Friday, October 15, 2010

I do exist.

There's some Descartes for you. Do I exist because I'm blogging? Nope...I exist otherwise, but some of you might not know it as I haven't updated this thing in a while. Why, you might ask?

Because I'm a busy-ass woman. Crazy busy. PhDing, teaching, churching...these things take up most of my time, and the few moments I have to spare are spent hanging out with my husband or sleeping. *Le sigh* If only I had more time to blog! I have thought of many things I want to blog about, and would love to devote whole posts to, but due to lack of time at the moment, I'll just post them as brief points.

The alternate title for this is "random things I've been doing lately that by no means are representative of what I've been doing lately."

1. Running "barefoot." I use quotation marks because I bought some Vibram Fivefingers (KSO Treks, for those interested in the model) and have been running in them. They're those crazy tow/foot shoes you may have seen around. It's been so much fun! I already had a short running stride, so I haven't had to do quite as much of the form work many folks have to do when they start running in these things, but there's still been some adjusting. But it's actually fun. I was running through the wildlife sanctuary by the house the other day, in golden woods (gorgeous doesn't even begin to capture it), listening to some U2, and it hit me. This is fun. Really fun. I don't think I ever would have said that about running before, but there you go. Something about running in quasi-bare feet, in gorgeous woods, in 50 degree weather, with awesome music was sublime. I think I've found my favorite running weather (although admittedly the leaves on the ground make it hard to see the acorns I'm trying not to step on). I am especially looking forward to hiking in my Fivefingers, as they give me so much more control in my movements. I can feel where my foot is being placed and how good of a grip I've got. They rock my world.

2. Best. Thing. Ever. As I've written about before, I drive. Alot. And I'd been getting bored with my music (even my new music) so I decided to try these audio books. Now, I didn't think I would like audiobooks, as I was afraid I would start thinking as I tend to do when driving and lose track. That hasn't happened at all, and my drives feel so much shorter! Librivox has podcasts that are free, and there's a ton of free public domain books. Right now I'm working through various Jane Austen works (I'm a sucker for parlour intrigue!). Check out the site if you get a chance. I'd love to volunteer for them, but don't have time at the moment.

3. Ummm what else? Reading. Writing. Reading. Reading. Driving. Reading.

4. Oh I've kept up my "don't take the interstate" as much as possible. There's a 20 mile stretch I have to take on the way to school, but it's not a toll road. Mileage is better. My stress level while driving is better. Aside from about 15 extra minutes in driving time, it's win-win!

So there you go. That's all I can think of at the moment. The Hubs and I are about to watch a movie, and then I have to get back to reading this ridiculously boring book for class. I'll be glad when this particular class is over...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Weeks 2,3, and Random Update

Well weeks 2 and 3 flew by without an update from me. So far I'm up to -7.5 lbs officially (although when I cheated and checked yesterday I was more at 12 lbs-hooray!). They went pretty well, actually, and I feel like I've been staying "on plan." The real challenge will be once school starts and things get more stressful and hectic, although on the plus side my life will be more structured, which personally makes eating right sometimes an easier task. R has been going right along with me (although he's not officially doing Weight Watchers). We've been eating well-but I've noticed it's not much different from what we would eat before. It's less potatoes and more attention to portion sizes. But for the most part it's the same foods as before, with the exception of my oatmeal addition. I discovered Trader Joe's has a quick cooking steel cut oatmeal and it's fantastic! I was finally able to get my hands on some good peaches, and have been having those in my oatmeal this week. So good.

In random news, things are about the get started-as in TOMORROW! I have orientation all day tomorrow and most of the day on Friday. I'm excited about meeting the other members of my "cohort" (as they for whatever reason call an incoming class of PhD students). Ours is apparently pretty small-only eight, I think, and I'm the only early modern Britain person among the group. I don't know if there's anyone doing renaissance on the Continent, though. It would be cool if there were, but since UConn is such a powerhouse for American history, they may be all from that side of things! But there may be a medievalist in there as well, which would be cool. I'm going to bust out with my brand new Nutcase helmet (it's so much fun!) and folding bike (a Dahon) tomorrow, as I'm sure I'll have to park a million miles away. And why wait for the shuttle when I can ride my bike over to the building?

It's been cold and rainy for the past few days. We need the rain badly, but I could live without the temps in the low 60s. Luckily tomorrow it's supposed to be 81, and then up in the upper 80s over the weekend, so that will be great. We're hoping to make another trip to Six Flags for the water park before it closes for the season. The downside of the warm weather is that I will get sweaty biking to class, but whatever. I'd be sweaty walking too, so what are you going to do? Nothing I guess.

