Monday, December 26, 2005

Serving Stephen

Acts 7:54-60
When the people heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Human One standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.


Wow. What a powerful moment for the new Church. One of their own, one of their dearest, the deacon Stephen, pays for his faith with his life. And Saul—soon to be known as Paul—is there as well. It’s like a scene from a serial movie or a murder mystery—this person Saul will become very important to the church indeed—but in a different way than what you expect…

Stephen the deacon. When I began the long journey towards ordination, there were two questions I had to answer to the satisfaction of the committees that interviewed me. The first was, “Is your call to professional ministry? Or can you fulfill your call as a lay person?” This was a very important question, especially since I was a second career pastor. And it is true that there are many people who begin the process towards ordination because others—friends, a trusted pastor, family—encourage them, whether or not the person really feels the call. So that was the first question. The second was just as important, although it might nor seem so at first glance. “Are you called to ordained ministry or to the diaconate?” In the United Methodist Church, the difference is subtle—deacons may lead worship, preach, and teach, but they cannot consecrate the Communion elements, baptize, or marry people. Of course, there are exceptions when a deacon is appointed to act as pastor, but most deacons are never in that position. Deacons are called to a specific kind of service—Christian education, music ministry, administration, youth ministry, and so on. Also, most deacons must find their own positions—they are not appointed to a church as ordained pastors (elders) are. So for me, going through the process in the United Methodist Church, this was a serious question.

I quickly learned the correct answers to the questions about ordained vs. diaconal calling—that diaconal service is a different calling, not better or worse, higher or lower, but simply different. That we all have different gifts, and some of us are gifted with the graces for diaconal service, and some for ordained ministry.

Stephen the martyr. In England, St. Stephen’s Day was traditionally the day boys went out and shot wrens—an echo of Stephen’s martyrdom. Today in Britain and Canada and other Commonwealth countries, it is Boxing Day—the day when you give boxes—gifts—to the post person, to the newspaper deliverer, and so on (it used to be the servant, but nowadays most of us don’t have any).

And that somehow is appropriate. On the day when we remember the death of the disciple who served others, we thank the ones who help us during the year. Who helps you? The people who have helped me over the years--have served me, if you will--include my son’s day care provider, the dry cleaner who is always cheerful, bank teller who remembers to ask me about the church, the server at Tim Horton’s who knows my order by heart (large double double and chocolate chocolate frosted doughnut, if you’re curious). It’s not that I’m better than they are, and so they serve me. It is simply their job. And when the teller comes to church, I serve her. When the dry cleaner needs an ear, and I listen, I’m serving him.

Because the truth is, we all serve each other—or should. Jesus said, “Serve each other.” He gave us the example by washing his disciples’ feet before that last meal together.

Do we allow others to serve us? Or are we so sure that we can do it all ourselves, and that it’s others who need help, never us, that don't let someone else do for us? Are we so arrogant that we cannot accept a gift from someone? I have learned that sometimes the greatest gift is simply accepting the gift.

So serve. And just as importantly, allow yourself to be served.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Eve Sermon, 2005

Our readings tonight have one theme, one message: Hope. The prophets of Israel, despairing in their exile, hoped for God to bring them out of the foreign land and return them home. We hope to be rid of the demons that haunt us, that make our days unhappy and our nights unsleeping, to remember that our children, whether of our body or of our heart, are still worth loving. We hope that our lives, too, obscure though they may seem, are not useless or in vain.

And behold, our hope is not idle. Our hope has been answered—through the birth of a child, God made flesh, God come to earth to be with us. Emmanuel—God is with us. Can anything be more wonderful than this? God came to be with us in a shape we could recognize. We are never without God—God is very present with us, always. But sometimes, our human eyes cannot see God as clearly as we would like to, as well as God would like us to see God. And so God came to be with us for a little while, as a human being.

And that’s what we celebrate tonight—not the shepherds and the angels and the candles and the tree, certainly not the presents and cookies and eggnog and fancy clothes. We celebrate the fact that our creator loves us, God wants us to know God—and so God came to us. “For God so loved the world…” For God so loved us.

Soon after DP and I moved here, we found a tract on our car windshield. One of those small pamphlets, I think you can get them fifty for five dollars or something. It was stuck under the windshield wiper, and the title read, “Certainly you may do as you wish.” The writer was trying to convince the reader to go to church instead of sailing or playing golf or playing roulette or horseback riding—at least, I’m assuming those were the alternatives to church, from the pictures on the cover. Anyway, there was some language in the booklet that made me nervous—“your soul could be required of you at any time,” “you have made choices about how to spend your life,” “sometimes we are selfish and rebel against God,” that sort of thing. I had no idea if there was a person in the neighbourhood who made a habit of putting those on cars, or if it was directed specifically at us, if we had a homophobic neighbour. I asked our neighbours who are also a lesbian couple, and they said they had gotten one or two, but they didn’t know if they had been targeted either, or if the tracts had simply been placed on all the cars that happened to be parked on the street at the time when the person was placing them. When the tract appeared a second time, I talked to PF (Pastor Friend), who had been very welcoming and supportive. Dear PF! He didn’t think it meant anything, and was very reassuring and comforting—remember, DP and I were still getting to know this place and our neighbours. For all we knew, we had a homophobe down the street. So we decided to keep an eye out and see who else—if anyone—got a tract next time one appeared on our car.

A few days later, after my office hours were over, I went out to my car. There was something on my windshield, tucked under the wiper, wrapped in plastic. It was a small booklet.

“We are not alone. We live in God’s world,” it began. And it went on.

“We are not alone, we live in God's world. We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit. We trust in God. We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God's presence, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”

It was a child’s book of the United Church of Canada’s creed. Tucked into the front was PF’s card, with a note of encouragement. He had left me a gift, a sweet taste to take away the alarming bitter flavour of the tract, and he left it on my windshield to remind me that people who wish me well are watching me also. And do you know, I have never found another one of the tracts on my car?

We are not alone. God is with us. In the coldest and most fearful of times, when everything seems too much—when you are in exile, or when those demons of fear seem about to overwhelm you, when you don’t know if what you are doing is worthwhile, when you don’t know why you bother, when you don’t know who is friend and who is not—remember. God loves us so much, God is with us. We are not alone.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas—God’s presence with us, now, tonight, and forever.

In the many names of the one loving Creator, amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Another Woman!

Exciting news! My niece, who is expecting in early June, had her ultrasound this week, and she's expecting a girl! Another girl to add to my overwhelmingly female family! I'm one of five sisters, and three of my sisters have only girls (seven between them). With my mother, that's fourteen wonderful women! (Checking my math here--five sisters plus seven daughters is twelve plus a grand niece is thirteen plus my mother is fourteen. Yep, it's right!) And if you want to go back a generation, my grandmother (my mother's mother) had two sisters and no brothers, so that's three more women...

Life is good.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tuesday Evening...

and Commander in Chief's not on! Darn...I was hoping for some relaxation and entertainment tonight. Instead I'll have to do some work. But I can procrastinate a little longer by blogging, right?

DP and I got our Visitor's Record renewed today. Quite easy, once they've (Canada Immigration, that is) decided it's close enough to the expiration of your previous document (see Exciting Canadian Politics entry, below). Drove to the US, drove back, told the nice Customs and Immigration man we needed to renew our VR's, he sent us into the Immigration Office, we showed the nice clerk our papers, she agreed we were eligible to stay another year, she did the paperwork, we got our new VRs, we drove home. All done!

I survived our annual congregational meeting. I'm not exactly up on Robert's Rules of Order, which is how the meeting is run. Other people are up on RRO, and let me know (nicely) when I wander. All the business of the church was taken care of for a year, including the election of a new Board of Administration (thank you, God, for the Holy Spirit moving among the members!).

