Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tradition, Tradition!

People are always talking about traditions at Christmas time.  I had dinner tonight with a family whose tradition is fondue on Christmas Eve.  They asked me if I had any family traditions for Christmas.

We always had pickled herring on Christmas.

Pickled herring is pretty much the only seafood product that I don't like.  At all.  I will eat almost anything that comes out of water.  I cannot stand pickled herring.  Seriously, pickled fish?

We had a lot of transition in my family, and thus, not much tradition.  It equipped me well for ministry, which is change, change, change.  Not so much for the congregation (if you want to keep your job), but for the minister.  We move.  We adapt to the traditions of our congregations.  If we don't, we cause trouble.  I've actually come to appreciate tradition, although I don't really get it.  The stabilizing force in a community is tradition.  The things we share, over and over.  I'm very good with change, but not so good with continuity.  It's taken me eight years to realize that most people's faith journeys are built around the things they do every season, every year, every week.  I don't have that.  I have change, and pickled herring.

My family is 1,500 miles away, and this is the tradition they have gotten used to: I won't be there.  They will work out their plans with my brother and sister who are married and now have other traditions to be part of, and they will all know that I am not part of those negotiations.  If I'm good, as I finally was this year, I'll manage to send boxes of gifts that contain the hope that my nieces and nephews will remember who I am, that I can somehow be a part of their lives even though they see me once or twice a year.  I don't think it's working.

I don't want to move back there, and I can't - I've made a name for myself as a troublemaker, a liberal.  I've made myself an east-coaster through and through.  Where I grew up, I would be abrupt, aloof, rude. I'm the outsider, now.  And I've started to put down roots where I am.  When one of my kids fainted in the Christmas Eve service tonight, I thought, "This will be the thing I remind her of when she's a senior and moving on."  I'm having a hard time imagining leaving, and that is the hardest thing of all, seeing myself as someone who might stay.  I have a life here in a way that I haven't before, anywhere, and that in itself is scary, because what do I do when I have to leave?  And even scarier, what do I do if I stay?

One of the many things that is hard about it is realizing that I might never be at another Christmas gathering where there is pickled herring, where it is the people who have known me my whole life, where they will put out crazy fish products because we're Scandinavian but know that I won't have anything to do with it.  I haven't been there for twelve years.  Chances are, I'll never be there again.  I am, through and through, a minister.  Even if I could be away for Christmas, I wouldn't.  I've spent the last three years with a friend's family; this year I wasn't invited.  It reminded me that I am still a guest.  That's not my family.  If I flew home tomorrow I could still show up, unannounced, for my own family's pickled herring day.  Here, in the life that I could very well have for the rest of my life, I will have to be invited.  There is always that chance that I may have nowhere to go.

It's Christmas, and more than any other day of the year, I don't know who I am or where I belong.  Home is my apartment, my dog, my roommate, the life I've created for myself.  But I come home on Christmas Eve and I wonder, why is there no pickled herring here?  Or something else I come back to on a holiday, something I can call my own, something I don't have to be invited to?  Where is the thing that will hold me together?  What is my tradition?  


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Annual Celebration of Exhaustion and Inadequacy

Sometimes I wonder why we continually subject ourselves to modes of celebration that seem specially engineered to make us feel bad.  Christmas is the prime example of this.

We spend hours/days/weeks shopping for the perfect gifts, so that we can worry about whether they're good enough (probably), whether they capture exactly what we're trying to express (no, it's just an object, you might have to actually say what you feel), whether we've spent equally on everyone so that no one feels bad (yes, but someone will still feel bad), whether it will arrive on time (probably not, as the postal service seems surprised every year by the amount of stuff that people want shipped), and whether we will ever be able to pay off our credit card bills (no, that's the whole point of credit card companies).

We create "traditions," which I have come to know alternately as "excuses to get mad when people don't do what I want."  So instead of being happy about the celebrations we do get to have, we get to be angry because so-and-so has to work instead of coming to the family dinner, or Rev. Changeverything has picked the wrong carols for the Christmas Eve service, or the new sister-in-law is making roast beef!  When everyone knows you're supposed to have ham!

Or, if we are me, "we" get to be a little depressed because somewhere, many miles away, there are family traditions happening without us, and all around us there are other people's happy gatherings happening, and every five minutes we are reminded of the fabulous gift someone else is getting, while we know that what we will be getting is a pound of Caribou coffee (which we love and look forward to for months, don't get us wrong) and some sort of decorative item from the parents, and that's about it.  (Okay, I'll stop speaking in the royal we now.)  And it's not really about the gift-getting.  The fact is that no matter how much I hate all those diamond commercials, because diamonds are socially irresponsible and absurdly expensive and have no actual bearing on the quality of love between two people, they still remind me that there is no one in the world who loves me enough to even consider such a gift.  That I will come home after working a bazillion hours on Christmas Eve to just my dog, and spend Christmas Day semi-awkwardly attending someone else's family festivities.  For about a month, several times a day, I get the supreme joy of remembering that, despite the fact that I do have a lot of friends and a pretty active social life, there just aren't that many people who care all that much about me.  