Other than that...I bought new glasses today. I bought a $99 pair from Sears last year and after about a month came to hate them. I mean, I loathe these glasses. It's not that they look bad (because they don't), there's just something about anyway, this time I decided that I was going to spend money on my glasses, as they'll probably be getting more use than usual (I want to be really conscientious about taking them out when I get home at night before I study). I remember the last pair of glasses I spent more money on, and I loved them. I like these ones too...they're Ray-Bans (only got that brand because at LensCrafters there's some sort of thin laser lens you can get if you've got stupid bad vision like myself that only costs 10 bucks more than a regular lens but you have to buy Ray-ban frames). I like the look, and I can't wait until they come in! Maybe I'll post a picture then. It was admittedly weird going to the eye doctor today, as I've gone to the same guy since I was in 3rd grade, and needless to say he's out of my insurance network now. So I had to find a new optometrist : ( But she was nice, so it's all good. The big surprise was she said I didn't need the astigmatism correction in my contacts-that it wasn't severe enough to warrant it. I was a bit taken aback by this because I've had at least one toric lens since I started wearing she gave me a pair without them and told me to try them out for a week or two and see how I liked them. So far so good...I hope they work, because they're much cheaper!

And my garden is still going strong. The tomato crop has been fantastic this year. I think next year I'm only going to plant tomatoes-big ones in one bed, cherries in another. Then we can make sauces and salsas with our maters! This year we've been able to have BLTs and caprese salad, which has been awesome. I love me some home grown maters. Now if I could only find some fried green tomatoes up here, I'd be all set. I've been craving them for some reason.

Oh well. Anyway here's to the beginning of exciting things!!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fab Five Friday

So I've seen on a few blogs people doing these things called "fab five Fridays" or whatever cutesy name you'd like to insert. Technically it's Thursday, but I will just wait to post this until tomorrow. Tricksy, eh? Yes... But R is still sick and Futurama isn't on until 10 and I have nothing else I feel like doing, so here are my five fabulous things for this Friday, not because I'm doing them but because I felt like writing about them.

1. My garden. Except for the squash.

(The above are obviously not squash, but rather tomatoes). I love my garden-this year we did raised beds, and they've done pretty well! I have 5 cobs of corn coming along (the most exciting part, in my opinion...unfortunately I'm not exactly sure when to pick them so that could raise problems), tons of maters-both small and large, cucumbers, strawberries, and watermelon (I have 3 baby melons!). So far the tomatoes have gotten the most use-the cukes have been smaller than usual, and the corn's not ready yet. Nor are the baby melons. I planted some bell peppers later in the summer and they just now seem to be blossoming, so we'll see what happens there. But the tomatoes-oh man. That's the main reason to have a summer garden in the first place! We've had caprese salad twice, blt's once, stuffed peppers (using homegrown tomato puree) once, and tonight we had a tomato on our burgers. So. Friggin. Good.

Except for the squash. For whatever reason squash hates growing for me. I can't grow it in Massachusetts. I couldn't grow it in Kentucky. I don't know why.

2. Vermont. This is a picture taken near Smuggler's Notch State Park in Vermont.

R and I went here on our staycation/New England sampler vacation. Let me say, it was awesome! The park itself was really small-only 20 campsites I think, and hiking and camping is all that particular park has. BUT...they were really low key, had firewood for 4 bucks and a fire starter (which meant we didn't have to dig around for kindling), and we had a nice site near the bathroom, which kept me from having to sneak a pee behind a tree in the middle of the night when I don't want to walk to the bathroom by myself because it's cold and I don't feel like being attacked by bears thank you very much.

Anyway the park was awesome. Ben and Jerry's was cool. Stowe was cute, though I would never ever want to go near there in the winter. I imagine it's a mad house. Smuggler's Notch itself was awesome. We hiked up a mountain to a mountain top lake, looked at said lake, and then hiked down. On the way down a group wouldn't move and I proceeded to fall and scrape the crap out of my knee, but that was the worst of it. Got some good pictures of the lake, though.

Oh and they let you have beer in Vermont State Parks. I just have to remind myself of what that place must be like in the winter to keep me from wanting to move there. I don't mind winter, when it's 2.5 months like it is in Kentucky. When it's November-Aprilish like it is in New England I tend to be a little...disenchanted. So I just kept imagining that I was hiking up that mountain in 3 feet of snow a la Lord of the Rings. That helped temper my Vermont enthusiasm a bit.

