Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Forever home?

As I visualized this blog I thought about “forever homes” because I wanted both my cats and my G4 Mac notebook to last forever. I was reminded that both my cats and my Mac came from abused situations.

When I sold my home and could no longer have a dog, I determined that I needed a cat and Crowley entered my life. He came from Denver Dumb Friends League. As we drove home, even as he cried all the way, I promised him that this would be his forever home. He cried for the next six months (still does 4 years later) and I thought getting him a friend would alleviate what I perceived as his loneliness so Pema, Siamese mix, entered our lives. She was a rescue cat as well, but feral. As she and I drove home, I made the same promise – this would be her forever home. There have been many times - thousands – when that promise seems rash. We continue today, two cats and a mom. Pema was abused, but has gradually come to trust me a bit and like Crowley curls up with me each night. Crowley was not abused, just abandoned. He is my lover cat – Pema the one who keeps us young.

My first Mac notebook was like the cats – rescued, like Pema abused, and with time we have gotten to be compatible. When I first got this Mac G4 laptop notebook - abused by an anonymous University of Denver student who had apparently thrown it out a window or perhaps it was stepped on at a party – I was recovering from computers that lost all value as I walked out of the store. This notebook still has dings and idiosyncrasies. The proprietor at the Mac store told me that he had reconditioned it and it would give me some years of good service. Today, six years later, I think I got a good deal.

The computer has traveled across the US a number times, always in my arms, accompanying me to Washington, Boston, New York City, Chicago, California, North Carolina while having its “home base” in the places I have lived: Colorado and now Pennsylvania. It still works just fine, but I can no longer get batteries so it become a desktop and our traveling together is ended.

The cats’ pictures were up on my iPhoto and everyone who wanted could see them as I emailed the pictures to everyone I knew, just as proud as any parent would. People come to visit and know the names of the two cats and when guests stay the night, the cats do them a huge favor by sleeping with the guest – just so they feel welcome in our home.

When this notebook first came to be mine, people used to come over and ask to see it – it sports an aluminum case, making it both light weight and durable. Now, six years later, people come to see it because, in our world of obsolete technology this is a relic and people don’t have a memory that goes far back. Getting “parts” (i.e., batteries) is difficult especially since I live in a world where the mall is at least one hour away, but the nearest MAC store is Harrisburg, about three hours south.

The cats remain central to my life, but the days of my G4 are numbered. Today or tomorrow, my new MAC notebook will arrive. Like the last one, I have selected a refurbished model. I am assured that it comes with the same care and innards as the new Mac Pro would. I saved over $100 by purchasing this used one and can put that money toward word processing software that is specific to Mac.

I hope in five years I like this new notebook as much as I love my cats. What a good bargain I have received from these adopted things.

Having cats and Mac notebooks is important to me as I do church in this rural area. Sometimes, I think isolated living is impossible but that is when God settles in my brain or on my shoulders or in my heart and reminds me that cats and computers and malls are nice but not critical to this life I am called to. I hope that God is as good to you in the things that enter your lives as she has been to me. Each day throughout my day, I give God thanks for the things in my life – cats, notebook, people, rain, warm weather and friends. Could life be better?

P.S. I hope you enjoy this comparison and that reading it lightens your day a bit.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Weighing In

Several weeks ago I wrote that I am on a "diet" of sorts. The diet is pretty simple: I am not purchasing anything for myself (other than food and utilities and car repairs) for six months. I started this "diet" before September 7 - it is important to remember this date so that I can know when to begin spending again. Here is my update.

