Friday, August 31, 2007

Is It Fall Yet?

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five, courtesy of Reverendmother, in honour of the US/Canadian Labour Day weekend, traditional end of the summer.

A highlight of the summer....

Can I say the whole month of July? It started with ten days of my denomination’s General Conference. The term comes from the Methodist church, which also calls meetings conferences. In the early days of the circuit riding pastors, largely isolated from each other except for conferences, there were some clergy who felt Conference should be considered a sacrament. When I was a United Methodist, I didn’t quite understand, as UM conferences have become more business-like and less sacramental. But now that I too am the one and only representative of my denomination in my fair city, I understand much better the value of these meetings—the sacrament of presence with each other. And I personally am spoiled—with 7 MCC churches within three hours’ drive in various directions, I am in a rare position among MCC clergy. So this gathering, once every three years, of clergy (retired, active, in non-church positions), laity, gifted speakers and preachers and musicians and artists of all kinds…inspired and inspiring worship—it just doesn’t get much better. To see friends I haven’t seen in a couple of years and pick up where we left off…to see friends I email with every week, or have lunch with once a month…to meet new friends…well. Conference is indeed a sacrament, if we take the traditional meaning of sacrament as a “means of grace.”

The second part of July saw me up to my eyebrows in Pride. Here in River City, we celebrate Pride for a whole week, more or less. This year we began with a gay-themed play about marriage, written by a young man I am proud to know; opening night we had two same-sex weddings, as that day also happened to be the third anniversary of the passage of Bill C-38, legalizing equal marriage here in Canada. Then we had the raising of the Pride flag in front of City Hall (in place of the city flag), where it flies all during Pride. Then there was a Night of Remembrance of our losses; a bowling night, a (cancelled) art show, a film festival featuring a movie that was recently on the cover of the Advocate (often called the GLBT Time). Then Saturday came, with Brit Boy’s dance set to be sorted and then enjoyed beyond belief; setting up the church’s booth; and the church’s food booth (Texas-style pulled beef and pulled pork sandwiches—thought I’d died and gone to heaven!). And then the rest of the entertainment that I, as surviving co-vice-chair of the organizing committee, just had to stay for (of course I did). Sunday was our worship service, with a visiting singer—and I was treated to a private concert on the way down to the venue as she warmed up. Then a mad dash to the parade marshalling site (with a clothes change en route) for the ride in a convertible. I felt like a homecoming queen! Then back to the venue for booth staffing and visits with friends. Monday was a concert with the singer. Tuesday I collapsed.

Two sets of ten intense days…That was July 2007.

RP as Homecoming purple!

Are you glad to see this summer end? Why or why not?
Yes, in a way. The weather’s been mild, it’s been exciting and overall good, but all the same, I could do with a bit more routine and less excitement!

Name one or two things you're looking forward to this fall.
Well, as part of my chill-out campaign (see the entry for Thursday the 30th), I’m planning to be more involved with a community theatre group. I’m starting with ushering in a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to being part of a theatre scene again (in however minor a way) as well as meeting new people.

Also, one of our MPs is coming to speak on the Transgender Day of Remembrance in November. He is one of the co-sponsors of a bill to include trans rights in the Bill of Human Rights. He’s been a huge supporter of GLBT rights, at some personal cost. He’s a warm and delightful man.

Do you have any special preparations or activities to mark the transition from one season to another? (Cleaning of house, putting away summer clothes, one last trip to the beach)

Hmm. Well I like to put a pot of mums out on the porch. The porch furniture (well the two chairs) come in only with the first frost. I always have ambitions of deep-cleaning the house in the fall but it’s tricky. Sometimes it happens.

'll know that fall is really here when I can take the air conditioning units out of the windows!

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Not Brit Boy...

