Thursday, May 31, 2007

Off to see the Wizard...

Well, maybe not.

But I'm off to Large Political City to see my son get his diploma this weekend. I'll be seeing many friends, sharing stories and generally updating people on my life, as well as hearing what's happening in theirs.

I'll get to worship at Large Political City's wonderful MCC...with many more friends. It's where I trained, so they knew me when....

I'll get to stay with Bestest Friend, who feeds me excellently, both food and spirit, and her husband, who is simply always there. I'll have dinner with them and Book Man--he and Brit Boy are two of the few people who can make me feel out of breath, intellectually, in a conversation. I'd love to get the two of them together sometime and watch the results!

Most of all, I'll get to spend time with TO, who is indeed very tall these days...about to leave home and go find a way to make his own home in the world. In a way, it feels like his first day of school--I want to tell him what to do, what to watch out for, who to talk to, and where to sit in the classroom. But I can't do that now anymore than I could then, 12 years ago.

So travelling mercies on me my friends, and may I not be fed TOO much good food....

See you next week!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Star Wars: The Sermon

(This sermon was inspired partly by Gord, of Following Frodo fame, on this very blogring. Thanks also to Music Man for the suggestion about flirtatious.)

Will you pray with me? Holy One, God of Flame and Word and Creation, you are always present with us in grace and power. Grant us wisdom to hear you speaking to us, give us courage to respond, and strength to work for your realm among us. In all your names, amen.

“I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny. It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.”

Anyone recognize that quote? Thirty years ago, a new cultural universe burst upon the world—I don’t think that’s too strong a description. Star Wars is a modern saga, today’s version of the Iliad or the King Arthur stories. It is a story of a spiritual quest, a journey in search of divinity and the self. Han Solo plays devil’s advocate at every turn—the doubter, the cynic, the anti-hero—not so oddly, he’s probably my favourite character, for that very reason—well, that and his flirtatious nature! He doesn’t take anything on faith—he knows what he knows, and he has to be shown differently--he wants proof. Han is the quintessential doubter, the questioner, the smart-aleck kid in the back of the class who asks the really good questions but in a way that sounds like sass. I always did like the wild ones….

In fact, I think it is possible to say that all the movies—all six of them—the entire story—is an extended answer to Han’s doubt. The Force, that mystical energy binding everything together, does indeed guide Han’s destiny—and Luke’s destiny and Leia’s destiny, and Chewbacca’s and Yoda’s and even R2D2’s. Is anyone not at least somewhat familiar with the storyline? I didn’t think so…

The story is an elaborate playing-out of the destiny laid out for Anikin, Luke, Obi Wan and the rest from the beginning. Clearly they could have made other choices, and in some cases have made unwise choices—but the Force is still present, the energy that infuses everything they do. It is what gives them power, what allows them to be who and what they are, whether for good or ill.

This sense of a mystical energy force is not a bad way to understand the Holy Spirit. The Force is throughout the universe. Obi Wan says, “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” That is a good description of the presence of the Holy Spirit in and among us—how it holds us all together, runs through and in all of us. We in the church would describe it as a power of love. But Yoda tells us that The Force has a dark side, and there is the difference between The Force and the Holy Spirit.

There is no evil, no dark side to the Holy Spirit, unlike The Force. Anikin Skywalker, of course, succumbs to the power and seduction of the dark side, and becomes Darth Vader. The Holy Spirit, however, is a creative force for good, only good. It, too, holds the galaxy, in fact the whole universe, together, but with the strength of love, of wholeness. The Holy Spirit is part of the Deity, part of God—and therefore is wholly—holy—good. A force of love that brings all things, all worlds, all people together. In the Scripture this morning, that’s what it means to have people speaking in all the different languages—and understood—all in different languages.

I have two experiences to offer here—some of you may have had similar ones. One is my conversations with my friends in the United Kingdom—[all of them]. UK usage of English is very different in some ways from ours in North America, as we all know—boot for car trunk, petrol rather than gas, or “move house” rather than “moving” for example. Perhaps my favourite is the term “rubbish;” meaning “trash, worthless, garbage.” A thing can be rubbish—an idea for a sermon or the transit system or petrol prices. It is somehow more expressive than simply “garbage.” We and our cousins in the UK, are, in the late Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s phrase, “One people divided by a common language.” And let’s not even get started on our supposedly English-speaking cousins in Australia….

