Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why our country needs more Calvinists

I was listening to an NPR report on big-ag. A farmer explained his opposition to big-ag that once only a few companies own all the farms, then they can set prices as high as they want.

Capitalism, the most popular religion in the US, is based on greed, at least as practiced in the US. (Proponents seem to have forgotten the Scot Adam Smith's corrective statements about the community.) Unfortunately, greed, left unchecked can lead to disaster as we have just witnessed.

Calvinists have a dark view of humanity. We are all depraved creatures. Calvinists understand greed. They understand that humans, left to our own devices will run amok. We need more Calvinists reminding us that we are not perfect and that we are not God and that we do have a propensity to choose evil, and to convince ourselves that choosing evil is actually a good thing.

Calvinists also use their brains.

For a while, I had laid aside my Calvinism. I am putting back on my mantle of Calvinism. And yes, Calvinists do have a bent toward self-righteousness.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wearing a Cross

I don't wear a cross. I find it a bit cheesy. I grew up in the south and wearing crosses was what girls from the mill hill did. It's a classist thing. Though I renounce much of my southern upbringing, there are some things that are so much of part of the marrow of my bones that it is hard to see the utter stupidity of them.

A group of clergywomen met yesterday to begin a group. We went off in a direction totally different from what I had expected, planned and hoped. But it was really good. We decided that only one of us likes our current city. And so we decided that we would witness (see, not proclaim) the holy in our city.

And I woke up with the idea that I am a bearer of the holy. I feel this when I serve the bread and tell someone as I look her in the eye: this is the bread of life. But, I can/should be a bearer of the holy in all that I do.

Then this afternoon, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I should wear a cross. Or perhaps I'll just start with my triquetra and ease in slowly.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Five

For this Friday Five, share with us a wild animal story from your life. Or if you've never had such an encounter share with us your five favorite animals, and why. Bonus for videos and photos!

Which one to choose? My favorite shark story? My Ngorogoro crater story? Blind Boy? Pinky? The crazy cat? That's five. Maybe you'll get each one.

So, I went on a shark dive on a dive trip to Australia. On my first shark dive with these folks, they took us down, sat us on a sand bar and then chumbed the water. On the second trip, about five years later, they had a shark cage. They led us down, put us in the cage, shut the door and then chumbed the water. I stood at the edge, watching the sharks. Then a small shark pushes its way into the cage right in front of me. At first, I tried pushing the shark out of the cage. Then I decided that was really stupid, so I stood there with my hands under my armpits so the shark didn't think my fingers were finger food. One of the dive guides swam over and got the baby out of the cage. As I swam to the surface, I wondered about my fear. The shark surely would have given me professional courtsey. (I was practicing corporate law at the time.)

Ngorogoro Crater. We were among the last people to be able to camp in the crater. It's an immense volcanic crater. The walls of the crater loom upward and most of the animals stay in this (compared to the Serengetti) small area. There is a lake and grasslands. Zebras and gnus, lions and giraffes roam this eden. I awoke to the sound of something outside our tent. I wondered what I should do? Ignore the animal or get up? I finally decided if I were going to be eaten alive, I wanted to see what it was. A hippo munching the grass. The only time I've seen a hippo out of the water.

Blind boy. My dad bought a farm when I was 13. He bred black angus cattle. On a visit home, I met a young steer which hung close to the fence. Dad explained the steer was blind. Because he couldn't see, he was easily approached and became a pet to everyone.