And if the self-pity gets to be too much, I remember the clergy who have spouses/kids/closer families and how their holiday is so often spent juggling church and family gatherings, feeling guilty about sacrificing family time for work or vice versa, and not really getting that reprieve that I get when all the services are done and I can just sleep and not worry about being "on" for anyone else.  And the other people in the world who don't just feel a sense of aloneness, as I do, but genuinely are without family, friends, or a faith community (all of which I have and am grateful for, when I can get over myself).

Its all just a lot of pressure for a holiday that got its start in a stable.

I wish I could be a like more Jesusy about the whole thing, a little less self-absorbed, a lot less sad.  I'll get there around Christmas Eve.  And there's something very Advent about feeling the darker side of the holidays, something very "in sin and error pining" about experiencing some sense of loss and lacking before the celebration of hope and joy.  At least that is what I'm telling myself.       

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent Schmadvent

Like a lot of clergy I know, I'm quite attached to Advent - as in, observing Advent before we celebrate Christmas.  Like a lot of churches I know, my congregation is not so much into Advent.  They want to sing Christmas carols in, like, July or something.  I've been fighting the good fight on this one for quite some time, through a college chaplaincy and three congregations, and I've gotta say, I'm about ready to throw up my hands and just let them sing "Jingle Bells" every Sunday from November on.  I'm tired.  It's exhausting trying to convince people that delayed gratification is a good thing, that a time of contemplative waiting is in order before we pull out all the bells and whistles, that we really are still a people in waiting for God, that the assumed happiness of the holidays is difficult for many people, that sometimes we need a little quiet in the midst of all the cultural pressure to be jolly.

I don't want to explain these things anymore.  I don't want to spend Advent fighting over every little thing.  And it seems that in order to do that, I may just have to step back and say, "Fine, rush right into presents and parties and jumping for joy, and forget all about the reason it all happened in the first place."

Yes, I am feeling cynical and annoyed today, why do you ask?  I have something more constructive brewing in my mind about Christmas traditions, but it'll have to wait until I can stop rolling my eyes.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

War on Christmas

So apparently there is a War On Christmas happening.  Have you heard?  The poor, beleaguered Christians are being subjected to such violent acts as - drumroll, please - having store clerks wish them "Happy Holidays."  Children in school may be forced to endure generalized seasonal festivities instead of being taught about the birth of Jesus by public school teachers who may or may not know or believe anything about that event.  How very appalling.

'Tis the season to be cranky and demanding, it seems.  I can't turn around or log onto Facebook without someone complaining about "taking the Christ out of Christmas."  Since I'm a minister, a professional Christian if you will, I wonder to myself, "Is this something I should be upset about?"

So, I go to the Rite-Aid, where the woman at the register cheerfully wishes me happy holidays, and this feels to me like a pleasantry, not an attack on my faith.  At the same Rite-Aid, I can buy a button that says, "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," a nativity scene, and ornaments with angels, Jesus, and Mary on them.  "Joy to the World" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful" are piped over the speakers.  If I were a celebrator of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, I'd be out of luck in the music and product departments.  My visit to the store doesn't make me feel persecuted for my faith; if anything, it makes me feel unnecessarily privileged.

The kids in my youth group have holiday parties instead of Christmas parties at school, it's true.  They also have their major school breaks structured around their religious holidays, so they never have to worry about how to manipulate their schedules to allow for both school and religious observances.  And they learn about their faith from their parents and the church people who have taken baptismal vows to them, people who know and care about Christian faith, not from teachers whose training and jobs are to instruct kids in academic subject matter.  In return, I don't have to teach them about math, for which everyone is grateful.

This country that is supposedly waging a war on Christmas is also a country where a presidential campaign is peppered with discussion of whether a Mormon is Christian enough to be electable.  The last election involved accusations that Obama was a secret Muslim.  We've had some Unitarian, deist, and non-affiliated presidents, but it's been quite some time (80 years or so, if my brief Google search is correct).  Now the assumption is that only a Christian would be electable as president, even though the we have no law regulating the religious beliefs of any elected official.

All of this is to say, we're not exactly being persecuted.  Despite separation of church and state, despite declining church attendance, Christianity is still the cultural norm.

Which leads me to the thing that really bugs me about all this "war on Christmas" business.  Christians complaining about being persecuted.  Not because they're being imprisoned or killed for their beliefs, but because a store dares to ask its employees to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone passing through their lines will be Christian.  Because the government protects kids from having religion - any religion - forced upon them in what is supposed to be an environment where all kids are welcome.  Methinks the definition of persecution may be a bit skewed here.  And really, you're going to whine about corporations and government agencies persecuting you because of your Christian faith?  Have you ever read the gospels?  Remember that Jesus guy?  It seems to me that we shouldn't be surprised not to have everyone go merrily along with our beliefs, since we follow someone who was killed for his.  Just a thought.      