I'm feeling very tired. I'm not sure why. There's the usual busy-ness of the season, of course, and the added stresses of being a pastor at this time of year (and don't I resent people who do their Christmas shopping all year and are done already? Yes, I do--unreasonably, perhaps, but I do). I have a lot to do, what with getting the Christmas and New Year's worship services ready, preparing for next year (worship, administration, etc.), my own personal Christmas with DP and TO, various meetings and appointments (and the usual clergy meetings and luncheons are doubly important in December)...But the thing is, I'm not feeling motivated. I just want to curl up with a good book (Jane Austen springs to mind), a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich, and let the world go away.

Unfortunately, it won't go away.

So maybe if I'm more disciplined--get the work done instead of procrastinating, then I won't feel so overwhelmed. Shoot, I'm making sense. Must be time to get some work done.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Somebody Pushed My Button!

I was reading another blog, and a response to the blog got me going... So look out below, I'm on my hobbyhorse and rocking away!

The comment was on demographically focused devotionals, worship, etc. Such things as A Women's Devotional, or the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a church founded in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, or even Promisekeepers. One commenter took exception to such things, saying that all Christians should be one, and such things are divisive. My blogger acquaintance responded that such things are needed because marginalized groups do not always feel at home in the larger church.

Let's look at the Methodist Church. Back in the early 1800s, in a church in Philadelphia, the black members were not allowed Communion until all the white members had received, thus insuring that the white folks got Communion, while sometimes there was not enough for the black folks, to say nothing of the attitude thus indicated. The black members finally had enough and went off to form their own church--the African Methodist Episcopal Church, or AME.

Now, some might say that they had no right to do that--they were in the church, and receiving Communion, and members... But they weren't really accepted, were they? They were regarded in fact, of not in the letter, as second-class members. But God has no second-class children.

The simple fact is that different groups in society have different reasons for wanting their own denominations or congregations within those denominations. Sometimes it's cultural/ethnic/language, as with the Latino Methodist churches, or Korean Methodist, or Vietnamese Catholic churches (I once lived five minutes from Our Lady of Vietnam Roman Catholic Church, three blocks from St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Community; there was room for both). Or the MCC. Or the AME.

The fault is not that of the marginalized groups--they are seeking God, and want to worship God and follow Christ. But the institutional church, the human church, is preventing them. And so they find their own ways to worship.

Personal history: God called me to ministry when I was a member of a United Methodist Church. I (eventually) responded, went to seminary, graduated after five years, was appointed (as probationary elder) to a charge, and led a very hurting congregation towards wholeness over the course of a year. But also during that year, I realized that aspects of myself I had thought I could hide forever would not be hidden. I was less of a pastor for hiding parts of me and lying about it. And so I came out as a bisexual woman, went through a divorce, and left the United Methodist Church. I didn't leave because I was angry at the United Methodist Church, but because they would not allow me to answer my call within the UMC. In effect, I was forced to choose--God or the UMC. I chose God.

I am disappointed in the UMC (and other denominations, but the UMC is the one that touched my life). I was a lifelong UM--parents married there, myself baptized and confirmed there, heard my call there, went to a Methodist seminary, etc. And yet, when it came down to the difficult questions, they (the institution) could not see me as an equal child of God with my straight classmates at seminary or my straight colleagues in ministry.

We, the marginalized, are not asking for special treatment. We're asking for equal treatment. Our lives are often ignored in the sermons we hear, in the music we sing, and in the prayers we pray. If worship does not speak to our hopes and fears, it cannot reach our hearts and inspire us to reach for God.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Bone People, by Keri Hulme

I've been meaning to comment on this, since I mentioned rereading it and wondering if it would be as good the second time around. Well, it was.

This is one of those books that you start out reading, you're a bit confused, you take your time with the first fifty pages or so, trying to sort out who's who and what's going on. This was especially true for me, since a great deal of the book's power is in the emphasis on Maori culture, which I am woefully ignorant of. Then you really get into it and you start reading obsessively, desperate to find out What's Going to Happen. And then It happens, and you get depressed, and don't want to read anymore, except that you've started to fall in love with this characters, and you need to know how they get themselves out of this situation. And so you finish it.

Most of it is very good, well-written, excellent characterization and descriptive writing that makes you feel as if you are in New Zealand. The plot is fairly good--a couple of odd twists, but hey, what do I know of the cultural norms in an isolated town in New Zealand (see above, re: Maori culture)? However, the ending is a bit too pat, and while it's emotionally satisfying, it's artistically disappointing.

That said, however, find it and read it anyway. Powerful reading for a snowy weekend. Bet you'll find yourself Googling for Maori info before the weekend's over!

Past Lives

I'm hopelessly addicted to those silly online quizzes--what's your personality? If you were on the series "Friends," which character would you be? etc. But I liked the result on this one! I was a belly dancer! Good thing, cause it's never happening in this life!

In a Past Life...
You Were: A Gorgeous Belly Dancer.
Where You Lived: Argentina.
How You Died: Suicide.
Who Were You In a Past Life?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snowy Friday!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around the RP household! Not only did I get ambitious yesterday and haul down three boxes of Christmas decorations (which now adorn the house), but I've been playing Christmas music on the stereo and--it snowed five inches last night! Our neighbor's teeny tiny evergreen looks like a Christmas card with the snow on its branches perfectly rounded and smooth. It just needs a tiny cardinal or bunny to make it complete. It almost makes me want to go Christmas shopping!
DP has discovered a shop in town that sells goods from the Third World, with proceeds going directly back to the artisans. Finances aren't going to permit a lot of gifts this year, but I plan on visiting it for most of the gifts I do give. I wonder if they have anything for a 17-year old boy? TO's list is mostly electronic this year. Sigh.

Top Christmas CDs in my special Christmas CD box:
  • Mannheim Steamroller (several of theirs; they have a great catalog too, and I lust after their parka!)
  • Handel: A Soulful Celebration (a reinterpretation of the Messiah--great stuff!)
  • Chicago: Christmas (an unforgettable rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town")
  • Natalie Cole Christmas
  • Sax Winterlude
  • John Rutter's Christmas Music (one of my favorite modern sacred music composers)
Other random thoughts:
I'm not preaching this Sunday; our host pastor and his wife (also a pastor) are going to preach a dialogue sermon. It's wonderful how things worked out--I had asked him to preach for me because we have a bingo event on Sunday afternoon after church, and I'll need to be fairly alert, thus need to conserve energy (and preaching takes it out of me!). He and his wife rarely get to preach together, and so this is an opportunity for them as well. See? Benefits all around!
Because I have this Sunday off, I was hoping to use the extra time this week to get ahead of things--plan worship for January, select Scriptures for the year, start the sermon for week after next, that sort of thing. Did not work (see above, with home decorating and snow to be shoveled). I've gotten some other planning done, however. And I keep reminding myself, it's not always possible to finish every job all at once. Sometimes you work on something for a little while, then come back to it later, especially if you're waiting for input from someone else. It's the waiting, I guess.
So I guess I'll work on the Scriptures for a while, then the sermon,. Maybe neither one will be finished, but they'll be closer to it than they are now--and closer than they would be if I didn't do anything at all!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day

It's December 1, World AIDS Day. I remember when AIDS first showed up (then called GRID) in the public consciouness, as I was working in medical libraries at the time, so the doctors would want information on it, and we'd do a computer search on AIDS and get "finding aids," and grant information--but very little on AIDS itself.

MCC really came to the consciousness of many in the GLBT community in those early years--often an AIDS patient's own clergyperson wouldn't come, for fear of infection, or of seeming to condone their "lifestyle" (ahhh, don't get me started), so the hospital staff would call the local MCC, if there was one. A friend of mine who was in active ministry in the 80's went through a period of months where she officiated at 2-3 funerals a week. When the pace was slower, it was 2-3 a month. For comparison, when I served a small rural church with an aging congregation, I performed 3 funerals in one year.

