Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fetishistic Little Weirdo Doggie

My dog is a weirdo. Like a total freak. I can't begin to explain it. She's just mommy's little weirdo.

She has this thing for socks. My socks. Your socks. It doesn't matter. Scratch that. It TOTALLY matters. Because while she might decide to play with your sock if it's lying around unattended, and unfooted, in the living room (if you were say an eight year old girl visiting her relatives for the weekend and you forgot it, left it behind, and hey, at that point it's fair game), she won't actively seek out your socks. (Unless, of course, you're that same eight year old girl visiting her relatives, and then my little weirdo doggie isn't seeking out your socks, she's seeking out you, and she's on high alert, barking out her code, "Danger! Danger! Stranger! Stranger! Stranger! Evil!" Whether you are evil or not is not the issue here. To her, you are an unknown entity, and that means "BAD!"

On the other hand, if it's my sock, or more like a pair of my socks neatly folded together, in my dirty laundry hamper, which is kept tucked under the bed for space, tidiness, and aesthetic reasons with about three inches of clearance between the top of basket and the bottom of the box spring, well I can pretty much be guaranteed that at least once a week, my dog will manage to dig to the bottom of the basket, where I keep the whites, in order to dig out a pair of my socks, proceed to shake them until they are a messy ball of socks, and leave them somewhere strange--like the middle of my room in the hallway. If she's feeling less ambitious, she might just pluck the black pair of slipper-socks off the top of the pile, where I keep the darks, and play with that instead. One weird little doggie.

What's more, she feels the need to steal my toy! I have one toy left from childhood. Well, two, but one that lives with me permanently and spend most of its time lost in my bedclothes or under the bed itself, but which is mine. Totally, completely, unquestioningly mine. It does not matter to me that 19 years ago my evil grandmother's dog (or is it my grandmother's evil dog? hmmmm....conundrum) attacked this toy and tore the nose almost completely from its dear, sweet face. It's mine, and appreciated the nose that hung from a few bits of acrylic fabric stitched together. After all, 19 years ago that toy did battle with a minion of a force of evil and won!

So, it was a less than happy moment when I discovered my toy, not in its proper place against the pillows on my recently made and tucked bed, but at the foot of the bed, face down, the plastic nose next to it, and the plastic washer that had kept it in place all these years on the floor! It did not escape my notice either that being at the foot of the bed, it happened to be directly over the place where my feet, occasionally stockinged, rest while I sleep. Nor did it escape my notice that this place where I rest my feet during my nightly repose is precisely above the laundry hamper from which my little weirdo doggie regularly steals well concealed socks.

I guess I have to face the hard fact--my little weird doggi is fetishistic. She loves all things socks. She loves to steal anything sock related, and will even steal non-sock-related items and destroy them in sock-related places.

Now, it may be the case that there are those who would make the argument that she is a dog, a puppy even. And being a puppy, she is likely to get into all kinds of mischief, and it's perfectly normal for her to steal socks and chew on toys that look so much like the squeaky toys her loving mommy gives her to play with.

Not so, I would argue. After all, this is the second doggie to whom I have played doggie-mommy, and my first doggie never misbehaved. He knew that his toys were his toys. He knew that my toy was my toy. He knew that if a treat fell on the floor of our room, he wasn't permitted to touch it without permission. A small bit of Pupperoni once sat next to his food dish for close to a week, untouched, because I had told him he had to wait for his treat. It sat for so long because I'd forgotten about it. It wasn't until I saw it several days in a row that I remembered I'd not given him permission to eat it. Finally, I gave it to him, and he gulped it down, happily. He'd also had daily treats in the interim, but he never touched one without permission.

So, I say, "No," to those who would argue that she's just being a dog, because clearly anecdotal information proves that she is not being a dog. She's being a little weirdo doggie. But she has my heart. So, I reprove her. I discipline her when I discover her in the midst of naughty doggie deeds. I try to get her adequate exercise, though I honestly believe she could go all day and never tire. I try to train her. It's hard, though. Because she's so unlike my other doggie; and my expectations are high, and likely completely unfair.

I have a fetishistic weirdo doggie who loves all things socks. And I love my little weirdo doggie. Maybe I'll start a line of fetishistic weirdo doggie sock toys. Or fetishistic weirdo doggie foot wear toys. Just in case she develops and eye for my dress shoes. You just never know. Regardless, I love my fetishistic little weirdo. I wouldn't trade her for the world.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Claiming Our Inheritance

Today's sermon is actually from next week's texts. The privilege of knowing next week's sermon is going to be on the Epiphany texts!

