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Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Chirping Smoke Alarm

I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by the sound of chirping. No, it was not a bird. It was my #%^@ smoke alarm telling me that it was time to change the battery. Grrrrr! Is there any worse sound in all the world? I asked myself.

I turned on the light, climbed up on a step ladder and yanked the alarm from the ceiling. Then I crawled back into bed and tried to resume my interrupted dreams. 

But my question kept nagging at me. Is there any worse sound in all the world than a smoke alarm chirping in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping soundly?

Now, that’s a first-world question, if ever there was one. Yes, there are lots of worse sounds. Like the sound of a child crying because she’s hungry and you’ve nothing to give her to eat. Or even worse, the silence of a child who is so hungry she no longer has the energy to cry. Yes, that’s worse than the sound of a smoke alarm chirping. Or the sound of a gunshot in a neighborhood where innocent people are too often killed by guns. How about the sound of bombs expoding all around you while you hold your breath and pray that you will escape the next one?  

These were not the thoughts of a person who was about to drift off to sleep.

I couldn't stop thinking about all the horrible sounds that were happening right at that moment, all over the world, while I was resting on my pillow-top mattress, cozy-warm beneath my down comforter, snuggled between my dog and cat. 

Some would be thankful for being so "blessed." But I can't go there. To say that I am blessed is to say that God decided to plant me in the United States, in an affluent lifestyle, with more material stuff than I know what to do with. And if God decided to do that for me, then God chose not to do that for millions of other people. The whole blessed thing doesn't work for me. I’m not blessed. I'm just incredibly lucky.

And why me? Why have I been so lucky while other people in this world have been so unlucky? Why have I been lucky enough to wake up in the middle of the night cursing a chirping smoke alarm?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

You Thought You Could Ruin Our Easter?

Today Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte celebrated its 100th Easter. For 100 years this community of God’s faithful people has been ushering in Resurrection Sunday with the resounding hymn, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” This year, we heard it twice. Once as a glorious procession made its way down the center aisle and a second time when I led the children in our annual “Easter Bunny Hop.” (The song fits the steps of the “Bunny Hop” perfectly.)

It was a Sunday full of surprises. Perhaps the biggest one was something that none of us had planned. When people arrived, they were greeted by protesters on the front sidewalk. Can you believe it? On Easter Sunday! These “Christians” thought it was more important to stand in front of our church and spew hate than it was to be worshiping in their own church on Easter Sunday.


When I saw them, I was not happy. There were things we had planned to do on the front lawn, and instead we had to remain sequestered in the building.

The protesters were loud and obnoxious, but they did nothing illegal. Nonetheless, three police cars arrived to make sure. I thanked the officers and shared a picture with them that I had just taken next door at the Van Landingham Estate, where the children were having an Easter egg hunt. It’s a photo of one of our families. The officers commented on how great the picture was. I pointed to it and said, “It’s hard to believe that THIS is what these people are protesting, isn’t it?”


For the most part, I tuned out the high decibel ranting that kept going non-stop. I did manage to hear that I was leading my people to hell, something I have been accused of many times by just these kind of people. I consider their accusations high praise for my ministry.

One of our members heard the “preacher” say that there was something wrong with the name of our church. We had nothing to do with being holy, or the Trinity, or a church...but we could keep the Lutheran part. Ha! I love it! The member reporting this to me remarked, “They obviously don’t know anything about what it means to be Lutheran.”

Ironically, if the protesters thought they were going to scare anyone away from worshiping with us, their presence had the opposite effect. One woman from the neighborhood was taking her morning walk past the church. She was so angry when she saw them that she walked right into the church to worship. A family across the street quickly constructed their own signs to counter the ones the protesters were displaying. They got into quite a “discussion” with the protesters in the middle of the street. That's when one of our ushers invited them to worship with us, and they did. After worship, the same usher went to their house and gave them one of our lilies.

Have I mentioned how truly amazing the children of Holy Trinity are? Today I asked them to tell me about signs of Easter they had seen that morning. They said: Easter eggs, bunnies, butterflies… If I were to answer that question I would point to them as the greatest sign of new life, hope and promise for me. It never ceases to amaze me how well they understand what living the Jesus Way in the world looks like. 