Pinky. When one of the sows had a litter, there was usually a runt, a little piglet destined to be squashed or just left to starve in the fight to get to the mother's teats. Dad would bring the runt up to the house and hand it to one of us, usually me. I'd feed the piglet and then watch as it eventually died. One piglet was different, she lived the first day and night and then the next and then after that. Pinky slept in my bed at night. I'd get up and feed her (human baby formula) at night. During the day, she was with me all the time as I tried to keep her warm. She grew up in the house. Pigs don't have sweat glands, so I'd bathe her several times a day to keep her cool. Mom finally said I couldn't use the bathtub; I'd have to use the laundry sink in the basement. One day a patient came to the house to see my dad. As he walked up to the house, he watched my mother as she shooed the animals out of the house: one dog, then another, three cats and then finally, oinking at the indignity of being pushed out of her home, Pinky. The patient remarked to Dad that he'd never seen a pig in the house. (This was a real pig, not one of those tiny pot bellys that became popular later.) Dad's reply: the pig has had five baths today, she's cleaner than you are.

The cat. I don't remember the cat's name. A friend at work was moving and wasn't taking his two cats. He was looking for someone to take one of them. I said I would take the cat if he couldn't find someone else. And then I asked about the second cat. He said that they were going to put the cat down because he couldn't imagine asking anyone to take the crazy cat. I knew the cat; I knew how crazy it was and I said that I would take it too. The first cat fit in pretty well. The second wasn't seen for two weeks, hiding out in the basement. After we had had the animals about a year, I found the crazy cat dead. It was in the morning; I was on my way to work. My cleaning lady was coming and I didn't have time to bury the animal before work. So, I tried to stuff the dead, stiff body in a grocery bag. I got the body in the bag, but the long tail, now curved like a hook poked out of the bag. I stuck the bag in a closet where I thought the cleaning lady wouldn't look. But, she did (she must have cleaned better than I gave her credit for). I can't imagine what she must have thought as she found a cat's body in a grocery bag in the bottom of the closet in the dining room.


Yesterday morning I sat in the inside waiting room of a local cancer center. A parishioner has a recurrence and he was in for a painful test. He had told me not to come, but his wife had called me the night before hardly holding back tears, so, of course, I went.

Showing up in a cancer center is not the best thing to do when one's favored defense is denial. My parishioner, his wife. A young African American woman, baseball cap pulled snugly against her scalp. I couldn't tell whether her expression was one of defiance or defeat. An Asian woman joining in our conversation about chemo, particularly those who crow about how their chemo didn't affect their athletic endeavors. (Chemos are very different chemicals, each with different side effects. Some are relatively easy on the body; others are devastating. I wish people knew that. On the other hand "look at how strong I am is also a defense mechanism;" I just wish they would also think about other people.) Watching weak people waiting for something. Actually, they are strong people; it is their bodies that are weak.

I sat there, my heart aching for those people. As my parishioner said, "you've been through this; you understand; I can talk to you."

I went to the favorite pizza place for pizza buffet (eating is also a favorite defense mechanism), then the Penzey's spices for some replacement spices and then to the department store for make up. (I found a great eyebrow pencil that looks natural and now I have eyebrows. I lost the half of the brow from the arch to the ear not to cancer, but to Hashimoto's thyroiditis, the beginning of this saga.) I ran into a close friend, fellow clergywoman and dumped on her. When I got to the car, the words from Gerard Manley Hopkins sprang to mind "Margaret why are you grieving, over goldengrove unleaving. . . it is not leaves of grass and I forget the rest but it is that it is you, you are grieving for. Denial leaves no room for grief and show when it comes, it sneaks up like the fluffy snow storm that becomes a raging blizzard.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

We Presbys have pastors' studies, not offices. We used to be teaching elders. So, what does my congregation want most from me? To visit the little old lady shut ins. Now, granted pastoral care is important, but we now have twelve shut ins, in a dying congregation (we have about 50 in worship). And, of course, with an aging congregation we have more than our share of hospitalizations and rehabs. And as an introvert, I'm looking for any excuse.

I want to spend more of my time in study and reflection. If I were to prioritize my time, I would be spending much more in making sure we had an inviting web site, some print stuff for all the folks who come into the building (we have gymnastics renting space and a preschool). I'd be figuring out how to reach out more to the community. But, for most of the congregation and for a lot of the session what matters is visiting shut ins.

