Wednesday, November 29, 2006

It's Been a Few Days...

Life has been absolutely chaos the last week. The church is having several crises, most minor, but one major. It's not going to close the church down, but it's going to be difficult and very ugly for a while.

They say you're not really succeeding as a pastor until you've p*ssed someone off...

Look, Ma, I'm a success! (Sarcasm off)

Please keep us in your prayers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

On a Lighter Note...

My last few posts have been serious. And well they should be, given the subjects.

But before I go to spend a few days with the 'rent, and to be a 'rent, I thought I'd have some fun.
As LutheranChick mentioned yesterday, whatever happened to all the memes we used to post for each other?

Herewith, a meme for Christian music lovers! My responses are below.

1. What is your favourite "praise chorus?" At what point in the service (if any) is your congregation likely to use them?

2. Taize. Discuss.

3. Rutter, Bach, or Jars of Clay for the anthem this Sunday?

4. How do you and your musician share the selection of music for worship? How do each of you locate music (hymns, anthems, responses, etc.) for worship?

5. What is the one part of worship you would never set to music? Alternatively, what is the one part of worship you cannot imagine without music?

Bonus question: What is your favourite minor chord?

RP's responses:
1. What is your favourite "praise chorus?" At what point in the service (if any) is your congregation likely to use them? My favourite (and I'm not sure why) is "Let Us Break Bread Together," which some of you may not even consider a praise chorus! We use them (if at all) as a medley for the opening hymn or during Communion (while the congregation is taking Communion).

2. Taize. Discuss. I've heard a lot about Taize, and sung some of the choruses that are in the United Methodist hymnal, but that's about all i know. The ones that I do know I love, because they are so meditative, and conducive to prayer.

3. Rutter, Bach, or Jars of Clay for the anthem this Sunday? For me, any and all of the above. I truly love, love, love John Rutter. I know he doesn't really consider himself a Christian composer, but his music is so moving. His Requiem can bring me to tears. Bach is, well, Bach. And Jars of Clay (used here as a place-marker for any contemporary Christian group) can be as powerful and moving as anything I've heard. Can be.

4. How do you and your musician share the selection of music for worship? How do each of you locate music (hymns, anthems, responses, etc.) for worship? Our musician selects most of the music. He's had years of experience in the denomination (helped create our hymnal), and has a broad knowledge of church music in general. So I let him do most of it--if I have a hymn or song in mind that fits especially well, I'll suggest it and it will be either the opening/closing hymn or the "response hymn" sung right after the sermon. I find things by serendipity. Our musician has a more organized approach, I suspect, although I've never asked him.

5. What is the one part of worship you would never set to music? Alternatively, what is the one part of worship you cannot imagine without music? Ah, yes. We have a sacred cow here, called the sung Prayer that Jesus Taught Us. For variety's sake, if nothing else, we (meaning the music director and I) would like to not sing it sometimes, or use a different tune, but the only time we can get away with changing it is during Lent, when we speak it instead of singing it. Otherwise you would think we were committing sacrilege by not singing it or changing the tune... But that's the congregation. I personally can't imagine not singing the Doxology. Probably everything else could be spoken, but the Doxology needs to be sung. And, conversely, everything else can be sung, too--we've used sung calls to worship, prayers of the people (sung response), Communion consecration, of course, benedictions...pretty much everything. I've used music in the sermon, too, of course.

Bonus question: What is your favourite minor chord? E Flat. Seriously, I'm not enough of a music theorist to know the difference, but I found the website LC posted to be just spooky. Are there really people out there who think the Debil will get to them through their ears and not their hearts? Apparently so.


Leave a comment if you play!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Monday, November 20, is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a time to remember the lives lost to ignorance and hatred, the lives of transgendered people who have been murdered simply because they were brave enough to speak truth to the world.

To be clear and honest about this: I am not transgendered, so understand that I am speaking as an ally, a friend, not an expert or from my own transgendered experience. I do not speak for trans people, of course—and to my trans friends, I apologize in advance for over-simplifying, for leaving out some of the complexities, for not speaking to all the difficulties and complications. I speak, again, as an ally, from my friendships and my love for my transgendered friends of all genders. You know who you are—thank you for your presence in my life. You have been my partners in crime, my inspirations, my role models, my refuge from time to time, and most of all, my beloved friends.

I have many transgendered friends—they are transwomen, FTM, genderqueer, transmen, androgynous, pre-op, MTF, transitioning, post-op, transitioned, never planning to transition. Without exception, they are some of the strongest, wisest, most grounded, and self-aware people I know. They know who they are; they have fought and struggled and worked hard to be who they are—and they are beautiful, every one of them. All the extraneous “stuff” is being burned away, and the refined gold is left--because of course, it's a continuing process. They know who they are, they have worked hard to be the person God wants them to be, and they aren’t going to let anyone take it away from them. They’re not perfect, of course—they’d be the first to tell you that—but as John Wesley would say, they are going on to perfection, with God’s help.

