Response #39 The Grave

Mysterious Theologian: Ben McKelahan


God of the Grave, truly you show no partiality.  Bundled in rags or arrayed in gowns, you welcome us.  Wet from the Tigris or dusty from Sonoran sands, you welcome us. Praising your name or cursing your call, you welcome us.  To those weary of the labor of life, you give peace.  To those desperate for more, you give peace. Teach me to wait for your welcome.  Teach me to wait for your peace.  Until the day I receive them, make me like you, ready to embrace all.  Amen.

Response #37 Foot-Sweat

Mysterious Theologian: Ben McKelahan

For this to make sense, you need to understand that, according to How Stuff Works, the source of foot odor comes from bacteria who eat sweat and then excrete the smell as a waste product.  Because we trap our feet in dark, damp, warm shoes, they, more than the rest of body, become the perfect breeding ground for that sweat-eating, smell-producing bacteria.

personal hygiene pictures

Oh Sacred Foot-Sweat, you have blessed our feet with your presence, that as we walk the Way we may remember the waters of baptism with which you promised us your love, and the waters of service in which you taught us to love one another. You seep from our soles, that we might follow you, even in the heat of the day.  And yet, we keep our feet trapped.  Whether because we have made the world you gave us unsafe, or because we are ashamed of the very toes you were glad to wash, we keep our feet hidden behind boots and shoes.  And there, locked in the darkness, you become bread for bacteria, which excrete a stench that cannot be denied. Move us to take off our shoes and stand barefoot on sacred ground for all the world to see. For if we say we have no stench, we deny ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we reveal our stink, and let our feet breathe, You, oh Foot-Sweat, will evaporate and cleanse us of all smelliness. Amen.

Challenge:  Chase, I challenge you with the most vile and hateful object I know of.  Two pieces of wood used to terrorize and execute the oppressed, which together are known as the cross.

Response #35 Dog Breath

Mysterious Theologian: Ben McKelahan

Chase challenged me with dog breath, so here it goes, with a picture of my mom’s dog to go with it!

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Prayer to Holy Spirit in Dog Breath

Hail Dog, full of loyalty,

Blessed are you among pets, and blessed is the breath of your mouth,

for you despise nothing found on the floor,

Not crumbs that fall from my table,

Nor vomit that you puked yourself.

All finds a home in your mouth and fuels the bouquet of your breath.

And whether I have slept in and failed to give you your walk,

Or rolled on the floor laughing,

Or collapsed in tears,

Your tongue finds me with stinky kisses.

And in the stench of the mouth that loves me,

You remind me that the attention of your licks is given not just to me,

But also to the scraps that I did not want,

 And the trash my city did not bother to clean from the street.

Breath of the Living Dog,

Breathe on me now,

And at the hour of despair.


Challenge:  Chase, as I prepare for the various Holy Week events that are happening at my apartment, I move my furniture around.  When I do so, I find lots and lots of clumps of dust and hair.  So tell me, where is God in the dust bunnies that I chase?

Response #30 Sore Feet

Mysterious Theologian: Clare Josef-Maier, a diaconal minister and pastoral counselor at Lutheran Counseling Network in Seattle, WA.

This challenge comes from Ryan Josef-Maier to his wife (how well we know our partners): “Look at these travel-sore, wrinkled toes. Be glad you can’t smell them (the website I took this from assures us that they smelled awful). This foot, and another quite like it, has been stuffed in a sweaty sock and shoe for 13 hours, and in constant friction for that time, writhing against its fetid cocoon. Where, oh where is God in this foot?”

Sore Feet

Prayer to the God Revealed in Feet… Really Gross Feet

Dear God,

In Christ, You tended the (undoubtedly repulsive) feet of your disciples. I wish you had not done that, because now I have to avoid church on Maundy Thursday. (Especially when one is in ministry, people expect you to get excited about foot washing. Why? I am a servant to Your people in plenty of other ways – we needn’t get so literal when it comes to foot washing being the thing we all do now.)

But I wonder sometimes… if I claim You as the Ground of my being, how am I accordingly transformed?

If we are Your hands and feet in this world, surely you love your feet more than I love mine. Would You ever think of me the way I do of others’ feet? Or treat us, your hands, the way we abuse the labor of our own hands?

I seek You, revealed here in these most abused of feet. And I ask that You remind me of love. I claim you as my Ground, and you love feet (and the people whose feet they are, including me), so… it must be somewhere in me to love feet, too. Maybe not as well. But when I fail, you are there to remind me.