Before I walked into worship, I read an email from one of our members who had attended a sunrise service where she was vacationing in Florida this morning. The service was of another flavor of Lutheranism that shall go unnamed. Afterward, she had a conversation with her son, who is about 7 years old. She asked him if he could tell the difference. He said, “At our church we believe God lets everyone go to heaven. They think only some people do.” Yes, he gets it.

On Facebook, someone posted the conversation between a mom and her young daughter that took place as they were walking into church this morning:
Child: Why are they yelling mean things?
Mom: They have bad things they want to say. Do you remember what happened when Jesus was headed to the cross?
Child: People yelled mean things at him.
Mom: And what did he do?
Child: He forgave them.

I really am so proud of the people in my congregation. They didn’t let any of the disruption going on outside the building ruin their Easter. Our worship together was truly glorious. And it was not about the ruckus on the street. It was all about Jesus.

During communion we sang “All Are Welcome”, a song that was chosen long before anyone knew what would greet us when we arrived at church this morning. The words took on new meaning for us: “Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face; let us bring an end to fear and danger: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”

He is risen. I know it’s true because I saw him this morning at 1900 The Plaza in Charlotte. 




Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Bad Case of OCE

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a case of OCE like the one I’m experiencing this year. I suspect it has been like this every year of my adult life although I always seem to forget from one year to the next. Every time Holy Week rolls around, my brain turns into a 1 G computer that is trying to process 4 G of data. 

Since I don’t have a cloud where I can store all this excess information, I leave notecards and post-its and lists all over my desk. There are extra prayers for the assisting minister. And copies of a diagram for the processional, as well as a flow chart for the distribution stations for Holy Communion. I have a list of things I need to go over with the acolytes and a set of instructions for the altar committee. I also have guidelines for the ushers to read: when to turn the lights on, how to seat the overflow crowd, how to bring people up for communion. And then there are the instructions I have left for myself. As I wade my way through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I have a pile of lists for each one. And now I’m suddenly realizing that I may forget some of my lists, so I need to compile a list of lists.

The bulletin for Sunday has been giving me fits. We forgot to order a fancy cover this year, so at the last minute, at the secretary's encouragement, I decided to design one. Then we didn’t have any colored paper and it looked terrible on the white. So I called all over town trying to find 8 ½ by 14 color copy paper. I finally ordered some online from Staples and it was delivered at the last minute. After proofing the content of the bulletin a bazillion times and having a few others do it as well, I looked at it one last time before we printed it, found at least 10 errors, and felt like I was about to have a nervous breakdown.

Yesterday I sent an email to all the worship ministers for Sunday in which I told them about the order of the procession, when to move and at what pace, how much space to leave between people, and what to wear. Specifically, I asked them to wear nice shoes and I let the men know that they need to wear long pants under their robes. Yes, I am obsessing over what people wear under their robes. So, I got a series of emails back from folks who told me what they would be wearing, all of it beyond inappropriate. They thought they were being funny. The thing is, when I’m suffering from an episode of OCE, I don’t have the space in my brain to accommodate humor. Any extra brain matter that remains free I need to save for my sermon.

My sermon!? All these people and details and lists to keep track of, and I’m supposed to have something to say, too?

I have to tell you that of all the stuff I needed to do today, blogging wasn’t on my list. So, I’d better sign off before I have a stroke. You’ll hear from me again after I have recovered from my OCE (Obsessive Compulsiveness about Easter). Just so you know, I have made plans to do that sometime on Sunday evening. It’s the last item on my list of things to do that day. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Janice

Our newer folks at Holy Trinity don’t know Janice, but those who have been around a while remember her well from the time when she was a pillar of our congregation. These days, every so often her sister brings her to worship and we’re blessed to have her with us, but those occasions are too few and far between. 

For decades, Janice was a faithful alto in the choir. Although her presence was important to us, she didn't have the strongest voice, and you couldn’t really hear her. So, when she announced that she was going to sing a solo in worship, we were all surprised. “Lead Me, Guide Me” was the song. An appropriate one for Janice who had dealt with a number of physical challenges her whole life and truly trusted in God every step of the way.

She was supposed to arrive early to run through the song one last time with our music director. We expected her at 10:30. 10:30 passed, and no Janice. For weeks she had been talking about singing this solo, so her tardiness was odd. (Janice was never late for anything.) 

