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.