But I have also experienced language as a means of bringing others closer as well. On my study trip to Poland, I found that many Poles speak at least a little German—as do I. So when my Polish failed (a frequent occurrence), often my German could fill the gap. I didn’t speak much Polish, they spoke no English—but we both spoke German. I spoke directly with a survivor of Auschwitz—was able to share his views, his sense of humour, his insight—because we both spoke German.

Language can divide but ultimately, language can unite—when there is the understanding, the hearing and listening and communication of a Pentecost. That use of language to unite is a symbol, a metaphor for the way the Holy Spirit brings all of us together in the church.

Finally, Han Solo talked about the “simple tricks” he thought were part of The Force. He saw unexplainable things, but attributed them to trickery and sleight of hand, a magician’s illusions rather than miracles. This is how the outsiders saw the Pentecost event as well—the babblings of people drunk on new wine, a trick—not something to be taken seriously. They didn’t understand the languages they heard, didn’t know what they were seeing. Just as Han dismissed what he didn’t understand as a trick, so did those people who were not a part of the early Christian church dismiss what they saw. Over time, however, Han understood more about The Force, and no longer dismissed its effects. In fact, he came in time to feel its presence himself. But at first, as for the non-Christians looking on, this seemed just so much babbling and crazy talk.

Now, all this may seem bit extreme to some of you—after all, this is a science fiction movie—or series of them—and how can we use them to make a point about God, about theology?

There is a real need to make sure that our language, our metaphors, our speech, is understandable and intelligible to everyone. Many of the images in the Bible made sense and were relevant to the first Christians, and indeed to most people for a long time. They lived on farms, or close enough to them to know those metaphors—they baked their own bread, wove cloth—they knew these processes and understood those metaphors. But how many of us really understand the work of a shepherd these days or a centurion? How many of us make bread without a machine? Or plant crops? We don’t have that connection to the parables and metaphors that the disciples and Jesus used. And so instead of telling stories that people don’t understand or misunderstand, it makes more sense, it seems to me, to use terms and stories and metaphors that they do understand. And Star Wars, as the example I used today, makes perfect sense. It is the hero-quest story, the mythology of our day—the Iliad, the Grendel, the stories of King Arthur and the Round Table, for our age.

And so Han Solo stands in for all people who have doubted, who have looked at the religious people around them and said, “Well, maybe that works for you, but I think it’s so much rubbish.” He is indeed alone—Solo—because he does not understand the power, the binding energy of The Force. It is only once he does, that he accepts that the Force exists, that he is genuinely a part of the Rebel force and becomes partnered with a symbol of that Rebel force, Princess Leia. He is the one who says, “But I haven’t seen any miracles.” Who says, “But I haven’t felt united with anyone. That’s not true—there is no bond in the Force.”

But the Holy Spirit doesn’t give up. The Holy Spirit is resourceful and more than a bit wild. It is not a mistake that the two symbols, or expressions of the Holy Spirit are fire and wind—both of them often uncontrollable and wild, beneficial and dangerous. Or as the writer Mark Harris says, “The Spirit is somewhat cranky and given to its own thing.”

Part of that new thing, in fact, is the way we speak of the Holy Spirit. We use ever-changing, ever new, metaphors and yet each of them expresses the essence of the Holy Spirit—that wild, uncontrollable, universal force that binds us together into one. Think then, about this. What is the Holy Spirit? How does the Holy Spirit dance and sing and move in your life? What is your metaphor for the Holy Spirit and God’s presence with you, here and now?

In all of God’s many names, amen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Attempted Addendum

I’ve tried several times to rewrite this, and it doesn’t want to happen.

So I will let it sit and stew in my brain for a few days. My brain, the Crockpot of good ideas. Some might say crackpot.

My apologies to those of you who require, oh, I don’t know—logic and coherence—in what you read.

“The system is down. Please try again later.”

Monday, May 21, 2007

Addendum to The Big C...

Whoo. This post is practically incoherent. It’s what I get for working without an outline (net). Tune in tomorrow for a new revised version. Hopefully that one will be intelligible.

And will someone please turn off the Victoria Day firecrackers already?

From the Big C to the Big R...

I’ve been pondering relationships. This is partly an outgrowth of events in my personal life, as well as some events in the church.

