Monday, February 27, 2012

For the Beauty of the Earth

If you asked me what my favorite flower is, I'd immediately tell you the daffodil. Odd, considering that yellow is one of my least favorite colors. But there is something about that first flower of springtime that brings hope and beauty to an otherwise bleak landscape.
The college I attended was literally located on the edge of a cliff overlooking a river. The hiking in that area was amazing. But my favorite place to go was just a little ways off the main road, back in the woods (yes, it was marked "no trespassing"). There were ruins of an old house, just a chimney and foundation now, but in the spring, it was also a riotous field of daffodils. Simply breathtaking!
This past fall, my oldest and I planted daffodil bulbs in our backyard. We've had to wait all winter to see if they would take, not knowing if they'd rotted in our unusually warm winter or were just waiting to surprise us. Just this week we noticed their little green shoots all over the yard, and I can't wait to see their yellow and white heads waving to us any day now.
For me, daffodils are a sign of hope and beauty. They are tenacious little things, taking over whole swaths of landscape if given enough time. They remind us that beauty needs a time to rest and recover after a long hard bloom, but also that it can't be held back, even by the harshest winter.
I find hope in that because one of the things that my current church lacks is a sense of beauty in its worship and its space. Yes, we did hang our banners. Good first step. But each year I've tried to jazz up our space for holy days like Easter, Pentecost, etc., there is always someone who believes (and feels free to criticize) creativity and art in the sanctuary as either tacky, distracting, "too much", etc. (Protestant aesthetics, anyone?)
Our music program is also lackluster to say the best.
Right now, it's the daffodils that are saving my soul. I find I need beauty to thrive, maybe even to survive. I need it in my daily life and I need it in my worship. I don't have it in my worship right now, even as I try to incorporate it, it's not there.
I feel envy as I look at the worship spaces of churches who understand art as an integral part of worship. Everything we create, we create because we ourselves are made by a Creator. We were fearfully and wonderfully made by the same God who made daffodils, or roses, or robins, or whatever your favorite flower, bird, etc. is.
My feeling is, that if it's distracting, etc., it is because we don't know the right way to use/appreciate it in the context of worship. Now, how does one go about teaching that?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rev. Mom

I'm wondering how long it will take the mainline church to have a paradigm shift regarding its pastors. Even after 50 years (in my denomination anyway) of women being pastors, we still don't seem to know what to do with pastors who are also mothers. Now, that may be due to the fact that most of the first women pastors were older, second career pastors. Children were grown and gone for the most part.
But now, now there are young women both single and married in parishes, and lots of us are moms. Well, you might say, lots of the males were/are dads, what's the difference? Uh, just go back under your rock now, please.
The differences are several, in fact. Traditionally, dads, pastors or not, are not the primary care givers. That is changing more and more, but not until the last 10-15 years or so even. That meant that, traditionally, pastor dads could expect to leave the kids with mom and go to evening meetings, take week long trips to conferences, do evening visits, and even drop everything for an emergency because more often than not, mom is not working! Though it is rare, my spouse does travel for work, if I were to have a middle of the night emergency call while he was out of town, I'd be in a pickle. But churches don't really think about that, they just want you there when they are in crisis.
Which also brings up the two-income family matter. This applies to moms or dads being pastor, actually, and may be the heart of the matter one way or the other. Churches are not used to having their pastor say, "I can't make that women's group meeting, I can't get a babysitter." My experience is that the paradigm of the at-home partner (read: "pastor's wife") is well and truly entrenched in the parishioners minds and the idea that the pastor can't just leave the kids at home with the spouse is completely alien--still!
I actually had a confrontation with a parishioner once when I tried to explain that finding a babysitter was not always an affordable option. She snapped back that she knew what I made, implying that it should not be a problem. Well, it is. Do I have a decent income? yes. In fact, so does my spouse. However, we still have grad school debt, debt from medical bills, a mortgage, car payments, bills, bills and more bills, and the normal costs associated with raising two beautiful little girls. The woman is, of course, of the generation where women were always at home with the children while daddy worked. I did not inform her of our financial situation, but I gently reminded her that with both my husband and I working full time, our situation was not the same as the one she experienced as a mother.
It's interesting how the paradigm of "pastor" just won't go away. I've been stretching the boundaries though, since I've been in this congregation. I restrict my office hours to the hours my oldest is in school (9-3). I do the rest of my work on my laptop while she does homework. I encourage people to call ahead and set a time to come by, not just drop in (though now that we have an admin, it's not such a problem. At least the door isn't locked.) If I absolutely have to, my daughter comes with me to the office armed with videos and puzzles, etc., and hangs out in the church library.
I know several of my colleagues who deal with this. One of my closest friends is going through a separation--her spouse is also clergy. They have a son a little younger than my older girl. I know that singlehood will make childcare even harder--I wish we lived closer. Will her church be more understanding? Will they resent the demands of parenting that take away from her time at church? I will be interested to see, and pray for the best outcome.
At the end of all this, I have to say that most of the members of my church have actually been as helpful as they can be, offering to watch the children when I was in a bind or whatever else was needed for the situation. But one last observation is that it has been very generational, with the most elderly seeming to be the least forgiving of motherhood vs. occupational demands. My theories as to why, I will save for another post...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sorry, Wrong Number