It's been a difficult week for me, and I'm not sure why. Heck, it's been a difficult month. At first I thought I felt depressed and slow and unmotivated because I was tired after eight non-stop weeks. As some of you know, I literally ran from one event to another from early June to early August. TO's high school graduation, with a ten-hour drive on each end of the weekend. Then two weeks of preparation for being gone for ten days with Pride following shortly thereafter. Gone for ten days, come back to a wedding the day I arrived back in River City. Then the three weeks of thousands of details getting ready for Pride week. Imagine Easter and Christmas rolled together for a mainstream church and you get an idea of what the Pride worship service means for a church in the GLBT community. And we had one of our denomination's singers/evangelists coming for that weekend as well, and staying with me as a houseguest. In addition to the church's events (worship, parade unit, food booth, church booth), as co-vice chair of the community Pride organization, I needed to be present at as many of the community events as I could. So the flag-raising, the Night of Remembrance (both of which I was participating in anyway), an art show (which unfortunately had to be canceled due to a storm), bowling, a film festival, Saturday night entertainment, including an amazing dance set put together by Brit Boy (which I was the primary contact for), and then the big events on Sunday--service, parade, entertainment.... And then we had another concert on the Monday and Tuesday it was all over.

So I expected to be exhausted; I had made sure to have worship pretty much planned out for the first couple of weeks. And then I had ten days of vacation, which I thought would revitalize me--I had wanted to use some of the time to look at myself, my life, and listen to what God is calling me to be and do here. Instead I lacked motivation to do anything but sleep as late as the dog let me, surf the internet, read novels, nap and get together with friends.

And I still came back feeling drained and sad. Even having to get back in the routine didn't help.
Tuesday and yesterday were the nadir...staring out the window drinking coffee, forcing myself to respond to emails and do a few really urgent things. I didn't sleep much the night in between either.

And then yesterday afternoon I had a deep conversation with Brit Boy, and last night I went to dinner with the Professor. I don't know if it was the dinner conversation with the Professor or the one with Brit Boy earlier in the day, something else, or a combination of all those, but I did a fair amount of thinking last night after I got home and then this morning. And yes, that cogitation did result in some conclusions.

I realised that I have been so focused on what might happen (good and bad) that I haven't had time or energy for what I know will happen, for what is happening. It's the reverse of that old saying--instead of not seeing the forest for the trees, I couldn't see the trees for the forest. No wonder I felt overwhelmed.

I am a pastor with a church to care for. That's what I am called to do; that's my central task. If I do that well, then anything else I can do is gravy (I'm defining that fairly broadly, by the way--caring for the church includes community work and self-care).

No wonder I felt overwhelmed and depressed and defeated--I was trying to take care of everything in sight. Not in a literal sense--I've finally learned to delegate. But my sense of responsibility (already over-developed) was running as wild as kudzu in June.

The Professor reminded me that I cannot begin to be prepared for every contingency, that the simple things like worship and conversation and presence are most important. He didn't quite put it that way, actually, since he was using academic jargon rather than church jargon; that's my translation. What he meant was to focus on the fundamentals and not worry about the rest until I had to. Brit Boy put it more simply: "Just chill."

And so instead of angsting over a strategic plan and a life mission statement and a global strategy for the church, I'm planning worship for September. I'm working on the guest preachers for the fall. I'm getting to know the new pastor at our host church. I'm cleaning the house. I'm planning meals. I'm thinking about what I'm going to make for gifts for Christmas. I'm focusing on the trees, not the forest. Already I feel happier, more relaxed, less worried, less stressed.

And now you know why Brit Boy and the Professor are two of my favourite people. They both know me well enough to cut through the verbiage and focus on what really matters, and, more importantly, they both care enough to speak honestly. And both would dismiss the idea that they have done anything special--but they have. So thanks, both of you. You're amazing friends.

Not the Professor....

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Five: Cultural Edition

The RevGalBlogPals Friday Five this week is about cultural expression and spirituality. Warning...I left the Friday Five behind and got carried away towards the end.

The challenge was to name one of each of these--book, movie, art, etc.--and why or how it affected your spiritual journey.

