Friday, April 27, 2012

I have a special super power.

Some people might label it “poor communcation.”  Others won’t acknowledge that it happens.  A few others might even call it sexism.  Since my husband and I see the world through the lens of super heroes and Jedi, I prefer to think of it as a super power.  We recently realized that I have the amazing ability to throw my voice, so that only one of the two other people in the conversation actually hears what I said.  It could be that I didn’t talk loud enough, or didn’t wait for a break in the conversation.  I would have chosen that explanation, as well, initially, but it didn’t happen only once – and the other people around seem to hear me just fine.  I’ve been using this special power most of my life, but I’ve stepped it up lately, it seems.

First it was the wonderful, elderly man who sold us the farm.  Several times, he was explaining some piece of machinery, or one of the mechanical systems on the house to us, and I would follow up with a question.  He’d hesitate briefly to look at me, then continue on with his explanation as if I hadn’t said anything.  My husband and I brushed it off, telling each other that at 90-plus, the apparent lack of regard for my question might have actually been due to hearing impairment.  Usually my husband would find a way to work my questions into his dialog with the gentleman, so at least we still were able to gather the information.  Because he was so gracious, kind, and helpful to us, I felt bad for using my super power on him, but I figured a person of his generation probably didn’t expect a person of my gender to be asking questions about mechanicals anyway, so he probably wasn’t that upset that I had made my voice inaudible to him; probably no need for me to apologize.

Once the old 9N tractor failed on us, I started using my super power indiscriminately.  The salesperson at the Kubota dealership was showing us a sub-compact with a 3-point hitch.  Although it had the 3-point, the machine looked too small to handle the pasture we need it for, so when he took a breath in his sales pitch, I asked whether that machine was powerful enough to run our 60” brush hog.  He looked at me just like the old man had and kept on talking, just like the old man had; but he was not an old man, he was our age!  I waited patiently through another few minutes of sales before finding another break to repeat my question.  This time, I spoke louder and slower, but got the exact same results.  It was so obvious that my husband glanced over at me uneasily, and we both laughed a little.  He didn’t pick up on our frustration and went on talking to my husband.  Finally, my husband interrupted him to say, “Hey, did you have a question?”  Apparently his intervention was Kryptonite to my super power, because the salesman finally heard me, and replied that, no, we would need to purchase a smaller brush hog.  Was he avoiding the no sale or did he actually not hear my question?  Was it because I was female, or because I was invoking my amazing Jedi mind tricks?  It’s not like I was asking what color it comes in, or whether it has a make-up mirror.

The new tractor delivery.
The same thing happened at the Case dealership, when I wanted to know how moving up a model size affected the price of the machine.  Then it happened again in our driveway when I suggested we move the trailer to the disabled tractor, instead of freewheeling the disabled tractor (that has no breaks!) down a hill to get it to the trailer.  When the tractor guy told us his seemingly life-threatening plan, I outlined my own suggestion for getting the tractor on the trailer.  He gave me the old man look, and then he repeated my plan back to us, as if he was suggesting it for the first time.

It may not be a complete coincidence that we made our purchase, not from a salesperson at all, but from a mechanic who came out of the garage and never once fell victim to my super power.  He patiently answered both of our questions; he showed us all the levers; he never took my husband aside to tell him to keep me away from the farm machinery.

I’m blessed by a husband who does hear my voice and show regard for my thoughts, ideas, input, and questions.  Being valued by the most important person in my life gives me the patience to stay gracious and laugh it off when my amazing Jedi abilities complicated communication elsewhere.  He even lets me drive the tractor.

They have ears, but cannot hear Psalm 115:6

Friday, April 20, 2012

I’m feeling called to First Church of Denny’s

When I offered to resign four months ago, I knew I was ready for a change.  But even as my last day was set, I still couldn’t really imagine not being on staff at my church.  Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings have been such an ingrained part of our family rhythm, relationships with the kids and friends at church have been such a substantial part of our social network, it was hard to comprehend that we were going to depart from those ways.  We fantasized about waking up on Sunday morning and going to church solely because we wanted to go to church, but we could hardly comprehend the possibility of not going.

Maybe it is short-timer’s syndrome, but the last four months, and the last week specifically, have made leaving so much easier than I thought it would be.  Maybe our eminent separation has given me clearer vision to see what was always there, maybe my eminent departure has created some fatalism about our church being able to effectively reach young families, but my vision for a welcoming, accommodating church reached an impasse.  The hot button issue that made my last official board meeting depressing and bitter: changing tables in the main bathrooms.  There were only two other people besides me who argued to keep them: the two women who, albeit 30-plus years ago, once had to change their babies’ diapers at church.  Everyone else in the room was a baby boomer father (i.e. never changed a diaper except in an emergency) or never had kids.  But we were out-voted and diaper changing has now been relegated to the back bathroom.