3. Beer. This will be a constant. I just thought it was a convenient time to update you all on a few things of note in my beer world:

-The Hefeweizen should be ready to drink early next week, though it will improve in taste even more in a few more weeks.

-There's a Pale Ale in the carboy just waiting to be bottled next week. That means we'll have about 100 bottles of homebrew at once. Woohoo!

-R saw a post on Facebook that I was craving a hoppy Pale Ale, and stopped to get me some despite his growing illness. I love him.

-Summer ales are disappearing for the year. WTF? It's AUGUST folks, and the middle of August at that. I realize Oktoberfest is technically in September, but do we really have to pull out the Oktoberfest beers in the middle of August? I'm still in summer mode. I only gripe about this because my local brewery is done with growler fills of their summer for this year, and has Oktoberfest. I like Oktoberfest as much as the next person, and I LOVE fall beers (Shipyard's Pumkinhead being my absolute favorite of the fall selection), but I'm not ready for that. I'm still in my cloudy-wheat-ale phase of summer. Why do I have to settle for bottles for the next month? Sigh.

4. This blog: You need to read it. Now.

5. Jesus. I guess he should be number one, really, seeing as he's Jesus and all. We're buds, as you can tell from this picture. Anyway, Jesus really is awesome. Not joking about that one. Seriously.

So there you have it. What's not awesome? One of my best friends is moving away to Chicago. And R is sick. Boo.

But dogs are cute, right? So we'll end on a happy note. The dog on the left is Poppie, my mom's (she's...5 now?) and the dog on the left is my nephew's, SkippyJon (named after the oh so awesome SkippyJon Jones books). My mom took this the other morning and sent it to me with the caption: BFF.

There. Don't say I never gave you anything.

In Which R is Sick...Or How I Learned My Cats Aren't Cuddly

I don't have too much of a history with cats. We had one when I was a kid. I remember my brother, sister, and I finding a stray as it wandered into our backyard. We wanted to keep it badly, so we wrote some ridiculous song and sang it to my parents, convincing them about how much fun having a cat would be! what we could name it! how creative we were to boot! I don't know how Mom and Dad sat there and listened without falling onto the floor and rolling about in cramp-inducing laughter. I think that's what parenting must be about, really-not laughing at your kids for being ridiculous. Needless to say, they took pity on our attempts at melodic greatness, and let us keep the cat. We named it Doodles. Doodles...well, I don't remember much about her. She eventually lived in the basement (which was part of the house and didn't have to be entered from the outside, lest someone think us cruel), until she decided to pee on everything in sight. So she "Went to a farm," which I found out only 2 years ago meant she had to be put down. Why my parents felt they had to resort to a "code" about this I have no idea. They evade the question when I ask it.

Then we got dogs. Or rather, my brother and sister got a dog (and eventually my mom, and my nephew). I, unfortunately, never got a dog, though I hold out hopes of one day fulfilling this dream. Our oldest dog was Peachie (rest her soul, she had to be put down last September). She was a canine trash compacter-her favorite food was turnip peels, and she also ate chocolate chip cookies and a whole tube of neosporin. The only thing that almost killed her-as a puppy, no less-was some sample dog food. Go figure.

Peachie had an amazing knack for taking up room on the bed. When my brother, N, would have to be out of town or at a friend's house or whatever, she'd sleep with me because my room was right next to his and her whining kept me up all night. She'd proceed to get in my bed, position herself between my body and the wall, and stick her legs straight out, thereby reducing the space on my twin bed for me to about 6 inches. And she smelled. But she was a nice dog.

What I'm trying to get at is that Peachie was cuddly, as much as a beagle-mutt who smells bad and eventually had bad joints could be. Doodles I never got the chance to find out. And our other dogs (until the recent SkippyJon addition-a chihuahua who I'm convinced is secretly a parrot who sits on our shoulders because we're all pirates though we don't know it yet) are too big to snuggle. Lesson-dogs kind of cuddly. Cats, until this point, I had no clue, though I did house-sit one summer and that cat spent every night attacking my feet, until I figured out a way to fling the sheets and send said cat flying. It was pretty righteous.