But my particular friends are, in many ways, the blessed ones, the ones who have been able to work through it all to a place of relative safety—relative only, of course, since there is never absolute safety for those who are different form society’s strict categories. They were able, with a struggle, but able nonetheless, to get the education, the therapy, the surgery, the employment, the treatment, the relationship, the sacred space of church or temple or synagogue that allowed them to speak truth. Many others aren’t so blessed.

Humans tend to dislike what they do not understand—which may have had its uses back in the stone age, but it is a trait that has out-lived its usefulness. The vast majority of people expect another person to be identifiable as a man or a woman, and when another person is not readily identifiable as one or the other, frustration and anger often set in. If the other person seems to be deliberately trying to “fool” them, their anger increases. Thus the butch lesbian and the drag queen are attacked; cross-dressers are mocked by emergency medical personnel and young transgendered women (transwomen) are placed in the men’s section of jails, where they are beaten and raped.

You have doubtless heard of some of the more famous cases of transphobia resulting in murder—Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo, and others. But for every one of the famous ones, for every one who is killed, there are countless others who are harassed on a daily basis; who cannot use a public washroom for fear of being violently ejected and even arrested if they use the “wrong” one; who are kicked out of school, jobs, church and home; who are referred to as “it” by medical personnel, prison officials and teachers; refused entry into emergency shelters because they do not “fit” into either the men’s shelter or the women’s shelter; and told they are “sick” by the world in general.

In spite of it all, they continue, as a group, to march forward, insisting on their humanity, on the presence of God within themselves and their relationships. In many of our theologies, we make the claim that God is beyond gender, both and neither male or female. If we understand our God to be both and neither, why then can we not accept fellow human beings who are also both and neither? Take some time this week to think about those you know or may have heard of, who are transgendered, and pray, as I will be praying, that you may have the courage they have shown, to live their own truthful, beautiful lives.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Five—What I’m Thankful For…Version

Please note: these are in no particular order. In fact, the ones further down the list may be closer to my heart, because they took longer to surface…

1. My retreat last month (was it only last month?). I will say it again (and again, and again, and again)—take a solitary retreat. I had six days; five would have been enough, three would have been too short. A day to settle in, a day to begin surfacing, and two or three days to just be. The best things I took away from it were that schedules are not as important as I think they are and neither are to-do lists; I can read indefinitely long if provided a comfortable place and plenty of iced tea or coffee; sometimes it’s OK to just sit and stare out the window. So I give thanks for my retreat, Jeremiah House, GilChrist Retreat Centre, and John and Debbie (the caring staff).

2. My health. Overall, it’s pretty good. Yes, I could lose some weight, and I will never have 20/20 vision, but otherwise I’m doing OK—internal parts all functioning properly. When I think of friends and family members who have chronic illnesses and physical issues, and the effect it has on their lives (and personalities), from HIV/AIDS to cancer to high blood pressure to hernias to you-name-it, I am thankful that I am healthy.

3. Friends. This was brought home to me by the recent conference I attended. Some of the friends I spent time with were people I have known for a long time—we’ve shared meals, tears, joys, frustrations, hotel rooms, classes, our homes. Some of them I had only “talked” with via email. Some I had met and shared a meeting or meal or coffee with at another conference, and we had touched each others' heart--but then we hadn’t had any contact until the next conference. But it was as if we had seen each other a month ago, not two years. And some friends I made I didn’t know were even on the planet until that weekend.

There’s an item that’s gone around the Internet, Friend for a Reason or a Season. Sometimes your friendship with someone lasts for a lifetime; sometimes it’s for a few months or a couple of years. But no matter how long it lasts, each person comes into your life for a reason, even if it’s only for a season. I think of the friend whom I met when I was just beginning to come out; he led me, encouraged me, and supported me through that process. We are no longer in regular contact now; but he will always have a place in my heart, and I, I hope, will have one in his. He was a friend for a reason, for a season. Some of these friends at conference and elsewhere in my life are like that—warm and intense as the friendship was, it will not last. Others will last—and will become even deeper and richer with time. Both kinds of friendship enrich our lives. I am thankful for all my friends.

4. My son. There are many things in my life that I would change if I could, but he is not one of them. It was an incredible experience watching him grow up—and seeing some traits stay the same over time, morphing to fit the age (from Disney videos to SimCity to PS2…). He is an amazing young man, intelligent, attractive, articulate and funny. TO is a joy to me, and the saddest thing about moving to Canada was moving so far from him. I miss him every day.