Some issues/questions I’ve been thinking about (and this is open-ended, so feel free to comment—in fact, comment is welcome):

I’m in a quandary about meeting people and revealing myself to be clergy. As most of you know, when you met people, inevitably the question comes up, “So what do you do?” I’ve had people instantly cool—glances that were flirtatious or warm become merely friendly or speculative, if not downright hostile or suspicious when I tell them I’m clergy. I’m talking about purely social situations—parties and so on, where I’m there as Rainbow Pastor, not The Pastor. One friend had someone walk away from her on the dance floor when she told him she was a director of Christian Ed. But obviously, I can’t shade or omit that information. So what’s to do? I know the obvious answer is to be open about it…but rejection and hostility ain’t no fun, my friends.

It’s part of a larger issue of honesty in relationships. I know most people want to be in relationship—personal relationships, work relationships, church relationships…but they all rely on trust. I’ve seen both a personal relationship (not one of mine) and a church relationship implode recently over a lack of honesty. And yet if all the individuals involved had begun and/or continued with honesty and integrity, instead of some of them deceiving or shading the truth, the relationships would probably still be strong and healthy. The temptation is to put the best slant on things, if not outright deceive. This isn’t from bad intentions, for the most part, but simply an attempt to look as good as you can to possible partners—or churches, or employers. So the salesman becomes the senior seller, or the teacher’s aide becomes a teacher; years drop off; as do pounds; income creeps up; circumstances change to make the person look better. It’s more than self-marketing, it’s also, I think, an attempt at boosting self-esteem. But when the deception is found out—as it almost always eventually is—then the results are disastrous.

I’m making some first tentative steps towards new relationships-very tentative, baby steps, practically inching my way along here—and these issues are very real to me. When and how do I tell people—potential friends/romantic interests—that I’m clergy? So far, I’ve been telling them as soon as the question of occupation comes up, and letting the chips fall where they may. I don’t say it in a defiant way, nor apologetic—at least I don’t intend either of those. I try to simply say it, as neutrally as possible. I will sometimes put it in terms of “working for a church,” or “being involved in ministry” and work up to the clergy declaration. Other times, I just go for it. Depends on my read of the other person. So far, I’ve gotten mostly positive responses—only one person walked away (metaphorically).

In a larger context, how do we, as individuals, self-reveal when we join a church, or a new group of some kind? Our board is looking at how we integrate new people into the congregation and life of the church. This church has had a past history of moving people into service too quickly and then burning them out so they become completely pew sitters or else leave. We want to break those habits and change that pattern. Most of the responsibility for change rests with us as a church, of course—to create a process for involving people, to monitor and mentor them—to guide them into appropriate ministries and levels of involvement. It involves honesty again—which can be difficult and even painful.

I think most people would agree in principle that honesty is the best policy…but it doesn’t always work and sometimes it actually backfires—when it isn’t believed, for example, because it’s unexpected. On the other hand it can be very powerful—for the same reason—because it is unexpected.

I don’t think I’ve come to any conclusions here…if I have, will someone please point it out to me?

Maybe it boils down to this—honesty is the best policy (now where have I heard that before), even will it will cause pain or discomfort, unless the pain is unnecessary (I’m thinking of complimenting a person’s ugly new hat, for example). Sometimes the honesty is needed, even though it will hurt or put us at risk for speaking truth.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Five Big Event

The RevGals are planning a party! So Songbird has given us this Friday Five:

The Big Event Friday Five.

1. What would the meeting be like? (Continuing Ed? Retreat? Outside Speakers? Interest Groups? Workshops? Hot Stone Massages? Pedicures? Glorified Slumber Party?)


Truly a little of each would be wonderful. I understand this would be difficult to do in a weekend, but I’d love to try! Maybe an “Ask the Matriarch” session, a workshop on Preaching Parties—er, preaching—and lots of time to meet in groups and discuss things like writing for worship, or balancing family and call, or support systems, or how to find a good manicurist in a new town… And some time in the hot tub with margaritas or other beverage of choice (per the stay-at-homes preacher party last year during the Festival of Homies).

2. When in 2008 might you be able to attend? January? Shortly after Easter? Summer? Fall? Some other time?
Soon after Easter, August, October are the best times for me, given other commitments.

3. Where would your dream meeting location be? (Urban Hotel? Rural Retreat Center? New England Camp? Southwestern Fantasy Hotel? Far away from civilization? Nearby Outlets or Really Great Thrift Stores?)
Probably either a rural retreat centre or in a small town…mostly due to cost factors. On the other hand, sharing rooms might be fun too.

