Saturday, December 25, 2010

I am the Grinch

I'm starting to think that the Grinch may have been deeply misunderstood.  I mean, how did the Grinch become the Grinch?  Maybe he realized that he had been slowly but surely disconnected from his family to the point where, when he called to wish them a merry Christmas, they just had better things to do.  Maybe he watched everyone around him getting showered with Christmas gifts and wondered how he got to a point where no one in his life cared that much about him.  Maybe his roommate picked Christmas to become really difficult for the first time ever.  Maybe he spent too much time sitting around with Max and feeling sorry for himself.  I can kind of see how all of that might make one's heart two sizes too small.

There is just too much pressure on this holiday.  I'm not sure why I'm making it the measuring stick for my relationships, and hopefully I'll be over that tomorrow.  I'm not sure why what I have received for Christmas is somehow not enough.  I'm not sure why I'm all "Me, me, me" right now.  It's annoying.  I don't really hate Christmas, and I don't really think there is no one who loves me.  I just could use a few Whos today to remind me that I am not alone.  Thanks, by the way, to the Whos who have dropped by with a note here, or who sent a lovely card.  Even though I'm a total stick in the mud right now, it really has helped.    

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Empty Space

This morning I ran out of coffee.  Given the depths of my addiction, this was probably enough of a crisis on its own.  But this is not just any coffee.  It's my Caribou French Roast Coffee, my very favorite, which my family sends me for every holiday.  Usually.  I realize that I could order this coffee for myself online, but between my birthday and Christmas, it always seems to arrive at just the time that I need it.  Usually.

But I realized something this morning as I shook the last of the beans into the coffee grinder: there is no coffee coming this year.  I suppose I did this to myself, with my late and lax gift-giving, with my waiting until after Christmas to send presents back to Minnesota for my family.  Once again, this year, my gifts will be shipped on the Monday after Christmas.  But then, the rest of my family has other piles of presents waiting for them, from each other.  I only get the one, from my parents.  Usually.  It's Christmas Eve.  If there were a package coming this year for me, it would be here already.

The space under my tree is empty except for a few things waiting to be wrapped and shipped after I get through the Christmas church mania.  And I know Christmas is not all about presents.  Believe me, I know, it's not really about presents at all.  One package isn't that big of a deal.  But that one package told me that somewhere, someone was aware that I'm alone during the holiday.  Someone was aware of me, of my existence, of the fact that I might need to know that even though I'm on my own for the holiday, I'm not entirely alone in the world.

It's so much pressure to put on one little holiday, but there it is.  If no one is around to tell you that they care about you during this time of year, chances are, no one actually cares about you all that much.  And maybe I did that to myself too, by moving across the country, by always being so quick to say good-bye, by not keeping up relationships as well as I should have and not being as intentional about caring for people as I could have.  But that empty space under the tree still hurts.

So, now I'm going to pull myself together and go to church and do the job that took me so far from my family (although chances are I would have moved anyway) and from the once-upon-a-time when I didn't have to worry about these things, when I was just one more part of the big, long-established family hustle and bustle of Christmas.  I will pull through three services and try to think of angels and shepherds and baby Jesus in a manger.  I will try not to think of myself and the gaping wound ripped open by this stupid holiday.  I will try to think of light and hope and the coming of God into the world.  And I will pray that is enough to get me through the night.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Living with Tradition

This morning, on this day which is usually my day off, I woke up at 7am to go to a personnel committee meeting.  This, after one of the longest and most taxing days in my church year - Living Nativity day.  Let me tell you, I am a happy camper today.  However, I am having quite the productive morning, sorting out all the things that need to get done before Christmas Eve.  Above all, though, I am just glad the Living Nativity is over.

This is a church with a lot of tradition, which is what tends to happen when you've been around for 330 years.  People really get into the traditions around here.  I have been here almost three years, and I think I lost track of how many times people have said, "We've always done it this way" about two years and eleven months ago.  I, on the other hand, have an intellectual appreciation for the concept of tradition, but in point of fact, just don't really "get" most traditions.  I'm more of the "Woohoo, change is fun!  Why do something the same when you can do it differently?" school of thought.

As you might imagine, this causes some issues.  Like when I think that the Living Nativity would be so much cooler if you put in some contemporary versions of carols and the voice of someone who is still living.  What is going on in my brain is, "This would be fun and interesting."  What happens in the minds of many of the members of my church is, "That is the recording I have heard every year for my entire life, my mother is singing in the choir, that's my old pastor's voice, it's barely Christmas without it, and if you change it, I will never trust you again."  It's taken me a long time in ministry to realize this - that it's really about people trusting that I care about their values, and thus about them; that while my version may be cooler, theirs is rooted in the community where they've been nurtured.

Sometimes I'm kind of slow at these things.

Anyway, I no longer hate the Living Nativity, but I am still glad it's over for another year.  It is a LOT of work.  And speaking of a lot of work, there is this holiday coming up at the end of the week for which I must prepare.  No rest for the weary.      

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Odds and Ends

Today is an odds and ends kind of day.  Keeping track of life is proving kind of difficult this time of year, so the to-do list on my iPhone just keeps growing and growing, even as I keep checking off items.  It's a little ridiculous.  But somehow I have to remember to do things like book a train ticket to Toronto to check out the mission trip site, finish mixing the Living Nativity soundtrack, find wise men for Christmas Eve, and make an appointment to have a haircut before New Year's sneaks up on me.  Oh right, and Christmas shopping.  I haven't done any of that yet.  I tried to do some last night, but just ended up buying a bunch of stuff for myself.  Malls are dangerous places.

I'm feeling a little frantic about all the details that need to be remembered in the next week, and I'm honestly really not sure if everything is going to get done.  That being the case, I now realize that I should stop blogging and do more work.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Clergy Faith

One of my friends posted this article on Facebook this week:  It is essentially a study of five anonymous Protestant ministers who define themselves as (in some sense) non-believing.  Of course, their congregations don't know that.  "Coming out" as agnostic or atheist when you are a minister would be tricky, to say the least.  Our vocation - and practically speaking, our ability to earn a living - rests on our ability to maintain faith.

Given that we all supposedly go into this field based on a sense of calling, you may not think that would be a difficult thing.  But then you go to seminary, and they intentionally rip up all the things people assume to be true about the Bible and God, and most ministers come out of seminary with a much different picture of faith than they did when they entered.  Then you get into the church, and you can't preach all of those things you learned in seminary, because your parishioners are going to think you're a godless heathen if you start spouting things about different authors and two versions of the creation in a sermon.  And maybe you try to teach a class so you can talk about these things in an environment where there is the time and space to take people along gently, but chances are, two people show up and they're the ones who already wonder about all of this literalism business.  So there ends up being this gap between what ministers actually believe, and the way they communicate with the people in the pews.

On a side note, I actually work in a church where it's totally okay for me to assume that the Bible didn't fall from the mouth of God and question the things in it.  If I didn't, that's probably when I'd be fired.  But that isn't the case for most of my clergy brethren and sistren.  And then we all have to deal with this side of the church that is not at all about sacredness or reflection or community or any of the things people seek in churches.  We spend a lot of time dealing with budgets and newsletters and angry people who shout at us (or more likely slander us behind our backs) about very petty things.  It doesn't really encourage a high level of piety or reverence about church things.

I don't have this problem with struggling over non-belief.  I believe...although exactly what I believe varies somewhat depending on the day, and I do struggle with maintaining integrity in a job where the expectation is that I will tow a theological line.  I wonder what I will do if, at some point, I am subjected to a doctrinal litmus test.  I suspect many people would say that I am not reverent enough, that I don't have enough respect for church traditions, that I am a bit of an iconoclast.  I know lots of ministers who feel the same way I do but don't act on it.  I suspect that feeling irreverent about the church is a professional hazard, like funeral directors who joke about death.  Which they do, by the way.  If you've never hung out with funeral directors, you should; they're usually hilarious - but only if you can handle a complete lack of respect for all things sacred.                