This one is really difficult for me—there have been several. I won’t include the Bible, since that’s pretty basic. But there have been three that have had a powerful influence. Coming Out Spiritually, by Christian de la Huerta. Should I just say that we can take this one for granted? I can’t overstate the significance this book had on me—in coming out, in being able to recognize on a psychological and spiritual level (rather than simply rational level) that I am and always will be a beloved child of God, and that there are many ways of being spiritual that respect the God I follow. The God of Israel and Christian Theology, by R. Kendall Soulen, pushed me to think about the real-world negative results of our theology. Soulen looks at the roots of anti-Semitism in Christian exegesis and theology—and I felt convicted. Amazing book, amazing writer and teacher. Yes, he was my Systematics professor at seminary! Finally, Embodiment by James Nelson, on the innate goodness of the human body, arguing against the false dualism of the Augustinian view that the spirit is good, the body is evil, and instead for an integration of the two.

Piece of music
John Rutter’s Requiem. It’s a beautiful piece of music all on its own, but the process of learning to sing my part in it over the course of several months taught me a great deal about discipline, practice and patience. The choir I was a member of was preparing it soon after the birth of my son. I would play a tape of it while I walked—my daily fifteen minutes of me-time—to learn my part. Those walks became very important tome—for the exercise, private time, and music--so I also learned the value of taking time for myself in the midst of busy times!

Work of art
Michelangelo Buanarotti’s "Pieta." I always loved it, but until I had my son, I didn’t experience the full impact of this work of genius. From a technical standpoint, the figures are out of proportion. But the piece as a whole expresses so much sorrow and grief—a very human grief, at the brutal death of one’s beloved child—that it moves me every time. It brought home to me the human side of the Human One and made Jesus the Christ real to me.

I took a great course in seminary one summer—Hebrew Bible Goes to the Movies—that examined how film has used the stories of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Ten Commandments, Prince of Egypt Richard Gere as King David, etc. We saw probably 20 films, or clips of them, over the course of those two weeks. So I’m not sure I can pin one down, so many of them affected me—positively and negatively. There have been movies that made me think about spirituality and that of others—how it might affect people—but I can’t say that there was one in particular that changed me. I think the entire genre of science fiction movies has a great deal to say to spirituality, though.

Popular culture
Well, here’s a coincidence. Brit Boy and I had a discussion just a couple days ago that is germane. We were talking about the instant gratification culture, the desire for getting things now in most of Western culture, with the rise of easy credit and Internet accessibility, among other things. Books, movies, a date, CDs, shoes, clothes, wallpaper, a cellphone—any of these can be obtained over the Internet at any hour of the day or night. We don’t have to wait and work and save for things, because we all have credit cards.

More than instant gratification, there’s an alienation from reality. It was the movie The Matrix that brought this home for me. I only saw the first one, so I can’t speak for how the story unfolded in the rest of the trilogy. But the concept of being in state of illusion and thinking it was reality—this is how much of Western culture is these days. There’s all kinds of reality being denied out there—from the fact that some people are more intelligent than others to where our meat comes from to the need for hard work in order to acheive something worthwhile.

The spiritual connection here is with discipleship—a word I dislike but don’t have an alternative for. It’s that process of working, of realizing that faith is a verb, a journey, and hard work, not over in a day or week. It takes work and practice, and is ongoing. There is no instant gratification, not with any substance, in the church. Yes, there are wonderful transcendent moments—I treasure mine. But they are soon over and we have to do the work of the church in this difficult world that requires hard work. I don’t know if you’ve had people tell you they weren’t being “spiritually fed” in this or that tradition or church. And I wonder if these people were sitting there with their mouths open, expecting to have the spiritual food spooned into their mouths, waiting for that instant gratification, instead of recognizing that some effort is required, and sometimes lots of effort.

Well that’s a lot more than the Friday Five really need…but I’ve said it, so there it is. Look what you started, Brit Boy!