4. Who would make a great keynote speaker? (That's if #1 leads us in that direction.)

Barbara Brown Taylor leaps to mind. So does Brian Wren…hymn writer extraordinaire. I’ve taken a summer course from him and he has insights into pastoring that go beyond creating worship.

5. Did I leave out something you want to suggest?

Creative time—whether it’s music of some sort—what we create ourselves or a concert we attend—or a knitting/crochet/tatting/needlepoint/whatever circle, or something else.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Covenanting and Accountability

Coventry Cathedral (ruins)

This morning was the usual monthly breakfast for the United Church clergy here in River City. Due to a fortuitous series of circumstances (and two good friends), I have been lucky enough to have been "adopted" as part of this group. I think I know as much about what's going in the UCC as I do in the MCC.

Anyway, we discussed continuing the breakfasts during the summer, as many people go away or have fewer services during the summer. I mentioned that I had hoped to take the first weekend in August off, as our GLBT Pride celebration is the weekend before and the church is having all kinds of special events, including hosting one of our denomination's evangelists and a concert... However, a couple wanted to have their wedding that weekend, and finances being what they are, I couldn't turn it down.

But, I said this morning to a group of clergy (I should have known better), "I AM going to take a week off in August and do something special."

So now they are holding me accountable for that.

I love fellow clergy.

Oops. I did it again, didn't I?
(No, I'm not channeling Britney here)

OK. You folks can hold me accountable too.

Now. Can someone offer ideas on where to go? I'd love to visit England son was there with his father last year, and it reminded me of how much I loved it when I was there before. I have a couple of friends there I could visit, my niece and her family moving to Oxford, places I haven't been, things I've read about since. I haven't been to Coventry, for example. I haven't been to the Lake District or the Isle of Man or northern Wales. I want to see some literary sites, like Haworth Parsonage (the Brontes) and Lichfield (Samuel Johnson) and Bath again (Jane Austen) and Portsmouth (Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels). I haven't been to Gloucester or Birmingham or Manchester or Sheffield, for that matter. I haven't seen the Millennium Dome. I want to go back to York. And of course there's London... But the issue there is cost. And I don't think a week would be long enough, given that list.

I could go to my favourite retreat center...I've been talking about going back there. I could visit friends in California. Or go to Cottage Country. Well, nix that last one. I don't think I want to do that one alone. The others would be fine alone.

I have thought about taking my vacation at home...but being part-time, that's too much like just being at home.

Well, I've got a couple of months to think about it. And to take your ideas into consideration. Best idea (i.e., value for money) wins my undying gratitude. Anyone who figures out how I can get to England for a week or two without going into massive debt gets a photo of me with an overjoyed smile at their favourite GB landmark!

Now there's an inducement...

But I will be taking that week off....somewhere.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Big C...

(I have to preface this with the warning that this is really a draft, so it may be incoherent in parts. I did try to proof it, so spelling should be OK.)

Commitment… Yeah, it’s a big word, and one lots of people run away from. I’ve been faced with several instances of commitment (or lack thereof) recently.

As some of you are aware, my ol’ faithful laptop went terminal recently. It was constantly crashing, the screen was flickering and flashing, it couldn’t handle the new programs I wanted to load, etc., etc. Now this is partly my fault, that things came to this pass. Back in February, the screen began flickering from time to time, but it would steady after a while. I did nothing about looking into a new laptop, figuring it had been a few loose wires and all was copacetic. But then it started up again in March, and rather than take warning, I pretended it could be fixed. I didn’t even start researching replacements. So when it finally gave out pretty much completely last week, I was faced with having to research and replace it in short order. I managed it, and I’m working now with a very nice new laptop…the screen is bigger and brighter now with amazing graphics, and faster access speeds and a whole gig of RAM and 120 gig of space on my hard drive. How will I ever use it all up? There are outlets on all sides for the mike and earbuds and thumb drives and an infrared port and even a remote control. The only thing I don’t have on this one, I think , is a built-in web cam…as my friend Brit Boy reminded me the other day. Which is probably just as well, to be honest, pace Brit Boy. The number of people who would actually want to watch me writing a sermon or answering email has to be vanishingly small. And yes, I'm very aware there are other activities that can be viewed on webcams...the number of people who would be interested in that on my webcam is even smaller than the number who would want to watch me write sermons. Anyway, the new machine is great. I wish I had bought it three months ago.