I was reading over my oatmeal Context (a newsletter put out by Martin Marty which is a really short reader's digest of interesting stuff). An article pointed out how we avoid hope. Hope means that we are not in control. Hope means we wait for God. I want to think more deeply about this.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Something positive from cancer

So, someone came to see me today. Cancer has recurred. Said that it was good (then amended the statement) that I had cancer, because I understood. So often, the person said, people say "don't worry, everything will be OK. But we know it may not be."

Now, I have never been a person who has said "don't worry" or "you shouldn't feel that way", but having had cancer assured this person that I wouldn't say the wrong things.

We always worry. It might come back.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Five

From Sally at RevGalBlogPals

1. Is there a sport/ hobby that is more of a passion than a past-time for you?
2. Outdoors or indoors?
3. Where do you find peace and quiet?
4. A competitive spirit; good or bad, discuss...
5. Is there a song a picture or a poem that sums up your passion ?

1. My first reaction was no and then I thought: wait a minute--scuba diving. I love diving. I don't get to do it very much. I don't much like cold water diving, I don't like quarries. I love warm water and beautiful fish. At some point, I always wonder at God creating all this beauty for God's pleasure. Until the last century, only God could see the beauty under the waves.

2. Outdoors. I love the outdoors. And yet, I sometimes have to push myself to be outside. I have a beautiful back yard patio and I forget about it. I try to go have coffee and journal there in the mornings.

3. Peace and quiet. Walking in the woods, in the mountains. Anytime I can pull myself away from my addiction: the computer.

4. Competition. I am normally competitive. Very competitive. I want to win. I once practiced law. My favorite thing was when I got to play the bad guy. Some in house clients called me the Dragon Lady. Loved it. I don't like the person I am when my competitive side emerges. I don't care about others. I don't want to listen. I am right and that's it. Don't get in my way.

5. I'm not much a song or dance person. Or poems for that matter.
My doc left a message yesterday. My CA-125 results. A 7. (below 35 is "normal". Two days before my cancer surgery mine was 34. Many women reach 1000 or more with ovarian cancer. It's not ovarian cancer specific: anything going on in the abdominal region will trigger a rise. Mine was 26 weeks after my hernia repair.)

This is the lowest it's ever been, so it's good news. (It's been 9 and 8 before.)

So, I wake up this morning wondering whether all the pipetting I did of toluene and benzene as a chemistry major caused my cancer. It's my unconscious mind trying to exert control over a random act. There is no reason for me to have had ovarian cancer. It was a random act. But, I search for a reason, something to give me control, something so that it makes sense.

I met with COM so they would approve my change in status from designated pastor to called. (It's a presbyterian thing). It went well. They were supportive, friendly, perhaps even nice. The EP asked me, given all my talents for ministry whether this church would be a sufficient challenge for me. (The congregation is mostly dying, but there are real signs of hope.) Since the EP has a reputation for not valuing women, I was somewhat taken aback, first by his compliments and then by the question. A large, healthy, growing congregation where I was head of staff and mostly managed, planned and preached would be less of a challenge.

Thinking about blowing off running again and going back to bed. I'm beginning to get an awful headache.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Medical Care in the richest country in the world

I am sick. The details are unbloggable. An entirely preventable catastrophe for a 90 year old parishioner. Entirely for the ease of care of the center where he was. The details are unimaginable. I had no idea such a thing was possible. According to the information I have, the problem is unfixable (though I think with the right surgeon it might be). I want to strangle the administrators there who made the decision.

Another parishioner is in another rehab center where there is a camera on him 24 hours a day. He is there because of a test which I am beginning to read probably shouldn't be done on people in his condition.

I am thankful for the health insurance the PCUSA provides, despite my frustrations with the drug coverage. We need not just good health care insurance for every American, we need more caring care, particularly for our most vulnerable populations.