Will the loss of these changing tables directly affect the membership demographic of our church?  Probably not.  But it was, for me, a weathervane.  There are dozens of similar decisions over which I’ve voiced a minority opinion throughout the years; this one was, to me, one of the most ridiculous.  They are small plastic tables that fold up against a wall; a standard in any public restroom.  What do they hurt?  Someone had to wait an extra couple minutes to use the restroom, and someone else didn’t like how they distracted from the d├ęcor.  So they took them down and now parents, especially guests, will have to hunt down facilities down the hall and around the corner.

Maybe the changing tables aren’t a big deal.  Maybe none of my gripes or issues ever really mattered.  Maybe I was wrong to think I was called to my church to be an ambassador for the lost, or to help break down the barriers that have led 2/3 of my generation to avoid church, if not actively despise it.  Maybe my generation doesn’t belong in church after all.  Maybe we need a new place to congregate on Sunday mornings.

I’m thinking Denny’s.  They don’t quit seating at 10am; they serve breakfast all day.  They have changing tables and high chairs visibly available to accommodate your family.  You can come as you are; no one comments on your appearance.  You know your 10% is going to help someone who really needs it.  There’s no mention of “luck” when it comes to what is in the “pot.”  And they won’t quit serving it, just because you spill a little coffee on the carpet.

I need to find a new way to meld my concern for my generation, and those coming after, with my belief in church as the Body of Christ.  I probably need to take a break from church life and politics for the same reasons so many of my peers avoid it all together.  But in the mean time – I’m counting down to my first Sunday morning Grand Slam.

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Mark 10:14

Saturday, April 14, 2012

P.S. Farming can be women's work, it seems.

Looking up info on our disabled 9N, I found this bit of nostalgia at http://www.tractorshed.com/cgi-bin/gallery/gallery_pic.cgi?pic=http;//www.tractorshed.com/gallery/vphotos/v9546.jpg&firstrec=9&Parameter=9n&w=vphotos&cc=0
 
Ad from March 1945 'Country Gentleman.'
Ad goes on to say:

'As effortless and simple to operate as her household applicances. Not only does the modern farm woman find the Ford-Ferguson Tractor, with its automotive type controls, as easy to drive as the family car, she also changes implements with no more effort or complication than shifting the attachments on her vacuum cleaner.'

'Raising orlowering the plow or cultivator with the Ferguson Finger Tip Control is as easy for her as throwing the lever to start the wringer on her electric washing machine.'

The FergusonSystem's mechanical 'brain' controls furrow depth in much the same way that an oven temperature control 'watches' her pies while she plows.'

Friday, April 13, 2012

I'm reluctantly sentimental about a tractor.

It was my biggest concern when we considered moving to the hobby farm: the pasture.  In addition to the 2-3 acres of lawn mowing, owning this place was going to mean cutting down another 3 acres or so of pasture as many as half a dozen times every summer.  The seller had been using an antique tractor with a 60” Brush Hog to get the job done.  My husband reasoned, whenever I questioned him, that if a 90 year old could keep it up, all by himself, certainly we could together.

We got the tractor worked into the deal, and it sat under a beautiful, giant oak tree, snuggled under a tarp, all winter.  The image on the fender of a heroic eagle with a flaming pitchfork evoked the era of its manufacture, and reminded us that, with its revolutionary 3-point hitch, this machine had once been the essential workhorse of any Midwestern farm.  The seller had given us a briefing back in October and we had each taken a practice lap around the field.  Yet looking out at that tractor all winter, I couldn’t help but feel anxiety about the pasture.  Would my husband enjoy driving the old beast?  Would he want to come home from a 40-50 hour workweek and spend his free time dragging a Brush Hog around the property in the blazing sun?  Would the noise, the dirt, the grease, and the smells bring him the joy of rural life or the burden of it?  I already knew from my own childhood that mowing an acreage was not my favorite summer pastime, but I hoped he might like it.