Even now, when we can see that the majority of infections worldwide are through heterosexual contact, so many in the US want to stigmatize it as a "gay disease" or as something that those who are infected somehow brought on themselves through infidelity. And yet so many of the people infected are women whose (male) partners have had unsafe sex (whether with women or other men). And what about the children? And those (fewer now) who received blood or blood products in the years before we had tests? 17 years ago, when my son was born by cesarean, I had a special bracelet on my wrist, in addition to the hospital ID bracelet and the one matching my son's bracelet. That special bracelet warned staff that I had received blood transfusions (almost twenty years earlier), and they should use precautions when handling my bodily fluids.

And I think of those people who say that AIDS is God's pronouncement of doom on the gay community, and I want to laugh. Because, after all, the lowest rate of infections (and there are some) is among lesbians!

Not all is gloom. We have lost some talented and beautiful people, whole regions have been basically deserted, and the human race is the poorer. But there is hope. New medications have be developed, people are living longer and longer with AIDS, and sero-converting later and later. People living with AIDS (PWA) are dying of other things--heart disease, lung cancer. It sounds odd to see that as a victory, but it used to be that anyone who received a diagnosis of HIV stopped at the lawyer's on the way home and made sure the will was in order. I would love it if all my friends who are HIV+ or living with AIDS outlived me. They are all wonderful men (as it happens, all men), who have supported me in some rough times and celebrated with me in some great times. I cannot imagine the world without them.

Keep the promise--stop AIDS.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Exciting Canadian Politics!

DP and I went to get our residency permits renewed today--the current ones expire at the end of December, so we thought we'd be ahead of the game and have plenty of time, just in case we didn't have the right paperwork or something, right? Nope. We were told to come back when it was closer to the expiration date, that they couldn't issue them yet. For once I thought I was ahead of the game, and I really wasn't, after all. The worst of it is that I was nervous about it all day, couldn't focus very well on anything (I had office hours today), and then--pfffft! It all goes flat, like my souffles. Ah, well, at least we know we have all the right paperwork--the clerk did check it over for us, while we were there!

The government was dissolved yesterday. I'm trying to get used to the idea of a government that doesn't exist, but continues to function... Although you'd think I would be, actually, having lived in Washington Dee Cee for many years--after all, the government functions between elections. On the other hand, there's always some carryover from one sitting of Congress to the next, and of course the Pres is the Pres until the new one is inaugurated. Anyway, here in Canada (where our South is North of the USA's North--aka Quit whining, North Dakota, eh?), we have no Parliament now. We do have a governor general, our provincial governments, and many many many civil servants ("and the civil servants you shall have always with you"), some of whom are close personal friends. No word yet on when the elections will be, but no one is keen on a campaign in the holidays. I saw my first campaign sign today though! And for the candidate I would support if I could vote!

Anyway, the significance of the new government to me and mine is that if the Conservatives take over, they will probably try to revoke the bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Or at least suspend same-sex marriages while they thrash it out in the courts. They'll have a hard time repealing it, because the bill was based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and they would have to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause--which says that even though civil rights would be violated, a greater cause calls for those civil rights to be violated... It's never been invoked, for obvious reasons, and I don't honestly think they would get much support for it. Minorities of all kinds supported Bill C-38 (the same-sex marriage), because they recognized that depriving ANY minority of their civil rights threatens ALL minority groups (whether based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.). But nonetheless, it's exciting times here in Canada, if you're a political junkie like I am!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

When Biblical Literalists Don't Read the Bible Literally...

Read a great article in the December Vanity Fair magazine on the religious not-so-right's attitude towards the end-times and Israel and the role they (the RnsR) think Jews and Israel and Palestine will play in Armageddon. (I tried to find it online, but the link on VF's page is broken. VF's website is http://vanityfair.com, and the article's title is American Rapture; perhaps the link will be fixed in the next day or so)

I was thinking about that article as I read the lectionary scripture for today from Matthew. It clearly says, "no one knows the hour (of Christ's return), not the angels in heaven, not the Human One, but only God knows." So how do these supposed Bible literalists justify their predictions and parallels? I'm thinking especially of the Left Behind series. I'm not a literalist, but they claim to be--LaHaye and Falwell and Robertson et al.--so how do they explain their predictions in light of this verse from Matthew?

That was my sermon today--that no one knows the day or hour or how, when, why or where, and that God is very likely to sneak in through the back door, as subtly as the birth of a child to an unknown mother in a stable...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Friendships and connections

We've been hearing from good friends in the last couple of days, and it is so good! One is a mentor/friend of ours, the kind of friend you feel so comfortable with, her house feels like your house. Very special, that sort of friend--they do not come along often!
And then one is a dear friend from seminary--we were in a Systematic Theology study group together, and if you haven't experienced it, let me tell you it is an intense personal experience! Choose your study group partners carefully, because you will get to know them on an intimate level. My friend and I stayed close even after I graduated, and then he graduated a year later and moved to the West Coast. We don't talk as often as we used to, but when we do, the connection is still there.
Then there's a friend from high school that I reconnected with late last year. He's doing well, and happy. We have to plan our phone calls because we will talk for hours if we aren't careful. We are re-making the connection we had once.
And finally, last night I was at a community meeting, and I realized that although I've been here only a year, I have friends here, real friends. What a marvelous feeling!
So I am wallowing in friendship feelings today--come on in, the water's great!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Monday morning musings

I've started reading The Bone People, and it is as good as I remember! I had forgotten the style--sort of stream of consciousness, but not exactly. And there's only one main male character, not two. But yes, very good. I am finding myself wishing I had a tower like Keriwen's with a spiral staircase in the middle and stained glass in the living room.

I'm feeling frustrated again at not being able to get ahead, to work on the sermon more. I feel that if I could get started on the sermon ten days ahead, then I could polish it more and clean it up. Yesterday I found myself (again) preaching the sermon and thinking halfway through, "Wait. that doesn't exactly follow," and "But if that's right, then this other must follow from it, and I don't think that's right." I can sometimes manage to get ahead for a week or even two, but then everything falls apart and I'm back to writing the sermon the week before the Sunday it's for.

TO is getting involved in student government at his high school. I'm very glad. He's been working with the cross country team as a manager, but of course that season is over now! I'm very glas to see him engaged with something that will serve him well for a long time--as XC will also!

The infamous Fred Phelps showed up at University of Michigan to protest the production of The Laramie Project. However, 400 supporters of the production also showed up. Apparently the police did their job well and kept the groups apart; there weren't any confrontations between the two groups. From what I've read, Phelps' group is mostly made up of his family, anyway. The struggle continues.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Books, books, and more books!

Just returned from a great book-reading at the University. The book is "Pink Blood: Homophobic Violence in Canada," by Douglas Victor Janoff. He looks at violent acts committed against GLBT people in Canada from (I think) 1990 to 2003. Very interesting conclusions.

There were more violent acts reported to the community centre in Toronto, for example, than were reported to police--some of that is because the incident may not have reached a point the police could legally call a crime, but a lot of the difference is because people did not report it, feeling that the police would not take them seriously and/or they would be harassed by the police as well. Some victims did not see the attack on them as homophobic. Many of the defendants (when the perpetrator[s] were found/arrested) pleaded "homosexual panic."Gay men were more likely to be attacked than women and almost all the attackers were men.

Often the attitudes towards the victim mirrored the attitudes towards female rape victims--"he asked for it, inviting someone he barely knew back to his house," or "if he weren't so swishy, no one would bother him." (which parallels "she shouldn't dress so sexily") and so on.