Friday, December 10, 2010


Tonight I am leading a group from church that will travel to NYC to deliver food, clothing, blankets, and toiletries to homeless people.  We leave in the late evening, get there about 10:30pm, and return to the church around 3-4am.  I'm a night owl and insomniac, so this schedule works for me, although it's challenging for some of the people who are going.  Every time we do this sort of thing, I am reminded that not everyone has experience working with - or even just being around - people with low or no income.  I forget, because I've been doing this kind of thing for a long time.  The assumptions that come out in conversations about this event are sometimes interesting, to say the least.  I'm constantly trying to find ways to gently educate people (although gentle isn't really my strong point).  Some examples of things that have been said to me in the last couple of weeks:

1) "It's not like they'll be able to read."
It is true that we can't assume that the people we encounter will be able to read printed materials in English.  Sometimes they are illiterate, or have learning disabilities, or don't speak English.  On the other hand, sometimes they have more education than I do.  I've met homeless and impoverished people with Ph.D's.  Given the job market for university faculty right now, this probably shouldn't be all that unexpected.

2) "You'd think they would eat anything if they're really hungry."
I suppose it's true that someone who is starving would eat things they might not normally eat.  But we serve people who have religious convictions about food, and hence we don't have ham sandwiches.  Also, homeless people still have things they like and don't like, just like the rest of us.  If I were hungry, I'd probably eat a sandwich with mayonnaise on it, but I would have to be pretty darned hungry not to be grossed out by it.  It's quite easy for us to give food that tastes good, is nutritious, and that people will be able to eat without compromising their religious beliefs, so we try to do that.

3) "Aren't they just glad to get whatever we give them?"
Well, sometimes, if whatever we give them is useful.  It's also helpful if what we give enables people to maintain some sense of dignity.  So, we don't give huge, non-portable items to people who have to carry their entire lives with them, and we don't give them used underwear or stained/torn clothing.  We have plenty of good-quality, usable items to give.  

4) "Is this really safe?"
Yes.  This particular project has a spotless safety record, and they've been running it for several years.  We are working in a fairly large group, in very public locations.  In 14 years of leading groups on mission projects, some in situations that would have been considered much more dangerous that this one, I have encountered one person who was actually violent, and it was diffused quickly.  Sometimes we meet people who are surly or verbally hostile, but it's no big deal.  The same thing happens in church.  The same strategy applies: remain calm, don't escalate the anger, get help if you need it, move on.    

5) "Why do we do this so late at night?"
Well, you're probably not going to find people bedding down on the streets outside of the Dolce and Gabbana store in the middle of the afternoon.  We go when people are there.

I'm looking forward to tonight, despite all the questions, and perhaps because of them.  As much as I sometimes think, "Huh????" about the things people say, it's fun getting them outside of their comfort zones and exposing them to another way of life.  It's fun watching them change as they meet real people in difficult circumstances.  And it's really fun watching what they bring back to their own lives and to our congregation.        

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent Procrastination

It's Advent, that wondrous time of year in which I receive the marvelous gift of a miraculously multiplying to-do list.  I keep checking off items, and more tasks appear.  It's annoying.  The only reason I'm writing here is because I added blogging to my daily repeating task list.  Don't worry; although I'll get it done today, it will magically reappear tomorrow.

My list tells me that so far today, in addition to a couple of meetings, I wrote bulletin announcements, chose hymns and readings for two Christmas Eve services, found readers for half of said readings, and wrote the prayers of the people for this Sunday.  Not too shabby.  Which is not to say that I'm done.

I also booked a hotel room for New Year's Eve.  I'm going to PA to see Scythian for their Mad, Mad Masquerade Ball.  I'm pretty excited, although I realized after booking all of this that I'm probably going alone, which could be less than optimal.  Most of the concert-going people I know will be in Northampton, MA seeing Enter the Haggis.  Been there, done that last year.  It was fun, but certain situations have changed since then, and I'm not really up for the drama of the Haggishead crowd.  I guess it would probably be depressing to spend New Year's alone, except that it's Scythian.  Alone doesn't really happen at their shows, for me.  And who knows, maybe I can drag someone along.  Now to find a fabulous roaring 20s outfit for the occasion...

Well, now it's clear that I am just rambling on to avoid doing the work that I actually need to get done, so I'm going to stop procrastinating and get on with it.  Happy Advent.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I grew up in a family that yelled.  Some of us yelled more or less than others, but there was yelling.  Some of us were more or less explosive in our anger, but there was anger.  My father was the most frequently angry member of the family, and probably the one whose anger affected the rest of us most, but for all of us, anger was allowed, and even expected.  It wasn't always the most pleasant home environment, but to my knowledge, none of us ever thought that anger was a bad thing, or - more importantly - that any member of our family loved us any less just because they yelled or were angry at us.

All of this gave me a fairly casual attitude toward anger.  I expect people to be angry at me.  I expect to be angry at other people.  I am well acquainted with my own anger, with the fact that it tends to flare suddenly and die just as quickly and completely.  If I stay angry for longer than five minutes, it's usually because I've squelched it rather than letting it out in the moment.

Which brings us to today.  Ministers are not so much encouraged to let out the anger, and I have realized that I kind of scare people when I'm flaring up.  I don't really want to scare my church members.  It seems that most of them did not grow up in families where yelling - or any expression of anger - was okay.  The anger in their families often either came from one member of the family, while the others cowered in fear, or was repressed entirely.  Anger, for me, is about an honest expression of pain.  For them, it's about someone not liking or loving you.  If I get angry at them, they think I dislike them, where I'm generally just thinking, "I was angry, now I've said it, and now I'm moving on."

So, what I'm doing today, in between meetings and phone calls and band practice later this evening, is pondering the middle ground in which I can be honest and express myself with integrity, and model good communication, and encourage people to address their problems directly rather than running around yapping behind people's backs and being destructive, without terrifying people and making them think that I'm just mean.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday, Monday

It's my day off, and I've reconsidered my desire to either leave ministry or become a rampant people-pleaser.  I think I'll just stay me, and make nice to the best of my ability without capitulating to the crazy, and move on.

Today I am editing the novel.  I've spent roughly a week away from it, and it's interesting coming back to it from the beginning.  A few things I have noticed:
1) My characters often sound too much like me.  Some of them have more distinct voices of their own, but most of them still construct sentences like slightly altered versions of me.  I need to do some thinking about how the characters should express themselves, to distinguish them from each other and from me.
2) There is emotional depth in the painful ends of relationships, but not so much in the actual relationships.  The pain isn't as believable as it could be because the relationships don't seem to have enough emotion invested in them to cause that much pain.  So, I'm filling out some of the relational stuff.
3) Writing that quickly leads to odd inconsistencies in plot and character details.  As in, "Wait, wasn't that guy's name Paul the last time he showed up?  Why is he now Peter?"  Why are there now three bridesmaids in a wedding that was supposed to have eight?  Where did Anna's sister go?  You get the idea.
4) I hate the ending.  Okay, I don't HATE it, but I'm not happy with it.  It happens too quickly and easily, mostly because I was trying to get to 50,000 words while I wrote it.  I'm also not sure whether this character should end up in a relationship or still single.  I kind of want her to still be single, because it just seems more realistic, but this is not my life, it's a novel.  And as much as I'd like it to be convincing that she can be happy and fulfilled and single, it's kind of depressing for her to go through everything that she does and still end up alone.  So, yeah, the ending is not at all final at this point.

I have given the draft out to a few people to read and make comments.  Editing by committee isn't necessarily a good idea, but they are a pretty broad range of readers, and I think it will be helpful to see what they have to say.  I'll try to get another excerpt up soon.      

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In Which I Contemplate an Alternate Vocation

This doesn't happen to me very often, but occasionally there is a Sunday (or some other day, but usually a Sunday) that makes me question whether I should really stay in this crazy business called ministry.  Today is proving to be such a day.  Church is a weird thing/place/group of people.  All of these people get really emotionally invested in it, and that's good - investment and engagement is what we want.  We want people to feel ownership in the church.  But then they seem to feel sole ownership, i.e., my opinion is the only one that matters, and it's appropriate for me to express that whenever and however I want.  Thus we have people disrupting Communion to make a minor rearrangement that, yes, makes the process somewhat smoother, but only after making it much more awkward.  And we have people who seem intent on sabotaging any attempt I might make to have a positive ministry (or life) here. 