Which brings me to Gizmo and Leela. Giz used to be incredibly cuddly, but he's not so much anymore. He does enjoy being picked up and held on his back, getting his belly rubbed, but he's not the biggest fan of sitting in my lap (though R is his BFF so he'll sit there every now and then). Leela, on the other hand, is a maniac for sitting on my lap or laying on my stomach and kneading my chest and generally getting in the way of whatever it is I'm trying to do, which is usually read a book for school. I'd call her decently cuddly, on her own terms.

Which brings me, in a rather round about way, to last night. R is sick with who knows what (fever and aching and fatigue). He was going to sleep in our spare room, but I was gallant and told him the sick person should get to sleep in our own bed. I actually do believe this, and when I'm sick he can sleep in the other room, although this is the first time in our life we've had to do this. Anyway I'm sleeping in the spare room and I think, "Hey, the cats aren't allowed in our room, but why not let them sleep in the spare room with me? the sheets will get washed, so no cat hair issues!" I thought "this will be fun! awesome! adorable!" not to mention they would provide some heat as well as white noise with their oh so peaceful purring. This is what I had in mind, or some variation on this (and I'm too lazy to rotate the pic, so deal):

These are my actual kittens on the day we brought them home. Gizmo takes up that entire bed now, by the way, when he chooses to sleep in it. Which is never. He prefers the weight bench.

The night started OK. The cats were intrigued by these things called "sheets" and "blankets." Luckily they didn't give a damn about the pillow, lest I have to go spritzing them. I read for a while, and turned off the light. They walked around a bit but then left the room and generally ignored me. Gizmo came in a few hours later and laid down on part of the bed, but there was no cute cuddling action going on. There was nothing going on, really.

Until 4:30 AM.

I should say that I have no idea where my cats sleep at night. Whenever I get up for my inevitable middle of the night pee, Gizmo might be sleeping on the bathroom floor, but usually neither cat is anywhere to be found. But it's always quiet. We get up on weekdays around 6:30ish, so that's when they eat. And they sometimes stir before that, but we've never been woken up by the cats before 5 something, I'd say.

Until this morning. At 4:30 AM.

My cats became this:

Only with the curtains. And really only Leela (who's a black cat). But I thought this picture captured the mood (the picture itself, if you click on it, will take you to the site where I got it. See? Not plagiarizing is awesome!)

Leela thought this would be the most awesomest time to attack the curtain above my head. Not the other curtains in the house. That particular one. And did she ever show that curtain who was boss (imagine said gun pointed at a curtain).

So then I had to show her who was boss, and I kicked them both out of my guest room (figuratively) and went back to sleep.

Lesson: Hilary's cats do not equal cuddly sleeping at night cats, but are rather curtain attack cats after 4 AM. Especially Leela. Gizmo just orders the hit.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Week 1

I realize this isn't a weightloss blog...I don't know what kind of blog this is, to be honest. However, I figure I would at least update my admiring public once a week on how things are going on each weigh-in day, which for me is a Monday (by the way, I've noticed lately that several people are showing up on this blog who I don't know. Welcome! ).

So. Week 1: 1.5 lbs. Not too bad really. I should feel more excited about it than I actually do. I cheated and got on the scale yesterday, and was down 2 lbs from last Monday, but I guess dinner last night had an effect. It wasn't a bad dinner either-I just probably ate a little more than I should have. The week got thrown off by a KISS concert on Saturday night. I have to be better about not letting those things get in my way. I also had a cookie at coffee hour yesterday, which isn't usual for me. For the most part I never have anything at coffee hour because there's nothing left by the time I'm free! Probably a good thing, I think.

For the most part, the week went well. I mentioned to R that I noticed we really didn't have to change our menu all that much-just portions. We have removed potatoes-not that potatoes are bad for us, they're actually low in points, but we've been filling out meals with 0-point veggies. For example, we're having stuffed peppers tonight and I'm making squash as a side to fill things out a bit. It's made a big difference-if you eat lots and lots of 0-point veggies, having 3-6 oz. of chicken doesn't seem so small. So much of this is psychology, but there you go.

As I wrote last week, having the fresh cut veggies on hand has also been a huge help. And the oatmeal. I think I tripped up last night because I went on a 45 minute run and then we didn't have dinner for almost 3 hours. Raw veggies don't help when you've bonked after a run. Oh well. I ate a little more than I should have but no biggie.