I expected, when starting this abstinence program, not to buy blouses or shoes or new jeans or pillows for my couch or home decorations. Like Jesus, the temptations keep cropping up and not in the ways of not buying a blouse. Since starting, I have been tempted to purchase a new car to replace my New Beetle - (the correct name is "New" - it does not refer to age as my car is a 2002 model). It is great color and runs well, but it does have 118,118 miles on it. Many people I know replace a car every two years. This beauty of mine is nine years old. It may not be as reliable as it once was though I have no inkling of that. But the "bug" (pun intended) has bit me and more than once a week I have looked to see what I would replace my beloved car with. Nothing that would be so beloved, nothing so well-behaved, nothing so recognizable. Perhaps nothing as reliable. Just new(er). I even went so far as to get pre-approved from my bank. I am now past this temptation.

Is this how it went for Jesus - one temptation, then another follows, because, as surely as night follows day, I have a new temptation. A new couch. One that I can actually sit on - one where my feet hit the floor, where the seat is about the depth of my sit bone to knee, one that is not so soft that it hurts my back. I have looked online. Priced some - determined where I would not purchase one based upon merchant reviews - even sat on a few. The temptation is real. But not so totally overwhelming that I have succumbed.

How many times was Jesus tempted? How many times did he say "no?"

Next temptation is cosmetic surgery. Will my insurance pay for it? If so, would this be called a purchase? How doe I determine what is health and what is vanity? Is my vow of denial i=hindering later health?

What temptation follows? How many times will I be tempted to change my mode. And if I do start spending, what happens to my resolve? I started this so that I could have more empathy for people who don't have disposable income to purchase anything that catches their fancy.

At the time of my first writing, school was starting and my bank's quick quiz alerted me to the costs faced by a family getting kids back to their "free" education: over $650 per family. My saying "no" was just a self-test. This is a pass/fail exam. I want to say I have passed. But not so quick.

Even though I have not purchased anything for myself other than food and gas, does my SegTour in Gettysburg have to be included? And does my motel count? I splurged and stayed in a nicer place in Gettysburg for two nights at less than it would have cost to stay in Bethesda for one night. I guess I do not have to count the motel (rationalize money spent). The tour - yes I do have to count it. But I loved it (excuse for taking the tour) and I rarely DO anything for myself (justification?) and I promise to think twice before I do anything like that again (bargaining) or spend any more money (repentance). For penance, I anonymously gave a huge sum of money to a family in my congregation to help them with unexpected expenses.

This "diet" is more restrictive than I expected, easier in some ways than I expected and more difficult in others. And I still have not started on the $21 a week for food. I imagine I will have cravings all week

Friday, September 17, 2010

Early morning thoghts

In a little while, I am going to the local university to talk to students about “God is not a He.” As I was just thinking about this, I remember beginning seminary (my third career start, the others having become too day-to-day) and beginning to learn that God is not a he. Or a she, for that matter. But this is about seminary.

The first day, we sat at a long table, perhaps determined by our assigned advisor, and I looked around wondering what I was doing in the group of people who seemed to know about God. I was the oldest of us, but not by all that much. This was not a group of just graduated undergraduates. Rather, to my surprise, they were more mature, with years of experience behind them and a surety about this calling that younger folk might not have.

We got through the years. I was on a mission to finish in my three years and get on with this new life, so each time we met in a new class, I introduced myself as being in the first (second, third) year of my three year program even as others stated they were in third, or the fourth (fifth, sixth and more) of the same three year program. I also remember when one student said this was the degree he had planned to read all the assigned readings and here he was, finished in three years, turning his final paper and no, he had not read all the readings.

I still marvel that I am an ordained minister. That I have been in a church where I was asked to help them transition to a totally new identity; and now in my second call, I am starting a new congregation from scratch and living in a community that really did not know they wanted this new congregation.

My knowledge of scripture was limited (though better now). This happened in our first day of class: our instructor asked us to rate our knowledge of Hebrew Scripture. I remembered that I had been to church most of my life and the Old Testament was read almost every week, so I put myself at a (modest) three of five. Then she started talking and the English words flowed over my head, occasionally stopping at my brain – and I was lost. Several days later I asked her if I could change my self-evaluation from a three to a subzero. I do better at Hebrew Scripture now.

