that looked something like this:

radio

I’ve no idea if it was real jazz or not, but it seemed so to my teenage ears and I felt quite sophisticated listening to it. Later I came to appreciate classical music as well, my taste heavily influenced by Bugs Bunny.

The point is, I like a wide variety of music. Especially when it’s done well, and I can agree Metallica does their thing well.

But in case you’re one of those holdouts who think heavy metal isn’t all that heavy, just hear what a couple of classically trained musicians do with Metallica.

The video is a bit old – 2015! – but worth a listen just the same:

Rock on, baby. Rock on. 🎸

A colonoscopy means I love you

What’s this? She’s posting twice in a week?
*rifles through desk*
*checks calendar*
Hmm, not a holiday. What gives?
*Gasp* Has Jupiter aligned with Mars?

Um… don’t think so. Truth is I’m feeling a little loopy because I had a colonoscopy today.

I mean, sure, it was several hours ago and people my age (or, ahem, younger) get this test with little fanfare. But this time I did it, okay?

And I feel this deserves some recognition.

crowd cheering

Normally I just avoid doctors and pretend nothing is wrong. It’s a simple medical plan and it served me well for years.

I was more than content to continue said plan and then, boom! Husband has a heart attack.

The day after — he was in the hospital and I was home — I woke up and looked at his pillow.

It occurred to me that had things gone differently — had we waited too long to go to the hospital, had he said, “eh, I’m sure it’s just heartburn,” or whatever — I could so easily have woken up a widow. In just a few short moments, my life would have changed forever.

The second thing that occurred to me: I couldn’t have blamed him for anything. Sure, he has always enjoyed his steak and maybe he didn’t eat as healthy as he could have, but he did better than most people.

More importantly, he has always gone for his annual physicals, gets all the tests they recommend, even exercises regularly.

Where as I

And that’s when it occurred to me: we should take care of ourselves for the people we love.

The next day I spent some time online, researching local doctors. Found one with really good reviews and made an appointment. When we met she ordered all these tests because… well, everything was overdue. In this last month I’ve been poked and prodded and… yeah, now probed.

The good news is, all is well and fine and clean as a whistle. The colonoscopy guy was very impressed. He told me they rarely see colons as smooth as mine.

I wonder if they offer medals for these kinds of things? Seems like they should.

Okay, yeah, maybe I am feeling a little loopy.

In any case, consider this a public service announcement. Have you been practicing doctor avoidance? Are there issues you’ve been neglecting, a lump you’re curious about, or something just doesn’t feel right?

Been putting off that physical?

Look at the people you love, pick up the damn phone and make the appointment.

Even if it means you have to drink something funky for a colonoscopy. Do it for the ones you love.

And just for kicks, and because I’m still a little loopy, here’s Kermit’s visit to the doctor:

P.S. to Husband: 💓

One year, one week, two days and eight hours ago… we moved. Also, results from our birthday poll!

It’s true. I’ve been a Minnesotan for over a year now, survived a winter even the natives are calling “brutal” and, in case you’re wondering, I’ve not yet adopted the dialect… dontcha know.

I’m working on a post where I’ll talk about all the things I’ve learned this last year: the differences between city folk and small town folk, what it’s like moving across the country, switching from a desert landscape to a snowy one, stuff like that there.

And by working on it, I mean I sometimes think about it. There may or may not be actual sentences written down.

In the meantime, below are some pictures of our recent trip with our kids. They came up for a visit and to escape Phoenix heat. We traveled over to Duluth for a few days as well as spent some time in the cities. (This is a true sign of Minnesotan: I now say things like, “We went to the cities.”)

Here’s a few from Duluth (click on an image to enlarge):

Note the big ship? When you see ships like that, you begin to realize just how big Lake Superior is.

Here’s the aerial bridge lowering once the ship passed through:

Gotta pity the poor cars who had to wait all that time for the bridge to come back down. It had to be at least 15 minutes from the time the bells first started ringing.

Speaking of which, they really don’t give you a lot of warning as to when the bridge is going to rise. On our last day there, we thought we’d walk across it.

Full disclosure: we had noticed a ship was coming but there was some debate on our part as to whether the bridge would have to rise for it or not. In any case, the walking light still showed “Walk” so we walked across.

It was at the halfway mark — and believe me, this is one long bridge — when the bells start sounding and a voice comes on telling us to “Get the hell off the bridge.”

Okay, so maybe he didn’t say those exact words. In any case, we got the hint and picked up our pace. Like, ran. We made it just in time before it started to rise.

Death comes to us all_2

Other than almost dying, it was a great trip. We toured a maritime museum, a whale back ship and a mansion, though I didn’t think to take pictures at any of them. I guess we were enjoying ourselves too much?

Though I got a picture of my ice cream:

curry caramel cashew and salted licorice

On the left is Salted Licorice, on the right is Curry Caramel Cashew. Sounds weird, right? Yet they were delicious. Daughter had a scoop of Honey Chamomile in a cup of espresso. (Calming and invigorating.)

So then we went to the cities and hung out mostly in downtown St. Paul. Son said it was kind of like New York City but without all the people.

That’s me getting friendly with F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Did you know he was from St. Paul? It’s true!)

Charles Schultz is from Minnesota as well, so the whole Peanuts gang is hanging out in Landmark Park. That’s Husband discussing philosophy with Linus and Sally.

I have one other photo I simply must show you. After we dropped the kids off at the airport, Husband and I stopped at an antique shop in Elk River.

Where I found this guy!

Froggy friend

Is he not the most glorious fella you’ve ever seen? I mean, he’s so charming holding the completely impractical planter I found at WalMart for five bucks.

Say, if any of you have any suggestions as to what I should name my froggy friend, let me know. Right now the leading contenders are Bowie, Elton, or Irving.

Alrighty, so now it’s time for the results of our poll. We really seemed to hit a nerve with this one. You people have some strong opinions on birthday parties for adults.

For a reminder, these were the questions:

poll questions

As it turns out, 40% of you find parties childish while 32% of you accept them only if you’re hammered.

Only one person — one person mind you! — threatened to end our friendship over this. I found this heartening. (No one chose the final question.)

There was also a write-in option. These were the responses:

Other answers

If we evaluate the overall intent, I think it’s safe to say none of these responses are in favor of parties. Though I want to pull out the final one:

I love to celebrate life, on any day. Blessed to be alive.

Yes!!!

That’s the ticket, friends. Rather than reserve one day out of the year where we honor each other, how about we celebrate every day?

Though maybe without the noisemakers and pointy hats. Ain’t no one in favor of those.

Birthday blues (1)

To all of you who took our poll — and waited so patiently for the results — thank you for playing.

Now go eat some cake and start celebrating life. 🙂

happy