Also, in the cases of homicide, there was a high degree of "overkill;" the use of more than one method (knife and strangulation, for example) or many stab wounds, many more than would simply kill someone. And most of these cases the police tried to pass off as "robbery gone wrong!"

It reinforces a theory I came across early in my studies of gay theory, and that is that the root of homophobia is really misogyny. After all, what is it that many straight men think of gay men? That they are acting like women (either behaviorally or sexually), as if that were the worst thing to be in the world. Homophobia comes into play against lesbians because they don't need men in their lives, not even for sex (which is not to say that lesbians don't like men--I have a son I love very much, as does DP and many of our friends; and we have male friends who are GBT and straight; but we can get along without them). Therefore, they have to be "punished" because every "real" woman wants a man, and every "real" man has a woman at his beck and call.

Blaugh!!

Anyway, I'm now figuring ways I can save my ducats and buy the book. Like most university press books (it's published by the University of Toronto Press), it's pricey, at $32.50. However, I can probably scrape it together one way or another--I do have a wedding next week!

And on a slightly different note, with the reading I've been doing in women's issues and women's spirituality, I was reminded of another book (now there's a surprise!), "The Bone People," by Keri Hulme. It's very difficult to describe, but it's set in New Zealand, on one of the smaller islands, and concerns a woman, a couple of men, and a young boy whom the woman is trying to help. As I recall it, all the adults are alcoholic, and there are some very deep issues going on. I remember it as emotionally difficult to read but ultimately rewarding. So I picked it up from the library this morning--we'll see how it matches my memory!

I also picked up one of the books from my list: Alice Miller's "For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Childrearing and the Roots of Violence." It's something I'm interested in, since spanking was a bone of contention between me and my ex-husband. I grew up with very little spanking, and raised our son with the idea that you spanked very rarely--only in cases of danger to himself or others. My ex-husband felt otherwise, even though he had hated the physical punishment he had received as a kid. He thought it was a way to get the kid's attention. My feeling was that it just taught him that you can enforce your will with violence and greater strength--an especially dangerous concept for women who are around men who believe that. So I want to see what Miller is saying about the whole thing.

Well, I guess I'll be staying out of trouble for a few days--lots of reading to do!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Reading and Books

Bad blogger! Bad! Way too long since I've posted.

I finished reading Sue Monk Kidd's "Dance of the Dissident Daughter" Saturday. I loved it! Kidd does a wonderful job of showing you her journey, in lyrical prose, without sounding either whiny or overly mystical. She leads you with her on her journey, showing you very clearly how she came to believe what she believes, simply and undogmatically--and without insisting that you have to believe, too. Kidd was a "good" Baptist wife and mother, who came to realize that there was a wound in all women. She began to explore what that meant, especially spiritually, because she was a writer of "inspirational" literature. She started to really see how established Christianity has ignored and marginalized the feminine, making Mary, for example, a meek and mild passive figure, the good mother and no more. And she explores what it means to women to be told--not in so many words, but by church policies, dogma, and theology--that women do not measure up, can never measure up, and had better not try. She sees it in so many things--the churches that don't ordain women, of course, but in our God-language, in our images of God, in how we relate to God, what women do in church (very similar to what is expected of them at home, as it turns out). And as she journeys along, she uses Jungian psychology and the power of myth to help her elucidate what it is she is feeling. Kidd doesn't ignore the impact of her journey on her family, either--on her husband, for example, who was also freed, as she was freed--he left the chaplaincy and began a career in counseling.

Reading "Dissident Daughter" has inspired me to begin reading "Women Who Run with the Wolves," by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I had tried it at one point, and never got beyond the second or third chapter. Apparently I wasn't ready for it, because now I'm just gulping it down! One thing I appreciate about Estes--she doesn't assume heterosexuality! It's a small point, but just as women have felt marginalized when all the pronouns are "he," "his," and "him," so too have I (and my GLBT brothers and sisters) felt marginalized when the assumption is that you are in an opposite-sex relationship. "When, as a woman, you begin a journey like this, you hope your husband will follow you." Assuming you are interested in men, that you are married to one and that you are a woman married to a man...

I've gone through Estes' bibliography and pulled out a few books I want to read. Some of them I don't expect to agree with, others I've meant to read and I hope this will give me the push I need to actually read them! I'm hoping to do this systematically (hah!)...

Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions.

Anzaldua, Gloria, and Cherrie Moraga, eds. This Bridge Called My Back.

De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex.

Bolen, Jean Shinoda. Goddesses in Everywoman.

Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party.

Christ, Carol. Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers in Spiritual Quest.

Craighead, Meinrad. The Mother’s Songs: Images of God the Mother.

Curb, Rosemary, and Nancy Manahan, eds. Lesbian Nuns.

Daly, Mary. Gyn/ecology.

Doniger, Wendy. Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts.

Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade.

Erdrich, Louise. Love Medicine.

Foucalt, Michel. Madness and Civilization.

____________, History of Sexuality.

Fox, Matthew. Original Blessing.

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.

Heilbrun, Carolyn G. Writing a Woman’s Life.

Iglehart, Hallie. Womanspirit: A Guide to Women’s Wisdom.

Kolbenschlag, Madonna. Kiss Sleeping Beauty Goodbye: Breaking the Spell of Feminine Myths and Models.

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.

Mead, Margaret. Blackberry Winter.

Miller, Alice. For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Childrearing and the Roots of Violence.

_________, The Drama of the Gifted Child.

Orbach, Susie. Fat is a Feminist Issue.

Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution.

Shange, Ntozake. For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf: a choreopoem.

Sheey, Gail. Passages.

Stone, Merlin. When God Was a Woman.

Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets.

_____________, The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects.

Now I'm off to the local library's website to check the catalog for any of these.

When I ran the spellcheck on this post, the suggestion for replacing the unfamiliar (to the dictionary) "Everywoman" was "Everyman." However, for "womanspirit" the suggestion was "emancipate!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Joshua and what's important

Another Saturday--and I'm enjoying having the free time! My Saturdays, not surprisingly, are freer than my Sundays. Tomorrow is my last free Sunday for a while--meetings and bingo will take them up from now to Christmas, literally! And I am very tired after a service--a friend says it's from the work of channeling the Holy Spirit. And one of my mentors told me not to plan much for Sundays after service--"maybe a meeting, or a meet and greet, but don't try to have people over or go out to a big party, or go do all you hospital visits." And she was right!

Sometimes I think life is all about priorities--deciding what is important and focusing on that. What's most important to you? Then take care of that. What is next most important? Take care of that after you've taken care of the first one. If you run out of time or energy, then the things lower down the list don't happen. If they're things that need to happen, then you need to look at what's higher on the list and see what can be put to a lower place. There's a balance between taking care of yourself and doing what needs to be done in terms of daily living. It can be very easy to go too far one way or another. I've been there! The result is depression and exhaustion, even from taking too much care of yourself!

That's my sermon this week--what's important in your life? Really important? Not necessarily your work, although a lot of people really find fulfillment there; not only your family or your partner or your hobbies or your favorite TV show or your friends. What is it that matters most to you? I'm not talking about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or putting the big rocks in the jar first and fitting the smaller rocks around them--well, maybe the latter, a little bit. But what I'm trying to say in my sermon is that if we know what is important, really important, to us, then we can put the other stuff to one side, and focus on what is central to our lives. We can get rid of the clutter that takes up so much time and energy and psychological space. Joshua asked the Hebrews who they would worship. He was asking them, "what is important to you? What has just happened to you? You were brought out of Egypt, out of slavery. That would be pretty important. And who did that for you? God. Well, is God the most important thing in your life?"