Ephesian 1:3-14
John 1: 1-18


"I am a child of God, and I claim my inheritance. All of it."

These words come from a dear and much beloved friend I met while in seminary. I heard them more than once, and they were always spoken with absolute conviction.

"I am a child of God, and I claim my inheritance. All of it!"

In two of our readings for today, Ephesians and the Gospel of John, we read that we are children of God. Jesus, whose birthday we celebrated yesterday gave us the power to become children of God; children born not of blood or flesh or the will of man, but of God.

This is one of those truths I hear so often that I easily forget what it means. It's everywhere. I think about eighty-five percent of the publicly recited prayers I have heard started with "Heavenly Father" or "Father God." Or, they were interrupted every few words with "Father," "my father," "our Father," or again the ever so popular "Father God, Father God, Father God." Every single week, we sit in the pews on Sunday morning and begin the same prayer, the same way, "Our Father, who art in heaven..."

We read and hear and talk so much about our Father-God-in-Heaven that we sometimes forget the counterpoint to this statement. We are His kids.

I am His kid!

I am His kid. I am a child of God. And so are you.

You were made by God. You came into being through God. And before you ever came to a knowledge of any of this, you were claimed by God.

Being God's kids means that we have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. There is a world apart from and beyond this world in which we live, a world that at moments intersects with our lives--a heavenly realm, a place full of blessings. And God, who claims us as His children, at various times and places reaches through through from that realm to this to bestow those blessings upon us. These are sacramental moments; moments when God's grace is made palpable, concrete, something we feel so deeply in our hearts we can proclaim with total conviction: I am a child of God! These are moments when God's grace becomes more than just something we know with our heads--it is a reality we begin to live into from our hearts.

These moments of grace come to us through Jesus, who chose us, who makes us holy and blameless. We have been set apart. God chose us. And when God looks at us, set apart from our sin, He sees us without blame or blemish. He sees us as we were created to be. Who you are is not determined by the things that you do, but rather by Whose you are! And we are children of God.

We have been redeemed and forgiven. We have received wisdom and insight. And God is gathering all things to Himself--and that includes you and me. Being God's kids, we also have an inheritance.

Now Paul, when he writes to the church at Ephesus about this inheritance, isn't super clear about what it entails. But then Paul isn't ever really super clear about anything. I won't pretend to know Paul's precise meaning concerning this inheritance, but I've got a couple of guesses:

1) All those spiritual blessings. This is, admittedly, vague. But remember those sacramental moments I mentioned a minute ago? Well, I'm guessing we get more. And I'm guessing they're less intermittent. More continuous.

2) Everything.

The concept of an inheritance hasn't really changed at all in the 2000 years since Paul put brush to papyrus. The cultural expectations are a little different, but ultimately, the idea is the same: Somebody dies, and somebody else gets all the good stuff.

Back in ancient times it was the first born son who received pretty much everything. Subsequent sons might get a token, but lion's share went to the first born. And forget the daughters. Seriously. Forget about them. They didn't count.

But here Paul is, telling us that we--men and women, young and old--get an inheritance from God. And why? Because when God looks at us, He sees us through Jesus--the first-born of all creation.

And why does God see us through Jesus? Because Jesus, the Word, the very Word of God, even God himself, who was in the beginning--not hanging around at the time things began, but in the very act of beginning, in the act of creation itself, in the beginning from which sprang all this--Jesus, the Word of God, Jesus who is God, came.

He left those heavenly realms and was born in this earthly place. He came as life and as the light of all people. Jesus came and brought the light of Christ into the world. The light of Christ we invite into our worship every week when the acolytes begin our service. The light of Christ we take into the world when we leave this place.

All because the Word became flesh and lived among us.

It's that whole "living among us" part that allows us to see God.

It's that whole "in the flesh" part that means Jesus is really, well, and truly alive today. And he is alive in each one of us.

Being a Christian does not (only) mean having Christ in us. The word "Christian" literally means "Christ followers" or "one who follows Christ," and as such necessarily requires that we see Christ in others.

No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

"If we do not recognize God in the flesh, we do not recognize God."