I learned to love the Older Testament and enjoy preaching from it. People tell me my sermons are different – I notice that almost no one goes to sleep during one. One of two comments my late husband (a nonbeliever) made about my going to seminary was that my sermons would never be boring. (The other? was I going to be Catholic again? No. UCC.)

This is not Tuesday, but on this rainy morning when at 7:30, I have finished the class presentation, have a sermon in mind for Sunday and have been to the gym to do daily workout, I feel ready to share.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Civil War History and 21st Century Transport

This week I am at a meeting in Bethesda that I needed to attend; Bethesda is five plus hours south of Wellsboro. Since I was driving alone, I decided to make the drive focus on something interesting so I planned to stay in Gettysburg on the way down and then on the way back on Wednesday morning when I will attend a second meeting in Harrisburg.

The Gettysburg battlefield tour is what got my attention. I have toured the area before with my late husband and friends. They were all Civil War experts and my knowledge (and truthfully, interest) was at novice level. A year ago, I almost toured with my friend LaVonne Johnson-Holt, but time made my trip down impossible. Yesterday’s stop was different – I would spend the money and the time and do it for me.

I reserved a spot on a segway tour. You know, one of those battery operated platforms on wheels. In our world, they seem quaint and out-of-place. Let me tell you, they are greenest mode of transportation. And the most fun. After a short lesson, anyone can ride one.

My Seg Tour started at 2:30 with my lesson. Learn to stop, turn, go up hill and down, most of all keep an arm’s distance away from cars and others to avoid crashing. A mother and daughter were the other guests on this tour though the daughter, recovering from surgery, kept getting “seasick” so they begged off the tour, planning to return another time. That left me. The one person who did not request a guide but since the guide had been reserved for the mother-daughter duo, he guided the tour.

This is the briefest story of my ride. After I found out that I could actually stay up (use your Tai Chi knees for balance) Bob, Seg Tours owner, guided John Fitzpatrick, licensed tour guide and me through the traffic and we set out on my adventure! Bob kept checking at the line of two travelers behind him assuring himself that we were still in line and on the seg. I felt a sense of okay-ness that he knew whether I was leaning back too far thus stopping my seg or forward too far – worse – making it speed up almost to the upper speed limit of 12.5 mph.

We took the outer loop of the battlefield, the part called the Western Battlefield. In our two and a half hour trip, we crossed four ridges: Cemetery Ridge, Seminary Ridge, McPhearson and Herr’s ridges, named after landmarks that are part of each respective ridge. This battle had the Confederate Army coming down from the north and the Union army going from south north – each of the many statues faces the way each side was moving. I saw McClelland’s monument commemorating Maine’s effort, and intricate statues for Tennessee and Arkansas. I learned that a cannon pointing up marks headquarters of various brigades (or is it divisions?) and that smooth bore cannon are not accurate and don’t travel far but do much damage where they land and that the rifled bore cannon (those with twisty ridges inside) are accurate and can go a long way.

I learned so much more, too much to list. But most of all, I took away an appreciation of the horrendous battle that has forever scarred the landscape and hearts of the north and south. And I took away an amazing awe of both John tour guide who is more knowledgeable about this battle than anyone I have ever met and Bob, owner of Seg Tours, who inserts little tidbits every once in awhile – like, do you think she wants to see …

I did not fall off once, and by the end of the ride, I was able to hold on with just one hand and talk with the other. I think I am ready for NYC!

Pat Davis mentioned once that she reads a preacher’s blog and that the preacher always finds a way to mention God. Here is my God thought: like all wars, families are wrenched apart and filled with terror and sadness and incredible loss. There must be a God, because how else would we bear all the pain from the losses.

P.S. You can find Bob on Facebook at “SegTours of Gettysburg” and John at “jofi2 at comcast.net”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Qucik Afterthought

On Tuesday I wrote about my changes. Today, I write about changes I think we should make.