Enough for today--I have a headache and sermon to finish!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Random Fall Thoughts

It's a beautiful fall day here in Ontario--sunshine, cool but not cold, and colorful trees. It's days like this that make me say "I love fall!" Tonight the church is having a Halloween Dance (we always have two dances a year, one at Halloween and one for Valentine's Day). We'll decorate the social hall to a fare-thee-well (lots of pumpkins, corn stalks, black cats, rainbows, etc.). We have a great DJ coming in, and we'll have a silent auction (always popular), and door prizes as well. Also, people's choice awards for best costumes. Yes, I've got a costume--I'm dressing up in a slinky halter evening gown, with heels and evening bag and my diamonds (such as they are), and my rainbow feather boa... Should be quite a sight! No, photos will NOT be posted!

Well, the church has a lead on space to rent. So we have to decide if we want to decide to go with this space or wait. The option may not be open indefinitely, so we have to "make haste slowly." We don't have to move now, we just need to make the decision soon, I think. We have so much else that we're dealing with that anything that can be settled should be settled!

One of those issues is bingo--and I don't mean whether we should be doing them in the first place, that's a whole other discussion! We are. An there are changes coming in the way they are done, procedurally and in how much the charities will get. Hard to say at this point how it will affect us, but I'm sure it will. And then there's the provincial no-smoking regulation, which goes into effect in January, I think. Which addiction will prove stringer, cigarettes or bingo? Will people give up smoking for two hours at a shot and play bingo, or will they go elsewhere where they can smoke (across the border to the bingo halls in the US)?

I have my first free Saturday in a while--no bingo, no weddings, just finishing the sermon and enjoying this evening! How nice!

I do plan on emoting about Scooter Libby and that mess--but later. Sermon first!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hello Out There in TV Land!

I'm not a TV addict by any means. While I was in seminary I rarely watched TV. I had no time! During the day I was either in class or at work, and in the evenings I was either in class or studying or spending time with my son. TV was one of those things I gave up during seminary, like contact lenses, obedience training my dog and building my garden railroad.

I never was a big TV watcher. In high school I'd watch Emergency!, and my mom, my sister and I had our Sunday evening habit of 60 Minutes and Masterpiece Theater (yeah, the whole family's geeks--and proud of it!). And on one memorable occasion, before the days of stereo TV's, the local PBS station simulcast Bernstein Mass--I stayed up late to watch it. But mostly, it was the movie of the week if it was good, maybe Jeopardy! or the morning news shows when we had a blizzard. Otherwise--meh. I was a reader.

This was true for a very long time. My roommates and I didn't have a TV in our room in the dorm, and my ex-husband and I were married for four months before we got a TV. Then we went overseas where all we had was AFN (since I wasn't fluent in German). It wasn't until my son was about a year old, during Desert Storm/Desert Shield, that I started watching TV regularly. By that time, AFN was showing the morning news shows (at noon in Germany, but still) and Nightline and kids shows in the morning. We had our lineup of Nightline, AFN news, Sesame Street, then at noon the Today Show. Even then, I didn't have to see it every morning.

Shocking secret and possibly TMI--I never had a TV in my bedroom until I got together with DP. She always had, and so we did (we also each brought a TV, so we had one for the bedroom).

Now? It's the Today Show in the morning (rarely all of it; usually part of it in the middle), and then sometimes Dr. Phil or Ellen in the afternoon if I need a break. The news in the evening, with Jeopardy!. After that, I've found myself watching more TV than I want to admit, especially the reality shows... I know they are edited for maximum drama and slanted to make you like or dislike people at the drop of a hat, but still... Amazing Race and Biggest Loser and The Apprentice and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Three Wishes...but NOT Martha Stewart's Apprentice (that's a whole 'nother rant!). And Thursdays, the congregation knows not to call unless it's an emergency--Will and Grace, The Apprentice, ER... Of course, on Wednesdays there's West Wing and Law and Order.

So what is all this in aid of? I'm wondering if it's a good idea. Perhaps the very fact that I'm wondering means it's not good. I can rationalize it and say I need to keep up with popular culture and what my congregation is interested in, but that's what it is--a rationalization.

I am a reader--I get up early to get reading done. I read during lunch. So why am I so wrapped up in TV?

Is it escapism? It's easier to passively sit and watch TV than read or work (there's always something I could be doing). On the other hand, usually I've escaped by reading.

Is it because DP likes TV? That may be part of it--on the other hand, she's as likely to spend her evening updating her website or baking as she is in front of the TV (except Thursdays, of course!).

Well, I don't have an answer right now. But for sure I'm going to get off the computer and read (until time for West Wing, anyway...).

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Just mulling things over...

So what have I been cogitating over the last few days?

The absolute insanity of the Roberts confirmation, the only slightly less insane question of Meiers, my fear for my friends and relations in Florida as Wilma gets bigger and angrier, how much I’m enjoying “Commander in Chief,” the high cost of being social, and the fact that I’ve somehow lost the thread of the whole Plame/Rove thing.

So many scandals, so little time…

One other hand, I read a great article on the whole mess, in which the author points out that scandal in the White House is not new—look at Jack Kennedy, Grant, Harding, Nixon, Lincoln, Cleveland… The question, I think, is what else has been done by the politician in question. Ted Kennedy managed to bounce back after Chappaquiddick, after all. What’s that? What’s Chappaquiddick? Oh, go Google it, child.

It’s hard for us to take a long view—we only live for 80-90 years (less if you’re into Krispy Kreme doughnuts), and so asking us to look forwards or backwards even a century is a lot to ask. This seems even truer of Americans than of, say, the French or Germans, or, heaven forbid, the Italians, who have ruins that are older than God. Americans want everything now, johnbrownit, not in fifty years.

I see this in the GLBT liberation/equality movement as well (yes, I am aware that those are two very different issues; but the reaction is the same, so I’m lumping them together for the moment). Even if you mark the beginning of the movement in the late 1940s, with the returning military and the dispersal from the farms and so on that led to the formation of the “gay ghetto” in many coastal cities (SF, LA, NYC, NO, Chicago, etc.), that’s only 60 years ago. It took 150 years for women to get the vote in the USA, a much more immediately logical idea for the average person. And we’ve come a great way in that time—coming out is painful, and may mean you have to leave your current job, or change employers (especially if that’s Uncle Sam…), but it’s not so usual anymore that you lose children, or access to them. You aren’t automatically slammed into a mental hospital. Granted, depending on your family and where you live, you may be expelled from family and/or church, and I’m not trying to pretend that’s a trivial thing. It’s not. But insane neo-Nazis aside, it’s not a given thing that you will be attacked on the street. Four nations now grant same-sex marriages. Even ten years ago that would have been thought out of the question.

I once had an HIV+ acquaintance tell me he thought that HIV/AIDS had a positive impact on the GLBT community. He wasn’t discounting the terrible toll the disease took—how could he? But he pointed out that the threat of death had done several things:

  • It allowed gay men an “excuse” to settle down—many had felt they were ridiculed for wanting commitment and one partner.
  • It drew the gay male and lesbian communities closer together, as the women often tended to the men—not because it was their “natural role,” but because they knew and loved these men from working with them on political issues, and many of the men had no families or partners to care for them. (an aside-- at a retreat shortly after I came out, I was thanked, “as a representative of all lesbians” for the care and love women had shown to PLWA (Persons Living With AIDS); I was so stunned I could only stutter a “we only did what was the loving, human thing to do”).
  • It made all members of the GLBT community realize how fragile their bonds were with their partners, legally speaking. There are far too many stories of biological family members coming into the home of a dead son or brother and taking literally everything, even those things he had bought with his now grieving partner, let alone things the partner had brought into the relationship, to include the house itself. The exclusion of partners from the grieving, from the funeral, from inheriting what he and his partner had worked so hard to create together—this was so horrifying that it was probably a main impetus behind the same-sex marriage movement. I won’t even go into the denial of benefits to surviving partners from companies, governments, and the military.
  • It also sparked an interest in a spiritual life for many GLBT people. In connection with this, I’ll make a partisan statement here that in the early (and not-so-early) days of the AIDS crisis, many pastors of mainstream denominations refused to visit church members with AIDS, even after the routes of transmission had been established. So who did the friends of PLWA call for spiritual support and comfort? MCC pastors, very often. OK, commercial over.