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ministers and Movie Stars

Yesterday at the salon I saw an article about Leonardo DiCaprio being mistaken for a thief in a jewelry store because he was bundled up in a sweatshirt and hat, trying not to be recognized.  Apparently it worked, until the police showed up.

Sometimes I roll my eyes at famous people going all crazy to avoid notice.  Those millions of dollars you make: they come because you are recognizable.  Being unrecognizable is ostensibly not a good thing if you're an actor or a musician.

Yesterday, however, I did not roll my eyes.  Instead, I nodded in sympathy at this poor guy who was just trying to buy a gift for his mom and had to dress like a potential robber to avoid being chased down by fans and paparazzi.

I don't have fans, and no one is trying to take my picture.  However, I'm not entirely unfamiliar with the phenomenon of being recognized when you don't want to be.  For example, last week I got off of a plane after a few days of intense meetings.  I was starving, so I went to my home base bar to grab something to eat.  It was 10pm on a Saturday night.  I looked like absolute hell, hunched over my food after hours of travel.  So, of course this seemed like a good time for someone to talk to me about church business.

From her perspective, it makes complete sense: she needs to talk to me, I'm there, what else is there to it? Meanwhile, I am scrambling to find my work brain and not say something completely idiotic.

Fun clergy fact: The likelihood that you will run into a parishioner is directly proportional to how exhausted, frustrated, sloppily dressed, occupied with things other than church, or otherwise unclergylike you are at a given moment.  Ministers cannot just run to the grocery store or stop into the pharmacy or go out to dinner like normal people.  Perhaps we need to pile on hats and hooded sweatshirts and go incognito.  Then again, it didn't work so well for Leo.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The War of the Blogs

I occasionally write for a blog that my denomination hosts.  Usually I limit myself to writing during our annual assembly unless something big is happening, but every once in a while I get a yen to write about something denomination-specific.  This happened just last week, after I had attending the meetings of our executive committee and commissions.  I'm the moderator of the Commission for Women, which means that I spent three days talking about all the injustices women face in our in-progress denomination, which affirms women's ordination in general but provides an "out" for those who aren't down with the equality thing.

I've been living with the consequences of that "out" since I joined this denomination in 1999 and was rapidly disabused of my initial delusion that this would be a happy, accepting place for women (I was fleeing from a reactionary fundagelical experience at the time).  As a member of the Commission for Women, it's been part of my task to hear the worst of the stories of what women have experienced.  Hearing all that crap so consistently can sometimes make one maybe the slightest bit bitter.  So, I did what I do: I blogged about it.

And then the firestorm began.

There are now around seventy comments on that post.  Many of them are from anonymous authors.  In fact, I think only one of my detractors identified himself.  All the usual accusations are there.  I'm angry, I hate men, I'm not to be trusted anyway as I'm a supporter of the evil gays, blah blah blah.  There are lots of threats that they will leave the denomination if they're not allowed to be nasty to women candidates and ministers, which is apparently supposed to bother me.  I'm not sure why the exodus of a bunch of people who harass me and threaten my ordination would bring me a tremendous sense of loss, but whatever.

I'm more or less used to this sort of thing, although it's been a bit more concentrated this week than most.  But I'm starting to think it's just the warm-up.  My church just voted to allow same-sex marriages, and our regional assembly will be discussing it tonight.  A minister who was disciplined a few years ago for performing a marriage has just been reinstated, so tensions will already be high.  On Saturday, I found lists of biblical quotations about sexual immorality posted on the church doors, which I'm guessing may be some sort of commentary (again, anonymous) about our recent decisions.  I suspect we are in for a rocky ride in the months to come.  Because what we need is people verbally beating each other up again for a while, that being such an effective way for the church to function.  I can't help but think that the powers of evil are chuckling with glee while we distract ourselves by ripping each other apart while the injustices of the world run rampant all around us.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rev. Fatty Fat Fattikins and the Vicious Parishioner

My church is currently running a stewardship campaign, which we are actually treating more like a relationship campaign.  Members are calling other members and talking about church.  What's going wrong, what's going right, what could be better, how might you get more involved, etc.  Sounds like a good idea, right?

A woman came into the office this week to tell the senior minister that she didn't want to do this calling thing anymore.  The feedback she had heard on her first call was nothing like she was expecting, and she didn't want to deal with that sort of conversation anymore.  What was this troubling feedback, you ask - this complaint so crucial to the life of the church?

I'm too fat.

Yes, the secret is out.  My tremendous breadth no longer fits in the pulpit.  I'm far too ginormous to climb into the driver's seat of the church van and take work groups to flooded areas.  In fact, I can no longer find clerical robes made in my size.  And after I broke my office chair, they had to buy me one of those circus balls that elephants balance on.  


So there is the plain old sheer meanness of this comment, of course.  Fortunately, my self esteem is fairly high and was only slightly shaken by this useful piece of information.  It was a little worse than it might normally have been because I had spent the week with my family and was a bit emotionally raw.  My first inclination was to get defensive, but there is no one to get defensive to.  I don't know who this person is, and the bearer of bad news certainly doesn't deserve the diatribe that is in my head about genetics, health, enjoyment of life, and the unrealistic societal expectations placed on women.  So, occasionally I think about this episode and allow myself a moment of irritation at people's often thoughtless and sometimes vicious behavior.  