In Florida, that preacher is asking people to come to the burning of the Q'uran - so he can celebrate his God's displeasure at a whole community of people.

It seems to me that he is the christian (I find it difficult to capitalize Christian in this context) equivalent of the hate he thinks was expressed on September 11 - when only a few zealots tried to harm our people and our country. So, condemning all Muslims with the same stroke of hatred puts him (in my opinion) into the zealot camp. A camp that condemns all for the deeds of few. Perhaps we could condemn all males because some abuse their children or all females because some abuse their children.

On Saturday, I am participating in a September 11 memorial service in Mansfield. I am the minister who is to give the Invocation - the welcome to this worship service. Then, I am to pray a Prayer of Remembrance. One only hopes the speaker in between these two speaks of those lost and hopes and dreams that were lost, but is not vitriolic and condemning of all Muslims because of the actions of a few.

Regardless of what is said in the middle, it appears that I have the last word!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Several weeks ago I changed my spending habits – this change will not help the economy in general, but I expect it will help my own economy. The idea is not uniquely mine. I am borrowing it from a woman I heard on NPR. (You can hear the full interview at http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/08/26/mm-the-great-american-apparel-diet/). The interview made me take action on something that was already on my radar.

As I listen to radio reports on our spending and as I think of all the things I have and my family has I am appalled. For several years, I have not sent gifts to grandchildren since I cannot possibly purchase anything for them that they don’t already own. As I think about holidays, it occurs to me, for the thousandth time, that we (a general “we”) have too many things. When contrasted with so many millions from around the world, what we have is obnoxious and unnecessary.

Not to tell people what to do, I decided to do my part and stop spending except for essentials: food, medical, car repair, church, housing and utilities. I thought I was ahead of the curve, but apparently a “spending hiatus” is the newest craze among the thirty-somethings and who knows which other groups are on a “spending diet.” Perhaps if I care more about our country, I will go into debt rather than stop spending.

But, what I care about is how I live and what I think I need to purchase. This is not zero-sum. I did not start out without anything and there are some new things in my closet that were needed for summer. I waited until I was almost on vacation to purchase them. They will last through the rest of Indian Summer and next year too.

I think this moratorium on spending is preparing me for the next great challenge: living for one week on the equivalent of a week’s worth of food stamps: $21.00. This is somewhat akin to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. I will use only that food that is part of my preplanned menu, even charging myself for salt. And, like Ehrenreich, I am only doing this for a short time. She lived on her predetermined amount of money, supplementing as possible with jobs, for three 30-day stints. I will start fresh, with good health and stored up stamina and wear myself down by the end of the week. Unlike families who do subsist with food stamp supplements, at the end of the week, the experiment is finished. Completed. I don’t have to face months or years on that subsistence food plan without hope of ever getting to a place where food is not that precious commodity, or where fresh fruit is not a luxury.

Fruits and vegetables are abundant now as are farmer’s markets; therefore, during my week, I should be able to eat fairly well, I plan to eat vegetarian – even vegan – to save money. Good thing I have a good education so that I know how to eat well without meat – not all people do.

Yesterday was Labor Day and the CEO of one company in Ohio has forklift drivers who make $20 per hour (about $40,000 per year). The CEO is demanding that the forklift drivers take a 50 percent pay cut. New annual wages: about $20,000 before taxes. Forty thousand dollars is not much money on which to raise a family; $20,000 puts families below the poverty level and they join millions of other who are labeled as working poor. They must depend on food stamps to eek out the constant of needing to eat three times a day. These families need food stamps – or a different CEO.

I cannot do anything about either the food stamps or the CEO. I can only learn for myself what it means to live such a fragile lifestyle.

I cannot change the world. But I change myself and I can preach to my congregation and those outside the choir. If being a Christian in this world is not all about acting on our care of the poor and needy, then we are not fulfilling our mandate to be Jesus-people.