So 1.5 lbs. Not bad. My goal weight for the short-term (as in, the next few months) is 21 lbs from where I am now-definitely do-able as long as I stay on track! I have noticed a big difference though, even with these few lbs. I'm closer to where I was at the beginning of the summer. It just goes to show how much of a difference a few lbs of weight-loss can make in the way you feel!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Here We Go Again

Well, I jumped back on Weight Watchers. Not that I every really dropped out because I wanted to-it was really a financial thing more than anything else (when you only have a part time job, 18.00 a month can be a mega hit). I did OK-my running speed has definitely improved and for the most part I've maintained my weight. Until vacation, when I started to gain a little back. I think I've gained about 10-15 from my low point that I was in last fall, and I could feel it. I was feeling bad about it too-I'd worked really hard to lose the 36-37 lbs that I had lost between February and October 2009, and I didn't want all of that to fall by the wayside. So, I joined back up. Luckily the mechanics of it are already familiar to me, so I don't have to go through all of that. Now is just the 1-2 week "detox" period, where my body's metabolism gets back on track and I'm hungry all of the time. I have done a few things differently this time, though, and they're working (so far). I thought I'd share, for those who are interested:

1. Have a huge supply of pre-cut raw vegetables for snacking. We've got carrots, peppers, and cucumbers in the fridge and I've noticed that it's made a big difference. I can pack a bag for lunch, and when I get home I can munch on some if I feel the need. R has taken to having a pre-dinner veggie snack, which is good for him because it keeps him from eating more at dinner (he's not officially doing WW, but since I am, he's going along in a way). It's so much easier for me to make good decisions when they're ready and sitting in the fridge, staring me in the face. There's no excuse, basically, for me to have something else when there are fresh-cut vegetables available...

2. ...unless I'm really hungry. I love veggies, but raw vegetables don't always do the trick for me in terms of hunger. They might, but if I'm getting ready for a run they don't do much. Then I have to turn to a snack that actually has a points value (for those who don't know, in WW you track points-derived from a combo of calories, fat, and fiber). This could be a sandwich thin with some peanut butter, or some cottage cheese, or just something with a little protein. Or grapes, which I've found so really well for me before a workout, for whatever reason.

3. Oatmeal is my friend. This is HUGE for me. If there is one healthy food I have never been able to eat in the past, it's cooked oatmeal. Don't get me wrong-I love oatmeal cookies, granola, and things with oatmeal in it. But cooked breakfast oatmeal? Gag me with a spoon. I've tried to like it, I really have, but to no avail. Until I discovered steel cut oats. These have made all the difference in the world-I think I'm addicted to the stuff! And it fills me up better than my usual cheerios (which I love), so I'm not hungry at 10 am. It's also worked as an afternoon snack for a pre-workout, although then I make it with water instead of milk. I have a couple of ways I make it, and I love both. So tasty.

4. Smaller cutlery makes a difference. In the morning, I don't use the giant spoons we have (I would like to point out that R already had these when we got married, so I played no role in the purchasing of our cutlery :) ), but smaller spoons. It makes me eat slower, and it feels like I'm eating more as I'm taking more bites. I know that sounds weird, but I'll take whatever psychological edge I can get. At dinner, I use a small fork for the same reason. When cooking oven fries, I use the smaller pizza pan as it makes one serving look like more than when it's dwarfed on a huge pan. For folks who don't have weight issues, this may sound ridiculous. But I promise, it makes a huge difference when regulating portion size!

5. Black coffee tastes good. Enough said, really, although I do like a little half and half in the morning, but as I lose weight and my daily points allotment drops, that may have to go. We'll see.

So there you go. Just a few things that have worked for me. I recently discovered a couple of cool blogs as well that provide some interesting views on weight loss.
All the Weigh (a young woman in NYC chronicles her weight loss-which is over 100 lbs!)
Man Meets Scale (the CEO of WW, who is also a member, has a really down to earth and personable blog)

Hope you're having a good summer. The south is baking. It's humid up here. We went on a staycation, but more on that later. For now, I've got to get back to reading about medieval women brewers.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Awesome (albeit potentially dangerous) Find

Today I found something awesome. I tried to find a similar one yesterday, and followed my Google maps directions to get there. During rush hour. In 93 degree heat. In a car with no AC. The directions took me to a gravel road in the middle of Worcester (which actually isn't as rare as one might think it would be) that turned out to be an alley behind some people's houses. Not what I was looking for. Frustration reigned, so I got some water at a Shaw's and drove home.

But today I found it. What might it be? A used book store. Not a "rare-and-out-of-print-collect-books-here store, but an honest to goodness used fun-books-to-read bookstore.