When we started worship at 11:00 and still hadn't seen her, we started to get concerned. At 11:15 Kathy went to her house, which was right around the corner from the church. 

Fortunately, Kathy is a nurse, because when she got to Janice’s she saw that Janice had had something that looked like a stroke and Kathy took care of her until the paramedics arrived on the scene.

It turned out Janice had a seizure that erased her short term memory. After several years, it has improved only slightly. She can remember people from her past and stories from before her seizure, but since then, she literally can’t tell you what she did 5 minutes ago. 

Over time, Janice has learned to cope with her new limitations. She lives in an assisted living facility where the walls in her room are plastered with signs her sister made for her, telling her what day it is, important phone numbers, what happened to her, and so on. She carries a schedule of daily activities in a pouch that hangs from her neck and she has a pad of paper by the chair in her room where she writes down everything that she does. 

Janice has no memory of the weeks leading up to that fateful Sunday and whenever she hears the story, to this day, when it comes to the part where she was going to sing a solo in church, she is hearing it again for the first time, and she laughs hysterically at the thought of it. 

"There is no way I was going to sing a solo in church!" she’ll say. 

"Yes, Janice, you were."  And she’ll shake her head in disbelief. 

In truth, if she hadn’t been singing a solo, we would have assumed she was visiting with family that day and no one would have checked on her when she didn’t appear at worship. Another 20 minutes without someone finding her and she would have been dead. So offering to sing that solo, something that was totally out of character for Janice, saved her life.

Can you imagine how terrifying it would be to suddenly lose your memory like that? When I think about it, I imagine that it might feel a lot like dying. I have always thought that being alive is synonymous with maintaining cognitive ability. But Janice has me rethinking that. Maybe there's more to life than registering our life experience in our brains. 

With Janice, losing her memory hasn't changed the essence of who she is as a person. Janice is still Janice. She is still able to cope with whatever life hands her. She exudes positive energy. She participates in every activity that comes her way with a smile on her face. After spending time with her, I always feel good about myself because she is so loving and supportive. 

Janice is fiercely loyal to Holy Trinity. She was always our strongest prayer warrior and she continues to be. She also always gave faithfully to the church financially, something that continues to this day. Whenever I visit her, she will invariably ask me, “How is Holy Trinity doing financially?” I will tell her we’re just fine. A couple more times in our conversation she will ask me the same question, “How is Holy Trinity doing financially?” because she can’t remember she had already asked me. This is the question she asks me more than any other. It reminds me of the Biblical truth about how connected our hearts are to our treasures. Janice clearly links her love for Holy Trinity with the support she gives through her offerings. 

In the midst of all the things she forgets, Janice remembers what's most important to her. She hasn't forgotten the love she has for our congregation and the love we have for her.  For Janice, the faith community she loves is a manifestation of the love of God in her life. 

Janice has been a gift to me personally. Spending time with her always brings me to recognize how living moment to moment, caught up in the minute details of my life, distracts me from living from the core of who I really am, a person created to be in relationship with the God of love.  

Lead me, guide me, along the way:
for if you lead me, I cannot stray.
Lord, let me walk each day with thee.
Lead me, O Lord, lead me. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Trouble is on its way

One of my dearest friends in the entire world is coming to Charlotte tomorrow. I suspect we’ll get into some kind of trouble because we always do.

I met Donna when I was in my twenties, pregnant with my second child. She was living in Ohio at the time and I was living in North Dakota. We were both attending a meeting in Minneapolis. Our Lutheran publishing house was introducing new Sunday school material and they had recruited people from all over the American Lutheran Church to be trained so they could return to their respective geographic areas and introduce the material.

Although Donna and I had never met before this event, we clicked like lifelong friends. 

During our first lunch together at the Marriott, we were deep in conversation when a huge cockroach started strutting across the linen tablecloth. Donna spied it while she was speaking. Without missing a word, she calmly picked up a coffee cup and nonchalantly placed it over the roach, trapping it inside. We finished our lunch and left the surprise for the waitstaff. I was duly impressed by this woman.

Throughout the training we had great fun, even when things weren’t particularly designed with fun in mind. When it came time for us to part, I grieved the fact that we lived so far apart and I would never see this person again.