I remember the first time I truly understood this; one of those sacramental moments when my knowledge about God became my experience of God in another person.

My friend from seminary, standing in front of me, proclaiming with conviction:

I am a child of God, and I claim my inheritance. All of it!

My friend who loved me deeply, and unconditionally, and well. My friend who, in the short time we had together, showed me what it was to see Jesus in someone else.

That's the point of incarnational faith--the logos en sarki, the Word made flesh--the very reality of God, as Jesus in each one of us--the body of Christ.

Having God as our father means we each can proclaim with conviction:

I am a child of God, and I claim my inheritance. All of it.

My hopes for you this morning and in the coming year are that your knowledge and experience of God will continue to deepen; that you will have those sacramental moments when more than knowing about God's grace you find yourself living into God's grace; that when you look at those people whom God has placed in your life, you'll recognize Jesus in them, and that you find yourself able to say with all conviction:

I am a child of God, and I claim my inheritance. All of it!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Peace and Quiet

I sometimes wonder how I survived childhood. Those who know a bit of my family history probably think they know where this wonderment comes from. I'm not referencing my father here, however.

I'm actually thinking about my mother. How did my mother manage to raise us to adulthood and not end it all by killing us in the process? I mean, I actually marvel at this fact.

My mother is not a violent woman. It seems odd that I might, retrospectively, expect her to have killed us in our youth. In particular, I'm amazed that my mother didn't kill me. Forget the other three--the ones who weren't home, too busy running with their friends, experimenting with drugs, making babies in their later teen years. I was the one at home. I was the one present. How is it that my mother stayed sane enough to spare my life?

Sure, she's a peaceable, loving, lovely woman who would never hurt a fly. I can't remember my mother so much as spanking me as a child except once, for a fairly grievous offense at that. She never lobbed death threats or even threats of violence in any way. She was a thoroughly fantastic mother who did the best she could with what she had.

And all she really ever asked us in return was a little peace and quiet.

Which doesn't seem like much to ask.

As I grow older, I find myself valuing silence more and more. I don't own a radio. I do not listen to music unless I'm in the car with 1) my father, 2) other people who insist on turning it on, or 3) a trip alone, longer than 30 minutes. If I'm alone on a trip longer than 30 minutes, I usually go for NPR, where they only play music in the evening. And if their news-y bit is about an up-and-coming musician where they play more than 20 seconds of a given song, I turn off the news, too.

I like the quiet.

And I own a dog. And my sister has six children. And my dog does not like my sister's children. My dog, my small, adorable, precious dog is a yappy dog. To make matters worse, she's yappiest when my sister's kids come around. My sister's kids who are loudest children God ever created. Seriously.

I mean, I lack an inside voice. No joke. My pipes just weren't created that way. I can whisper, and I do, but at a normal speaking volume, my voice carries. Everywhere. To ear that I do not want to hear. To everybody. This works wonders in my chosen profession, but is a bit frustrating at times in my daily life. I'm not really one to yell most of the time. I don't scream. I don't need to. My voice is just bizarrely loud. And if I do raise my voice in a moment of frustration or to be heard over the din, well, it doesn't take much. There's no effort involved. Just a little extra air.

None of which is the point, and which will, at some point, lead to another blog entirely.

So, back to the kids. The really loud kids, whose ability to make noise far surpasses my own natural vocal talents. The ones who think that any walking occasion in which they aren't stomping is a lost opportunity. The ones who think that it would be a waste of energy to approach someone politely and make a request at a normal volume when they can just yell across the house. The ones who think that doors were made to be slammed as they stomp into and out of the house ever three minutes thirty-seven seconds.

The same ones who think that they can drink an entire can of soda, but lose interest 1/3 of the way through and leave the nearly full can on a ledge of some table or the entertainment center or a counter or the floor, which they inevitably end up knocking over later, having forgotten it entirely. Then comes the chaos of noisy soda explosions and adults grumbling. The excuses and justifications, and "I hate you!"s when you ask them to pick up their mess or take their dishes to the sink, or horror of horrors, wash their really smelly, clammy, thoroughly gross hand when they've sneezed into them, and then used their mucous-y saliva to style their cowlicks into submission. The really loud, disrespectful, kind of gross-to-a-germ-hater kids!