I swear, I will never understand the degree to which some people believe that they own the appearance (and by extension the body) of their minister.  I'm fairly certain this happens more to female clergy than it does to male.  I am constantly fending off comments about my hair, skin, clothes, shoes, nail polish color, tattoos...if you can see it, people feel free to express an opinion about it.  Sometimes it's caring and well-intentioned, sometimes not so much.  But it's nearly always annoying.

More importantly, there is the fact that I now know there is someone in the congregation who is not thinking about whether we are loving people, or pointing people toward God, or working toward peace and justice.  I know that when I talk about these things, she's worrying about whether my fat ass will break the preacher's bench, or worse yet, that I won't look good enough to represent the congregation.  And that, my friends, really chaps my hide.  Excuse me, my fat hide.    

Monday, September 26, 2011

Irene Boot Camp (otherwise known as, Reflections on the Shallower Side of Flood Relief)

Doing relief work is fabulous for your inner beauty.  On your outer beauty, I should warn you, it can wreak havoc.  My skin is breaking out around my mouth and nose in a line that precisely marks the place where an N95 mask sits on my face for a few hours a day.  My hair always seems to contain some remnant of drywall dust - which looks suspiciously like dandruff to those who don't spend their days prying nails out of ceilings while sheetrock particles rain down on their faces.  I've developed some serious biceps, just in time for Cosmo to inform me that too-muscley women aren't hot (give me a break.  Whoever keeps subscribing me to that magazine, it's not funny.  Kindly stop).  Things like eyebrow grooming have fallen by the wayside, as I've been burning the candle at both ends just to get my work done this month while leading volunteer groups almost every day.  The good news is that my pedicure has held up a record-breaking three weeks; I suppose being constantly encased in steel-toed work boots helped.

On the other hand, I feel pretty fabulous.  I'm using my body every day, and not just to raise and lower myself from my office chair.  There is a physical confidence that comes back to my when I'm regularly active, and it's showing up big time as a result of swinging a sledge hammer and hauling buckets of mud.  Which I guess sort of makes up for the fact that Irene Boot Camp hasn't done a thing to reduce my size.  Apparently being in my mid-thirties means that 6-8 hours of physical labor a day still isn't enough to kick my metabolism into action or reduce the annoying fat that has deposited itself around my stomach and hips.  For the most part I'm really enjoying my thirties, but they could take that part back.  And the heartburn, to which I say, where the hell did you come from?

These are the things that I notice when I come home from days of doing the heaviest, most disgusting work of my life, when I don't want to think anymore about the house that sat for three weeks full of mud before anyone touched it, or the trailer park that was battered against the nearby grove of trees, or the woman who started crying when we pulled into her driveway because she had been gutting the house alone for the last three days.  And I understand a little bit of why so many people around my already seem to have forgotten all about this whole situation, because it's really easy to just think about how irritating my skin is instead.      

Thursday, September 15, 2011


So, I have a friend who is currently angry at me, although she hasn't actually said that and probably won't.  She didn't say anything about it until I asked if everything was okay, and even then, she said she was fine and then later sent me a text message to tell me that everything was not fine.  Apparently we're going to talk about it...sometime.  It's already been four days since the offending incident (the nature of which is not entirely clear to me).  The text message is a big improvement over the silent treatment I was getting before, but still.

Sometimes I am forced to confront the fact that other people do not deal with anger the way that I do.

This is how I get angry:
1. Incident occurs.
2. I say, "I'm angry," or yell, or have some other immediate expression of emotion.
3. Person in question reacts however they're going to react.
4. Depending on their reaction, I either forgive and forget, or file the incident into the "reduce expectations of this person" category of acquaintance.  Either way, I move on.

Let there be no mistaking this: I get angry.  Sometimes VERY angry.  I just don't have the capacity to hold on to anger.  It's not my nature to stew over things.  Also, right now, I have other things to worry about.  Like, you know, thousands of people without functional homes.

I'm trying to be understanding and give her time to put her thoughts in order, but seriously.  I just do not have the energy or patience to deal with this indefinitely.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hurricane Irene and the Tools of Ministry

The area where I live was recently hit with this hurricane, and everything has pretty much been turned upside down around here.  My own home and church weren't affected, but the neighborhood around the church was badly flooded.  Several communities around us were devastated, and I have friends who are trying to hold their churches together, help the people in their towns, and deal with the loss of their own houses.  I can't imagine how they're doing it.  I'm exhausted, and all I'm doing is organizing volunteer groups and donations.  I've spent most of the last couple of weeks mucking out basements and gutting houses.  It's a whole different kind of work than I usually do.  I can't say I'd like to do it all the time, but there is something deeply satisfying about swinging a sledge hammer and tearing down a wall.