Sincerely, Clare

P.S. Really though. You could’ve baked your disciples cookies.

Response #29 Poorly Carved Meat

Mysterious Theologian: Ryan Josef-Maier
Dave Brauer-Rieke challenges, Ryan Josef-Maier, cook, a teacher, asker of impertinent questions and enjoyer of board games with the following:
A culinary artist puts his heart and soul into a special meal. The time, the vision, the seasonings, the presentation. Everything has to be just right. There is no one dish or course that communicates the full experience of a dinner well conceived and executed. The wine is carefully selected. The ambiance of the dining room set just so. Every scent, texture and image must merge into one, harmonious whole. And then, some total idiot doesn’t know how to carve the roast properly. Who are these people that can ruin a carefully constructed gift of grace with a simple sawing of a dull, ill kept and poorly applied carving knife? Why are they allowed to life?!
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The challenge, Ryan, is to find God in the worthless soul of such a creature. Where is God in the soul-less destruction of the culinary masterpiece shown below. You alone understand the horror of this image. Where is God in such a travesty?

Ryan’s Response
The prayer (to be recited silently):
“Lord of feasts and families, thank you for another Easter dinner with the ones I love, for another year of life, and for this.. meal, which I lovingly prepared, and which was served with — really — the best of intentions. I am grateful that Grandpa carved the roast as he has every year, as he has for as long as I can remember. And thank you that, as he sawed my perfectly cooked rib roast with the wrong side of the knife, and clawed at it with the carving fork like a buzzardy version of Captain Hook, a truth was revealed that I’ve never seen at the table before. Meat is muscle; it came from a living thing. Only seeing the uncut structure of the muscle fibers could show this so clearly. Thank you Lord, for this reminder. It keeps me humble.
That Grandpa is enfeebled by loneliness and mourning is clearly shown in his “work.” But at least tonight he’s not alone. Tonight, we prepare to enjoy $130 worth of dry-aged, grass-fed, sustainable beef I bought and prepared, which is now heaped on our plates in shreds too small to taste or hunks too large to chew. Because tonight, nobody had the heart to stop him from destroying it. And for that I am so grateful. As he huffed and grunted, and ill-used his tools, and cursed me for overcooking the roast, all of us knew not to say anything. Perhaps, for him, there was comfort in the sameness of the ritual. Incredibly, for me, there was indeed.  Amen.”

Ryan  challenges for Clare Josef-Maier, a diaconal minister and pastoral counselor at Lutheran Counseling Network in Seattle, WA. 

Sore Feet

Look at these travel-sore, wrinkled toes. Be glad you can’t smell them (the website I took this from assures us that they smelled awful). This foot, and another quite like it, has been stuffed in a sweaty sock and shoe for 13 hours, and in constant friction for that time, writhing against its fetid cocoon. Where, oh where is God in this foot?

Response #27 Books Bound in Human Flesh

Mysterious Theologian:  Ben McKelahan

This challenge comes from Emily Scott of St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn, NY, who sent me the following:  “Havard Discovers three of its library books are bound in human flesh.”  Apparently this was a fairly common 17th century practice called Anthropodermic bibliopegy in which human skin was used for the leather cover of books. The practice was popular for anatomy text-books (autopsies provided cheap leather) as well as for folks who wanted to commemorate themselves after death. But the very first known instance of a book being made out of human flesh is of a 13th century French bible.

Human Flesh Book


Prayer to the God Revealed in Anthropodermic Bibliopegy

Eternal Word, in the beginning you spoke creation into being. In the ruins of Babel you promised to make one family a blessing to all the world. In the desert, you commanded your people to justice and mercy.  But sometimes words are not enough; and so, in a feeding trough for animals, you became flesh and dwelt among us. And on the cross, you let us flay you so that your flesh might became the cover of the book of your love.  When blood-splattered hatred threatens to blot out your good news, your flesh protects the words of peace. When our sour tears blind us to your words of hope, still we touch your flesh which covers them and remember your sacrifice.  When winds of change threaten to scatter your words of wisdom, still your flesh silently holds them together.  Through your word you made us in your image, but by sharing our flesh, you bind us together as one. Unite us together, O God, that all your peoples might form a living Bible in you. Amen.

Response #26 Mystery Meat

Mysterious Theologian: Paul Arensmeyer, a recent graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry who proudly claims both the label of Universalist and Disciple of Christ. And is working toward ordination with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I am an artist, and I am an advocate for people who’s lives appear grimy and gross,but who are neither themselves; our neighbors who live on the street and in homeless shelters.