I sometimes tell people that I dislike children. Okay, so closer to the truth is, I regularly tell people I dislike children. This, however, is not exactly true. I like children. In theory. I just don't like the disrespect that accompanies my sister's children. And I really dislike the crying, screaming, temper tantrums that accompany other people's kids almost everywhere I see them.

I mean, would it really kill a person to shell out $8.00 for a babysitter when they run to the grocery store so that I'm not subject to their four year old's shrieks and screams over their refusal to buy Twinkies? I mean it's a noise that sets my teeth on edge. It's makes my eardrums pound, and my skin crawl. It's literally physically painful to be in the same store as these noisy hellions people foist on unsuspecting fellow shoppers. And if you can't afford a babysitter once a week, save up and get a dog kennel. And a padlock. Just make sure the kid's got plenty of fresh water available while you run your errands.

I just do not like noise. I like the quiet. I like peace. I like to have a moment to myself. Generally, I like that moment to stretch far longer than any of the moments I'm with other people, no matter how great those other people are. And for those of you who know me, if we talk on the phone, getting past 15 minutes of conversation is a sure sign that I love, respect, enjoy, and miss you! Because at 15 minutes, I'm looking at the clock and wondering how much longer I have to spend feeling weird and uncomfortable before I can find a really great excuse to hang up. And if I really, really, really love, respect, enjoy and miss you, I might even forget to look at the clock. I might even ignore my rather full bladder for 35-40 minutes just to talk to you longer before I tell you how much I love you, and how desperately I need to hang up. And yes, Ms. M., I'm thinking of you ;)

For the rest of you, well, it's kind of torture. Don't get me wrong, I'm willing to endure. To some degree. For some time. But talking on the phone, without actually spending time together, without seeing your face, without any other social cues to pick up on, or a smile to see, or something in a common environment to comment on...well, it's a struggle, and I find myself longing to be able to hang up, and enjoy the quiet.

Which when I do hang up, leaves me dog. My thoroughly loving, adorable, fantastic, small, high-pitched yappy when the kids come over, or the neighbors drive by on their ATVs, or the UPS guy delivers a package, or sees herself in the mirror but doesn't understand the concept of a reflection dog. My dog, whom I love.

My dog who follows me just about everywhere. Especially if I'm the only one home. And if I happen to head to the basement to do laundry or send an email or post to my blog, she'll be standing on the top landing, whimpering for me. My dog. The one who follows me into the bathroom. The one who scratches and whines incessantly at the bathroom door unless I leave it open. The one who comes in to look at me doing my business or taking a bath if I do leave the door open a crack, just so I don't have to listen to the incessant whining and scratching.

And it reminds me of when I was little. When my mother would take a bath. The water would be running, and then it would be off. I'd hear the squeak and rumble of skin moving against the fiberglass tub as she washed herself and shampooed her hair. And this was always followed by silence. It was a silence that was always a lifetime in length, even when it only lasted three minutes. It was a silence I always interrupted. Tentatively creeping up to the bathroom door, softly knocking, holding my breath in fear that my mother's response would be world-weary, terrified that she wouldn't respond at all, steeling myself for the moment I was sure would come, when I would peek around the corner to see blood, pools of blood on the bathroom floor, streaks of blood on the tub surround, the water stained crimson as her life drained away.

I was always terrified that my mother would one day take her own life, with a razor, in the bath tub, determined to get out and seeing no other way. My fear was, I know now as an adult, rooted in my own suicidal thoughts, which had plagued me from the age of five through my adolescence. But eight year olds don't know the word "projection." And so it was with the image of my mother's death swimming before my eyes that I would sigh with relief when she answered, a world-weary "Yes?" and I would reply, "Nothing, mama." And sure enough there would follow a comment about how she could never get a moment's peace, not even in the bathroom, a place where most people would expect they could go and be alone.

Here I am, twenty-some years later, wanting the same quiet I feared so much as a child. Wanting the peace that comes with knowing if it's quiet, I don't have to be perfect, I don't have to perform, I don't have to pretend to be interested in something when I'd rather read a book, that I don't have to cook for and clean up after a child who's utterly ungratefully and totally disrespectful, that I'm not being set-up for failure with mind games and puzzles, and barbed insults that say less about me than the person lobbing them, but which hurt nonetheless. Quiet means my world is my own and I don't have to figure out the right response to someone else's query, the response that tells them I'm listening and supportive in the way they need to hear it. Quiet means that I don't have to have an opinion on anything. It means that I don't have to justify my opinion to anyone. Quiet means I get a moment of peace.