When I graduated from seminary, I asked for a copy of the Septuagint as a gift.  Don't get me wrong, I like my Septuagint, but other tools have proven a wee bit more useful over the years.  I didn't expect ministry to lead me to own my own sledge hammer, crow bar, and steel-toed boots.  My classes never mentioned how proficient I would become in backing up a 15-passenger van, making gumbo or goat curry for 100, or drywalling.  I'm glad I took the classes I did; I enjoyed them, and they fit the path I thought I was on at the time.  I believe in seminary education and the foundation it provides.  But wow, it sometimes seems pretty distant from the work that I do from day to day.

I also feel like I should have had a class in "How to Not Get Angry When People Don't Volunteer," but that's another subject for another day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pick Up a Shovel, Yo

Several downs within an hour drive of where I live have been completely devastated by Hurricane Irene.  It took me a few days to get my act together and start doing something to help out with this, mostly because I was waiting for other people who said they were doing something about it to get their act together, but finally I decided to just go ahead and start organizing because it needed to be done and, well, let's face it - I'm a lot better at organizing than I am at the actual labor part of all of this.

Anyway, I was down at one of the sites yesterday, cleaning mud off of body bags at a funeral home (yes, really - and no, there were no people in the bags) and shoveling piles of refuse (which we used to call "walls" and "ceiling") out of the basement of a church.  Most of the buildings there have been completely gutted, the piles of soggy insulation, drywall, and carpet lining the streets.  There is a roof in the church parking lot.  Just the roof; it floated off of someone's house.  The amount of damage is unbelievable.

So, here is the thing that is annoying me today.  This is all happening very close to where I live.  Some of it is happening two blocks from my church.  I preached this sermon on Sunday about getting through crisis, and how we all need to pitch in if we want these people and communities to make it.  People loved this sermon.  Yes, yes, you're so right, we should totally help people, etc.  Then I asked for volunteers to go to the affected areas and spend a few hours wielding a hose, sponge, or shovel.  I said I would take people down every day this week, so we could accommodate different schedules.  How many volunteers do you think I got?  Yeah...not as many as people who told me what a great sermon it was.  What it comes down to is this: they're glad our church is doing something to help, but "our church" really means "someone else," namely me and the few other people who have stepped forward.

I....just don't get it.  I don't understand how you can know that people down the street and in the areas surrounding you have lost EVERYTHING, and not feel the need to help.  I do understand that some people don't have the physical capability to haul wheelbarrows of wet building materials, but there are a lot of different things that need to be done.  I guess I was hoping that all of these people saying, "We should do something to help" would equal a large turnout of people actually doing something to help.  Apparently not.

That said, if you are in the area, we'll have work groups (of indeterminate size) going out on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday this week.  Drop me a comment or, if you know me, get in touch by email or phone, and I'll set you up.  If you can't do it this week but still want to help, let me know.  We are talking months worth of work here, so it's not going to run out before you're available.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's been a long time since I've posted anything remotely interesting, and it's making me wonder if I should continue to bother blogging.  I mean, I like blogging, and I've been doing it for a long time, but there is a problem with being a blogging minister, at least for me.  Some other ministers I know seem to handle it just fine.  But I don't want to blog about churchy things.  I don't want to post sermons or devotionals or profound reflections on the meaningfulness of my ministry all the time.  I could post those things, but then my blog would be an extension of my job - and let's fact it, my job doesn't really need to extend any further than it already does.  Then there are all the other interesting things that I have to say, but most of them are probably inappropriate to share on a blog that might be traced back to me.  I learned via disaster a few years ago that blogging about one's parishioners is a really bad idea, and fortunately have long known without disaster that it's a really bad idea to post a lot of detail about one's personal life on the internet.  Since most of what I have to say is either a pithy rant about church stuff or related to my personal life, I'm not left with much fodder.

I'm not really going to stop blogging, but it's a conundrum.

Anyway, I am now completely moved from my old apartment, although I am still having nightmares about moving.  I think this might be PTSD from having a washing machine dropped on me, in case moving in general isn't traumatic enough.  As a result of a month of hauling boxes, bins, furniture, and appliances, the shoulder that was separated in January is driving me absolutely nuts.  I feel about eighty years old.  And I still have to UNpack a good deal of this stuff, and get the washer working, which is kind of a challenge after you've dropped it down a couple of flights of stairs.

My band is trekking right along, starting to get more gigs and building up a fan base, in my town anyway.  The other band members live in other towns, which one might think would lead to gigs and fans elsewhere, but for now it's mostly my friends and my friends' friends who are making up our audiences - along with a big group of crew members from the movie that is filming in town.  They love us, which has been great.  I'm learning that people who are my actual friends often make the worst audience members.  They completely take me for granted in the way that only friends can, so it's always a mystery whether they'll show up at all, stay for more than two songs when they do show up, demonstrate any enthusiasm, etc.  And then they say things like, "Meh, I've heard you do that song better," and refer to me as a diva, which of course I kind of am, but who wants to hear that?  Strangers who dance through our sets and gush about us afterward are more gratifying, which is not to say that I don't love it when my friends do show up.  I do.  But drawing more people to gigs than my friends is always a good thing.