    What I’m trying to say is that progress appears slow to us, living at the pace of one human life. But in the longer view, progress has been rapid. We’re not going back into the closet. We’re not going to settle for second-class citizenship. We’re not going to hide anymore. True, many folks still don’t come out. But more and more, the young folk are seeing it as not such a big deal. A friend of mine came out to her son and the response was, “Cool. What’s for dinner?” That cannot be taken away. It may be difficult to see how far we’ve come, when we still have so far to go, but we have travelled far enough down this road, we are never going back.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Delegating and renting

Wow, more than a week since I've posted! I worked for seven days in a row--is that a good enough reason?

Remember all that stuff I had to do? Well, it all got done, some of it better than others... Had a great time with the one wedding that happened this weekend (the other was postponed--the paperwork didn't come back in time). The sermon went very well Sunday, which is always a good sign. And I tried to take Monday off, but ended up planning worship for the next few weeks!

I do my worship planning differently now--here's why. I was exhausted most of August, and couldn't figure out why, until I thought about how much I was doing. So one Sunday afternoon after church I sat down and wrote down everything I did for the church. Then I sorted them out into things I had to do per my contract, the ones I felt I should do as pastor, the ones that could be delegated and the ones I had to delegate. And then I delegated! I also looked at where I could get more help, such as organizing weddings and creating worship. I got together a worship committee, and I'm already seeing a difference!

The next challenge for our congregation is going to be finding a place to worship. The church where we meet has decided to move to a smaller building, so we have to move as well! They would be delighted for us to move with them, so we have that option. But we're planning to look around and see what else is available. Which means more meetings and visits.

I really would like to see us in our own space. I like the pastor of the congregation we rent from--he's supportive and funny and generous and an all-around great colleague. But there's something about having your own space--where you don't have to take down the altar decorations every week, or bring them out, for that matter. Where you're the ones in charge, and can change things as much as you like without having to change them back. Where the worship space reflects your congregation's personality. Leasing space in another congregation's building is like renting a room for your weekly family dinner--every week.

The truth is, however, finances won't let us do anything else at this point. So we'll find something and make do. This congregation has survived for almost twenty years, sometimes renting, sometimes in our own space. We'll hang in there!

Monday, October 03, 2005

We're Back!

What a wonderful week! The weather wasn't all we could have wished for, but that's the risk you take this time of year. We slept late (easy to do when there's no morning traffic, no street lights, and you're deep in the woods with lots of tree canopy overhead). We browsed in the art galleries and shops (pottery, painting, glass); had a couple of good dinners out; wandered along the marina, ogling all the fancy boats; and we lounged all of Sunday afternoon on the deck, drinking blueberry wine and reading the big newspapers (New York Times and Chicago Trib)--I even did the NYT crossword (not completely...)! I haven't had a chance to do that in years!

One of the highlights was a canoe trip down the river. It was a perfect day, warm enough that you wanted to be outside doing something, but not so warm that you were uncomfortable. The sky was completely blue, a beautiful shade of deep royal blue, and some of the trees on the shore were beginning to change color. We saw lots of great blue herons, an osprey, and some bald eagles. The couple who were kayaking (while we canoed) were just ahead of us, and they saw deer, which of course took off by the time we got around the bend! But there were lots of turtles, and blue jays, and woodpeckers, too. What a wonderful time we had! I'll try to post some of DP's photos, once they're developed.

We came back and were plunged right back into it! However, there are some changes going on at the church, so there's a lot going on with that. It's certainly keeping me busy this week--a fundraiser, two weddings this coming weekend, as well as a Blessing of the Animals, a lunch appointment and a breakfast meeting, the discussion group (not to mention preparation for all this...) and of course, the service next Sunday! The thing is, it's all good stuff, so that at least if I'm busy, I'm enjoying what I'm doing. It's reinforced for me that I am not ready to leave here and I do not plan to do so anytime soon.

On another topic...The dog is getting old. Being away from him for a week really brought it home to me, the fact of his aging. He's ten now, and starting to fade a bit. We're having to put him in his crate at night, or else he wanders around the house and makes messes. He sleeps with his back against the chair or couch, and upstairs in the study, with his head in the corner. We think it's so he knows where he is by feel--his eyesight is going. We take him out at night by the front door, instead of letting him into the back yard, because the back steps are steep and uneven.

He and I have come a long way together. I got him with a unexpectedly large birthday check from my father. I researched different breeds and settled on the Pembroke Welsh Corgi--fun, not too big, easy to train, healthy. He's been a joy! He has a sense of humour, I swear it. I was the one who fed him, who took him out in the middle of the night when he was a puppy, I walked him in sleet and rain and heat. I took him to the herding instinct test, and to obedience classes. I thought about training him in obedience or agility--and then seminary happened... He was there through the divorce, and came with me when I moved in with DP, whom he thinks of as Momma. He traveled with us to Canada (the only hotel we could find at 11 pm in a rainstorm had a no-pet policy, so we took a room way on the end and snuck him in and out, along with the cats). He's made new friends here, and is happy. Except for his eyesight, he's healthy--good weight, breathing OK, and so on. Long may he last!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

One more thing...

Well, I wasn't going to take the time to post today, but something happened last night that I have to talk about.

A friend called about 9:45 last night to say that gas prices were predicted to go up by 20 cents per liter, and that there were lines at all the stations. Another friend had waited 45 minutes to fill up!

Well, DP and I are heading off on vacation tomorrow, and my tank was on empty, so I headed off to the gas station on the corner (good thing, too; as I pulled away, the "low-gasoline" warning light came on!). I waited in line about half an hour, watching folks fill up their cars, then fill up gas cans and load them in their trunks... Things were getting ugly by the time I got to the pumps--very un-Canadian behavior was going on. Usually Canadians are fairly laid-back and take turns well, but not last night! One man cut into the line, and the woman he cut in front of really told him off--that he had to "wait in line like the rest of us!" and how rude he was, all of which he ignored (OK, that's normal for New York, maybe, but for an Ontarian, it's pretty harsh). People were laying claim to the pump by putting the nozzle into their gas tank, then going inside to pay (cash or debit card). I found myself getting aggressive (not like me), pushing my way up to the pump when it was my turn and not allowing the SUV that wanted to usurp it to take over (I drive a station wagon...).

In the end, I got about 2/3s of a tank of gas, spending CDN$30 (and I caught heck when I got home from DP, who finds gas to be cheaper across the border in the US, and wanted me to wait to fill up).

Well, we may not be doing much driving on this vacation after all! We'll hole up in the cabin and only go places we can walk...

I'm really gone this time!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

We're Off! (But not to see the Wizard...)


We're about to take off for a much-needed vacation, so I've been trying to double up on things--the order of worship and the sermon and the discussion group preparation--for when we return, so I don't have to plunge in and have a lot to do immediately. Which is why I've neglected this...

DP and I haven't had a real vacation since last year about this time, when we spent a weekend with friends. I've had Sundays off, but they were for family event weekends, which, while fun (and I always enjoy seeing my family), aren't vacations, really. So we're off to Lake Michigan for a week at a housekeeping cottage--sleep late, read, browse the art galleries, listen to music, relax. It's the first anniversary of our commitment ceremony--a special reason to celebrate.

