Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tired, Stressed and Weary

Change is never easy. For church members, change in their church is not usually easy (unless things are so dysfunctional that they have to get better or the church is going to collapse). Our church here in River City is changing. Some members think it is for the worse; others think it is for the best. I only know that I am trying to follow God's will for this place. But oh, it is hard some days--I feel like I'm pulling uphill.

I woke up today feeling like I just got off the Tilt-A-Whirl (carnival ride, for those of you outside North America). I thought maybe I needed breakfast. So I ate some toast. It didn't go away. Well, I've been keeping some late hours, so maybe I was short on sleep. I tried going back to sleep. Nope. DP finally talked me into calling the doctor and making an appointment. See, I have what they call an arachnoid cyst. It's a benign fluid-filled cyst in the arachnoid layer of the brain. Totally harmless, probably had it all my life, only found it when I had an MRI to be sure my migraines were simply migraines (they were and are). However. I was told then that if I ever had dizzy spells or different headaches or trouble walking (and I did this morning) or talking (fat chance, hah!) I should see the doctor. So I did. She had me do the walk the line, touch my nose, touch her finger, etc. type tests. I'm OK, she says. Stress. But she still wants to do an update MRI. But she reassured me, sent me on my way.
Stress. I almost laughed out loud. Isn't that in the job description?
Well, off to write two sermons, finish the church newsletter, finish Palm Sunday and Easter worship planning, and make a few phone calls.
Stress. Who would have thought?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday Five on Friday (now, don't faint)

Five things I would have on the shelves in my store"
1. Books, books, books! Lots of good books of all kinds, from theology to fiction to history to poetry to photographs to essays....
2. Food, food, food! (needed to go with No. 1). All those hard to find things that are so good--the special chutneys and jellies and mustards and pretzels and spices and cookies and candies and teas and coffees and sauce mixes and soups and....
3. Gadgets, gadgets, gadgets! Little thises and thats--the neat pepper-mill, the page markers that don't damage the pages, the book holders, the spaghetti measurers...
4. Pet goodies, pet goodies, pet goodies! Treats, fancy collars, dishes, food containers, toys, furniture, beds...
5. CDs, CDs, CDs! All my favourite whimsies, from movie soundtracks to singers and showtunes and operas and sacred music--Rutter to Mozart to Etheridge to Moody Blues to Louis Armstrong to Cabaret to Bernstein's Mass to Figaro to Grease....

And it would be in a huge octogon-shaped building, like a birdfeeder the size of a house, with glass walls all around to let in the light.

Don't have a clue if I'd make money, though...

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Sunday Morning Walk...

Well, I hang my head in embarrassment. After getting al upset because I felt ignored, here I go not even posting for a week or more!

Life. Sometimes I get so busy with living, I forget to have a life!

There’s a group of women here in River City that has started meeting regularly on Sunday mornings to hike on one of the many nature trails in the area. They set it up for Sunday mornings because DP and I have church on Sunday afternoons. Many of them bring their dogs—it’s for fun, not a hard workout for fitness. I went yesterday for the first time, with the dog, Mr. M—DP has gone before. What a blast!

It was cold but sunny, in that Midwestern way, where the wind whips tears from your eyes, which then freeze in the corners of your eyes, and makes your nose run. Lots of people were on the trail, taking advantage of the dry—and relatively warm—weather (one of my friends who has worked above the Arctic Circle jokes about the warm weather anytime the thermometer reads above 0…).

I could just see the beginnings of green on the bark of the willows, and the dogs (not the very height-challenged Mr. M.) were splashing in the ponds and puddles. Even though the breeze was sharp, you could feel spring behind it.

Mr. M. had a great time keeping up with the bigger dogs (Labs and lab mixes), not to mention being allowed off-leash (!! Heaven to canine sensibilities). He’d gallop hard to catch up with the bigger dogs, then glance back to see where we were, and stop to let us catch up, then dash madly off to be with the other dogs again. We walked about 3 kilometres, which is pretty good for a dog with legs about 5 inches long! We had to turn back before the rest, to get home in time to change for church, and Mr. M. was much slower without the other dogs to keep up with! He slept most of the afternoon…

It set me wondering why I let myself be stopped by the memory of how cold it is (or hot, depending on the season), and all the discomforts, when I love being outside so much once I get myself there. In my lifetime, I have loved camping, gardening, hiking, canoeing, and dog training—all of which are best done outside! When I used to garden, I had to have a strict rule against going out to the yard in the morning before leaving for work, because I would get caught up in pulling just a few weeds, or trimming just a branch or a twig there, or checking out the state of the hydrangea… You get the picture. Before I knew it, I was late to work!