Bonus: Is engagement essential to your Christian faith, how and why?
Well I think it’s pretty obvious from the above that yes, it is! It’s how I test what I believe—how I push the limits of my theology and creed outward. If I don’t grow and stretch in my belief, I stagnate and die.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Five--Holiday Edition

The RevGalBlogPals are all about word association today. So here we go.

1. Vineyard

The vineyards on the sloped banks of the Rhine River in Germany, seen through a fine drizzle. A memory of a long-ago vacation.

2. Root

Grounding, basis, foundation. We grow from and are shaped by our roots.

3. Rescue

An image of one person leaning down and pulling another to safety. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about friendship and mutual support and love and caring for one another; rescue is one of the things we do as friends, too.

4. Perseverance

A needle scraping away at a brick wall. Also on my mind recently. It’s tiring and frustrating and sometimes even painful. And sometimes it still doesn’t get you anywhere.

5. Divided

A wall or moat. A river. Perhaps an ocean. Some kind of barrier. It splits and separates what was meant to be together: two people, a nation, a family.

Short and sweet today.

(My apologies for the wonky formatting. I can't get blogger to play nice today)

Friday, August 10, 2007

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five Stress Buster Edition

It’s Friday and once again I have posted nothing but last Friday’s meme!


This week, appropriately enough as I head off on vacation/holidays, we’re talking stress relief.

Sally asks:

First, and before we start busting stress, what causes you the most stress, is it big things or the small stuff?

Both, really. I worry over the big stuff and try to plan for every possible contingency and obsess over what I’m saying or doing or planning. The little stuff builds up—too many little things going wrong in one day can be a huge source of stress.

Exercise or chocolate for stress busting ( or maybe something else) ?

Well, it’s not exactly chocolate, but I do tend to escapism—a book or web surfing or a favourite movie or a computer game—something like that. Usually I can get back to whatever it is that’s bugging me with a clearer head after a while away from it.

What is your favourite music to chill out to?
Some good classic rock and roll. Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Doors, Moody Blues etc. Even some Metallica or AC/DC depending on just how stressed I am. Then segue into mellower rock, like Melissa Etheridge, finally settling into some folk (Loreena McKennit, Anuna) or jazz (Al Jarreau,). Yes, I have a mix (in my head) for chilling. Maybe I should get it onto a CD…hmmm. Stress Relief Mix…

Where do you go to chill?

Someplace comfortable and relaxing. Depending on the season and the source of my stress, I might be on the porch or in the living room, by the riverside or in the coffee shop, or in the library or even the club on a Friday night….

Extrovert or introvert, do you relax at a party, or do you prefer a solitary walk?

Well, I tend to want to go to the solitary walk (or endless journaling), but I do better if I force myself to socialize after a while. Being with people—whether or not I talk about the source of my stress, or even can talk about it—helps me put things in perspective.

Bonus- share your favourite stress busting tip!

Disclaimer: these tips are mostly theoretical. They are my goals.

The first is related to my last comment—keeping things in perspective. It’s my persistent failing—I tend to obsess and over-think things instead of keeping them in proportion—see solitary walks, above. I’m also impatient, so when I don’t get results immediately I get frustrated.

Case in point—I got a new cell phone earlier this week (yay! Back in the 21st century!). When I tried to access the voice mail later in the day to set up the message, I got a recording that the number was not in service. I tried calling the store—had to leave a message. Called the salesperson (who had given me her card and yes she’s cute)—had to leave a message. Finally got through to the company, they said the number hadn’t been activated, so they called the store (must have a special line) and got it taken care of. Apparently I had so distracted the salesperson she forgot to actually activate the number (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). But I got all stressed out and upset and annoyed—as if someone were deliberately trying to make life difficult for me. I happened to talk to Brit Boy during all this, and he told me to chill out and take it easy—he who does not suffer fools any more gladly than I do. And I realized he was right, of course. It’s a cell phone, not a heart pacemaker; I’ve purchased it and signed up for the plan, everything is on order. It will work in time. Patience and perspective.