I haven't been to a real used bookstore in a long time. I remember in 4th grade having to do a project where we opened and ran an imaginary business. I based mine on a used book store near my parents' house, I think it was called "Twice Read Consignment" or something of that sort. I don't remember learning much from that project, save how to spell "business." I do remember that bookstore though-it was near the big park. I didn't have any sense of book prices, however, as I was 9 and didn't pay attention to such things. My mom would buy me a book if I asked her to (she still will, as a matter of fact!), as we're a reading family and it's always encouraged. I'm guessing a good deal of my Babysitter's Club books were found there.

I've been really good about not buying books this year, only because I couldn't afford to do so. I joined the local library and have gone there when I was looking for a new read (as opposed to a reread). However, I stopped in Barnes and Noble yesterday to check out their clearance sale and was reminded of what I love in a book store. Looking around, reading covers, wondering what the insides hold...I usually just have to pick up a book, walk around with it for a while, and then I can put it back and walk out of the store. I didn't really have time for that yesterday, so I left feeling dissatisfied. I didn't want to spend a good deal of money on a book, as I just ordered most of my books for the fall semester, and spending another 20 bucks wasn't exactly something I should do.

But. I'm going on vacation this week. I don't want to take a library book because I'm going to the beach, and I'd rather not water damage public property. A cheap paperback would be perfect for this week, so that's what I looked for. Wal-Mart didn't really have anything good (lots of romance serials and Nicholas Sparks books *puke-o-rama*. Although I was pleased to see a smattering of more classical fare-The Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, Animal Farm, 1984, Of Mice and Men). I was going to have to search elsewhere.

Looking online, I found this "chain" of used bookstores in the region. They're not a chain, or even a franchise really. I think it's an association-locally owned used bookstores that join this group and can use the name.

Annie's Book Stop.

I went to the one in Grafton after my unsuccessful hunt yesterday and let me say-this place is great! It's small, but there was a large sign on the side of the road saying the book store was open (hooray!). It's a no-frills place-clean, bright, cheery, and shelves stuffed with books. About the size of my living room, or maybe a bit bigger. I walked in and the woman behind the counter greeted me. I started looking around and a fellow reading the paper int he back asked me if I'd ever been there before. I said no, he got up and gave me a personal tour of the store. That was definitely a nice touch.

I roamed about and finally selected 3 books-two John Irving novels (The Cider House Rules, which I've wanted to read for years, and A Prayer for Owen Meany, which I've read before but wanted to own and reread) and Bleak House by Dickens, who I happen to love. This store is 50% the publisher's price on used books. So an already under $10 paperback can be quite cheap! My books totaled $9.51. Three books for less than 3.25 a piece. AMAZING.

And quite possibly dangerous. I don't have space for more books, and school starts soon. However, I am a firm believer in night time reading-it allows me to decompress before going to sleep and think about fictional characters and things, instead of theological controversies concerning the nature of the Eucharist in the 1640s. While interesting, it's not the type of thing that helps me sleep well. Go figure.

So yeah. AND it's a locally owned place. I don't have any sort of moral or philosophical hang ups about chain stores, but it's nice to support local businesses when I can. And this is one I can definitely get behind.

Right. Well, I'm off to start reading one of my new books in the backyard. The only question is which one...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Scripture and Sermon

At church this summer, we're doing a series of "instructed Eucharists" to explain why we do what we do in an Episcopal liturgy. Normally an instructed Eucharist happens all in one service (we did these when I was a kid...seemed to go on forever), but we've decided this summer to use each Sunday's homily to reflect on how the Gospel is preached in our liturgy. And, just so we don't overlook the Gospel lesson, we're including reflections in the bulletin for folks to read on the scripture readings for that particular Sunday.

Anyway, this past Sunday was the second in our series, and I was up to preach. The official topic was The Liturgy of the Word, but I point out that the entire liturgy could be considered as such, since Jesus is the Word. So, this sermon is specifically about the portion of our service when we hear lessons from the Bible and then on the sermon itself.

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Collect for Proper 28, BCP 236)

This week we embark upon the second in our series of sermons about different parts of the Eucharist. I think the official title of today is “Liturgy of the Word,” but to be more specific we’ll be looking at the scripture readings and the sermon—the wordiest part of the service, so to speak. I’ve been wondering for a while how to start this reflection, and then it occurred to me that there may be some questions about the basics-why do we have this number of readings? Who picks them out? So I thought we’d start with these to get a grasp of what we’re working with, and then move on to some reflections.