Am I really so fundamentally lazy that I don’t want to go to the trouble of getting ready and going to the campground/river/trail/backyard, even though I know I will enjoy it once I get there? Do I feel I don’t deserve it, or that I shouldn’t be wasting time when I could improve my sermon or be meeting with someone or working on worship for Easter? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I really think it’s something I should ponder. Why do I put up false obstacles in the way of my own rest, refreshment, and renewal?

It’s worth thinking about as we enter spring and summer, when it’s so easy for me to get overbooked with weddings, family events, and Pride happenings. Perhaps I need to just push myself more, but instead of pushing myself to work harder, I should be pushing myself to enjoy the things I know I enjoy—gardening, cross-stitch, hiking, canoeing…

It is not a coincidence that I felt more relaxed at church yesterday afternoon than I have felt in a long time. Yes, I was a bit late, and we were rushed to get ready on time…but I felt more relaxed and focused—and it was because of that hike.

Rest and renewal. They aren’t just words anymore—I remember now what they really mean and what they feel like.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Thursday Thoughts...

So the crisis is treated for the moment (final resolution to be decided, but immediate flames have been doused). My midday sermon for the Anglicans was as close to a triumph as such a creature can get (I was invited back “any time"). I met with a couple I’m marrying in June (they’re getting married, I’m officiating, just for clarification), and they are just delightful!

I am feeling much better today, even though I don’t have the sermon even started for Sunday, I have to work at a bingo on Saturday, DP’s hurting (torn shoulder ligament), and I had to cancel a visit to my mom for tomorrow.

****

Clergy self-care. There’s a hot topic. Where do we draw the line between keeping ourselves strong and healthy on the one hand, and taking care of the flock on the other? It’s about more than boundaries (although that’s part of it). I think it’s also about time management—not the Franklin-Covey kind (but it helps). Jesus knew what his priorities were, and stuck to them. He took the time for retreats, to turn aside and pray. He didn’t even try to heal everyone who came to him, or to preach to very crowd. And he had his trouble with boundary issues too—remember the crowd that pressed around him so much he had to get in a boat and preach from there instead of among them? We need to take the time for our priorities—our relationship with God, our retreat time—in order to be strong enough to do the work God has called us to do. And of course there’s the issue of allowing other to do some of the work—we weren’t called to do all the work, but to lead others in doing the work together.

My mother was telling me about a church woman she was supposed to work with on a committee, who did all the work of the committee. As a result, the program the committee was supposed to work on together was much less rich and interesting. The committee chair wasn’t able to do it all herself, but didn’t ask for help either (in getting a guest speaker, for example, or finding other liturgical resources). The committee ended up doing some of the readings for the program and nothing else, although they were all willing to do more (and had let the chair know that they were available).

How many of us, as clergy and lay leaders, think that we have to do it all? I’ve fallen into that trap. When someone says, “We really should have a youth program,” or “a parish visitors’ program,” or “put our services on the local cable channel,” I start feeling guilty because I don’t have it in place, don’t have the first thought about how to put it together or what it would look like, and haven’t even considered who should be in charge of such a thing. I start thinking, “If I were really on the ball, I would have thought about this and have half a plan together already, at least in my mind.” Of course, the obvious answer to suggestions like that is, “That’s a great idea. Why don’t you come by the office Tuesday and we’ll talk about how you can put that into action.” Maybe we’ve read too many stories about the young pastor who turns around a failing parish in the inner city; or (in my case) about John Wesley, who wrote innumerable sermons, hymns, pamphlets and books, started a school, rode literally thousands of miles up and down the length and breadth of England, mentored new preachers, sent out missionaries, and oh yes, organized a whole new denomination… There’s no way we can live up to that, and we shouldn’t try.

We each have a call; that’s the only call we can answer. We need to respond to OUR call, not to John Wesley’s call, or LutheranChik’s call, or Will Smama’s call (unless we happen to be John Wesley or LutheranChik or Will Smama….). We can’t do it—we can’t do what someone else is called to do, and if we try to do it, we will inevitably fail. So—answer your own call, take time to listen to God, and let other people carry part of the load.

I think that's a big part of my issues. I keep comparing myself with other people, and their successes (or failures). When I was new in the transfer process, for example, I met a pastor who had started a new church--she had worked part-time in social work and part-time as the pastor of the start-up church. She was an incredible preacher, had a charm and energy about her, and was (and is) a "golden girl," marked for promotion and progress in our denomination. I was in despair because I'm not much like her (young-nope; fiery energetic speaker--nope; charisma--nope; second job--nope). But then a wise friend pointed out that Golden Girl had certain gifts but lacked others; she prefers starting churches or re-energizing churches to working to grow existing churches. I have gifts she doesn't and vice versa. "No one has all the gifts of the Spirit," my friend commented, "and that's probably a good thing!"

