The new year is bringing me a new challenge, and is bringing you a new contributor to the opinion page of the Carroll County Times. Let me introduce myself.
My name is Cathy Ammlung. Since 2001, I've lived in Sykesville with my husband of nearly 40 years, Richard, and our Shetland sheepdogs. I am a pastor in the North American Lutheran Church, primarily serving as a supply pastor for congregations whose pastor is on vacation or sabbatical; I serve as the recording secretary for Lutheran CORE, a pan-Lutheran nonprofit; I compose intercessory prayers and hymn suggestions for weekly use for CORE's website and for more than 100 Lutheran congregations; and I breed, raise, train and compete with my Shelties (sometimes erroneously dubbed "miniature collies") — primarily in sheep herding, but also obedience and rally obedience. I suspect you'll hear more in upcoming articles about Lyta, Cordell, Grace, Mustang and any additions to the canine portions of the Ammlung household.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, I have a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in chemistry (from Loyola University of Chicago and Northwestern University, respectively; I grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago), as well as two master's degrees in theology. I met my husband at Northwestern. He helped me ace my quantum mechanics final; gotta keep a guy like that around! Rich has a doctorate in chemistry and materials science; after a career working in industry and as a contractual employee for the Department of Defense, he is now a tutor (chemistry, math and occasionally physics and biology) at Carroll Community College.
I love reading — primarily theological stuff, but also Tom Clancy-style novels and crime fiction. It should be no surprise that I'm a fan of "NCIS" and of Joe Kenda's "Homicide Hunter." I love to cook, and regularly make lunches for herding trials and clinics in exchange for my entry fees. It's a trifle challenging to scale down for two adults and four small, if ever-hungry, pups. Alas, I am not as great a fan of exercise as I should be, although I'm trying.
Politically, I'm a grumpy independent. This year I was grumpier than usual. Having been raised in a congregation whose pastor went on to become the president of Lenoir-Rhyne College (and later, the bishop of the North Carolina Synod of the ELCA), and later trained by Jesuits in the fine art of thinking theologically, reflecting rationally, and acting faithfully and compassionately, I have been distressed by the rhetoric, agendas and actions of persons in both major parties. The antics on Facebook and other social media outlets have inflamed passions and weaponized animosity, misinformation, "shaming," and general nastiness.
Being a good Lutheran who had to memorize Luther's Small Catechism, I take seriously the old monk's words about the commandment against bearing false witness: "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way."
My intention as a columnist is to abide by this advice as much as possible. I strive to believe that most people have good intentions and deserve to be treated respectfully. That means listening well; hearing and understanding accurately; and being willing to learn some new aspect of truth. It means remembering that people often speak and act reactively — because of fear, anger or some terrible hurt that they might not mention or even acknowledge.
As a good Lutheran, though, I also have a keen sense that we are all broken, hurting and hurtful. In short, we're sinners. That causes all of us to speak and act like jerks far too much of the time. I'm guilty of it, and I will work (and pray) hard to be aware of, and to repent of, and to move past my own prejudices, arrogance and blind spots. I hope you will join me in that endeavor.
Enough of that for now. I'll leave you with a thought I have remembered ever since Mr. Bloom, my high school chemistry teacher, wrote in my senior year yearbook. "The answer to the final exam, Cathy, is goodness, truth and beauty." Hey, if it was good enough for Plato, it ought to be good enough for each of us.