I like the working with youth, and the getting out into the community, and the helping the church engage the world and make a difference.  I enjoy all of that stuff.  The pettiness, back-stabbing, sniping, imposing your opinion on the entire church, etc., I'd prefer to pass.  Unfortunately, it seems like a whole lot of my time and energy are spent dealing with the latter.  It's frustrating to know that now I'm supposed to make nice with people who are rampantly slandering me so that I can placate them enough so that they'll be slightly less destructive for a month or two until I irritate them again.

Which I will, because a) I am imperfect and sometimes irritating, and b) they are intent on being irritated.  It doesn't make for a good combination.

On a related note, I think there are a lot of ministers who spend a lot of time trying to make sure people like them.  Perhaps I should be more like this; it certainly seems to make their time in church less rocky.  Then again, it sets a bad precedent and them church members expect all ministers to have a deep need to please them and be liked by them, so they make demands they might not make otherwise.  Here is where I am probably a bad minister: I don't have a natural need to be liked by everyone.  I've never been liked by everyone, and I tend not to feel bad about that.  The fact is, I don't like everyone either, so I don't take it personally.  So, we don't click.  So what?  But the fact that I don't like someone, or someone doesn't like me and I know it, doesn't make me want to destroy their life.  It just makes me more or less avoid them.  So, it's kind of a mystery to me when people's reaction to not liking me is to try to sabotage my life.  And it doesn't make me want to hang out with them.  That's all.   

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dilemma of the Day

What does one wear when one has to go from serving a community meal at a mission with the youth group to officiating a wedding, with just enough time to drive between the two?

These are serious matters, people.

What will probably happen is that I will wear casual clothes for the meal, throw the robe on over them to do the wedding, and then change into a dress for the reception when I have a bit more flexible time.  I just have to find casual clothes that won't involve things like jeans legs emerging from the bottom of the robe and such.  I love my schedule, and the costume changes that go with it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

NaNo Excerpt 1

I thought it might be kind of fun to post a few excerpts from the NaNo here, since I have some people who have been asking to read it and it's not really ready for being read in full yet.  So, here's the beginning.  Constructive criticism is welcome, as it is a draft and a work in progress.  

At ten o’clock in the morning on the day when my heart would later be stomped into a million irreparable pieces, I sat in my office facing one of those couples seated on my couch.  You know the ones I mean: the fairy tale couples, the ones who sit practically on top of each other, who can’t stop touching each other, who are just so insistent on being blatantly In Love that they make any rational person want to vomit.  That kind of couple.  

Of course, at ten o’clock in the morning, I did not yet know that my heart was about to be stomped into a million irreparable pieces.  I thought that I was quite happily in love myself.  As people who think themselves in love often do, I found this so-very-happy couple to be absolutely delightful.  A vision of what I would undoubtedly look like in a very short time, when my boyfriend Daniel popped the question and we became the ones discussing vows and unity candles while sitting practically on top of each other in the minister’s office.

But at ten o’clock in the morning, I was not one half of a happy couple.  I was the minister.  This is my job.  I preach, teach Bible studies, lead Sunday school classes, the whole deal.  I also meet with happy couples and ask them about their family histories, how they met, whether they want to promise each other “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,” or “to join with you and share all that is to come.”  I probe and pry into their most common fight topics and the things about marriage that scare them.  I encourage them to share the things they enjoy doing together.  And eventually we all stand in front of a church and I help them make the vows they’ve chosen.

Sometimes people are surprised that I do so many weddings.  They question my ability to do this kind of work when I have never been married.  Someday I’ll tell them to go ask a Catholic priest; they’ve been doing it for centuries.

That morning, I sat in my desk chair and watched as Jennifer and Michael awkwardly tried to flip through the book of vows and readings using one hand each, because their other hands were clasped tightly.  No matter that it would have made things easier, it obviously never occurred to them to let go.  I wondered whether they held onto each other so tightly because of how wonderful it felt to be joined, or because they were afraid of what would happen if they didn’t.  I felt my own fingers flex and tighten with the desire to be held.  I smiled in shared joy with the couple on the couch.  

In that moment, we were conspirators in the plot to get fourteen attendants and three small children up and down the aisle without compromising the dignity of the occasion.  My mind wandered idly toward how many bridesmaids I might have when the time came.  I had never really thought of my own wedding, had never thought the time would come, which I suppose is peculiar given how many weddings I perform for other people.  Suddenly I was thinking about it, and the thought made me smile.  

I had no idea that this would be the day when my heart would be stomped into a million irreparable pieces.  

This is the scene that comes to mind when people ask me, “Didn’t you see it coming?”  Believe me, if I had, I would have been out of there like a flash.  I am the Houdini of relationship escape artistry, and I cannot stand to be the last to know anything.  I cannot stand to be the one who has something happen to me rather than being the one who causes it.  I didn’t see it.  I saw one of those fairy tale couples, sitting on a couch, hands clutched so firmly that they can’t bear to be separated, even when it would make things easier.

Ridiculously, stupidly, I thought that would be me.  But this is not a fairy tale.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Email Etiquette

One of the things I seem to spend a lot of time doing is weeding through email.  Some of it is pure junk, which I can usually identify from the sender or subject line and delete without reading.  Some of it is necessary communication.  And then there's the junk that looks like it might be necessary, which requires me to read it to find out that it is a complete waste of time.

For example, I serve on a few boards.  The boards have email lists for communication purposes.  One person sends out a necessary email.  Another person replies.  I open this reply, expecting some sort of relevant interaction.  Instead, I find one of the following things:
- "Thanks."  One word acknowledgement of original email: not necessary.  Especially not necessary to send to the entire board.
- "Thanks.  How was your vacation to Outer Slobovia?"  If you want to have a personal conversation, please do not reply to all.
- Forwarded messages or links to articles.
- Inappropriate comments or confidential statements that were intended to be in a personal email, except that the person sending them didn't pay attention to who was getting the email.  (I recently received an email suggesting an intervention for another board member...who of course is also on the board email list.  Good times.)

So, now I'm a jerk who tells other board members that I don't read their emails, and will stop reading all list emails unless they get their email behavior in order, which I suppose is poor etiquette of another sort.  But seriously, I have email overload.  Personally, I try to send email only when it's necessary.  How do I decide whether it's necessary?  I consider whether I would pick up the phone or send a letter to communicate this information.  If it wouldn't be worth that, it's not email-worthy either.

Yes, I just spent that much time ranting about emails that take up my time.      

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Minister Dilemma

Yesterday I attended a meeting of one of the boards on which I serve.  It's a really great organization that does fabulous work in my community, ranging from food services to HIV/AIDS support to park safety and gardening for kids.  Anyway, at this board meeting, we got into a conversation about people who continue to work (and be paid) despite the fact that they are either unable or unwilling to actually do their jobs.  It's a horrible conversation to have, especially when there are specific people involved rather than just a theory, because anything you say sounds like it's some kind of judgment on the aged and infirm.  The only judgment I have about it is that it's poor stewardship for an organization to continue to pay someone who doesn't, for whatever reason, do their job.

Okay, that's not really the only judgment I have about it.  I also believe rather strongly that people need to deal with their own limitations.  If your age or infirmity is keeping you from doing your job (and therefore hamstringing an organization), you should not force your colleagues or supervisors into a lose-lose situation where they either have to be mean to you or cripple the organization, either of which will probably make them feel like crappy people.  Retire, already.

Of course, there are economic factors involved in this, along with the emotional difficulty of accepting one's limitations, and I know it's not as easy as I can make it sound when I get all up on my soapbox.  But still.  If I reach 60 or 70 or 80 and am unwell and clinging to the pulpit despite my inability to do the rest of my job, holding a church to paying me because they feel bad letting me go, please, someone, take the car keys away from grandma.

