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.