And now, I must go focus my writing energies on the sermon I'm preparing for Sunday, because my birthday is tomorrow, and I know not a whole lot of work is going to get done.    

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Craziest Month Ever

Seriously, this month has been out of control.  I have been moving, launching a major church program that involves moving and settling in four young adults, preparing for fall programming, officiating about a zillion weddings, covering for colleagues on vacation, spending a week as camp chaplain, and doing, you know, the normal things that make up my job.  By far the most stressful part of this has been the new program (although moving isn't really topping my list of fun things at the moment).  The people moving to town to do this program are...young.  They don't have much experience.  At the moment they need a LOT of direction.  I haven't had as much time as giving that direction well would take.  I'm sure I'm giving them a headache much like the one they're giving me.  At present I am a very hard person to work for, as I don't have a lot of understanding or patience for people who move slowly and don't get things done without being pushed.  I'm sure it will come as a shock to you who know me to find out that I'm bossy, critical, sarcastic, and demanding.  These are not people who even know how to come close to meeting the expectations that I am learning that I have, even the ones that are fairly basic in my opinion.  I'm hoping things will get better.

Apparently we're supposed to get hit with a hurricane this weekend.  I don't know how bad it will really get around here, but I bought flashlights, candles, batteries, and water.  Batten down the hatches!

I wish I had profound things to say, but mostly I have a head full of moving mania.  Today is Move the Washer and Dryer Day, or it will be if I can ever get out of the office.  Fortunately I had a wedding cancelled tomorrow and therefore have a bit more free time than I anticipated.  It's probably bad that I am happy about a wedding being cancelled, but we take what we can get.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Camp Bubble

This week I'm at the camp where I volunteer as a chaplain for a week every summer.  I do love this camp.  Unlike some other church camps, our goal is not to manipulate children into "making a decision for Jesus."  We don't do altar calls or scare our kids into sexual abstinence or threaten them with eternal torment, as I've seen happen elsewhere.  We tend a bit toward the "God smiles when you compost" camp philosophy.  We teach kids about community, simplicity, care for creation, and other good stuff.  We emphasize love, grace, acceptance, and justice.  We talk about Jesus, although we don't assume everyone believes the same things about him or wants to.  We have morning yoga sessions, which is apparently controversial.  Whatever.

Anyway, I'm having a pretty great time so far, up here beside a lake in the Adirondacks, hiking, kayaking, and talking to teenagers about God.  It's not a bad gig.  One thing I will say is that the schedule is killing me.  Mornings come early around here.  I am not a morning person.  I'm also not someone who shuts down the minute the campers go to bed.  I need some time to decompress, and then suddenly it's 1:30am and I've cut my sleep time down to five hours.  Aging is not helping with this problem; unfortunately, I can't skimp on sleep the way I used to and still be functional.  I'm hoping to get my worship planning done in time to take a nap today, so offline I go.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In Which I Lose My Mind

Do you ever look at your schedule and task list and think, "Yeah, I'm not really sure how that's going to happen?"  That's where I am of course, I am blogging.  In my defense, I am being interrupted with such frequency that it took me forty-five minutes to write those two sentences.

Anyway, my brain is completely fried, what with trying to furnish a 4-bedroom apartment for a bunch of 20-somethings, finalize their service placements for the year, move myself, prepare for a week at camp, and officiate at my usual plethora of weddings.  Add to the mix the fact that this week, all of these people with whom I have very surface-y, light, I-only-know-you-because-we-all-hang-out-at-the-same-bar sorts of acquaintances have decided that it's a good time to break out the profound conversations.  So, Mr. Fun All the Time who avoids deep thought at all cost wanted to talk about parenthood and passing values onto children (because I'm such an expert), and Miss Party-Party wanted to talk about how to find the right spiritual path for her after moving away from her Catholic upbringing, and Mr. Everything's A Joke wanted to discuss how to help a self-destructive friend.  This is part of my vocation.  It's one of the parts that I love.  And yet, it's such a strange thing when the people who are usually part of my fun and relaxation, and who don't often want to deal with the minister factor in me, suddenly need me to be my whole self.  It's not bad, just odd.

The to-do list is not going away of its own volition, so I suppose I should stop procrastinating and start chipping away at it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


I hate moving.  I did it about eighteen times in thirteen years, and developed an absolute abhorrence for packing and hauling boxes.  Hate, hate, hate.  That said, I think I'm moving.

I went looking for a house for a new program we're starting at church.  I found a great house, that is actually two flats.  The upstairs one is the perfect size for the program.  The downstairs one is, as it turns out, really great for me and my roommate.  I've toyed with the idea of moving, because my current apartment is roughly the size of a shoebox and is kind of falling apart.  But since I hate moving, I've kind of let it slide.

Well, I think I'm moving.  Pros: more space, better neighborhood, off-street parking, nicer apartment, big porch, closets.  Cons: moving, living downstairs from the people I'll be supervising.  I'm determined not to become the house mother.  It should be interesting.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Roadtrip Revelations

Have you ever had a revelation that you are completely screwed up?