This line of thought brought us around to the large number of aging ministers who are either refusing to retire, or who are technically retired but still basically working full-time.  I'm grateful that some of them are willing to serve small, struggling congregations that can't afford a full-time minister.  If they're still physically and mentally able to serve, thanks be to God.  But I feel wary about the number of ministers I've seen who aren't really up for the job, and the churches that try to support them while struggling on without ministerial leadership.  I also know the number of qualified people coming out of seminary who are in need of positions, but can't find them, in part because churches in this area can pay a retired minister next to nothing (or actually nothing), and why spend the money or deal with a young, inexperienced minister (or God forbid, a woman) when you can get one who fits your image of what a minister ought to be like for practically free?

Around here, congregations are shrinking by the day, literally dying off.  But they can manage to keep having services until the existing congregation really does die if they have an aging pastor who will keep preaching for minimal compensation indefinitely.  Maybe that's a good thing?  I don't know, but it seems to me that it also makes it possible for churches to just continue on without ever really considering how they might be relevant in a changing world, or how to reach out to their communities, or any number of other things that I think it's valuable for congregations to deal with.

Hm.  When I started writing this post, I thought I was going to rather quickly get to another topic entirely, which is how we might support (financially and emotionally) ministers serving these small, struggling churches in a new way.  I seem to have gone off on a ranting tangent.  Oops.  Anyway, here's the deal.  The idea of these small, struggling churches being able to hire young, inexperienced ministers, even if the older ministers were to retire, is often a moot point, because they have no money.  Even people of the cloth can't live on love.  When a small church can afford a full-time minister, it's often an isolating and taxing experience that can wreak havoc on someone who is inexperienced at ministry (trust me, I've been there).  So, I've been pondering other  models of small-church ministry, such as having what is essentially a multi-staff ministry with multiple campuses (three ministers serving five or six small congregations, for example), which would relieve both some of the financial issues and the isolation issues.  Of course, it would also require churches to change their expectations of ministers, and we all know how easily that happens.

I've also been pondering a sort of socialist approach to paying ministers in a denomination, but that really is going to have to wait for another post.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Insomnia and Other Fun Things

Here's something I don't appreciate about aging:

(Yes, there are actually things I DO appreciate about aging, like the fact that I seem to become less stupid with time, and church people stop calling me "kiddo" as I develop wrinkles.)

Caffeine sensitivity.  Caffeine is a staple in my diet.  Until about a month or two ago, I could (and did) drink it all day long, with no adverse effects at night.  I always heard people talking about how drinking caffeine in the afternoon or evening kept them up all night, but I didn't entirely believe them, or if I did, I thought it was weird and foreign.  Last night, I had a Diet Coke at 7pm.  At 4am, I was wide awake and my heart was racing.  Apparently I can no longer consume caffeine after some as of yet undisclosed time in the day.  Sweet.

Now, excuse me while I slug down my fourth cup of coffee for the morning.

On a completely unrelated note, I have finished my NaNo, and now have no idea what to do with myself.  It's kind of alarming how much that project consumed the last month of my life.  Those of you who have been subjected to my Facebook status updates and incessant posting about it here are now thinking, "Thank you, Captain Obvious."  Also, I can't seem to stop writing.  Writing is good, but obsession is not.  I need to do things like answer email and write wedding sermons and go to meetings.  Speaking of which, I am about to be late for one of those now, so off I go.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Win! I Win!

50,227 words.  13 chapters and a prologue.  93 single-spaced pages.  Done...except for massive editing.  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving, Haggis, Etc.

Becoming a minister kind of shot holidays for me.  My own family is far away, and I've come to terms with the fact that I'm probably never going to spend an actual holiday with them again (even if they haven't).  On religious holidays like Christmas and Easter, I'm generally so exhausted by the time we're done with all the services that I don't even want to think about having dinner with a bunch of people.  And then there are holidays like Thanksgiving.  We don't have an extra worship service, but... it's right between Fall Craziness and Advent Insanity.  And I can squeeze out of it - whoa - two whole days off in a row.  These are not days that I wish to spend with people from church, or with anyone who has the potential to stress me out.  In this, I become the Thanksgiving Scrooge, hoarding my time and ruthlessly turning down well-intentioned invitations to gorge myself on turkey that someone else has prepared.

What I did for Thanksgiving this year:  Slept.  Slept more.  Made mashed potatoes.  Ate said potatoes.  Ate stuffing made by roommate.  Slept.  Watched movies.  Ate pie.  Sang karaoke.

Yes, it's true, I wasn't a total slug all day.  I dragged myself out of the house at about 10pm to sing karaoke.

Yesterday, I once again did a lot of sleeping, and eating of the mashed potatoes, since in grand Thanksgiving tradition I made about ten times what I actually needed.  And then I my roommate and I trekked to Syracuse to see Enter the Haggis.  In the Haggis world, we're experiencing cosmic shift.  They have a new drummer, after about ten years in the former configuration.  Many of the fans have a lot of "feelings" about this.  I like James (old drummer), but I'm not distraught about or personally offended by his decision to pursue another life path.  And I like this Bruce (new drummer) guy.  The old songs have taken on some new life since he came on board, and I think his style is consistent with where they seem to have been headed musically in the last couple of years.  He sets a heavier beat, less fancy, more driven.  I'm not sure what the Celtic traditionalists will think of it.  They already have strong opinions about the band moving away from rocked-up covers of trad tunes - a shift which means that I actually care about listening to this band, unlike the bazillion or so boring Celtic groups that play rocked-up trad tunes.  But since I lean toward the rock side of things, I'm a fan.

Anyway, that was my holiday.  Today I'm back to sort of working, as I have a bunch of stuff to get ready for tomorrow.  Tonight I have a solo gig, so I also need to figure out music to play for a bar full of people who will mostly want to hear country music.  Good times.      

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Pep Talk from Lemony Snicket

This is what I received in my inbox from the folks at NaNoWriMo this morning:

Dear Cohort,

Struggling with your novel? Paralyzed by the fear that it's nowhere near good enough? Feeling caught in a trap of your own devising? You should probably give up.

For one thing, writing is a dying form. One reads of this every day. Every magazine and newspaper, every hardcover and paperback, every website and most walls near the freeway trumpet the news that nobody reads anymore, and everyone has read these statements and felt their powerful effects. The authors of all those articles and editorials, all those manifestos and essays, all those exclamations and eulogies - what would they say if they knew you were writing something? They would urge you, in bold-faced print, to stop.

Clearly, the future is moving us proudly and zippily away from the written word, so writing a novel is actually interfering with the natural progress of modern society. It is old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy, a relic of a time when people took artistic expression seriously and found solace in a good story told well. We are in the process of disentangling ourselves from that kind of peace of mind, so it is rude for you to hinder the world by insisting on adhering to the beloved paradigms of the past. It is like sitting in a gondola, listening to the water carry you across the water, while everyone else is zooming over you in jetpacks, belching smoke into the sky. Stop it, is what the jet-packers would say to you. Stop it this instant, you in that beautiful craft of intricately-carved wood that is giving you such a pleasant journey.

Besides, there are already plenty of novels. There is no need for a new one. One could devote one's entire life to reading the work of Henry James, for instance, and never touch another novel by any other author, and never be hungry for anything else, the way one could live on nothing but multivitamin tablets and pureed root vegetables and never find oneself craving wild mushroom soup or linguini with clam sauce or a plain roasted chicken with lemon-zested dandelion greens or strong black coffee or a perfectly ripe peach or chips and salsa or caramel ice cream on top of poppyseed cake or smoked salmon with capers or aged goat cheese or a gin gimlet or some other startling item sprung from the imagination of some unknown cook. In fact, think of the world of literature as an enormous meal, and your novel as some small piddling ingredient - the drawn butter, for example, served next to a large, boiled lobster. Who wants that? If it were brought to the table, surely most people would ask that it be removed post-haste.