God needs my gifts, too. We are all members of the body of Christ, and it takes every one of us to do God's work properly. If we each answer our own call well, then God's will is done.

Oh, were you folks listening, too? I was preaching to myself, but, hey, if the stole fits….

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wednesday Update

The clean-up meeting went pretty well last night. It was a sobering and difficult experience, but it had to be done.

So now I'm off to speak at the midday service--and the focus of the scripture is rainbows...!! I'm going to enjoy this. If I had created the bulletin, I would have used the image I use for my profile--the swirling rainbow with a cross.

My message is that the rainbow, with all its colours, is a symbol of God's all-embracing and unconditional love, as is the cross. As we begin Lent, the cross seems far away; the rainbow is present as a reminder of whose we are and the love God has for us. The rainbow and the cross--both symbols of God's unconditional love for us.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Hellooo Oooouuut Theeeere!

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? (tap tap SKEEEREETCH) Yeah. OK, guess it is.

I showered and everything. So where is everyone? Have I fallen into a wormhole or a black hole or a rabbit hole or some kind of hole where my posts are visible only to me?

I know I haven't been as regular as I have been in the past, but gee golly...

(Boy, don't post for a couple days and they forget you...mumble, mumble..."Rainbow who? " That's what they're saying... paranoia off...)

You are now returned to your regularly scheduled blog...

Tuesday's Struggle

Well, I have two sermons this week--one in the midday Lenten series hosted by the tall-steeple church in town--and a minor crisis to deal with...

The crisis is one that could have been avoided if I had been more on the ball, but I'm trying not to beat myself up about that. What's done is done and now we have to deal with the consequences. Clean-up is such a chore.

Keep me in your prayers tonight, sisters and brothers, as we have the clean-up meeting!

And also during the day as I try to write the sermon for tomorrow with the meeting hanging over my head...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Friday Meme on Saturday

Can I plead a time difference?

No?

Well, here goes anyway.

1. Daily Prayer
I had a Celtic breviary, which I used for a good eight months or so during my first year of seminary. I loved the way it followed the cycle of the seasons, bidding farewell to summer, welcoming the return of the light in mid-winter, and so on. Eventually, I got so busy with life (part-time seminary, part-time work, full-time mom and spouse, part-time ministry interne…) I didn’t make time for it. I still have the breviary, which I look at longingly every time I run across it. I know, what am I waiting for?

2. Disciple Covenant
Some of you may be familiar with this. It’s a small-group discipline, based on John Wesley’s class meeting model, created (or refined) by David Lowes Watson. In a small group (5-12), you agree on 5-12 disciplines, in four areas—Worship, Devotion, Charity and Justice (at least one in each area). These are things that you agree to do, either on a regular basis or as a special project: pray or meditate daily, tithe monthly, begin a correspondence with a prisoner, recycle your cans and bottles, and so on. Then every week, for exactly an hour, you meet in your group and hold each other accountable for observing those disciplines. It sounds like a lot of work and in the beginning it is, but the results are astounding! I was forced to do it as part of my first year at seminary, then during our internships in the last two years we had to implement them in the churches where we were serving, I disliked it extremely for the first six months, then I sorta liked it. In my internship setting, I had an awesome group, and we rocked! It was a much better experience the second time around. We kept meeting all summer, even though we didn’t have to, and when I left, the group vowed to keep meeting. A lot of spiritual growth goes on in those Disciple groups!

3. Newspaper Reading
From the time I was in about 3rd grade, I was in the habit of reading at least parts of the paper. The comics, of course, but also a column called “Action Line,” which helped people find out how to deal with the gas company, or find a long-lost friend, or get a good doctor, or just answer an odd question (“What’s that statue on the corner of 4th and Main?” “Who is the main library named after?” “Is it true that a turkey can drown in the rain?”). Of course, we have the Internet and Google to take care of those questions now, but then there was no where else. I was fascinated (probably an early manifestation of my research jones). As I got older, I read more and more. Wherever I lived, I got the local paper—Washington Post (I still miss it!!), The Stars and Stripes European Edition (the armed forces paper; just enough content to finish reading it over a bowl of cereal), etc. The local paper in River City isn’t worth buying—we get it every once in a while, but I have no desire to subscribe. If there were a real paper, I’d subscribe. I do read a couple of papers online, but it just isn’t the same—especially on Sundays!