The Episcopal Church uses what is called a lectionary, or a set plan of readings. If you were to look in the back of the Book of Common Prayer (around page 888) you’d find “The Lectionary.” We actually don’t use this one anymore, but I’ll get to that in a moment. For now the one in the Prayer Book will work as an example as it functions in a similar way to the lectionary we use now. If you flip to page 889 you’ll see the heading “Year A.” Keep thumbing through and you’ll eventually encounter “Year B” and “Year C.” Our lectionary is on a 3-year cycle, so that every 3 years we’ve gone through basically the entire Bible. In 2006 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church required that all churches switch to the Revised Common Lectionary—one that is used by many Protestant denominations. This lectionary incorporates a greater diversity of readings from the Old Testament, as well as more material dealing with the witness of women in the Bible. During the season after Pentecost, commonly known as “Ordinary Time,” we actually have the option of 2 Old Testament readings—one “track” is thematically linked with the Gospel, while the other provides semi-continuous lessons from the Old Testament. The reflection printed in your bulletin is from the “continuous lesson” track.

So that’s how we pick our lessons—in other words, we don’t really. They’re already chosen for us, and we could look at the correct chart and see what lesson we’ll have on the first Sunday in Advent in, say, 2012. It’s all laid out for us. This has its merits—the lessons we hear on Sunday aren’t subject to the whims of the preacher—but it can also be hard. Sometimes the lectionary gives us a set of lessons that may not at first speak to where we are on that Sunday as a faith community. That challenges us to open our hearts to the Spirit a little more than we might usually do.

Another basic feature of this portion of our liturgy is that it involves a lot of Scripture. Episcopalians sometimes have a funny relationship with the Bible. For example, if I asked an Episcopalian to quote for me 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, chances are this person would look at me as if I had lost my mind. If, however, I asked said person to quote for me what we call the words of institution from our Prayer Book, chances are this person could easily do so. I’ll quote for you the Corinthians passage right now, just to drive this point home: “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Sound familiar? There’s an old joke that says an Episcopalian heard someone reading the Bible, and wondered what that thing quoting the Book of Common Prayer was.

The point I’m trying to make is that even if we don’t know it, our worship is full of scripture. In fact, I’d venture to guess it’s mostly scripture. Not only are the words of the Prayer Book largely derived from the Bible, but we hear no less than 4 passages from the Bible every Sunday: a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm or Canticle, a reading from the New Testament epistles (or Acts or Revelation), and finally a reading from the Gospels. That’s a lot of scripture! Probably more than most people hear at church on a Sunday. But what are we to do with all of these Words? They can be overwhelming at times—trying to sink our teeth into one reading can be difficult enough, much less into four. So why do we hear so much of the Bible every Sunday?

The answer is historical, as the practice of hearing this much scripture actually dates back to the fourth century. It was lost by the time of the Reformation, and it wasn’t until the liturgical renewal of the 20th century that the Episcopal Church regained this tradition. It used to be that there would be a reading from an epistle and a Gospel—the Old Testament was rather left out. But now it’s back, and we once more hear the Old Testament witness.

I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while—why do we hear so much Scripture, and what are we to do with it? It’s even a challenge for preachers to work with one text, much less four. I did some reading to try and help me with this question, and time and again came upon the same thing. We read the Bible because it is our story. As one of my favorite writers, Frederich Buechner puts it, “just because the Bible is a book about both the sublime and the unspeakable, it is a book also about life the way it really is. It is a book about people who at one and the same time can be both believing and unbelieving, innocent and guilty, crusaders and crooks, full of hope and full of despair. In other words, it is a book about us…One way or another, the story we find in the Bible is our own story” (Wishful Thinking, 9). Or, as George Herbert puts it when speaking of the Bible, “Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,/ And comments on thee: for in ev’rything/Thy words do find me out, and parallels bring,/ And in another make me understood” (“The Holy Scriptures 2”).

The Bible has all things in it: it’s a story about people. Us. Think of the psalms: they go from joy at God’s creation, to hatred of our enemies, to feelings of abandonment and salvation. They’re all over the place. Or think of the characters in there: Moses, who stuttered and had to have his brother speak for him. Joseph’s betrayal and eventual reunion with his family. Job’s heartache and faith. Jonah’s indignation at God’s mercy, even after being in the belly of a whale. The youthful David turned old, followed by his sins. A teenage girl finding out she was pregnant before marrying her husband, and it wasn’t Joseph’s child, but the Lord. A poor fisherman named Peter who never seems to understand fully what he hears, but follows Christ to his own cross. The flip flop of Paul—from persecutor to proclaimer of the Good News. And Jesus—our salvation.