Even if you insisted on finishing your novel, what for? Novels sit unpublished, or published but unsold, or sold but unread, or read but unreread, lonely on shelves and in drawers and under the legs of wobbly tables. They are like seashells on the beach. Not enough people marvel over them. They pick them up and put them down. Even your friends and associates will never appreciate your novel the way you want them to. In fact, there are likely just a handful of readers out in the world who are perfect for your book, who will take it to heart and feel its mighty ripples throughout their lives, and you will likely never meet them, at least under the proper circumstances. So who cares? Think of that secret favorite book of yours - not the one you tell people you like best, but that book so good that you refuse to share it with people because they'd never understand it. Perhaps it's not even a whole book, just a tiny portion that you'll never forget as long as you live. Nobody knows you feel this way about that tiny portion of literature, so what does it matter? The author of that small bright thing, that treasured whisper deep in your heart, never should have bothered.

Of course, it may well be that you are writing not for some perfect reader someplace, but for yourself, and that is the biggest folly of them all, because it will not work. You will not be happy all of the time. Unlike most things that most people make, your novel will not be perfect. It may well be considerably less than one-fourth perfect, and this will frustrate you and sadden you. This is why you should stop. Most people are not writing novels which is why there is so little frustration and sadness in the world, particularly as we zoom on past the novel in our smoky jet packs soon to be equipped with pureed food. The next time you find yourself in a group of people, stop and think to yourself, probably no one here is writing a novel. This is why everyone is so content, here at this bus stop or in line at the supermarket or standing around this baggage carousel or sitting around in this doctor's waiting room or in seventh grade or in Johannesburg. Give up your n ovel, and join the crowd. Think of all the things you could do with your time instead of participating in a noble and storied art form. There are things in your cupboards that likely need to be moved around.

In short, quit. Writing a novel is a tiny candle in a dark, swirling world. It brings light and warmth and hope to the lucky few who, against insufferable odds and despite a juggernaut of irritations, find themselves in the right place to hold it. Blow it out, so our eyes will not be drawn to its power. Extinguish it so we can get some sleep. I plan to quit writing novels myself, sometime in the next hundred years.

--Lemony Snicket

I have something like 11,500 words to go.  Since I had originally planned to be in Canada today, I didn't schedule anything, and therefore it's going to be a big writing day.  I hope.  With any luck, I can hit my "green bar" by Friday.  Which I hear starts to be a "purple bar" after tomorrow, when the novels can be officially verified.  At some point, I'm also going to rip myself away from this computer and spend Thanksgiving Eve with some friends, so we'll see how far I can get by then.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Have I Mentioned Fidelia's Sisters?

I think there are about three or maybe four people reading this blog.  Blogs have gone out of fashion, and I haven't really advertised the fact that I've moved to a new blog.  I know of only one person who reads this blog who is not already a member of this organization, but I'm just going to put in a little plug for one of the things I do between Sundays.  I'm on the editorial board for an online journal called Fidelia's Sisters, which is a part of the Young Clergy Women Project.  I edit a column called "Christ and Creativity," which features the artistic pursuits of young clergywomen.

If you are a clergy woman under 40 years of age who engages in creative activity, please consider submitting poetry, pictures of your work, recordings, essays on creative process, etc.  We want to hear from you.  Submissions can be emailed to  End of plea.

Anyway, I had some confusion about the deadline for my article this month, even though our managing editor sends out very helpful emails with all the dates on them every month.  For some reason I thought I had another week before the fourth Tuesday of November.  Not so!  At about 2:00am, I realized that my deadline was today.  Did I have an article in the hopper and ready to go?  Not so much.

Hence, what you will find today is a submission from yours truly, about - what else? - my NaNo experience.  Because I'm obsessed.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Look, it's a Widget!

The lovely folks over at NaNoWriMo have provided this handy dandy widget so that I (and you, you lucky people) can monitor my progress.  I am almost up to pace now, and I'm taking a big church of this holiday week to do some marathon writing.  This really is one of the strangest, most intense things I've ever done, and it's making me a bit of a lunatic.  But lunatics create great art!  Or so I've heard.  I'm wondering if I should try to do something along these lines with songwriting at some point, but I'm not sure I would survive or have any friends left at the end if I did.

Yesterday I went to NYC for a board meeting.  I got to hang out with a bunch of friends that I don't see very often, and we went out in Williamsburg and had a grand time over Gluhwein and assorted other tasty beverages. We stayed up too late talking, and I was excessively cranky today, and managed to tick off almost everyone else at the meeting.  Sweet.  But do you know what the most notable thing about this trip was?

I wrote something like 8,000 words between the train rides and my time in coffee shops before and after the meetings.

See?  I'm obnoxious.  I promise that after November, I'll write about something else, because hopefully then I'll return to my regularly scheduled life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

And then I missed a day of NaNo writing...

...which leaves me, yet again, behind.  Tomorrow I'm off to a meeting in NYC, so hopefully I'll be able to get some writing done on the train.  In the meantime, I am going to record the choir singing for our new Living Nativity CD, since the old tape is scratchy and soon to disintegrate.  That is, if I can figure out how to make my recording equipment work with the church's peculiar microphones.  Yay, fun for me!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

About this NaNoWriMo Thing...

It is giving me a serious case of insomnia.  Actually, it's giving me a serious case of falling into my natural sleep time, which is about 3 or 4 am when left to its own devices.  Or, in the case of last night, 5 am.  And that would be just peachy, except that the rest of the world seems to expect things to happen before noon.  Crummy, I say.

So, I'm crazy sleep deprived and in seven minutes I will start a nine-hour series of meetings.  On the upside, I passed the NaNo halfway mark at about 4:30 am.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Weekend, plus a little

Thinking back at last week, I realize that it was kind of weird - not just because I was doing things like making soup and cleaning my apartment, but because I actually had time to think about these things, let alone do them.  My work schedule goes in waves.  I had forgotten that, because the last wave of utterly chaotic busyness lasted about seven months.  The payoff of working ridiculous hours for months at a time is that you occasionally get a week or two in which you have time to sleep, clean, and make soup.  What a relief; now I'll have something to eat during the Advent and Christmas season when boiling water takes too much time.

On a related note, during those rare weeks when I actually do have a little free time, I tend to get a little irritated at insinuations that my life always has that level of flexibility.  But if you read my comment on the previous post, you probably already realized that.  But enough about that.

So, what have I been doing since Thursday?  Well, on Friday I worked from home.  It's evaluation season, so I have been reviewing the people I supervise, and also revisiting my own job description and my performance over the last year.  The pastoral staff here writes self-evaluations, which we then review together with the personnel committee.  I'm not really sure which I hate more: saying negative things about myself that point out my weaknesses, or saying positive things about myself that make me sound like a self-aggrandizing egomaniac.  So, I do some of both and hope it all evens out.  In the evening I went out to catch up with a friend I haven't seen in a while.  Then, through a variety of odd events that did not turn out in the least bit how they were supposed to, I ended up at a bar that has about a million beers, including my very favorite beer in the whole world, Traquair.  The only question I have about this place is, why didn't I know it existed like six years ago?  I have now joined the World Tour of Beers.

On Saturday I had band practice.  I haven't seen the members of my band in at least two months, as we are going through a bass player transition yet again.  The newest guy seems promising, though.  During the three plus a bit years that I have been in some incarnation of this band, we have had something like four guitar players and four bass players.  This is kind of disruptive to the band mojo.

I know this blog is about what happens between Sundays, but I just have to add a note here.  Sundays are exhausting.  It's like I forget this every week and don't fully expect the run-over-by-a-train feeling that inevitably comes at the end of that 12-14 hour day.  Luckily, I have found a new recovery mechanism: "The Walking Dead" on AMC.  I don't really do the whole zombie/horror thing most of the time, but I started watching because I have a bit of a thing for Norman Reedus (blame it on the Boondock Saints).  It's actually really well done, and I'm kind of hooked.  Be warned: do not watch this show if you can't handle gore.  They are not shy about showing blood and entrails, and there are some pretty disgusting scenes.

Monday is my day off, which this week meant that I used it to finish up my evaluation, work on the newsletter, and catch up on the NaNoWriMo, which I had been neglecting for about three days.  For those who are math-challenged, as I tend to be, when you're supposed to write 1,666 words a day, and you don't write for three days, on the fourth day you have almost 7,000 words to crank out.  On a positive note, my characters seem to be developing.  They have started doing things I don't expect.  For example, the group of friends who went to Mexico together, for what was supposed to be the one occasion of untarnished fun in a fairly depressing story, are now in a big fight.  Who knew?

