Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday Five: Ways to Relax

Just in time for the weekend, here's the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five--on relaxing.

Four ways I take a break or relax:

1. Read a good book. Not a professional book, not preparation for the next Bible study, not the one that my mentor recommended, but a fun book, on a topic that interests and absorbs me. Preferably done with a mug of a hot beverage (winter) or on the porch with iced tea (summer).

2. When I could afford it, I used to have a manicure every other week; and once every six weeks or so, a pedicure. I loved having hands that looked nice and toes that were clipped, and it was so nice to just sit and think of nothing. Also, the pedicure chairs were massaging… And in connection with an earlier Matriarch question—one family (at a previous church) gave me a gift certificate for a manicure/pedicure package for Christmas. Now THAT was appreciated!

3. This is much like No.1: bookstore or library browsing. Just wandering, looking at all the different books, reading a chapter or two here or there, trying to remember the title of the book someone mentioned last week that sounded good…sneaking in a little “guilty pleasure” in the “true crime” section…checking out the latest feel-good title in the Christianity section. It’s all good. And if I can keep myself from buying any of them, so much the better!

4. Games, usually on the computer. The thing is, though, I feel guilty, like I’m wasting time instead of taking a break. At least with the other three items, I can at least feel like I’ve accomplished something—polished nails, read a book, etc. But what do I have at the end of a long session of Mah Jongg? Zip, except maybe feeling a bit relaxed. Which tells me maybe I need to find another way to relax.

One way I would like to try relaxing:

Regular massage. I have a friend who is a massage therapist, and when I visit, I get a freebie ½ hour (we’ve been friends for forty years now…that earns a free one, I think!). I would love to have that experience on a regular basis, say weekly, an hour at a time. I once heard a pastor I respect greatly say that he trusted in the Holy Trinity: his psychotherapist, his doctor, and his massage therapist. Between the three, he felt they kept his mind, body and spirit in balance.

What I did to relax once upon a time:

Ride my bike. We lived near a forest with paved paths, and I loved to bicycle through it. Exercise, out of the house, fresh air—all good things

Dance. I used to do Jazzercise ™ and I would also just dance when we were out for the evening. I could use my knee injury last summer and my (ahem) injury more recently as excuses, but it’s been longer ago than that since I stopped.

Meditate or pray. Fact is, I’m so chronically short on sleep I’m afraid I might fall asleep if I stopped and closed my eyes!

Write. I do blog (obviously!!), but not as often as I would like. And I do have those books in my head that I keep talking about. And then there are prayers and poems and stories rattling around, too.

So—one of the ways I do relax is not really making me happy. Time to get out of that rut! Clearly I need to get more exercise, and I need to reconnect to the other things that I used to enjoy. Right now, other things are taking my energy and likely to for a few weeks—but by spring, perhaps I’ll be able to add a few of those used-tos, and maybe even the wish-I-could!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Time Management

(I wrote this Saturday, but such was my state of mind that it never made it to here it is, a few days late...)

Well, in a sermon-procrastinating move, I want to talk about time and how pastors use it. Or more accurately, how our congregations perceive we use time—or abuse it.

We’ve all heard how many members think that pastors work one day a week, Sunday, when all they have to do is read a sermon and drink some coffee in the social hour, and maybe do a few hospital calls during the week. I don’t think very many people really think that, at least, not any more.

However, I have met people who think that 20 hours a week is plenty of time for a pastor to do all that s/he has to do for a congregation. Again, shuffle a few papers, go to a meeting or two, write a sermon (that only takes a couple of hours, right?), talk to the musician, and there you go. Done, right? Even people who should know better often fall into this mistake, through sheer lack of thinking about what a pastor does.

I try to keep close track of what I do everyday (it’s why I need the two-page-per-day Day Timer, in paper, please)—so that I can point to Thursday and show an hour’s worth of email responses, three hours on the sermon, a two-hour community meeting, and two hours of preparation for Christian Ed. Of course, that doesn’t show the phone calls during the sermon preparation or the conversation with a church member during the research for Christian Ed that lasted ten minutes but reassured them.