On the flip side, even as I considered the possibility we might want to trade our working museum piece in for a modern, wide-bladed mower, I couldn’t help hoping that old tool would become the centerpiece of a new way of life for us.  It might pull a wagon around for hayrides.  It might run a tiller for the enormous garden.  It might drag tree trunks to the woodpile.  I imagined all the possibilities its heroic eagle evoked, and knew this machine was so much more versatile than any modern mower would be.  Who knows, maybe even I might find myself enjoying the work, when it was on my own property?
Getting her ready
for the maiden voyage.
Last week the grass was tall enough; it was time to move from anxious hope to reality.  Sure enough, the old engine started easily, and after airing up the tires and checking the oil, we fired up the brush hog.  My husband quickly found himself at ease at the controls, and mowed down the first section of pasture in short order.  With a big grin on his face, he crossed the creek and began to mow the front section, finding himself completely confident going up and down the hills and around the trees.  Our vision was actually coming true!  I was elated, and I am pretty sure he was, too.  Our stress melted away and jubilation replaced it.

Who smiles when they're mowing?  That's my husband.  Living the dream.
He waved as I passed him on my way out to pick up a kid and our grins matched.  It was, however, a different story, ten short minutes later, when I got back.  The tractor was backed into a brush pile at the edge of the creek, and my husband was leaning over to one side and the other, fidgeting with the controls.  He eventually came in to report that something in the drive had snapped, and the tractor had freewheeled, backward, down the hill.  Because the breaks only nominally work, it was only my husband’s lightning reflexes that had allowed him to steer the thing into a cushion of brush, instead of coming to a hard, possibly limb-threatening, stop by hitting a tree or landing in the creek.

Now, aside from praising the Lord for my husband’s safe landing, we’re back to square one.  While a clutch assembly is a mere $150, installing it requires splitting the whole machine in half then putting it back together.  My dad did that once to his old Case when I was a kid – he winched the front end up to a tree to do it.  We’re not so mechanically adventurous as my dad.  Plus, the thing is disabled, on the far side of the pasture, on the wrong side of the creek.  We may have to rent another tractor, just to drag it out of there!
Check out that emblem on the fender.  Awesome.
All logic tells me that investing in a newer model mower with the widest cutting deck we can afford is our best option, but the sweetness of nostalgia for the old ways, for the possibilities, and the ambition wrought by the image of a pitchfork wielding eagle make it hard to give up on our old 9N.

Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you.  Deuteronomy 32:7


Friday, April 6, 2012

I have puppet music stuck in my head.

Did you know I made the first cut to be on the second season of Big Brother? I submitted my tape (back then, it was all VHS), and got a call back to go up to Minneapolis and interview on camera. It was also back when “real” people appeared on reality shows, not models and aspiring actors who already have agents and gigs. Anyway, I went into my interview ready to shine, and they about fell out of their chairs laughing when I pulled the stars from my audition video out of a paper bag. Two puppets: Jesus and Moses. I think it was my attachment to my then one year old daughter that eliminated me from further consideration, because the prophets and I rocked the interview.

My husband and I started leading the puppet ministry at our church several years before I actually hired on as staff. As completely dorky as puppet ministry sounds, it is one of the most fruitful ways that we have been involved. The youth who are now graduating still talk about the music and messages they first heard from the mouths of felt characters, back when they were small. With our combined creativity and resourcefulness, my husband’s extraordinary gift at bringing the puppets to life, and my ability to manage young people, we’ve come up with fresh ideas and lively shows for probably 14 years now.

Back around the time I summarized my personality for casting directors by appearing with Jesus and Moses, we took on organizing a puppet dinner theater for Holy Week. It involved preparing a dinner, decorating a dining room, seating charts, ticket sales, and a million little mind-boggling details. But the biggest endeavor was working with half a dozen teenagers to put together a three act show that would keep the audience’s attention between courses of food. Apparently the six weeks of rehearsals that led to our Good Friday show made as big an impression on me, as they did on the puppeteers, because every Good Friday, the soundtrack from Fish Tales runs through my head like, “Baby, Baby, Yeah,” after a Justin Bieber Today Show appearance.

There was a song about the feeding of the 5000, where Jesus took one child’s lunch of loaves and fish, and multiplied it to feed the entire crowd: or as the song put it, “fish sandwiches! What a plan was his! Supernatural Supper for the multitude!” Of course, you can’t forget the Good Friday number, “It was a good day. On a bad day.” Or the finale, “Do not fear! He was crucified, but he escaped the grave, he’s not inside, no, he’s not here. He is alive!”

Ten year old puppet lyrics, trumpeting through my mind, and recalling at once both the demands and the joy of a vibrant ministry. And, at the same time, filling my heart and mind with the bittersweet, compelling truth that this week is all about: the teachings, the sacrifice, and the resurrection of Christ.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split Mathew 27:50-51