On the agenda for today: meeting, writing for the newsletter, more meeting, trying to locate animals for our living nativity, another meeting with potential to blow up into great drama.  Fun!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Holy Domesticity, Batman!

Today I lost my mind.

I went to Walmart to buy Drano and a dog bed.  The old dog bed was thrown away last night in a flurry of bedroom cleaning.  Whoa, I have a floor!  Anyway, I went mostly for the dog bed, and figured I would pick up a couple of other necessity things while I was there.  That was a nice plan, except that apparently the greeter secretly misted me with some sort of psychotropic drug as I entered the store.

Stuffing was on sale in a display near the door.  This makes sense; Thanksgiving is coming up.  I am skipping the country to avoid Thanksgiving, but I do like stuffing.  Stuffing made me think of other winter comfort foods, which made me want soup.  First I was thinking of chicken soup, and I was standing in the produce aisle, so I started throwing celery, carrots, and onions into my cart.  Then I decided that what I really wanted was white borscht, which I cannot get unless I go to an Eastern European country or neighborhood in NYC or make it myself, so I bought a giant bag of potatoes - because clearly I need ten pounds of potatoes to make soup for just myself.  And of course I needed garlic, because, well, you always need garlic for something.

Then I passed through the meat aisle to get the chicken for the soup that I had first wanted to make but had given up in favor of the borscht.  But I got the chicken anyway, along with the kielbasa.  Once I made the borscht with ham, so I bought some ham because that just sounded good.  Turkey was on sale, so I stood in front of that for a while until I finally drew the line.  Somehow I ended up with the ingredients for both chicken soup and borscht, and then I remembered this fabulous beer cheese soup I had recently, and since I already had the potatoes and onions, it only made sense to buy four pounds of cheese, right?  And this was all before I even got to the dog beds.

The dog bed reminded me of the old dog bed which had smelled vaguely of skunk, which made me want new candles.  On the way to the candles, I passed the dishes, and remembered that my bowls are too shallow and annoy me when I eat soup, so I bought new bowls.  And a pair of earrings, just because.  No, that is not all, but it's getting embarrassing now.

I hate Walmart, but I spent more time there today than I had in a year, and came home with a ridiculous amount of food and other random stuff.  Most of it I needed, I guess, although not the earrings, and I probably didn't need to have three kinds of soup all at the same time.

However, it all fits with the Week of Domesticity that I seem to be having.  You see, normally I am not such a neat person.  It's not a priority.  Mail piles up on my coffee table, dishes go unwashed for a few days, and my clothes often just move between the suitcase and the hamper with occasional stops on the floor as I fling them around in search of what I want to wear.

This week I have cleaned my living room and bedroom, purged a bunch of crap that I haven't looked at in years but keep moving from place to place with me "just in case," reorganized the kitchen cupboards, and made mass quantities of soup - some of which I actually labeled and froze for later.  Crazy.  Oh, and I baked brownies.  I cannot even tell you the last time I baked something, even from a mix, which these were.  I don't really measure, which works much better with soup than with baked goods.

It occurred to me as I sat on my kitchen floor, surrounded in pots and pans and plastic food containers, that I might actually be losing my mind.  This person with precise stacks of Rubbermaid is so not me.

Except that it kind of is, sometimes.  This is what I do when I'm trying to clean out other areas of my life: I clean my house.  This is what I do when I'm trying to pull back and take care of myself: I cook absurd amounts of my own personal comfort foods.  Dusting and tossing out things I don't need helps me put my thoughts in order.  Cooking big pots of soup makes me feel calm and prepared for what might be coming.  I think that as I write this wacky novel, a lot of things are coming out of me, and I suspect this domestic streak is my weird way of processing it.  I'm so glad soup freezes.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Today I Feel...

Every week with my youth groups, I do some sort of check-in exercise to get a sense of how they're doing.  This week we had a sheet of paper that had several faces and descriptions on it, and began with the sentence, "I'll tell you how my day was."  You had to choose a description, like "Late Night News," "Fireworks Display," "Boring Lecture," or "Bible Epic."  The whole point of these kinds of things is to get people talking about how they feel when they wouldn't necessarily just pop out the real words to express their emotions.

I do not need to circle a face to know how I feel, however.  Today I feel resentful and unappreciated.  I think it's probably part of the deal that ministers aren't supposed to be irritated about money, but today, I am irritated.  We're also not supposed to get frustrated when people step on our authority, since we're servants and all that, but I am frustrated.  This being the internet, it's wiser if I don't get specific about what I mean by either of these things, but I am annoyed.

I have tentatively titled my NaNoWriMo effort The Incredible Vanishing Man and Other Circus Freaks.  It's a bitter title, and I feel like today might see some progress in the angry writing area.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Long Days

Once again I have made it to a Tuesday barely realizing that I had a Monday.  I did, in all fairness, sleep in quite late yesterday, but then had a big fundraising banquet in the evening.  Part of me wishes that I could see something like that banquet as Not Work.  I realize that most of the people there are not working.  However, this banquet is the sort of event where I see a ton of people from my church and herds of other ministers.  I have to be "on."  This is not time off.  And yet, it walks that fine line on which I feel kind of bad for counting it as work.  Although I'm not really sure where this score sheet is on which I tally my working hours.

I have some guilt issues, you see, when it comes to work.  No matter how many times I hear about pastoral self-care, I still have this annoying voice in my head that tells me that I'm not being an effective minister if I'm not working.  All.  The.  Time.  As a single person, I have only my dog to tell me that's ridiculous and demand my attention, and she's entirely too easy to just take along to the office.  All I know is that I hear other ministers complain all the time about how much they work.  And then I figure out from other things they say how much time they spend not working, and how much flexibility they have, and then I get really annoyed at them - which compels me to work more so that I can be absolutely sure I am not like them.

You see, I could complain that today is going to be a really long day.  In fact, at some point today, I probably will complain.  It's a late meeting night.  I will be tired and irritable, because by the end of today, I will have worked at least twelve hours, and probably more.  But the thing I have to remember is that my congregants who will be at these meetings tonight have been working all day, too.  They went to work earlier than I did.  They might have gotten to go home for dinner, but then they are back, doing the work of the church, and unlike me, not being paid for it.

I fully realize that I have some rather unbalancing workaholic tendencies.  I'm working on it.  But it strikes me as I go into this very long day that, even though it will indeed be long, I just don't have a lot of room to whine about it.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Writing an Ending

So, I'm working on this cathartic novel for NaNoWriMo which, in part, is about the stupid things men do - mostly the stupid things they've done to me, with some composite information added from the stupid things they've done to my friends and the stupid things I can, with very little trouble, imagine them doing.

I feel like I need to add a disclaimer here: I do not hate men.  I like them, and that's how I get myself into situations in which they can do stupid things to me.  I don't think men as a whole are stupid.  I do think they frequently do stupid things that are a different sort of stupid than the stupid things women often do, which are also plentiful.

That said, in my novel, there are a lot of men doing stupid things.  They say art imitates life, so there you go.  My heart has been having the hell steadily beat out of it for the last three years or so, and naturally, that is coming out in my so-called art.  The problem with the novel is that I need to figure out how it is going to end.  I wish for my main character to have a more or less happy ending, because otherwise I will just depress myself.  However, I have not decided what sort of happy this should be.  After enduring all the stupidity, should she finally get the guy who will be less stupid to her?  Should she find happiness within herself and desert the idea of partnership with a male of the species?  Should our heroine ride off into the sunset alone or with company?  I have no idea.

This is the point at which I have to keep telling myself, "The main character is not you.  She is fictional.  You are not writing your own future."  This is the problem with writing a cathartic novel.  I do feel to some degree like I'm writing my own future, or at least saying something about what I hope my future will be.  And I don't really want to write this blow-off-all-men-forever ending, because what does that mean in terms of what is going on inside of me?  Nor do I want to write the happy couple at the altar ending, because, first of all, just ew, and second, that doesn't feel much like reality to me.  I'm not at a place where I can write that with any authenticity at all.  My last trek down Attempted Relationship Road has left me so broken that I can't imagine trusting my own judgment or another person enough to ever try another relationship.