Pastors’ lives are not easily parceled out like other professionals. A lawyer or accountant or psychiatrist can show a full appointment book, or time spent on a certain client’s case (one hour on Smith, two and a quarter on Jones). A doctor has appointments, and so many patients seen each office day. A teacher has classroom time and preparation time—although these do run together sometimes. But how to divide out a pastor’s time? How to demonstrate that the time recorded as spent on a certain activity really was spent that way? Meetings and appointments are easy—the minutes or memories of others present will show that the pastor really was there and the appointment did last for an hour. But sermon prep? Or for classes?

Part of the difficulty may be because “sermon prep” isn’t easy to separate from everything else we do. The people we see, the magazines we read, the shows we watch on TV, a movie, a book, a conversation—they spark and inspire our sermons, they give us a lead into what we want to say. And often when we sit down to actually write, the words don’t come, and we struggle for hours to get a couple of paragraphs on paper. And so when people say, “That sermon took you eight hours to write?” we cringe, because we know we should have spent ten or twelve or however many is our personal standard. But what they mean is, “How could you have spent so much time and come up with so little?”

I have often wished that every Board member or prospective Board member, or any member, for that matter, could “shadow” me for a day, just to see what it is I really do, and how I do it.

Which brings me to a related point. Some mentors have suggested posting office hours, so that members know when they can reach you. Others say that’s a bad idea, because then if you get called out or have an appointment outside the building, and you’re not there “when you said you would be,” there’s unhappiness. I have heard various percentages held up as the ideal amount of time to have office hours (15%, 40%, whatever). Of course, if you are lucky enough to have a good church secretary, some of this is eased. A good secretary (and I was blessed with one when I was an intern) will protect you and your office hours. But many of us aren’t that lucky.

I don’t want to go as far as one pastor I know, who lists office hours, and what she will be doing during them (i.e., Monday—off, Tuesday—Office 11-2, 3-5, Wednesday—Sermon preparation, etc.). On the other hand, to leave people with no idea of when they can reach you, or when you might be available to them, doesn’t seem right either. So I personally settle for something in between—I state my office hours, but caution people to call first as I “may have been called out of the office.”

I won’t even go into the whole issue of boundaries, and how many hours we work vs how many hours we are paid to work…

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday Five--The Journalist's Questions!


A sermon


At the dining room table because the bench is more comfortable for my—injury.

Ummmm. Ultimately, because God called me to this work. More immediately, because that’s what my contract calls for.

Bonus How
I wish I knew!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Inching Through the Week...

Still hurting Wednesday, so went to the walk-in clinic (I had called my doctor and the receptionist chirped, "The doctor can see you Monday!"). The clinic doctor pointed out that even if my tailbone is cracked/broken, it can't exactly be put in a cast. She recommended soft pillows to sit on and lots of Motrin.

She offered no advice about how to bend over (to pick up the cat food bowls, or to do the laundry, or to get a book off the bottom shelf), to get upstairs (or down), in and out of a car, or any of the other things I used to take for granted and will not now. She was, however, very sympathetic--I have a feeling I'm not the only person she's seen with this complaint this week, after the ice we had over the weekend.

And exciting news--the church is on the front page of the local GLBT paper! We're celebrating our 19th anniversary this weekend, and the reporter who was invited to cover the dinner was intrigued by the idea that lots of US couples cross the border to be married in Canada, and come to us. One of the couples I married recently was interviewed, and an opinion piece I wrote in response to one of his interview questions was printed separately, as a "Viewpoint" column. Used a terrible photo of me, although we sent him a better one... But it's very exciting, because the paper wants to extend its coverage in River City, so we get to ride on those coattails.

And DP is coming home tonight...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pain and Irritation

Well, I’m reflecting today on how little things can make a big difference.