About five years later, I moved to Ohio and guess who was a short drive away! I gave Donna a call and we picked up right where we left off. At the time, I had no idea what a lifeline she would be for me over the course of the next decade as I walked through the darkest time of my life.  

Then I moved again. Leaving Donna was one of the worst things about moving away from Ohio for me. 

Since then, I’ve gone up her way, she’s come down my way, and we’ve met up in the middle for some adventures from time to time.

So she’s coming to North Carolina tomorrow. And that got me to thinking about the first time she came to visit me after I moved to Charlotte.

The two of us decided to make a trip to Asheville. We drove over in my new car.

Back when I lived in Ohio I was always complaining because it seemed like I was the only person in the world who still had to crank her car windows up and down and I had vowed that my next car would have power windows. So, now I had them. And I was going to make a big freakin' deal out it!

On the drive to Asheville we stopped at a McDonald’s and while we were going through the drive through I started showing off, making my window go up and down, down and up, over and over again. “Do you see how cool that is? Is that not the best thing ever!”

After about a dozen times, the window suddenly stopped half-way down and wouldn’t budge. Yep, I broke the damn window and had to drive like that for the remainder of the trip. Donna was amused by this, but I was not. Especially when it started raining.

Roughly six weeks before Donna arrived I had made arrangements for us to stay at a Bed & Breakfast in the Asheville area. A friend highly recommended the place. When I called and made the reservation, they told me they would mail my confirmation that day. (All of this stuff happened before people used the internet for such things.)

I waited and waited, but the confirmation never came. And here's the really bad part. I didn’t write the name of the place down because I figured I would have the name when I got their letter. 

I tried to call the friend who had recommended it and she was in Germany. (This was also before people used cell phones like they do now.) Oy.

I had made a reservation for two nights at some mystery place with my credit card. So, now what did I do?

I decided that if I saw the name of the place I would recognize it. And really, how many Bed & Breakfasts could there be in the Asheville area?

Donna and I arrived in Asheville in the pouring rain. We drove around for a while and found a visitor’s center. We went in and I described my dilemma to them. After making some sarcastic remarks that Donna appreciated more than I did, they handed me a listing of B & Bs in Asheville and said that if I needed to use their phone, I could.

Well, if you've ever been to Asheville, you probably realize that there are a lot of cities that have smaller phone directories than the book they handed me.

I sat down and started randomly calling places. “Hello, do you have a reservation for Nancy Kraft for tonight?”

They weren’t allowed to give out that information, they would tell me. So then I’d start whining, “No, you don't understand. I’m Nancy Kraft. I want to know if I made a reservation there. I made a reservation somewhere and I can’t remember where it was.”

I suspect most of them thought I was making a crank call because of all the laughter they could hear in the background. Donna was thoroughly enjoying this.

After about twenty calls, I finally called a place that assured me they were the B & B where I had made a reservation. So, who’s laughing now, Donna?

When I got home the long-awaited letter of confirmation was waiting for me in my mailbox. It was not from the place where we stayed. 

So, tomorrow afternoon another installment in "The Adventures of Donna & Nancy" begins at Charlotte-Douglas Airport and I’m expecting more trouble. Of course, I mean that in the best way possible.  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Singing Above the Bellowing of Asses

I am sick to death of noisy Christians who do not in any way speak for me. It seems that the closer we get to equality in North Carolina, the louder they get. As our City Council in Charlotte considers non-discrimination ordinances that protect the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender residents, all the usual players are irritating the hell out of me.

I know they have a right to their opinion. But every hateful statement they make in the media should include a disclaimer: “The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of other Christians.”

They have decided to make an issue over who pees with whom. What if a man dresses up like a woman and sneaks into a public restroom and preys on little children? Who would want such a thing as that? Of course, the assumption is that transgender folks are pedophiles. This is ridiculous. It’s like saying redheads are rapists. It makes no sense. And yet, once the seeds of fear have been sown in the fertile field of ignorance, no matter how many facts you apply to the soil, those fears spread like crabgrass.

I resent the fact that those who spew such lies call themselves Christians. If that’s what it means to be a Christian, count me out. As someone who tries her best to know Jesus and follow him, I wonder who it is these so-called Christians are following. If it’s Jesus, it’s a Jesus I don’t recognize.