The other thing that is important, I think, is saying no. I don’t have to do something just because someone asks me to, even if it is a good thing to do and needed. The church tried that at Pride this year—we weren’t going to knock ourselves out to do all the things we usually do, we were going to do what we could with the people and resources we had available. And that’s what we did—and things went very well. Much less stress than last year, everyone had more fun, and we were more successful, too.

Short term stress-busters—delegate what you can. Carve out something for yourself every day—a favourite breakfast, fifteen minutes with a recreational book before bed, an afternoon with the kids, half an hour chatting (online, on the phone or in person) with a good friend.

This last been good for me—the me-time every day. It’s a few minutes that let me relax and not be responsible for anything, just to be me, or escape a bit. Or vent. It’s whatever I need it to be.

So, in summary (babbling is another fault of mine): personal time every day, patience, and perspective (which includes a sense of humour).

Oh, one more thing. Have someone you can lean on—really lean on—when you need to. Partner, colleague, friend, sister, brother, parent—whoever. Mutual support is crucial.

Friday, August 03, 2007

On Pilgrimage


It’s Friday and I haven’t posted in forever, so to get things started, here’s the Friday Five meme from Reverendmother at RevGalBlogPals.

1. Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? (however you choose to define the term) Share a bit about it. If not, what's your reaction to the idea of pilgrimage?
My trip to Poland in the spring of 2001 to study the Holocaust was a pilgrimage. Our visits to the concentration camps and ghettos were pilgrimages within the pilgrimage. Each person in our group had burdens related to the trip: German or Polish ancestry, military service, having been raised in the Roman Catholic faith, and so on. The two most powerful moments for me were standing at the execution wall in Auschwitz and at the monument in Treblinka. Two among many.

2. Share a place you've always wanted to visit on pilgrimage.
There are a couple. One is Iona, the site of Reverendmother’s recent pilgrimage. The other is almost literally at the other end--of the world, and of the spirituality spectrum—Uluru, Ayer’s Rock, in Australia. On Iona, I think I would want a solitary, contemplative time with community worship from time to time. At Uluru, I’d like it to be more meditative. I would love to experience both sunset and sunrise at Uluru; maybe spend the night between in prayer. I wouldn’t climb it, as Uluru is sacred to the local people.

3. What would you make sure to pack in your suitcase or backpack to make the pilgrimage more meaningful? Or does "stuff" just distract from the experience?
For Uluru, I would take a journal to write in and nothing else, in keeping with the spare and simple nature of Uluru. More I think would distract me from hearing. On Iona, I would take some sacred objects and create an altar—which is part or my usual practice for a retreat, to create an altar specific to the retreat.

4. If you could make a pilgrimage with someone (living, dead or fictional) as your guide, who would it be? (I'm about thisclose to saying "Besides Jesus." Yes, we all know he was indispensable to those chaps heading to Emmaus, but it's too easy an answer)
Hmm. This is actually kind of difficult, because I tend to prefer solitary retreats and pilgrimages. Maybe St. Francis in the next hut?

5. Eventually the pilgrim must return home, but can you suggest any strategies for keeping that deep "mountaintop" perspective in the midst of everyday life? (don't mind me, I'll be over here taking notes)
Well, my hope, aim and theory is to take back a practise that I can use regularly or at the very least remind myself of how it felt to follow that practise. From my retreat in October, I brought back different eating habits and the realization that I can live without a watch or clock. I try to do the latter every once in a while, but wow is it hard here in “the world.”

And I just realised that I have been looking at the pilgrimage as a retreat, which is not always the case. I know that from my pilgrimage to Poland I brought back many souvenirs; I have preached and written about it many times. So perhaps that’s it—remembering it through words and pictures, sharing that experience with others so that they also have a sense of what it was like. So one way is to tell others. As we do in my church, the mystery of our faith being “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Go and tell!”

Added note: For those of you unfamiliar with it, here's a link for more information on Uluru.

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

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