See, we had freezing rain here in River City Saturday night into Sunday morning. I peeked out the window Sunday morning about nine as I was preparing to go to Landlord Church for a preaching gig. It looked like wet pavements, dripping trees, etc.—in other words, the freezing part was over and the rain part had begun. Forgetting that cement doesn’t warm up very quickly, I started down the front steps with briefbag over my shoulder, umbrella in one hand, and prop for the children’s story in the other hand. You will have noticed, I’m sure, that I did not leave a hand for the railing on the way down.

Indeed, I slid handle over teakettle down those fireplacing steps, hitting every one of the four of them on the way down. When the world stopped bouncing, I had a wet tush (from the wet steps), strained muscles in my shoulders, back, and neck (from trying to catch myself) and a bruised tailbone (from guess what). By the end of the day, I could barely walk, let along haul myself up the stairs to bed (see strained shoulders).

All this is not to garner sympathy (well, maybe a little). But after all, there are a lot of people with worse health issues than mine out there. I can handle it—I’ll get better in a day or so.

The thing is, such a minor thing as a bruised tailbone makes a huge difference in how I look at things today.

I had planned some closet cleaning, dog grooming, and laundry for today. None of those things are going to happen, because I cannot haul clothes in and out of the closet, I cannot carry the laundry basket up and down the stairs, and I most certainly cannot get down on the floor to groom the dog (they would find my skeleton in the spring, brush in one hand and clippers in the other, desperately reaching for the counter in order to pull myself up).

My back-up plan, as of last night, was to work on sermons for the next couple of weeks. My shoulders vetoed the hunched-over-the-computer thing. They are complaining about blogging, in fact.

So how about reading? Nope—there’s no comfortable position that will also allow me to hold a book and read.

It’s a minor thing, this pain—just some really bad aches, in fact. But they are such bad aches I’m pretty much motionless. I’ve had worse pain—but it’s never been so inconvenient. I am newly awakened to sympathy for those who have severe arthritis and back problems.

Those of you who can move easily, who are pain-free, whose loved ones are pain-free, rejoice!

The rest of us will take our Advil and lie quietly.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Five—Living Five Countdown…

Reverend Elder Troy Perry, founder, Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches

In the spirit of the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five Countdown, here are five people (all of them living, as far as I know) whom I admire. Some names have been changed, because I cannot contact those people and ask them if it’s OK to use them…

5. Mom
My mother is an amazing woman. If she reads this (and I think she does from time to time) she’ll probably be embarrassed, but I admire her greatly. Twice in her life she was a single mother, once in very painful circumstances, but she raised all five of us (myself and four sisters) with grace, integrity and a sense of possibility. When I got married, I left university to do so. Many of my friends said I would never be able to go back. They didn’t know the values Mom instilled in us—be the most that you are capable of, do the best job possible, know who you are and live up to that ideal. It’s a measure of her success as a parent that all five of us think we’re her secret favourite. When fundanuts pontificate about a child needing two parents, I think of my mother. She did good.

4. Dave Jones (not his real name)
Part of the process of ordination in my denomination requires a team to work with the candidate—identifying each candidate’s challenges, helping the candidate to work through these, supporting the candidate through prayer and presence, and so on. It’s not a light thing to ask someone to be on your team. I came into a church where the only person I knew besides the pastor had just moved (to the other coast), and I needed to find some people to serve on my team. My moving-away friend said, “You want Dave on your team. He would be great.” So I prepared to work to get Dave on my team, although I had never met him. One Sunday—my first there—I preached at my teaching church. I was hoping to make some connections, to start people thinking I was a person they could work with. After the service, as I was shaking hands at the back door, a gentleman came up to me and said, “I’m Dave Jones. I want to be on your team.” That sums up Dave. He sees a need, and if he can take care of it, he does.

More than that, he is not afraid to do what needs to be done—whether it’s investing in the church, supporting a candidate, speaking the truth in Christian love, or reshaping his own life when it’s gone in unhealthy directions. He’s done the latter just recently, and it is a joy to see his returning health. He inspires me to not give up, no matter the obstacles—because of course, just when you get through one set of barriers, another set pops up. He’s taught me, too, the importance of giving back—I have learned, and so I have a responsibility to my teachers to pass on that knowledge. He’s not bitter, in spite of events that could have turned anyone bitter; he’s not angry or controlling or bossy. Dave is simply warm and direct and honest.