The texts for this week (Epiphany 2B) are all about call. As someone who professes to be 'called' to her profession, I find these texts both wonderful and difficult to deal with. I was recently helping a sister church through their long-range visioning process so that they could come up with a new vision statement. But it turns out that the leaders of that church had a problem seeing beyond the "now". The vision statement they churned out was a description of the way they are now, not what they hope to be in the future (or at least I assume they don't hope to be stagnant and unchanged in the next ten or fifteen year) especially in light of the fact that their pastor of 33 years is retiring in a few months. So as much as I pushed them to consider "What is God calling us to be and do?" it still seemed like their own agenda (that is, "we like us now and don't try to change us") ended up as the vision. But of course, that's only my take on it. So how DO we know what is God's call and what is our agenda? My denomination has a long process for those who want to enter the ministry. We have a committee that helps to guide candidates, and we expect their home churches to help as well. As the newly appointed chair of my presbytery's Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM), I feel particularly drawn to that question right now. How do we help these candidates know what is God's call and what is, say, their mother's dream pushed onto them? Well, for one, that is why we do this sort of thing in groups. We pray, we discern, we pray some more and we work through this process because, well, it does work. I have seen people who eventually discerned that their 'call' was really something that someone else had dreamed for them, not God. Then again, I've seen plenty of people do the exact opposite. "No, no, that's not God, that's coincidence," they'll say. Who says God can't work through coincidences? It was the same for Samuel; he needed Eli to guide him through the call process. "If you hear God's voice again, Samuel, this is what you need to say," goes the instruction. And so with that guidance, Samuel becomes a prophet for the people of Israel. What might God be calling us to be and do, that we could discern with just a little guidance from colleagues, friends, an intentional prayer group, etc.? Who is your Eli?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Randomness to catch up

I've never claimed to be good at blogging. It gets away from me with all the other writing I seem to need to get done. I keep saying I want it to be a discipline and maybe I'll get around to it, but disciplines aren't really my thing. I'm the free-spirit creative type. Probably means I need the discipline, but then, I'm not going to claim that I'm good at doing what I need either.
This Advent has been a particularly good one here. I was able to get things done ahead, both at work and at home, I'm glad to say. The joy of less stress is one of the best gifts for this time of year.
I realized the other day that I'm craving some radicality in my life these days. I'm not talking sky-diving or anything, but just some change that might actually help usher in the kingdom. I'm seeing these amazing churches that actually change the way that people see and do things. I want to be a part of one of those, help lead people to news ways of thinking and believing. Right now I feel in a bit of a rut. The church I lead now is not interested in becoming more than they are, even in good ways. It is in survival mode, as are many churches these days. Human capital is at a premium and when we try to start something new, it usually gets hailed as a great idea, but then falls by the wayside when no one wants to actually work to get it off the ground or keep it going.
In other news, we did get that admin!! I realize now just how much of my time was spent doing clerical work. I feel like I'm able to devote so much more time to pastoral duties, and I think my sermons are even doing better as I don't have to put them off to the last minute as often.
That's where I am...