Oh God of mystery, who is always within, around, and among us:

What’s in this “meat” stuff?
Is it plant or animal?
What kind of animal?
What part of the animal?
What, exactly, is a bi-product?
I’ve heard rumors of chicken lips, pig butts,
and animals treated so badly they’re barely
I don’t like to think about that.
It could be true.
But sometimes, when the budget’s tight,
I can shut out the voice in my head that tells me
that its gross, and bad for me,
and be grateful that it’s a mystery,
and that it fills my belly.

(And what about you, God?)

What is your nature?

Are you a being or a concept?
What sort of being?
Who’s concept?
What is “your will”?
Some say you are angry, and judgmental,
and would have us treat others as less than
I doubt that, even though it could be true.
I need a God that is kind enough to love
even those things I might find grimy.
When I listen to the still, small voice
that comes from my gut,
I’m grateful to rely on the mystery.
It nourishes my soul.

Response #22 Stinky Sneakers

Mysterious Theologian:  Pastor Paul Block of Transfiguration Lutheran Church in The Bronx, NY.

Dear Sneaker, so ragged and torn,

your stench is so strong, and soles so worn,

Days of yore, so shiny and new,

Did you find me, or did I buy you?

I cared for you with daily prayer;

Each stain you received, I washed with care.

One day, I was jogging along.

The rain had passed with a force so strong.

Puddles abounded every step I took;

In my carelessness, I did not look.

Splash! Into the muddy water You went.

Not by Your will, but by me You were sent.

No longer pure, filth came upon You.

It was my fault, it is true.

After that day, I no longer tried

To clean you daily, and show You with pride.

I discovered that day You could handle my dirt.

Better than my hat, my shorts, or my shirt.

So I ran without fear of paths untrod

You went with grace each step that I plod.

We have been together a decade or two.

You worn, and weathered, Running Shoe.

Now I see how faithful You are,

You endure my journeys, near and far.

When I ignore You—for months at a time,

You are still ready for the hills that I climb.

Thank you, Running Shoe, for the love that you share,

Give me the wisdom to model your care.

With my friends and family, and even my foe

Help me to love them, Shoe, help me to grow–

Into the love that You’ve offered with no recompense.

Oops! I did it again, into a puddle I went!


Response #21 Beard Food

Mysterious Theologian: Pastor Stephanie Kershner of Grace Lutheran Church in Scarsdale, NY.

A [small] sampling of [modified] conversations I’ve had with my husband concerning his beard:

While eating some delicious Tom Yum Noodle Soup:

Me: Um, your beard is in your soup.

Husband: Oops. (Removes beard from soup, which leads to a nice dribble of broth down the front of his shirt.)

In the evening after he’s returned from working in Brooklyn for the entire day:

Me: What’s that chunk of stuff in your beard?

Husband: Huh? (Juts out chin and picks at random segments of hair.)

Me: No, more to the right.

Husband: (Successfully finds mysterious chunk.) Are you kidding me? That’s the oatmeal I ate for breakfast this morning. I’ve been walking around the whole day with that in there! Why didn’t anyone tell me?!?!

In the morning while drinking his morning coffee:

Me: You’ve got a little in your mustache.

Husband: I’m saving it for later.

Let us pray. Almighty God, may the oil from greasy cheese pizzas that drips down our chins (or soaks our facial hair – be we ever so lucky) remind us that we are Your beloved and anointed children. May the bits of bright green spinach that get caught in our teeth (or lost in our overgrown forest of facial follicles) remind us of the bounty of food you have given us. May the sugar that sticks to the corners of our mouths (or the blunt bristles of our mustaches) from an evening cocktail with friends remind us of the sweetness of blessed fellowship. May the delicate, almost miniscule crumbs from flaky croissants that fall softly like snowflakes into the weaves and grooves of our clothing (or the Velcro-like strands of our beards) remind us of the bread, Christ’s body, that we have been graciously given. For all these good gifts, and for many more (more than the number of hairs on our heads or on our chins), we give thanks. Amen.

CHALLENGE: Stephanie Kershner challenges Pastor Paul Block of Transfiguration Lutheran Church in the Bronx, NY with the following:

“My husband (previously mentioned and pictured!) will tell you that I have an incredibly keen sense of smell. I can sniff out stink like a well trained police dog. One of the worst offenders? Worn and weathered running shoes.”