3. Christian de la Huerta
Christian is a writer and spiritualist in California, He works mainly with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community, examining the ways in which we have special gifts to offer the world, especially spiritual gifts. Christian writes so well—his book Coming Out Spiritually is a delight to read just for the way he expresses himself, let alone what he says. He also leads retreats, does breathwork, and creates rituals. Christian opened my mind and heart to a variety of spiritual possibilities and helped me see how they could be incorporated into Christian spirituality. He speaks clearly, openly, and unashamedly about the importance of sex to our lives—everyone’s lives—and decries the separation of the body and spirit that has taken place in Western civilization. He’s also been a personal friend and support, when he really had no reason to be, except for his wise and warm heart.

2. TJ Flanahan (not a real name)
TJ is a composite. I have many transgendered friends whom I admire, so this is a sort of composite portrait of them. TJ knew from an early age that he was different. His parents, who told him he was a girl, also wanted him to stop being a tomboy, and settle into being a sweet little girl. When he was older, and trying to dress to match his feelings about himself, he was attacked and brutally beaten by college boys who thought he was a gay man. Eventually he married and had children, but in the course of time, his pain was too much. His husband left him when TJ began his transition to making his body match his soul. His grown children wanted nothing to do with him and wouldn’t let him see his grandchildren. Today TJ has a loving partner, is active in his church, and is close to retirement from a job he loves. He is accepted as he is, because he has insisted on who he is, and made the world recognize it. In spite of being a target of hatred, ignorance and mistrust, he’s not bitter or angry or fearful. He knows who he is, he knows God knows who he is, and both he and God love TJ just the way TJ is. I admire his courage and strength, and his ability to say, “I’m not going to hate or be angry. I could be, but I choose to be loving instead.” He is one of the most wonderful people I know.

1. Rev. Elder Troy Perry
Troy is the founder of Metropolitan Community Churches. His biography is amazing, and I recommend it to you. He heard God speaking to him, telling Troy to minister to God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered children, and Troy answered, in spite of the hate and prejudice of government, other denominations, and society at large. Troy has no celebrity swelled-head about him. Once you’ve met him, you just call him “Troy.” He will remember you forever, by the way. He’s met me formally once—when I was ushering at a conference where there were at least 1000 people, and probably twenty or thirty ushers. But every time we’ve been in the same room since then he’s come over to me, calling me by name, giving me a hug and a kiss, asking me how the church is going—and he knows where it is and what’s happening there. He is possessed of a love of God, a humility, and a down-to-earth sensibility that are heart-warming. He’s never let the things that have happened to him—some of them outright miracles—go to his head, or the denomination’s head, either. I admire him for his courage to speak truth, to take the consequences, and to keep his feet firmly on the ground during it all.

Looking this list over, I see some common threads. All these people are strong, courageous, and loving in spite of reasons to not be very loving at all. The hardest part was ranking them, because they are all really Number One. They are my heroes and sheroes…may God bless them, every single one.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Birthday Party!

RevGalBlogPals Friday Meme this week is birthdays. As it happens, TO’s 18th birthday is Sunday…a bittersweet day for his mom, to be sure. And so, in honour of his birthday, I offer this Friday Five!

1. "It's my party and I'll [blank] if I want to..." Favourite way to celebrate your birthday (dinner with family? party with friends? a day in solitude?)
My ideal is sort of s mix. Sleep late (but not too late), brought a mug of coffee in bed (maybe with a splash of Bailey’s or Amaretto?), big breakfast, stretch out on a chaise in the backyard and read most of the day, with a trip to a plant nursery in the afternoon to spend the large gift certificate I received, and the day would be completed with dinner with my nearest and dearest and a long night of….mahjongg, that’s right, mahjongg! Or else a party.