5. My call to ministry. It hasn’t been easy, but as a wise person once said, the best things in life rarely are. That call has led me on an amazing journey, deeper into my own heart and in a closer relationship with the One who called me. I was given every chance to refuse and turn away from the call, but somehow…well, you all know how it is. And while I have doubted myself, sometimes even doubted my call, I have never regretted responding and embarking on this wild voyage!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Makes RP See Red (this week)...

By popular demand (well, sort of…), here is my expanded version of what makes me see red.

Ignorance in charge of other people’s lives and freedom.

I think I’ll focus on that one for now. But where do I start? Let me begin with an easy one.

Ignorance: Some people will tell you there’s really no reason for same-sex couples to want marriage, that they can get all those benefits through wills and such, that same-sex couple just want the name of marriage for the prestige, to be just like different-sex couples.

Oh, really? Tell that to the man whose partner had stipulated in his will that he was not to be buried in the family plot but in the plot he and his partner had chosen. His family was able to bring suit for him to be buried where he did not want to be--luckily, the judge ruled in favour of the will and the partner and the deceased’s expressed wishes. Wills are continually contested, they cannot cover benefits (like veteran’s benefits and Social Security), which are regulated by law, and they are not usually settled until well after the person’s death—by which time the ones contesting it may have marched off with all the deceased’s belongings. Ever seen “If These Walls Could Talk 2”? It details the three generations of lesbian lives lived within a single house. The first segment, set in the early 1960’s, is about two women who have lived together for many years until one of them passes away suddenly and her nephew comes to claim the house. It will break your heart—and it is still all too true.

And the lack of marriage rights hurts same-sex couples when they’re both living, too—everything from being able to file taxes as a married couple to getting health benefits, to child custody laws to having both their names on the title to the home….every one of those things matters, financially and emotionally, and in many states of the US, same-sex couples cannot do those things. Opposite-sex married couples don’t even think about it—and that’s the point. It’s automatic—you’re married, you get it. Unless, of course, you and your partner are the same sex. Then you’re out of luck, no matter how long you have been together, or whether you have raised children together, owned a home together, been through illness and job loss together.

The love and commitment of two same-sex people who want to be married is no less than that of two different-sex people. I can attest to this personally, having officiated at more than 25 same-sex marriages. But some ignorant people want you to think it is less, that same-sex relationships are all about sex, and there is no commitment between same-sex couples. Tell that to the ones who have been together 15, 25, 35 and 50 years. It’s about the relationship, not the body parts involved.

Let’s change gears from same-sex marriage to another legal issue—birth certificates.

For transgender people, legal identification is a huge issue. A person can be physically hurt or even killed, not merely insulted or hassled (which is bad enough) if the sex on their ID does not match their gender presentation (the gender they appear to be, based on dress, hair style, etc.). So the correct sex on the birth certificate, needed for so many other forms of identification to be issued or changed, is supremely important for them. Some municipalities require that transgender people provide a certificate of surgery before they will issue a new birth certificate; this is difficult for many trans people, since it takes years to get the surgery (partly for medical reasons, partly because they have to save for it, since insurance won’t cover it); and some trans people simply don’t want all the surgery that the municipalities require (especially female-to-male—FTM—trans people, because the surgery is so difficult and unrefined currently). So some trans people are partly transitioned, and may need to have identification that matches their target gender, not their biological gender. Not to mention that many clinics require their patients to live for a time (anywhere from three months to a year) full-time as the target gender before the surgery is approved. And so if they are going to travel, they have to go through airport security either dressed in a way that is a lie to them, although it matches their (unchanged) identification; or they pray the police officer who stops them doesn’t notice the disparity; or they dress in a neutral way. And they have to fear on the subway, in church, shopping, in the bars, on the street…because their identification doesn’t match who they seem to be.

Both of these—same-sex marriage and transgender identification—are about a choice between living a truth that is inconvenient and uncomfortable for the rest of the world, or living a lie called a closet that doesn’t bother anyone else, but that can lead to depression, psychological self-mutilation and even suicide for yourself. It’s about having to one day face God and say, “I wanted to live my truth, but when I tried to live as you created me, I was threatened—with rejection, ridicule, ostracism, violence, even death.” It’s about having the courage to face down the world that doesn’t want to even acknowledge that you exist, that would rather you stay in a corner, in the dark, remain the Other. It’s about being who God created you to be.

God is truth; and the truth will set us free.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday Five: Red, Blue, and Purple!

It’s Friday, I’m in town and have a few minutes, and so here we have the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five!

1. Favourite red food: Strawberries. On angelfood cake, on ice cream, dipped in chocolate, as jam or jelly, just by themselves, hands down favourite red food.