This happened to me last night as I was driving home from a concert in NYC.  To be fair to myself, the revelation was not that I am totally screwed up in all aspects of my life.  Just one, really.  Maybe more...but those have yet to be revealed to me.  Anyway.  Two things happened during this trip that caused the revelation.

The first is that I was sitting at a table outside a taqueria in Soho, chowing down on the best taco I have ever had in my life.  Spit-grilled pork, in case you're curious.  I had my mouth full of drippy taco when this guy I sort of know walked by.  The reason I sort of know him is that a mutual friend tried to fix us up ages ago.  He's great.  We got along swimmingly.  But then scheduling proved to be a problem, and we both decided to just let it drop.  I ran into him again recently, and something sparked - even more than four years ago.  We made plans to get in touch with each other in August, when allegedly, both of our lives will become slightly less hectic (ha).  So you'd think that, when I see this person randomly walking down Bleecker St., and I am even more randomly (since he actually lives near there, and I do not) sitting there eating a taco, I would, you know, say something.  But I did not, because I could not imagine the indignity of shouting at him, or even worse, running down the street after him to get his attention.

Because I am always the paragon of dignity, right?

So, I let him pass by, and it's fine.  I'll see him again, or I won't, and life will go on.  But there's the thing that left me kicking myself later.  On most levels, I really am kind of laissez-faire about the whole thing, and float through life telling myself that it doesn't matter to me whether I am ever in a functional relationship.  But it kind of does, or at least it matters that I would be able to be in one if the right someone ever came along.  And the "what is meant to happen will happen" philosophy is great, until it possibly walks down the sidewalk in front of you and you just watch it go by because you're worried about...what?  Some stranger seeing you be slightly idiotic?  Whatever.  So, I was irritated at myself, not necessarily even over this particular person, but over my complete unwillingness to take any kind of risk when it comes to my own love life.

Then I went to this concert.  I know the band.  I have a complex relationship with one of the members of the band.  I have absolutely no hesitation when it comes to flirting shamelessly with him, asking him to do things for me, and generally demanding his attention.  The complex part of this is that he's completely unavailable.  Usually I don't find this to be a problem.  We just are how we are, and I enjoy that little happy rush I get when I see him, even if that's as far as it's ever going to go.

But I was thinking about this on the way home, and about how much I am willing to put myself on the line in various situations, and I realized that I really only put myself out there, and that I'm really only honest, with men who are in some way unavailable.  They have girlfriends or wives or live in other states or countries or are gay.  That's when I'm comfortable, because I know what the final result will be.  I'm willing to risk being honest with my feelings because it's not really a risk.  If the relationship doesn't go anywhere, it's not because they weren't interested in what I put out there; it's because they were unavailable to begin with.

I also don't have to worry about someone genuinely wanting to be part of my life, which might force me to change some things.  I like change in theory, I like it in church, and I really like it when it happens to other people.  But I have built my life very carefully, especially the part of it that involves not depending on anyone else to be there for me.  The idea of wanting someone else there, or God forbid needing them there, scares the crap out of me.  As I drove home from the concert - alone, as usual - I wondered if I am even capable of having someone around that much.  I have no idea; I've always kept my distance.

The irony of this is that I do a ton of weddings and spend a huge amount of time listening to people talk about their relationships and helping them work through issues.  I'm really good with other people's relationships.  Which of course makes me see all the more clearly how awful I am at my own.  I'm not really sure what to do about that, because it also involves all these other factors, like my ridiculous schedule and the lack of interesting prospects.  I guess for now I'll just be screwed up, but hey, at least I'm self-aware about it.            

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On the Anniversary of My Ordination

Today marks eight years since my ordination.  Eight is sort of an in-between number, so the day will not be celebrated with a new tattoo or a trip to far-off lands or anything terribly exciting.  Appropriately, I am spending most of today working like a maniac.  Both of my colleagues are gone, so I'm preparing to preach and liturgize on Sunday and covering the pastoral visits, as well as coordinating volunteers for a summer lunch program, scrambling for details for our next mission trip, finding a house for our new long-term volunteer program, finalizing positions for said volunteer program, booking a church trip to Israel for fall of 2012, and doing all the other things that I usually do.  It's getting a little nuts around here.  Tonight I am going to play a gig at a local bar, if I don't fall over from exhaustion first.  It's a good anniversary.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

And then I went away for about a month

I had all the best intentions of blogging while I was away.  I mean, surely I would have interesting things to say while I was at General Synod for a week and then roaming around Europe for the next three weeks.  And sure enough, I did have interesting things to say.  What I didn't have was time or consistent internet access or the desire to spend my vacation blogging instead of actually vacationing.  So, time for a bit of catch-up.

General Synod.  This was about my tenth GS, and although I enjoy it, I might be getting a little blase about the whole thing.  By the time you've been there a few years, you come to understand that the schedule is crazy grueling, and that in order to survive, you have to determine for yourself how to make time so as to not go insane or fall onto the floor in a heap.  This year I was wearing multiple hats as a regular delegate, commission moderator, and member of a special advisory committee on church geekery (I mean, church order and governance), so I did a lot of multitasking to get everything done.  I also skipped things that I knew would irritate me or waste my time.