2. "You say it's your birthday... it's my birthday too, yeah..." Do you share your birthday with someone famous? (Click here to find out!)

Oh, yeah—and some good ones! Betty Ford, Julian Lennon, Mary Pickford, Sonja Henie and Kofi Annan!

3. "Lordy Lordy look who's forty..."
Milestone birthdays:
a) just like any other birthday--they're just numbers, people.
b) a good opportunity to look back/take stock
c) enjoy the black balloons--I'll be hiding under a pile of coats until the day is over
d) some combination of the above, or something else entirely.
I’ll take B, Alex…. And it’s also a great chance for a big ol’ party.

4. "Happy birthday, dear... Customer..." Have you ever been sung to in a restaurant? Fun or cringe-worthy?
No, because I have threatened everyone I know with mayhem and death if they so much as breathe a word to any waitstaff anywhere at any time when my birthday is…

5. "Take my birthday--please" Tell me one advantage and one disadvantage about your particular birthday (e.g. birthday in the summer--never had to go to school; birthday near Christmas--the dreaded joint presents). EDITED TO ADD: This could also simply be something you like/dislike about your birthday (e.g. I like sharing a birthday with my best friend, etc.).

I like it because I love spring, and so I get to celebrate it with tulips and daffodils and lilies and green grass, and maybe even outside. Also lots of chocolate!

I dislike it because it often falls during spring break, or even, as this year, on Easter itself. The busiest day of my year and I can’t take it off. Did I mention I’m doing a wedding on Holy Saturday this year? Why didn’t someone stop me?!

Best and Worst of 2006

I haven’t blogged for a while, not because I didn’t want to, but because, well, my life has either been not blog-worthy or not bloggable. However, feeling Janus-like, I thought I would try to sum up 2006—at least in my eyes, my experience, and may achievements (or lack thereof), as well as some hopes for 2007.

News Events—Positive Category
The election of the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, as Moderator of the Episcopal Church, USA. My own denomination was the first to elect a female head—Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches, in 2005—but the Episcopals were the first large, main-stream denomination to do so. You go, ECUSA!

The decision by Kings County in New York to allow transgendered people born in Kings County (one of the largest in NY) to change the gender recorded on their birth certificate. This means they can use it for other forms of identification with the correct gender. A huge step forward!

News Events—Negative Category

Murders, gay-bashings, transgender-bashing, lesbian-bashing, the abuse of children and animals and women, wars, famines, tsunamis, mudslides, earthquakes, genocide…need I go on?

Books I loved this year:
Drag King Dreams, Leslie Feinberg. I loved, loved Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues—sad and heart-rending, but oh so truthful and beautiful. So when I heard Feinberg (an activist for transgender, labour, minority and disability causes) had a new book out, of course I had to read it. Max (the main character in DKD) didn’t grab my heart the way Jess (main character in SBB) did, but Max has an individual story to tell. Feinberg did, I think, try to cram a bit much into the story—every cause Feinberg believes in (and they are many and they are all ones I agree with) is in the book. But New York comes alive—not the Fifth Avenue-Broadway-Rockefeller Centre New York, but the rest of it. Amazing book, fantastic writer.

The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler. Fascinating book on feminist spirituality. I don’t quite agree with all of Eisler’s conclusions, but I think she does have one thing right. Human beings have got to learn how to share power. Power-with, not power-over, is the only way we’re going to survive.

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd. I know she isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I found her story of evolving spirituality compelling. It paralleled mine in many respects, so maybe that’s what drew me in! But she writes wonderfully, which helps, too.

Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs, Cheryl Peck. Hysterically funny stories, blog-length, about growing up lesbian in southwest Michigan. Laugh-out-loud funny. I mean it—I read it on an airline flight this summer; DP kept elbowing me because I was chortling and giggling and snarking out loud. So then she read it on the way home and had the same reaction. Special stories include the title one; “How Many Lesbians Does it Take?”; and “What She Lost.”

Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Yes, I know—this came out eons ago, when God was a buck private. And yes, I am just now getting around to reading it. However. Estes’ concept of women as needing to reclaim their “wildish” or natural selves really made me think about what I have put away, what I have stopped doing, as I became an “adult woman” or took on other roles. I realized that I have allowed all kinds of things to be put on me (or put them on myself), things that are not healthy or strengthening. You don’t have to accept all that she says, but she does have some real insights. And the stories are great.

Virtual Equality, Urvashi Vaid. This is a re-read, actually. I read it about once a year, just to do a mental check. Vaid was director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and remains a GLBT activist, so she has an insider’s view of the political manoeuvres that go on. She wrote the book way back in 1995, but, 12 years later, many of her points are still valid. Her contention is that any equality that GLBT people seem to have is virtual—like virtual reality, it exists only in certain circumstances not under the direction or control of the ones most directly affected. Any advances, any civil rights that have been gained are precarious and only remain by the whim of the majority--heterosexual voters—who are swayed by specious arguments and emotional (and false) appeals to the safety of children. She also argues that GLBT equality is not where it should be for two reasons. First, the umbrella of GLBT doesn’t really cover everyone—it’s really for white gay men and lesbians who live in suburbia and the nicer areas of cities. It doesn’t do much for transgender people, drag queens and kings, people who are HIV-positive, of colour, working-class, or without a college education. Second, the movement has chosen to work through nation-wide, large groups, like HRC and the NGLTF, rather than small, grass-roots groups, where everyone’s voice can be heard. Some of the book is outdated—same-sex marriage is legal now in Massachusetts and the Texas sodomy law was overturned—but Vaid’s passion is still a reminder that there is so much to be done.

The New Yorker. Man, I love that magazine. The incredible reporting, interesting fiction, the sly humour, the great cartoons, the little drawings that tell a story, the gallery and theatre listings that tell me what I’m missing…And the covers, too!

Best Things I Did in 2006

Retreat: My week-long retreat in October was wonderful beyond words. The solitude, the beauty, the freedom, were just what I needed. I cannot say enough about it. I have said this every time I mention it, but I will say it again—go on a retreat! Three days is minimum, more is better. Prayer, walking, thinking, reading, writing…no distractions, good or bad, rest, restoration. My dream is to go on retreat twice a year, apart from vacation or conferences. I’m working on a time in the spring when I could go.

Conference. The church conference this fall was outstanding! Even if I did run my tail off through over-committing… I saw friends I hadn’t seen in, literally, years, became closer to some friends, got to know some new ones, learned, worshipped, talked—the only thing I didn’t do was sleep…Next time, I’m in the conference hotel, I don’t care what it costs! This driving to another place fifteen minutes away adds up. But it was one of the best, if not the very best, church conference I have ever attended.

Pride Week: I was asked to give the opening prayer at the city council meeting during Pride week—the first MCC pastor so honoured and one of a very few women (perhaps three of us?). AND I got to ride in a Samoan Coral (that’s pink to most of us) 1965 Ford Thunderbird Convertible in the Pride Parade!

What I Want To Do in 2007

Write a book. I have about four in my head, and two partly outlined. I need to have some discipline and spend time everyday on one or the other of them. There’s much I would like to say (in case you hadn’t noticed—blogging isn’t for the silent types, is it?), and I need to get it out there.

Go on retreat again. Well worth the time and energy it takes to arrange it. Maybe one in the spring, one in the fall.

Take more Sundays off preaching. My new contract allows me to take one Sunday in four off—not that I have to, but I may if I like. I plan on taking advantage of that. I’ll still be there, leading worship—I just won’t be preaching.

Read more. DP will think I’m nuts, but I know RGBPs will understand. I need that t-shirt—so many books, so little time. There are professional books, and fun books, and some that are in the middle. There’s nonfiction, fiction, poetry, magazines, articles, webpages, blogs….

And if we’re talking wild fantasy here: spend a week this winter with my friends in Punta Gorda, Florida; and another week with friends in New York City. Maybe another week in Hermosa Beach, California (friends), and a fourth in central Pennsylvania (more friends).

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...