I do plan to do a little work--some things are best done in isolation from the church! Some reading on contemporary worship and listening to contemporary Christian music, a little planning for the fall worship services...That's all. The dog (that's him in the photo!) is staying with family, so we're totally free this week!

Relaxation is the main point of the trip, after all! I'm taking a couple of mysteries to read, a few magazines, and a book on the history of the gay, lesbian and bisexual liberation movement in Canada--that one's hard to put either in the work camp or the fun camp--I enjoy this stuff, but it's also useful for work. How great is that?

The trip is also a chance to think and reflect and make a few decisions. It's been financially difficult for us to be here in Canada--as a US citizen, I can only do "religious work"--i.e., pastoring, chaplaincy, and so on. Which means, in effect, I have a part-time job and nothing else. I could theoretically work in the States (we're in a border city), but the commute time, and the cost of tolls and gasoline mean that it would have to be a well-paying part-time job--which are hard to find, needless to say! DP faces some of the same issues, except that she can work in Canada. But the area is in an economic slump, so jobs are few and far between.

We like it here--we have friends and a network of relationships, both within the church and outside it. We're close to my family. It's an area I'm familiar nad comfortable with. We could be very happy here. But if we can't support ourselves, then it doesn't make sense for us to stay.

So pray for us this week, as we reflect and think and listen to what God has planned for us.

See you in a week!

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Cost of Hurricane Recovery and Other Random Thoughts

Well, Bush's speechwriters should get a bonus for that speech last night. All the right notes were hit, and Bush even seemed to take responsibility for the delay in getting aid to the Gulf coast!

But did he really? And what was all that about mobilizing the military? Personally, I want the active-duty military (Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy) used for combat. And am I mistaken, or isn't the governor of the state the only one who can call out the state's National Guard? In other words, the governor should call out the National Guard, as needed. I wouldn't want to have the president sending federal troops into my state, under any pretext, because the governor doesn't command them. There's a parallel chain of command, and that, as any military strategist will tell you, is dangerous. The soldier (or airman or sailor) theoretically has several people telling him or her what to do. Call me reactionary, but I get nervous when the president starts talking about using the active duty military in a peace-time situation.

My other issue has to do with the funding. Where in the world are we going to come with the $30 some billion he says the federal government will supply? Not from the war in Iraq, I'm sure. No, it'll come from the schools and the health research and the agricultural research--all those places where the federal government invests in the future and uses science--things this president doesn't seem to understand or see as important. It's an old saw that most advances in science come when the researcher is looking for something else. You cannot direct research tightly to get only the results you want--that's the point of research, to test your thinking, your hypothesis. If you're right, you find out more about a disease (for example) that will help towards a cure. But you cannot say, "I will do X study and that will give me a vaccine," because science doesn't work that way. I am very worried about where that money is coming from. At the same time, the funding is clearly needed desperately--if the Gulf coast is going to be habitable, and viable for business (let alone tourism), they are going to need help rebuilding, getting supplies, getting restarted. Not only businesses, but churches, daycare centers, schools, governments, the whole infrastructure.

When I was in elementary school, our class did a unit on cities. They are incredibly complex, as we found when we had to each create our own city. We had a checklist of what we had to include--roads, schools, electrical lines, police, fire, government, homes, business districts, industries, natural resources, waste disposal, and so on. Anyone who's taken a whirl at Sim City has done much the same thing! (I guess my fourth grade teacher was ahead of her time!) All of that has been damaged, some of it beyond repair, in the Gulf states. It will require massive amounts of time and energy to get things back in order. At the same time, this is a great opportunity.

When the wall came down between East and West Germany, and they reunited, back in 1992, East Germany took a huge leap forward. They didn't have to spend a lot of time catching up to the west in terms of, say, fiber-optic cable. Because they had had little to nothing that was even close to 1992 vintage in their infrastructure, it was all put in new. New construction simply had the specifications for fiber optic--they didn't remodel old buildings.

The Gulf Coast can do somewhat the same thing. When the homes and businesses are rebuilt, they can be rebuilt to new standards from the ground up--they'll be ahead of the game before they start. And that includes building codes and zones to reduce damage from the next big (or small) hurricane.

If, of course, they are allowed to do so by politicians who (many of them) can't seem to see beyond their next re-election campaign.

With all the talk of "looking into things" and "investigating what happened," and "waiting for a better time," and "taking care of the people first," I can't help built think of the Titanic. No, I'm not talking about rearranging the deck chairs. When the Titanic sank, Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan convened hearings in New York City within the week to find out what had happened, why the supposedly unsinkable ship had sunk, why more people hadn't been saved, and who was culpable. The results were released by the end of May (the Titanic sank on April 14, 1912). Six weeks... And as a result, enough lifeboats for all the passengers a ship can carry are now required on all ships of US registry. Granted, the event was a bit more confined in time and space, and one of the reasons for Smith's speed was his concern that witnesses would be scattered to the four corners of the world before their testimony could be taken. We can find people more easily these days. But why isn't there one politician, one member of Congress, to stand up and say, "We want to start this investigation now; we'll start with people who aren't directly involved in the rescue efforts, who can give us a few hours, and get the others later." Personally, I would be favorably inclined to a member of Congress who insisted on starting the hearings and investigations about now. More delay = more prevarication, "I don't recall"s and lost paperwork... Or am I too cynical?

I've noticed that folks in North Carolina and the Atlantic coast are getting out of town as Ophelia approaches (very slowly....). The TV coverage of the storm on the Outer Banks is interesting to me, as I spent a great vacation down there about 8 years ago, in a wonderful house right by the ocean at Nag's Head...wonder what kind of damage it sustained? My favorite spot was up on the widow's walk at the very top of the house, on the roof. Wouldn't want to have been there recently!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Calling and Response

I read an article on church leadership a few weeks ago, in connection with a lectionary reading on Moses, and found it so interesting that I sent it on to a friend of mine who trains leaders for non-profit organizations (churches, associations, etc.), expecting agreement. Instead, he said he didn't agree with everything the writer said, and asked what I thought.
OK, now I was on the spot. This friend was in my systematic theology study group; we has wrestled with some big questions together, I know how he thinks (extremely well!) and he had challenged me.
What I came up with was this. My main issue as a leader (and the pastor/senior pastor is the leader of the church, regardless of theory), especially as a leader of a church, is my concern with listening to God, to what God wants for the church. Not what I want or the Board of Administration wants or the church hierarchy wants, or really even what the members want--but what God wants. So I want to distinguish between God's voice and my own inner voice, or the pressures of the politics of the church. At the same time, God does speak through others, and even through that still small voice in my own soul. It is a humbling and daunting task to try to listen for what God has in mind for my sermon this week, let alone what God's plan for the church's next year might be. Moses had no doubt he was hearing God's voice--not only did he have that burning bush, but God told him--"I am the God of your ancestors, of Abraham and Jacob." How do we tell when we're standing on holy ground, when we are hearing God's voice and not our ambition or the fears of church members or the hopes of the church headquarters?
I was called to lead God's people. My response, like Moses, initially was, "God. You've got the wrong person." But with time I learned that, of course, God was right and I was wrong... Eventually, I learned that I had been standing on holy ground. How can we learn to do that on a regular basis, and in the here and now, not in retrospect?
I don't have an answer for that. I'm still looking for that burning bush...

Monday, September 12, 2005

Another Monday

Well, technically Monday is my day off. Clergy really need to designate a day as their day off and do their own thing on that day every week--no checking the voice mail at church, no sermon research, no appointments, nothing but household chores, resting, maybe some reading. That's it. In theory, anyway... The truth is, at least for me, that it gets very difficult to keep to that. I need to have the order of worship to the person who lays it out, prints it, and copies it on Tuesday--which means I really want to put it together on Monday. So then I think I'll take Thursday off--I have office hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays--except that by Thursday I need to spend some time on the sermon, and Friday I have to finish it up and do things for the service on Sunday--and Saturday there's often a wedding, or membership class, or meeting, or other event. So when do I take the day off? The truth is, like many pastors, I don't. The fact that I'm part-time doesn't make it any easier. It just means that church tasks and my personal life run together. After all, in an hour spent at the computer, I can send email to friends and family as well as email my Board or church musician; I can search the Internet for sermon prep information and research as well as check the news; and then how can I say whether I've spent the hour on work or personal business? Half and half? Perhaps.