4. Bedtime Reading
DP still has trouble understanding this one, although she’s starting to pick it up, I’ve noticed (shhhh—pretend you don’t notice, maybe she’ll keep it up). It doesn’t have to be much, or for very long, but something interesting (but not too interesting, or I’ll never turn out the light). Right now it’s The Discoverers, by Daniel Boorstein. It takes my mind away from anything that has been fretting at me, and lets me relax. Then prayers and lights out!

Journaling
I’m going back to this one. I’ve been reading On Becoming a Leader, by Warren Bennis, and he talks a lot about the value of reflection, of taking the time to think about what is happening, about mistakes that have been made, or successes, about your goals and your visions. My last year of seminary and first year of ministry I was very faithful in journaling, and during my coming-out as well. Journaling has a way of allowing you to vent, to reflect on things, to make the things that seem so huge and scary come down to their real size, and to let you celebrate good stuff, even if it seems teensy and minor to someone else. I have a wonderful software package (Life Journal) that lets you highlight concepts and bookmark ideas, chart your health, even do an autobiography. I don’t use all its incredible features. But my intention is to do so—and now my intention is out there in cyberspace, so y’all can hold my feet to the fire on it!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Have a Blessed Lent!"

I have a new member who has come from a tradition which doesn't observe all the events of the Christian year. Lent is new to him. So he asked me, "what do you wish people? A Happy Lent? A merry Lent? May you keep to all your givings-up? Did you enjoy your putzkis?" [A Polish delight, like filled doughnuts, found only on and around Shrove Tuesdays]

I suggested wishing people a "Blessed Lent."

So how do we welcome members of our congregations who aren't as familiar with our ways as our long-time members? This is as true for our services as it is for the cycle of the Christian year.

A friend was in another tradition's church a couple of weeks ago, and while he liked using a hymnal (which we have gotten away from), because he could read the music, he was also juggling the hymnal, a book of prayer, the order of worship and a second songbook. He spent a lot of time figuring out the mechanics of getting through the service. Hard to pray or contemplate when you're trying to work out what book is going to be used next... And he is a church musician, who has seminary training and has worked with many traditions. Imagine someone who hasn't been to church in twenty years--if ever?

When I took my first corporate worship class in seminary, one of our major assignments was to visit, on our own or in small groups, five churches of traditions different from our own. What an excellent assignment! The experience ranged from exquisite (the saint's day service at the Greek Orthodox church, where the priest welcomed us as "brothers and sisters" during the service and spent an hour afterwards talking to us), to the dismal (the church, denomination nameless, where I spent the whole service and never got more than a "Good Morning" when I was handed the order of worship). And there were the ones in-between, some of which were like my musician's experience--confusing, but warm and welcoming... Very enlightening!

I've come to the decision that we can't explain too much. Even if our long-time members have heard the explanation of how to take Communion a thousand times, they can stand to hear it once again. Better that than the one new person be so embarrassed by not knowing what to do that she never comes back and feels uncomfortable at the very thought of church!

I've also decided that as we come to each new season of the Church year, I'll put a short article into the order of worship (in with the announcements on the back) about this new season and what it means. We'll see if anyone reads it!

What do you do in your congregations to make new comers feel comfortable and welcome, both to the service and to church?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Further Adventures in Hair...

Well, yes, I do have a service tonight, and I'm preaching next Wednesday at River City's tall-steeple church's midweek Lenten service, and then there's a couple of upcoming weddings (yay!)... But here's a few lighter thoughts.

I went back to The Stylist (see January 17th for THAT story). I planned on simply a cut, to trim the shaggy-ness. He started snipping and trimming, got my mop into some kind of shape, took out the blow dryer, and then suddenly stopped. "No," he said. "You need colour."

Now, if you'll remember, he had mentioned that last time. I've been more sort of a Clairol and Nice 'n' Easy gal (though there was a time when I had professional highlights and colour on a regular basis). But The Stylist is, as I said, high fashion, and I wasn't too sure what he might have in mind. Well, he whipped out his colour book, and had his assistant mix two colours together, and hustled me off to another chair while he finished the client who was waiting patiently, and then I had my hair coloured.

And, I have to say, I like it! It's red (of course), but not orange, not scarlet, but definitely red, of a shade that looks redder indoors than outdoors. Not violent, but there, noticeable.

And DP likes it. She likes the cut, too--not too short this time, she says.

I can breathe easy.

Now that my hair is in order, perhaps I can take care of the Lenten services. I've just heard that the choir of our host church knows nothing of our planned Ash Wednesday service (they're not having one, obviously), to be held in the sanctuary--where they practice on Wednesday evenings...

I'm plunging back into the whirlwind, but at least my hair looks good!