Friday, June 03, 2011

Spiritual but not Religious

That's such garbage in my opinion. Well, at least a cop out. I will forever stand firm that we cannot truly worship outside of community, at least not in a fulfilling way that enhances our relationship to God. God created humans to live and work and worship together, not as solitary beings. We learn more about God as we learn more about one another.
What got me thinking about this was reading a travel blog of a friend who took a month to travel to Iona, Scotland and then around other parts of Scotland and England. All of Europe is said to be increasingly less and less 'religious,' so I don't know if my friend just attracts out-of-the-ordinary people, or if what is really true is that they are distrustful of organized religion, yet deeply spiritual. I'd say the latter, knowing the deeply spiritual roots of the British Isles--the Celts and Druids, etc.
Yet I feel our country is going in the opposite direction. We seem to cling to our doctrines and dogmas, but there is no heart to them, or any soul. Scripture has become a bludgeon with which to pound the opposition into oblivion. How did we get here? How can we recover a sense of mystery and wonder that should go hand in hand with worship? I hope I can get back to you on that...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

un-holy week

It's holy week and that means crunch time. With Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and 2 services on Sunday, it gets a little crazy. Plus somewhere in there I have to dye eggs with the kids and get the Easter baskets ready (yeah, the easter bunny comes to the pastor's house... what of it?)
Thankfully, the duties of three of those 4 services are shared. Still, it is a lot to have to be prepared for. I find being "on" in front of so many folks very emotionally and physically draining. Even as an extrovert. Still, I have been known to have some rather un-holy thoughts about holy week. Wishing it were over, shorter, fewer events.

Might I just add that having spring break this week... doesn't. help. one. bit.

Ok, so I've got all that off my chest. What's really been on my mind lately is all the back and forth energy going on in the church right now. The session has lots of positive stuff going on--they're really on board with some changes that need to be made, yet they let themselves get all in a dither about what the congregation will say. Ok, I know we want to be transparent and maybe even compassionate in our change-making processes. But when we let ourselves get all worked up about what people will say and think and will that make them stop giving... well, being enthusiastic about changes is great, but not if you can't follow up on them for fear of what other people will do.
It's a bizarre dicotome. At the last session meeting, everyone on the session was convinced and excited that we did in fact need to hire a part time admin. asst. Not just for me, but for all the leadership in the church, as a way to take the busy work off our hands so that the leadership can focus on the leading part of their work. The motion to hire was on the table. Then came the discussion. People began to fret about how we present this idea to the congregation, aware that money is a huge pink elephant in our church. And how, of course, the ones who are the most vocal, negatively, about spending are the ones who don't tithe and won't up their pledges from what they started with 30 years ago. But I digress. So we talked round and round and finally tabled the motion. Basically, we got nowhere. Yes, the session thinks it's a great idea, but how do we convince everyone else? They'll say it's already getting done, so why pay someone else to do it? (BTW, *I'm* the current secretary--this is not working out well in many regards)
It's going to test my patience, I have no doubt. I think it will get done, maybe even in this calendar year, but not by much.
So let's just say that that whole big presentation on risk taking that we heard at the last retreat--yeah, maybe it's time to pull that back out again.

Monday, April 04, 2011

keeping it real

My real thought for today is that I'm ready for lent and easter to be over. It sorta ruins my spring. yeah, really. I know, that's not a nice thing to say, but it's at least partly true. I wind up getting so overwhelmed with both church and home responsibilities that it just saps me. This year hasn't been as bad since we're doing things just a little differently at church, celebrating the Six Great Ends of the Church, one each Sunday in Lent. We've gotten a set of banners and are dedicating one each week. They are just beautiful and really make the space come alive.
I questioned the idea of adding color during lent, since usually it's a time of well, I'll just say it, deprivation and denial. But really, Lent is meant to be a time of preparation for easter. Sure, the meatless fridays and goodie-less six weeks have become the hallmark of the season, but seriously, I just don't see how that helps most people. It seems mostly empty to me in most instances.
I think that this series has indeed helped us to prepare ourselves for Easter. I think having joy during Lent, if it's correctly directed, can be a great tool.