And it makes me wonder how I survived childhood. How is that my mother didn't kill us all just to get a moment's peace? It truly astounds me. Don't get me wrong, I would never kill anyone just to get a moment's peace. But I sometimes wonder if what saves me from doing serious emotional damage to my sister's kids is my ability to remind myself that in just a few more hours, they'll be gone, and I won't have to see them again for at least a week, maybe longer! Even then, there are times when I can't muster up the grace and I tell them, flat-out, they aren't welcome in my space and to, please, just leave me alone, I do not want them near me--and be quiet wherever it is that they may find themselves in the house, and no, we are not watching Spongebob Square Pants again because we've seen that episode 12 times already this weekend and I'd rather watch the Rachel Maddow show.

And I remind myself that there will come a day when I won't be awoken by my dog curling up in the groove of my pillow, leaving me with acne and itchy eyes (did I mention I'm allergic to dogs), and that one day soon, she'll prefer her kennel to her bed, just as she recently moved from my bed to her own. There will come a day when I can go to the bathroom or to do my laundry and she might follow me like a shadow, but then again she might not. And there will come a day when she won't follow me at all, when she'll join my last dog in a wooden box on my dresser, with a just a picture and paw print set in clay.

And I remind myself that giving up a little peace and quiet now means getting a little more time with people I want to love (and sometimes think I actually might). It means another morning waking up with my dog in my face, a dog I definitely love. It means a few more minutes on the phone, connecting with people I value, and accepting that circumstances prevent what I would prefer--a cup of coffee on a shared couch. So I'll make do with what is available to me, even if I'm not a fan of talking on the phone. Something is better than nothing.

And I'll find peace and quiet where I can. I will take it when I really do need it. And I'll try not to grumble too much when going without, for a few hours, means blessing someone else.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Yet again, Iowa has delivered something that just couldn't be found in NYC--locally produced milk! While I know several people who bought their milk from Farmers' Market stands in NYC, I just never could find the milk stall. So, I bought mine at the grocery store, with no idea from whence it came. Well, I had some idea, I guess, because I know for sure that it came from cows. Unless that episode of "The Simpsons" got it right and tiny milking machines have been hooked to rats. I digress.
The point: Exceptional milk is available here! Many thanks are due to Hansen's Dairy. (Curiously, it has been said that if you take any word, keeping the first and last letter in place and scrambling the remaining letters in any order you choose, your brain will still read the word correctly, every time. There are exceptions to this rule. Dairy/Diary is but one.) Again, digression!
This past weekend, I purchased two gallons of the good stuff. A gallon of 1% (because while I prefer skim, I know other people in the house are likely to complain if skim is the only option in the refrigerator), and a gallon of whole milk. The whole milk went something like this:
Into a clean, 5-quart crock pot, on high, with a candy thermometer tucked between the lip of the pot and the pot's lid. There it remained until the milk reached 185* F. At which point, I turned the crock pot to low and left it for 30 minutes.
Having held the milk at 185* for half an hour, I turned the crock pot off, and left it for a few hours, until the thermometer read 110* F. Then, I mixed 1 1/2 cups of the warm milk with 1 cup of plain yogurt, mixed this back into the remaining milk in the crock pot, put the lid back in place without the thermometer, wrapped the entire thing in four layers of towel, and left it sitting for eight hours, returning after five hours to turn the crock pot on low for 15 minutes, and two hours after that to turn it to low for another 15 minutes.
Having thoroughly cultured the milk, I stirred it until it was smooth, and then ladled it into a tea towel lined mesh strainer resting over a large stock pot. After a few hours in the refrigerator, the whey was transferred from the stockpot into a storage container and placed in the freezer. I plan to use it the next time I make bread.
The remaining yogurt was moved from the tea towel into a storage container, stirred, lidded and returned the refrigerator.
This is not my first time making yogurt, and I've always used whole milk in the past. It is my first time making yogurt with Hansen's milk, however, which feels as though it has a higher fat content, which is entirely plausible depending on the breed of cow they milk. Jersey's produce significantly more far than other dairy cows. I think next time, I'll buy two gallons of 1% and make low-fat yogurt.
All in all, it's quite delicious, and I'm enjoying it mixed with strawberries.