What’s more, the Bible isn’t just the story of us, it’s the story of how our story has everything to do with God. It’s a holy story—a story about God’s actions in the lives of so many. We say the Collect for Purity before we hear the scripture readings, asking God to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit”—we ask, in other words, to be opened to the Spirit before we hear these readings. And, as liturgical scholars Louis Weil and Charles Price note, because the Bible “is one of the means that God uses to give Godself to us continually…[i]n reading or hearing it, one may always expect an encounter with the ultimate. This experience of transcendence, of height, is an incomparable aspect of hearing and reading the Word of God in the Scripture” (Liturgy for Living 100). On Sunday mornings, we get the chance to hear these holy stories among holy people in this holy place.

After hearing all of those words, we then listen to more words in the sermon. In their book Liturgy for Living, Weil and Price point out that there are three forms of God’s Word encountered in the liturgy. There’s Jesus as the Word—the ultimate Word by which all other words are judged (this is why we could, to a certain extent, call our entire liturgy a Liturgy of the Word). There’s God’s Word in scripture. And then there’s the word of the preacher. Price and Weil write, “God continues to be shown forth in the words as well as in the deeds of human beings whom God commissions to act and speak” (94). In other words, the job of the preacher is to try and help us reflect on how God’s Word—both the Word of Jesus and the words of the Bible—function in our own lives. Very often, at least in my experience, the sermon is given as much to the preacher him/herself as it is to the congregation. This isn’t to say that every sermon is going to impact every single person every single week. If only. Rob recently likened sermons to getting a letter in the mail—it’s not a bill, it’s not a credit card application, it’s not the weekly coupon mailing—but a letter that is hand-addressed to you. I personally might be suspicious of such a letter, as no one but my grandfather and occasionally my mom actually writes those things, so I like to think of it as an email that’s not spam, or business, or a one-line communication about what time to meet a friend at the coffee shop tomorrow—but a long email written just for me from a friend with whom I haven’t spoken in a while. Or, to use another metaphor, the sermon is like someone trying to interpret a map we’ve been given. The symbols may be slightly out of date, but with some training and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, we can see how this map will guide us today in our lives as Christians.

One of the most interesting things I’ve read lately about scripture comes from Old Testament scholar Ellen Davis. In an essay about teaching the Bible in church, Davis—an Episcopalian who teaches at Duke Divinity School—notes that “teaching the Bible confessionally is not primarily a matter of conveying historical information…[but] means enabling people to wonder wisely and deeply. Wondering is the business of scholars and preachers, just as it is of Sunday School children” (“Teaching the Bible Confessionally in the Church,” The Art of Reading Scripture, 11). I would add, just as it is of every single person in the church. She then goes on to quote Garrett Green, another Old Testament scholar who has argued that “in many instances the biblical term ‘heart’ refers to what we call imagination” (11). I find that to be amazing—If we go back to the Collect for Purity, we ask the Holy Spirit to “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts”—or our imaginations. And in the Eucharist we “lift up our hearts,” think about lifting up your imagination (both example taken from Davis’s essay). In the baptism service we pray that the person being baptized may be given an inquiring and discerning heart—what if that also means an inquiring and discerning imagination?

Preaching allows us to engage our imagining hearts in the work of the Spirit as we hear it in Scripture, and how that work is carried into our own lives. The Godly Play Sunday School curriculum uses the phrase “I wonder” as part of every class session. The teacher and children sit and literally wonder about the Bible story they’re hearing. I wonder how it felt to walk on water as Peter did? I wonder what it felt like to walk across the bottom of the Red Sea, with towering walls of water at your side? I wonder what Abraham thought when Sarah laughed at the news that she would bear a child? I wonder what Mary felt like when Jesus asked who his mother was? I wonder… This wondering opens up new doors into scripture.

The Word of God, in Jesus, in the scripture, in the sermon—is an essential part of our liturgy. It forms the core of all of the words we say when we come together and worship. It provides food for our imagining hearts. It tells our story, and reminds us that we always have been and always will be about God. Grant us, gracious Lord, to hear your Words, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, and proclaim their Good News in all that we do. Amen."

Side note: The opening collect, from the Book of Common Prayer, is one I like. I can't help but think of the following passage from Revelation (there's a similar passage in Ezekiel 3:3, but the scroll tastes only of honey and doesn't turn sour):

"Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, ‘Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.’ So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. " Revelation 10:8-10

My boss called this "scriptural indigestion."