And so, I cannot remain silent. I sing with a choir of clergy voices that steadfastly offers a melodic message of love and acceptance here in the buckle of the Bible Belt. We will not be silenced, despite attempts to disrupt and derail us. The hee-haws from the likes of Mark, Flip and Franklin will not drown us out. We sing in harmony: Jews, Unitarian Universalists, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants of every flavor. We are people of faith who will not allow our song to be taken from us.

Can you hear us? We sing of love, not fear. Our voices transcend backward thinking bigotry and pull us into the future. I pray that members of our City Council won't be so distracted by the bellowing of asses that they miss the beautiful song of Truth. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Worm. Her name is Worm.

“Hi, I’m Worm.” Surely I hadn’t heard her right. It sounded like she said she was a worm.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. What did you say?”

“Worm. My name is Worm,” she said.
                          
Worm. Her name is Worm. How is this possible? All night long I kept repeating those words in my mind. Worm. Her name is Worm.

We met at a dinner we were sharing with Underground Table, a creative dining experience that is off the grid. You join the group and at the last minute you receive details about when and where to go and a wonderful chef thrills you with culinary delights. You never know who will show up and part of the fun is meeting people you wouldn’t ordinarily have dinner with. People like Worm.

In many respects she reminded me of my sister Lorena. Like Worm, Lorena is a character who squeezes all the juice out of life, savoring each drop. She’s a warm-hearted soul and longs to be liked. And like Worm, my sister Lorena, also was given a nickname as a child. 

We called her Butchie. The name originated with my father who had been hoping for a son and was blessed with a second daughter instead. Thinking that perhaps a son was never going to happen for him, he dubbed Lorena Butchie. I was about 10 years younger than Butchie and always thought that was her real name.

It took me a long time to start calling Butchie, Lorena, which was the name on her birth certificate and the one she preferred after she left home and began a life for herself. Dropping Butchie was the right thing for her to do. Besides the fact that Butchie is no name for a woman, it was a name given because she was a disappointment to her father. How awful is that? Can you imagine being referred to as Disappointment all your life?

Unlike my sister, as an adult, Worm continued to use the name she was given as kid. Although I found it deeply troubling, she appeared to be fine with it. 

Ironically, I met Worm the week after Ash Wednesday. Through the years I’ve had increasing discomfort with the traditional Ash Wednesday liturgy because of its worm theology. That’s what many of us call theology that focuses on how unworthy we human beings are, worthless like worms who can only grovel on the ground and beg for mercy. I am not a proponent of worm theology, and yet, on Ash Wednesday, it’s hard to avoid.

This year, I finally re-wrote the liturgy we use for Ash Wednesday, removing the worm theology. Yes, we are still not living as the people God created us to be and we need to face up to that. But the emphasis is on the people God did indeed create us to be, and God did not create us to be worms. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a worm, if you happen to be one. But people are not worms.

Worm. Her name is Worm. 

How had this become an acceptable name for her? She appeared to be at least 60 years old. Surely, in all that time she had had opportunities to change it. I am guessing that she enjoys the attention her name receives, which is something that also reminds me of my sister Lorena, who is never shy when attention comes her way. But really, what would it be like to go through life as a Worm? I can’t believe that it wouldn’t affect her in some deep, profound ways.

Although she is the only person I’ve ever met named Worm, I’ve known a lot of people who seem to think of themselves that way. Some of them are a part of my congregation. From time to time in my life, I have thought of myself as a worthless worm, as well.

It’s nothing new for people of faith to see themselves that way. Even the writer of the 22nd Psalm expressed this sentiment: “But as for me, I am a worm and not human, scorned by all and despised by all people” (vs. 6). Lord, have mercy!

Are we all worms? When we’re in the pits, it may be how we feel about ourselves. But is that who we are in the eyes of God?

I’ve come to see that worm theology is damaging to us as human beings. And it's an insult. Not only to us as people, but also to the One who created us. If there is any sin worth owning up to during Lent, it’s not that we are worthless worms. It’s that we see ourselves as worthless worms.   

And so, even though she told me her name is Worm, for the duration of our evening together, I couldn’t bring myself to address her by name.