Fortunately, I have about 40,000 words left to figure this out, at least for the main character.  I think it may take a little longer for me.  

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Have a Short Attention Ooh, Look, Shiny!

Keeping my focus on anything for much longer than fifteen minutes is generally a challenge.  This is one reason why I'm good at working with junior high students.  Fortunately, I have a job that suits my flighty and easily bored tendencies, and that allows me to dabble and try things out and call it work.  Every day is a new adventure around here.

Earlier this week, for example, I spent a day teaching five sections of high school history classes.  That's five hours of lecturing/desperately trying to yank discussion out of them about the political and social implications of the Reformation.  I was introduced as an "expert," which I believe is a vast exaggeration bordering on simple falsehood.  I took a church history course in seminary but remember very little of it.  I became interested in this particular topic when I traveled to Scotland and started thinking of it as actual events that happened to real people, and I've been reading about that time period ever since.  Expert, not so much.  However, I can now repeat that lecture by heart, in case anyone needs a crash course.  It was great fun, although I had no voice by the end.

This blog post is a good example of my short attention span.  Remember how yesterday I said I was going to focus on NaNoWriMo?  Well, here I am, and that should tell you something about how well it's going.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I know, I just started this blog, and I intended to be disciplined about it, but...I have a short attention span.  I also discovered that this is NaNoWriMo, which is a challenge to write an entire 50,000 word (roughly 175 page) novel during the month of November.  So, I have turned some of my energy toward writing a cathartic novel featuring women clergy, the men who do stupid things to them, and a lot of ridiculous wedding stories.  Write what you know, right?  I don't expect that it will be any good, but it's certainly entertaining me.  More importantly, it's a way to force myself into writing something of substantial length, which is something I've always wanted to do but have never managed.  The excuse I usually give for that is time, but the truth is that I'm scared - scared to invest myself into a book and then have it turn out to be really bad.  NaNoWriMo takes away some of my perfectionist anxiety, because it's supposed to be kind of bad.  The point is not to produce the perfect novel. The point is to write - to write a lot of crap, frankly, but to come out at the end with something that produces some usable ideas and tells you that yes, you can actually write an entire novel.

So, in between meetings, continuing education events, and teaching five sections of high school history classes about the political and social implications of the Reformation (which is how I spent yesterday), I am frantically writing a novel.  I think it must be the right decision, because it's been keeping me up at night.  I'll try to keep checking in here, but I have 5,000 words down and 45,000 to go.  There are also a couple of bets riding on this novel.  One of my colleagues bet me $100 that I can't do it, so of course now I must.  A couple of other people who were offended on my behalf said they'd donate $100 to the church if I finished.  There will be a party to check the word count and celebrate my victory.

Look at all these words I've wasted here.  Off to WriMo!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Past Is Always With You

I can live with a really crazy schedule for a good couple of months and be fine, but when I finally stop moving, my body and brain pretty much collapse.  I was in collapse mode yesterday, as I finally had an actual entire day off with no meetings or urgent work demanding my attention.  When I am in collapse mode, I do things like stay in my pajamas all day and barely move from the couch.  I'm not sure it's the most productive or even the most restful way to spend a day, but sometimes it's all I can do.

I counted yesterday a really fruitful day off because I actually turned on my computer, which I sometimes tend to avoid when I am in collapse mode.  Before you get too excited, this is not to give the impression that I actually did work on my computer.  I did sort through my inbox a bit, but mostly I puttered on Facebook.

Now, I have a lot of friends on FB, but I don't actually expect most of those 610 people to communicate with me.  Accepting friend requests is a courtesy, and also the contemporary version of an address book.  I like to know that if I need to get in touch with these people from the various times and places of my life, I can.  But I'm always surprised when people I haven't talked to in years actually use the technology to reconnect.

That said, a friend from college has recently started chatting with me on FB, and it's been good.  Odd, in the way of people who haven't talked in seven years or so, but good.  He and his wife (another college friend) came to my ordination, which seems like forever ago, which was cool, but we haven't been in touch since then.  They now live and go to church with a bunch of our mutual acquaintances, most of whom I haven't had any contact with since I graduated in 1999.

These are people from my short-lived fundagelical phase.  Some of them were very close friends of mine.  They were also some of the most judgmental people I've ever met.  They taught me how to read the Bible and pray, how to value and strive toward community.  They also taught me my first real lessons in rejection and estrangement.  We had some very good times.  By the end, things were not good.  My memories of them are so very mixed that, when they came up in conversation, I felt as shaken as if I were remembering one of those passionate but disastrous romantic relationships that are supposed to forever affect you deeply.

Clearly, these people are still with me.  When he asked what he should report back to them, about how and what I'm doing these days, my snarky side came out.  "You can tell them I'm exactly the horror they expected I would become.  I'm a liberal female pastor who borders on universalist and hangs out with the gays."  And then I thought, wow, I'm still a little bitter.  He answered me equally sarcastically.

"So, you're a nominal believer, still fighting against God's will for women to be submissive because of your crazy feminist tendencies, endorsing sin and heresy."  Pretty much.  This is the kind of language they threw at me back in college, except there would have been some mention of hell involved.  My bitterness is not without cause.

We got to talking about churches, comparing his small, independent house church to my large-ish, denominational church.  I have traveled pretty far from my evangelical days.  But then I saw something I had just typed: the phrase, "really get into the Word together."  Not exactly language that I use every day now.  Apparently, no matter how far I think I've gone, that part of my life is still with me.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Whiplash Weekends

My last couple of weekends have been kind of frenetic.  This Saturday, I had a funeral, a swanky fundraising dinner for a center for Muslim-Christian relations, and the Halloween show of a band that I try to see as often as possible.  This involved a rapid clothing change in the bathroom after the dinner, followed by my attempt to slip out the door without being seen by the visiting dignitaries in my sparkling red fringed flapper dress.  Then I got to my car...and realized that I had forgotten one part of the costume.  As I didn't really want to sneak through the lobby again, I decided to make the addition in the car.  Note to self: do not attempt to put on fishnet stockings in a confined space.

I cannot overestimate the value of a single pair of shoes that can go with three outfits in one day, especially when one of the outfits is a flapper costume.  My go-to shoes are black double-strap Mary Janes with a sturdy, but not clunky, heel.  Not exciting, but cute enough, comfortable, and above all, versatile.  I've become very good at dressing for a variety of occasions, and bringing along a couple of extra pieces that I can change so that I can go from board meeting to food pantry to hospital to youth group, but really, it's all about the shoes - shoes that can start with a funeral and, thirteen hours later, still be going strong.

Four of those hours were spent dancing and jumping around at the concert, and after that I found myself standing on the sidewalk outside, catching up with one of the guys in the band.  I vaguely remember seeing them for the first time, not knowing any of them, and certainly not being known by them.  At the second show,  I accidentally got acquainted with the bassist.  The story of how I really got to know the rest of the band will have to wait for another post.  But I digress.

I was telling the aforementioned member of the band about my day, when he observed that I have a very strange life - one where I have to turn it on and off as quickly as I can make a costume change.  It's true; I shift not only clothing but personae several times a day.  I'm always me (probably more so than some people would like), but Funeral Me, Professional Networking Me, and Party Me are distinctly different.  I know this is true for almost everyone, that no one has a single face that applies to every situation, that we all vary ourselves according to the occasion and the people involved.  But it seems to me that ministers do it even more frequently than most, especially those of us who have parts of our lives that are completely unrelated to church.

Authenticity is one of my core values, and I would never advocate "faking it."  But...sometimes you just have to pull out the piece of yourself that fits the needs of the situation, whether you feel it in that moment or not.  The longer I'm in ministry, the more I realize that in order to serve others, I have to be able to access various parts of myself on cue.  I carry extra clothing and accessories as a sort of professional tool kit, but they're only the outer accompaniment to the inner tools that make the real shifts.