I was over-committed to my old computer. I was so comfortable with where everything was, and how the programs worked, and I was used to the cranky “e” key (although my email and instant-message correspondents might disagree with that), that I didn’t even notice all the other issues. So…time for a new commitment. Yes, I’m spending way more time than I really have re-arranging things, trying to find my files and programs that I transferred, and so on…but I am already finding how much easier life is with a functional—a really functional—computer.

Commitment in the church is another issue. Sometimes our members get over-committed—they try to do everything that they see needs doing, and their plate gets piled way too high, and they end up burning out and leaving, or just tossing all the projects on the pastor’s desk, saying they need a break and they’re going to just sit in the pews for a while. On the other hand, there are folks who come week after week to church, without doing anything else. I haven’t seen this latter issue in my current congregation, I hasten to add—but I have seen it elsewhere.

And then I think about relationships (“We all want ‘em. We all got ‘em. What are we gonna do with ‘em?” as Jimmy Buffet says). Obviously, different levels of relationship require different levels of commitment. Your life partner, to whom you have—yes, made a commitment—clearly is at a different level of importance than the salesperson on the telephone. But sometimes things get trickier…the budding relationship that one person wants to make more intimate earlier than the other person does…the brief but intense relationship that is hard to explain to others, but is nonetheless very real to the two of you…the friendship of many years that is fading, but that nonetheless you feel tied to…the family relationships that you couldn’t imagine living without…all of them have varying levels of commitment.

The one thing all these have in common, though, is reciprocity (well, except for the laptop issue; I don’t think my laptop had any commitment to me). It’s very difficult to be committed to someone who is not committed to you. To always be the friend who drops everything and rushes to the side of a friend in crisis, to give up whole weekends to church work without acknowledgment, to feel a deeper (or lesser) commitment to someone than the other person feels to you, to be told by someone that they are committed to you, but not to see it in practice…there’s a lack of reciprocity here.

I don’t know what the answer to any of this is…I’m just musing here.

Perhaps it’s a matter of being sure you mean it when you make a commitment to someone or something, being slow to make that commitment until you are sure…and being able to relinquish it if the other party is not, in fact, as committed to the relationship or project as you are. To be able to let go when you need to of a relationship, a commitment. But to be careful about making those commitments, because it can be very difficult to let go of them—computers, church, or relationships.

Playing Catch-Up

Well, hello.

Computer issues, minor congregational issues, a friend in crisis....what's a blogger to do?

I now have a shiny new laptop that doesn't crash. It hasn't resolved the other issues, but I do feel better.

I promise to post later today or tomorrow with an update. Until then, here it is in a nutshell:

Commitment issues.

Details at 11.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Friday Five--Paaahrtyyyy!

From Songbird at RevGalBlogPals, here’s a Friday Five.

Five things about parties, birthday or otherwise.

1) Would you rather be the host or the guest?
Guest—way less responsibility. On the other hand, I do like to throw parties. Mine were, at one point, in another life/career, legendary.

2) When you are hosting, do you clean everything up the minute the guests go home? Will you accept help with the dishes?
Yes, I do tend to clean up at least the big stuff—put away the food, put the serving things in the dishwasher, etc. But go around and get all the cups and trash and rearrange furniture? Naah. That can wait.

I will certainly accept help with the dishes—and anything else people want to help with. I try to have everything done ahead of time, though, so all I have to do put stuff out and then clean up.

3) If you had the wherewithal, and I guess I mean more than money, to throw a great theme party, what would the theme be?
This is a tough one. Hmmm. The problem with themes is finding one that can be carried out well—d├ęcor, food, music, even what the guests wear—without being too much. I would probably go with something simple, that people could interpret is a variety of ways. Perhaps something like Truman Capote’s famous Black and White party, or a garden party—I mean really in a garden, with a pavilion and all—or a simple Halloween party. Christmas parties have always been a favourite.

Maybe I don’t have enough imagination for this one! I’ll get back to you on this.

4) What's the worst time you ever had at a party?
I really can’t remember an awful time at a party. I’m sure I did, in high school or perhaps university. I just can’t remember it. I enjoy parties so much that if I’m at one, I generally have a good time.

5) And to end on a brighter note, what was the best?

Again. I don’t know that there’s one that stands out. Perhaps the morale party that a friend threw for me one year. I had recently become unemployed and was very depressed about it. It was my birthday, so she called a bunch of my friends—ones from our crowd, from my church, from my ex-job, family—and threw a huge surprise party for me. It was just what my morale and ego needed—to see all these people who loved me, supported me, encouraged me—when I was feeling very down on myself. Thank you, Ruth.

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...