2. Tell us about the bluest body of water you've ever seen in person. Lake Erie, believe it or not, from Point Pelee (http://www.canadianparks.com/ontario/ppelenp/index.htm) late one afternoon. The atmospheric conditions must have been just right, because I have never seen a bluer body of water. Dark, dark blue, like a sapphire. Lovely.

3. It's movie rental time: Blue Planet, The Color Purple, or Crimson Tide? THe Color Purple, hands down. One of my favourites anyway, and certainly of those three!

4. What has you seeing red these days? Oooh, do we have that much time? OK, I’ll boil it down: 1. Intolerance claiming its right to exist as religious freedom. 2. Ignorance in charge of other people’s lives and freedom. 3. Deception as a way of life. If I get a chance, I may expand on these later. (You have been warned!)

5. What or who picks you up when you're feeling blue? Three things: comfort fiction, journaling and walks. Reading something I know and love—Jane Austen and the Brontes spring to mind—allows my mind to work on whatever has me upset on one level (a lower level, sort of subconscious) while I don’t have to think about it for a while on the surface. Journaling and walking both let me “talk it out”—mentally or on the computer. Walking has the advantage of exercise, and if I’m really upset, I can walk faster. Journaling, on the other hand, helps me put into words what I’m feeling, which gives me perspective, and sometimes gives me a solution. If nothing else, I can vent and pour out my sad/angry/frustrated/petty/whining emotions elsewhere than on my family and friends.

Bonus response (not requested but extra credit is always good): Red letter days recently included an amazing conference worship service on Sunday(friends, worship, Communion, the Holy Spirit--what could be better?), dinner with good friends tonight, and last week, the discovery of an almost perfect beer--"Final Absolution," a Belgian-style lager from Dragonmead Brewery in Warren, Michigan (famous as the former home of a tank plant). There's a reason it won a gold medal at the world beer competition!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Taking the Leap!

Well, I’m back from my conference—three and a half days of amazing workshops, a mini-retreat, friendships new and renewed and expanded, and a testing of my energy and stamina.

As I’ve mentioned, I volunteered to coordinate the worship assistants for the entire conference—the Communion servers and holders and the ushers. You know, there are a lot of logistics involved with that! How do we get Communion to the choir? How about taking up the offering from the choir? How do we get Communion to the people doing the counting of the offering (which, of course, comes right before Communion)? What about getting the Communion elements down from the altar to the holders (they hold the Communion elements while the servers serve the congregation and say the blessing for each person)? How do I find enough of each of those? Luckily, I had many volunteers and when I didn’t have as many people as I thought I needed, the ones I did have pitched in and did what had to be done.

A wonderful side-effect—or maybe it wasn’t a side-effect, but one of the main reasons for the conference—was the affirmation, the support, from my colleagues (shout-out to Rev. Dona here! Thanks for the props!) and our regional elders (roughly = bishop). I don’t think I’m a particularly bright star in the denomination’s firmament, but from the compliments and thanks I received, you would think I was the next best thing. I even had my hands kissed! It was the kind of balm I know my ego needed, and I don’t think I’m the only one who had come there bruised and tired. One friend said she felt better than she had in weeks—and she had been on vacation only a couple of weeks before! The mood of friends and co-worshipers on Sunday morning was much more relaxed, joyful and hopeful than on Thursday evening.

One of the workshop presenters made a point that was a real aha! moment for me. He pointed out that most of our congregants (in the UFMCC), were hurting and battered, psychologically and spiritually. In a mainline church, the proportion is much lower. So much of our work, as pastors in MCC churches, is working with badly hurt people. Unlike many others who work with hurting people, such as chaplains and psychologists and psychiatrists, we don’t have the support and institutional protections and requirements for self-care. We really are at higher risk for burn-out and damage ourselves. As an aside, the same presenter pointed out that most of the people who come through our doors for the first time are already giving church a second chance, having been made to feel unwelcome, despised, or evil in other churches. We cannot fail them. And thus, of course, we have more pressure on us. Listening to all this, I began to understand why my colleagues in UFMCC seem to suffer greater stress than my former colleagues in the UMC. Part of that may also be due to the job security in the UMC, but that’s another issue (UMC pastors are appointed, UFMCC pastors are called by the congregation).

As a result of these few days, I can see many changes I want to make, things I want to do—not all of them easy, and some will get me grief. But I believe they are all things I am called to do as the pastor, and/or that this congregation is called to do. We need, as a congregation, to take that leap of faith and make a difference. Rev. Dona (http://revdonaquixote.blogspot.com/ ) talks about cliff divers. She and I both have plans to take a leap of faith off those cliffs—but in keeping with the covenant of Christian community, we’re jumping together!