When I was newly ordained, I probably would have thought that this kind of approach was horribly fake and fragmented.  I spent a long time rejecting any way of doing ministry that seemed less than purely authentic.  Of course, that got me in trouble at times, as Cranky Me had (has) a tendency to come out when Compassionate Me was needed.  Seven years in, I realize that being able to put on different aspects of myself is a crucial skill in this vocation.  And the funny thing is, the more I put on the pieces of myself that are needed, the more they become integrated into who I am as a whole.  The more I wear the good parts of myself, the more they begin to function across all of the events and situations in my life - the more they feel authentically me.

A year ago, I bought those shoes for a particular outfit, for a particular night.  Now they go almost everywhere.  It is my hope that the best parts of me come to be worn as often.            


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bar Meetings

So, today I double-booked a haircut and an online meeting. I am in favor of online meetings. They're free, and absorb less time than travel. Today, however, my time cushion wasn't enough even to get home or to the office after the haircut. So, I ended up using my laptop in the bar next door to the salon. They have wifi and beer, which is a big plus.

I like doing church work in bars. It always throws people off their game. It's weird enough to have a laptop in a bar; throw in the church thing and you are the height of foreign.

In seminary, during our psychological analyses, they told me I have histrionic tendencies. I have no idea what they were talking about.

Anyway, it's part of my job to talk to people in bars. Happy hour is prime time for people who like their drink but are not part of the drunken late-night masses. I am now blogging while talking to a guy who believes that his trip to England twelve years ago makes him a beer aficionado. And he's drinking Miller Light. We're doing okay with the church thing, but the beer thing is lacking.

Flex Time

One of the best things about a pastor's schedule is the flexibility. One of the worst things about a pastor's schedule is also the flexibility. You just cannot control crisis. You can't control when someone will need you. So, it becomes key to take the time when you can and use it to your advantage.

Yesterday I left the office early. I went home. I laid on my couch with my dog. I read a considerable amount of the fantasy novel that I usually only get to pick up at bedtime. Fortunately, I've read it before, so it's not a crisis when I doze off in the middle of reading and lose a couple of pages. On the other hand, when I read it fully awake, I realize that I was probably half asleep the last time I read it, too; there are clearly things happening in this book that I did not catch the first time around. It's one of those strange creatures, mysterious powers, medieval outfits kinds of books that gets me totally out of my own head while still exploring universal life themes, which I appreciate.

Apparently I was into the whole fantasy thing yesterday, because my roommate and I then decided to watch "Sex and the City 2." I am a long time SATC fan. If you're thinking of chastising me for my inappropriate viewing preferences, save your fingers. It's been done. I know it sometimes glorifies promiscuity and greed. I just like the show: the friendships, the witty banter, the combination of heart-rending seriousness and fall on the floor humor, and, for better or for worse, the fashion. I'm often annoyed by the fashion - by what it looks like and by the rank materialism that spurs the fashion industry - but I enjoy the opportunity to comment on it. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have...

Much to my surprise, I liked the second movie better than the first. I wasn't sure why, at first. It is completely outlandish. If there are actual women with lives like these, I don't know them. At the beginning of the show, there were certain aspects of their lives that baffled me (how do they afford those shoes?), but I felt like could know these women. I know women who have jobs like these, and lives which, if distilled primarily to what they do socially, look similar to these. Early on, they occasionally had financial woes and such. However, my ability to relate to their lives decreased as some of the characters married rich and obtained closets bigger than my apartment.

The second movie is, in some ways, about four women whose lives could not be more different from mine. The clothes are ridiculous. Their ignorance and disrespect of foreign culture might make for good comedy, but are still pretty appalling. The whole "let's run off to Abu Dhabi" thing is unbelievable even to someone who travels as much as I do. The movie is supposed to be over the top, and it is. The trip aside, even their normal lives - which are fraught with the issues involved in marriage, children, jobs, and friendship - are not exactly accessible. Full time nannies? Really?

That said, I prefer this movie to the first one, which felt like being emotionally run over repeatedly by a Mack truck and then finally peeled off the pavement at the end. It was one crisis after another. Frankly, it was a little too real for me, a little too close to life as I experience it everyday through my job. The second one was more like what I loved about the show, that balance of heartache, introspection, humor, and ribaldry. The high life they live is a fantasy, as removed from the real world as the magical world of my escapist novels. But if they weren't wearing my year's salary in a single outfit and jetting around the world complaining that they might be consigned to coach class, these women could be my friends. And Samantha still makes me laugh.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The conversation goes like this:

"What do you do the rest of the week?"

"Well, I write, I visit people, I read, I run the youth groups, I answer a lot of email, and...I go to a lot of meetings."

"Meetings for what?"

A good question, that, especially since I seem to spend a whole lot of hours in meetings. This week's meetings so far have included: the programming board for the camp where I volunteer, the quarterly gathering of our area group of churches, the board of directors of a local youth emergency shelter, and a task force for an HIV/AIDS community center. Later today I have a weekly meeting with my senior minister; following that we will be joined by the chief of police to discuss some community issues and a program that we're considering working with. Tomorrow I'll meet with the group of people I supervise (I'm sure I'll come back to them some other time), then with the new national staff person for the organization that works toward LGBT inclusion in my denomination, then with our ministerial team.

That's more or less a fair sampling of the meetings I usually attend. In my brain they are categorized as staff stuff, church stuff, community stuff, regional denominational stuff, and national denominational stuff. I don't usually mind meetings, at least not if they are run well and actually accomplish something. But here's the thing...they are often run poorly and accomplish nothing. As a result, I am suffering from Generalized Meeting Annoyance Syndrome. I think there must be a better way to get things done than to spend five hours yapping about it.

Anyway, speaking of meetings, I need to go to one, and before I do, I desperately need coffee. All these meetings are making me very sleepy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Just Another Manic Monday...and Tuesday...and Wednesday...

Technically I haven't gotten to Wednesday yet, but I'm assuming it will continue the manic streak that is my life lately. Yesterday was supposed to be my day off. When my alarm woke me up to move my car to the other side of the street (alternate-side parking is the bane of my existence), I happened to take a look at my calendar for the day - which I was certain contained only one entry, the blissful monthly appointment that makes it possible for me to function: my massage.

The massage was there as expected. Unexpected, however, was the presence of another agenda item: "5pm Camp Board Meeting." Ugh.

I'm really not a fan of having meetings on my day off. Mostly because that renders it pretty much not a day off, and I only get one a week. Or none, in the case of Mondays in which I spend several hours in meetings, which has been all too common for the last couple of months. My weeks have been so packed that I seriously need a real day off - or three. Not a day in which I'm traveling somewhere. Not a day in which I'm trying to be on vacation or retreat but am actually writing newsletter articles, stewardship letters, and sermons. An actual day off. No, the week when I visited my family does not count. I count it as vacation time, but it is far from time off, believe me (not to mention that I was still working while I was there). I need a day off. Badly.

Yes, I am being completely whiny and entitled. What of it?

This, my friends, is what happens to ministers when they do not practice what is popularly called "self-care." They become exhausted and overwhelmed, which gets expressed in all sorts of obnoxious and unhelpful ways. I get cranky and irritated. Other people withdraw. At some point, we just shut down.

Ironically, I am not the world's biggest proponent of the self-care movement for ministers. I've seen it cause entitlement issues in my peers that have made them lazy, ineffective, and sometimes destructive pastors. I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for people who go into ministry and expect a forty-hour work week. Sometimes you get a forty-hour work week. Other weeks you have multiple crises and have to fit in your normal work too, and end up feeling lucky if you only work twice that number of hours. It's kind of like what I imagine being a parent is like: sometimes you just have to suck up the sleep deprivation, take some ibuprofen for the headache, and keep moving.

That said, I periodically realize that I can't just keep going at a breakneck pace forever. Eventually, I will actually make myself sick, because that is my body's way of telling me, "No, seriously, STOP." I'd like to not get to that point. I'd like to be able to just tell myself that it's time to slow down for a day or two. Even God rested.