It's a perennial problem for pastors, and always has been, even before the Internet. Take a church social event--is that the pastor's personal time or should that count towards work time? After all, he or she is there as the pastor--but it is also a social event, with a meal involved, and social time with folks who may be their friends as well as parishioners. Especially in the days when the pastor lived next door to the church and the neighbors were the members, the pastor's social life blended with work life.

This is more than an accounting exercise. Pastors live in a fishbowl; the church members expect them to be available at any time for counseling, hospital visits, and so on. At the same time, they expect them to have healthy marriages and children who do well in school. I once read a clever article about members' expectations of pastors, written in the 1970's I think. It started something like, "A pastor is expected to always be in the office when a member drops by. A pastor should spend plenty of time with his wife and family. A pastor is always available to visit someone in the hospital. The pastor's sermons are well-researched and delivered, fresh and new. The sermon always has the wisdom of the ages." In other words, the pastor is expected to be all things to all people.

So my question is, how do you keep any kind of a balance? It's relatively easy when you do all your work at a set time in an office or factory--but clergy are like writers and small-business owners in that they set their own hours and thus there are no definite times. It takes discipline, but even that isn't enough when a pastor gets a phone call from a member--he or she isn't going to put them off, unless it's three in the morning. So there isn't a time a pastor isn't "on duty." I'm slowly coming to terms with that and working out ways to be sure I have downtime and rest--the alternative is burnout.

My other issue (yes, it's all about me today) is balancing all the different facets of pastoring. There's worship (creating services, working with the music ministry and worship leaders, writing the sermons), leadership and administration (planning, budget and finance, public relations), education (Sunday school and bible study, membership class, special events for Lent and Advent), spiritual direction (counseling, prayer groups), and congregational care (visitation and calls, letters and cards), not to mention special needs such as weddings and funerals. I start focusing on one area and think I have a handle on it, and then I realize another area needs attention and I look into it--and then a third area needs work, but by that time the first one needs my attention again. Juggling... Again, I'm starting to get the hang of it, but it's been tough.

So how have I been spending this Monday? Well, I took some me time and read some Dickens this morning, then did some research for the sermon, worked on the order of worship, emailed with a couple of friends and read the news, and did some planning for the week. For the rest of the day, I plan to go to the library (me time), get some professional reading done, and work on the order of worship. Tonight I'll take off and watch TV or a movie.

It's not the best balancing I've ever done, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Wedding Musings and the Animals in New Orleans

No, I'm not musing about my own wedding. As pastor to a GLBT-friendly church, I do quite a number of same-sex weddings here in Canada. I am touched and amazed by the number of US citizens coming here to be legally/civilly married, even though their home country/states/cities won't recognize it. It means so much to them, to have a marriage that is recognized by a civil authority, any civil authority. And many of them have been together for years (anywhere from five to 25 years). Some of them have already had committment ceremonies in their churches or on their own. But this is different for them, and I am privileged to be a part of it.

I have GOT to learn how to keep from getting weepy during the vows, though...

This is running through my mind this week because I performed a wedding Thursday evening and have another this afternoon. I've done a fair number (about eight or ten since April), but not two in one week! At the same time, I love doing them. Their wedding day is one of the happiest days in these couples' lives, and it is so wonderful to be a part of that.

One note about the debate over evacuating animals from New Orleans and the Katrina-damaged areas. It only makes sense to me to evacuate the animals with their owners. If the aid organziations are concerned about damage or allergies, put people with pets in a separate shelter, or keep the animals in a separate room (in crates or cages, of course). But by taking the animals out with their owners (or having pet-friendly shelters widely available, accessible by bus or other transportation for those without cars), you accomplish several things:
  • People are more likely to evacuate if they can take their pets
  • Evacuees are calmer and more relaxed
  • Fewer dead animals in the area (diseases, etc.)
  • Fewer packs of feral dogs (abandoned dogs will band together in packs--very scary--ask New York City, which has had this problem in the past)
  • Fewer concerns by rescuers who are going house to house of coming upon a frightened and deperate dog or other pet that has been left, locked in a bathroom or kitchen
  • Rescuers aren't diverted from human evacuations to evacuate animals, because the pets are already out

There will still be wild animals, of course--raccoons, skunks, alligators, etc.--so taking out the pets won't eliminate the dead animal problem (or the animal attack problem), but it would significantly diminish it, I would think. Nothing in a situation like this is ever 100 percent...

Friday, September 09, 2005

Friday Afternoon

As usual, I am procrastinating on the final sermon polish for Sunday. It's so easy with the Internet to bobble around, pretending to do more research or check the news or your email instead of doing what you really need to get done.
It's inevitable that Katrina's on my mind. I'm infuriated by the government's inability to just move--state, federal, and local. They have known for a long time that New Orleans (in particular) is susceptible to flooding (not llike they haven't had hurricanes and floods there before, eh?). Why didn't they start evacuating people earlier? Why weren't buses made available for those who didn't have cars or couldn't afford the gas or the hotels needed when you evacuate?
My nomination for most jaw-dropping moment: Mike Brown's comment that FEMA "didn't know" about the thousands of people in the Superdome. It had to be a deliberate falsehood--either that or the man is clueless to imbecility. It was on all the major networks, TV and radio, wire services--how could FEMA possibly have been ignorant of those people and their plight?
I belong to a number of email lists, most of them international in scope, and so many non-Americans on the lists have asked, incredulously, why there was no evacuation plan in place, in a region known for flooding and hurricanes? Why no caches of food and water in public places and shelters? No family plans for reuniting after evacuation?
There's plenty of blame to go around for sure--the federal government for cutting funding for the Army Corps of Engineers projects to restore wetlands, and then not sending in the National Guard quickly enough; local and state government for procrastinating on evacuations and asking for help; and individuals as well, for not getting out when they were told, not having some kind of plan. Many, if not most, of the folks left behind in New Orleans didn't have the funds, plain and simple, to get out. But what about plans to call relatives in states far from the disaster area? The shelters and survivor assistance groups always have provision for survivors to call family members and let them know they're OK; so if you all agree to call Aunt Sally in Chicago, she can keep you informed on each other, even if one of you is Houston, and two in St. Louis, and five in Dallas. Sure, not everyone has relatives like that--but most people do.
There needs to be a system of disaster planning and preparation in place in all states/areas--tailored to the disasters common to their area--earthquakes, mudslides, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, etc.
I grew up in Michigan--subject to blizzards and tornadoes. We always kept spare batteries for the radio, extra cans of soup, plenty of water and other drinkables, and so on. My sister and I had been taught to go into the bathroom during a tornado warning (and we knew the difference between watch and warning). We made sure we had a snow shovel, Mom kept the car gassed up, and we had sand or salt in the car for snowstorms. And we were not wealthy--Mom was a single mom, supporting my sister and I. It was simply something you planned for, ahead of time--something you prepared for. It wasn't difficult, or even expensive, really--simple things like batteries and a few extra cans of soup.
So why don't people learn these things? I don't know. Some of the folks in New Orleans were third and fourth generation; they ought to have known. Maybe there should be a mandatory training session for newcomers--"this is the kind of natural disaster/bad weather/geological disurbance we get around here, and this is how you should deal with it."
Bah. Enough for now.