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?!
Inline image 1
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 #28 Slugs

The Slug Challenge

The Challengers: Paul Arensmeyer and Mayor Sandy Roumagoux


Grimy God has been fun, so far, but its been woefully east-coast centric, I think. Out here in the west, our dirt may not be as dirty, and our smog might be fog, but God has shared gross and grimy gifts with us as well. So, while I’ve got the baton, I’d liketo celebrate God’s presence (presents) in the damp and moldy underworld of the Pacific Northwest. After consulting with kindred spirit Sandy Roumagoux, artist, Mayor of Newport, Oregon, and good old rabble-rousing Lutheran, we challenge Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke to find God in an Oregon icon: the Slug. No, wait, we’re going straight for the “double dog dare” and challenging Dave to find God in the slug  in a beer trap.

The Slug Response

Mysterious Theologian: Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke

“Shouldn’t someone say a prayer or something?”

“Move over, I can’t get any.”

“Hey, show some respect, will ya? I mean, she just down off the mountain. Died in 100% Full Sail Premium.”

“What a way to go!”

“This is the Feast, of victory for our God . . .”

“Can it, Carl!”

“You mean “Bottle it” don’t you?! Ha ha haaaaaaa.”

“No, really. She’s gone. Somebody should say a prayer.”

“Sally’s headed up the pot. She’ll say something.”

“Ahem. Dear God. We are gathered here today to remember our sister Gertrude. She just got down from skiing at Hoodoo and now she lays dead in a puddle of Full Sail …”

“Hey, did anybody notice that there are, like, 12 of us here? Sort of like the Last Supper or something!”

“Ooo, Ooo. Can I be Simon Peter?

“Shut it, Frank!”

“As I was saying. Dear God, you made us slugs which is sort of a one down position in the whole web of creation, food chain thing. That wasn’t cool. And we’re only mentioned in the Bible once, Psalm 58:8. Really, we dissolve into slug slime as we go along? That’s the best you could do?! At least somebody invented Snowboards for us because the whole skiing thing wasn’t working out too well otherwise. I mean, we’ve only got one foot. Again. That’s the best you could do? Everybody else got at least two, or four or something. And you wonder why we hang out at the pub so much.

But anyway. Gertrude went skiing today and now she’s gone. You could have told us we die in beer. Nobody else has that issue. Well, actually, a lot of people do. But still, it isn’t fair.”

“She looks so peaceful though, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know . . .”


“So, God, we commit Gertrude to the deep. . .”

“Hops to hops, barley in batches.”

“Knock it off you guys!”

“So, we commit Gertrude into your loving care, O God. She was just a regular slug like the rest of us. We give thanks that she was doing what she loved right up until the end. We thank you that she had leaves to climb, and was never short of lichen, fungi and the occasional earthworm to eat. (And come to think of it, earthworms don’t have any feet at all, so …)

Also Lord, talking about body parts, being a hermaphrodite really isn’t as exciting as it sounds. It’s kind of hard to know what you were actually thinking when you made us.

But here we are, Lord – gathered at your table once again. Life goes on, and with you all things have their meat and meaning. We ask not why, but only when. Yes Lord, we ask not why, but only when.”



“Amen, Amen . . . Amen.”

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod – ELCA

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 #25 Cat Litter Box

Mysterious Theologian: Evan Kingston, an author and a gentleman.


God, I thank you for making my soul small, like a studio apartment; there’s never enough room to forget that you are in here with me. As much as I would like to ignore the ugliness of my life, as tempting as it is to pretend that stubbornness doesn’t daily calcify my heart full of heavy clumps, as easy as it feels to let those moments of waste stay hidden in a pile at the back corner of my soul, you never let me forget my obligations to you, myself, and my neighbors for too long. Just as a litter box in a cozy apartment gives off gentle reminders it needs tending—a smattering of tracked-out clay, the faint whiff of urine in a draft: disgusting, yes, but nowhere near as horrific as hidden hardness they hint at—I am constantly reminded of that hardheartedness in myself which I would rather forget. As small as my soul is, I find myself slightly annoyed when I’d ought to be grateful, or frustrated when I know I should be forgiving, and I am reminded of those deeper errors I keep hidden. If I did not feel cramped in here with you, Lord, I could let these ugly errors pile up until cleaning them felt impossible, until there was little left of the clay of my soul that didn’t feel hard and soiled, until I became so used to the disgusting stench I lived in it crept under the door and warned everyone away from my life. As it is, you remind me to confront myself daily, remind me that I can be fresh and free, remind me that I can let people in and share in your joy with them, as long as I do the tough work of shoveling through my soul for those clumps that need changing.


Remember dearest and grimiest reader, if you want to join the fun and respond to a challenge or submit a challenge you can! Here’s the challenging image Evan suggested:

mystery meat

Mystery Meat!

I’m lucky enough to work at a lovely grocery store with lots of great cuts of the finest meat. There’s a whole system for tracking where the animals were raised, what they were fed, and how they were treated. But when my wallet and belly are especially empty, I head across the street for a fast food lunch, where you can get a sandwich of twice the size for half the price. Seems like a great idea while I’m ordering, but I always feel extra grimy afterwards, as a bubbling in my gut forces me to ask: what was in that mysterious coldcut, and if it was once living, how was it treated, to make it so cheap?

Response #24 Vomit, Morning, Post Patty’s Day

Mysterious Theologian: Rev. Eric Hoffer
Let us pray. Gracious God, when we encounter the spoils of a whole city’s night of debauchery, do not let us dash our foot against the vomit. Do not let our furry companion have a breakfast of barf. Do not let us stumble on the slip and slide of sick. Instead, when we gaze upon the pukey mess, we are reminded of your abundance. Just like a party-goer drunk on green beer, you fill us with grace, forgiveness, and love until we can no longer contain it. Your abundance of goodness and mercy overflow out of us like a slurry of Guinness and colcannon. Unlike the vomit of last night, let your abundance, Lord, bless the sidewalks, our communities, and our world. And so, we give thanks for St. Patrick, in whom we imbue beloved folklore, compelling myth, and an excuse to binge drink, for faithfully proclaiming to us the fullness of your love for us and for the world—it can never be contained—even when it gets messy sometimes. AMEN.
My challenge to Evan: After a long, hard day at work, my cat is always there to welcome me home with a cuddly face…and a box full of poop. The litter box is a curious thing–we literally keep a container of feces in our home, and then we squat over it, our faces dangerously close to, well, everything, and clean it. Only to do it all over again soon. Ugh.

Response #23 Celebrity Reality Shows

Mysterious Theologian: Chase!

Mirror Mirror On The Wall…

God you put the weakness and innocence of cute little puppies in my arms and in so doing reveal your caring and compassionate nature that lives in me. Thank you for revealing your spirit in me. But when I look at the celebrities on the TV on my wall with their “reality” shows I see their brokenness and ridiculous peccadilloes and I don’t feel the same way. These people reveal the tyrant in me, the pharisee who prays out loud thanking you for not making me like them. They reveal the weakness of King David in me, looking down on Uriah’s wife and seeing with the impervious eyes of imperial privilege that see no one but themselves with empathy. Compassionate God fill me with your image and your spirit so that there is no space left over for the tyrant inside. Let me look with compassion on all my brothers and sisters.


Challenge #24 comes from Stephanie Bliese, independent grimy theologian. She challenges Rev. Eric Hoffer with this grimy and oddly religious image.

Consider Eric, finding God in the vomit you find right in the middle of the sidewalk the morning after St. Patty’s day. There is nothing more disgusting than taking your dog out first thing in the morning, to then discover a minefield in the front of your building. Have fun!

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.”