In case you are a future GS delegate thinking, "Wonderful, I can just skip the things that bore me!" stop right there.  Things that involve voting are never optional.  Reports that are part of the actual meeting are not optional.  Morning worship services in which God is referred to exclusively in antiquated, male language by a preacher who wants you to believe that he stands around acting like a tree on a regular basis - those are optional.  The "ecumenical" meal where people of our own denomination talk at great length about how great ecumenical relationships are while the only member of another denomination present nods politely - also optional.  I think I am going to write a guide to GS sometime, in all my spare time.

In the midst of all of this, I was also nominated for VP of the denomination.  The way this works is that you become VP for a year and then pretty much automatically become president.  I should not have been surprised to be nominated; I sort of thought I might be before I got there.  But when it happened, it was a little odd.  I was the only woman and a good twenty or thirty years younger than all the other nominees.  Anyhoo, I was not elected, which isn't such a bad thing.  I have a lot of years to get there if that's somewhere I'm headed.  More upsetting to me was that one of the other candidates didn't get it, as I thought he would be fabulous.  But the GS seems to try to balance itself, and this year we have a president who is female and eastern (i.e., suspected of liberalism, although she is not really a liberal at all), so clearly we needed to have a midwestern white man who could not possibly be less threatening to the status quo.  Nice guy, and I'm sure he'll be fine, but...sigh.

And this is where my multitasking and my tendency to opt out of certain events bites me in the derriere.  The people at the table behind me were apparently quite shocked that I was nominated, as I clearly "have no focus" and am "always late."  These descriptions were a mystery to me, until I realized that they had no way of knowing that my fairly constant flipping from one screen to another on my computer and dashing back and forth from the staff table to my own seat are usually legitimate GS-related stuff, or that I'm late because I have six other meetings to attend, or that I have the detailed daily schedule and have read the workbook so throughly that I'm quite aware of when I need to be paying 100% attention and when I can take a moment to deal with something else.

And now I am out of blogging time and must go to a meeting.  More on my month away later.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Harried and Horsewhipped

Whose idea was it for me to spend a week at our annual denominational assembly and then immediately take a group of church people to another country the day after I get back?  Whoever it was is completely disturbed.

Seriously, it wasn't me.  A lot of things that have always happened the same week of every year shifted this year.  I planned the church trip thinking I'd have a week between my travels.  Not so!  So, I am trying to read the workbook for our assembly, and prepare the two reports I have to give while I'm there, and also get together my folder of travel documents and make last-minute arrangements for our group in Scotland.  Did I mention I also have two weddings this weekend and am preaching on Sunday morning?  Yes, folks, this week is a fun one.

So why am I wasting time blogging, you ask?  Avoidance and procrastination, plain and simple.  I'm going to go write a sermon now.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I've been reduced from actual writing to lists

Yesterday I:
- wrote about half of a sermon
- ran three miles in steel-melting heat
- interviewed a candidate for a new position at church
- wrote employment offer letters to approved candidates
- visited two patients in two different hospitals
- had the weekly meeting with my ministerial colleagues
- sorted out a wedding crisis
- made arrangements to cover some of my programs while I'm jaunting around Europe
- helped lead a class on the Bible and homosexuality
- watched game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals
- got irritated at Luongo's tendency to freeze, Vigneault's tendency to keep him in the net too long, and the Canucks' tendency to play a game or two of each playoff series as though they are peewees
- spent some time on the Vortex patio with my peeps
- did laundry
- helped a friend respond to the bat that flew out of her closet at 3am.

Yesterday I did not:
- wash any of the stack of dishes that is taking over the kitchen
- put away the pile of clothes that keeps eating more of my bedroom floor
- go home at a responsible time
- write a wedding sermon
- realize that I have only one wedding this weekend, not two
- get enough sleep.

I am tired.  That is all.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How to Say the Right Thing

A young man from my former congregation is in the hospital with some unidentified but critical condition that is shutting down his organs in rapid progression.  He was the twelve year-old who sat next to me at dinner during my interview and was thrilled that I remembered his name.  He was the eighth-grader in my first confirmation class, laughing so hard around my dining room table that we spit out our popcorn.  He was the teenager who mowed my lawn and adored my dog and moaned about school.  He's the kid who kept in touch after I left, who chats with me on Facebook, who I stop by to see when I notice that he's working when I drive past his job.  Now he's a nineteen year-old in a hospital bed with clammy, blueish skin, tubes running everywhere, his chest still cracked open under the blankets.  They don't know what's causing all of this.  They don't know if they can do anything.  His parents are, understandably, a wreck.  I'm not doing so hot either.

It is in times like this that I realize that I do not say the things that pastors are supposed to say.  I'm not even entirely sure what they are, but I feel like I should be saying comforting things about faith and how God will make it all turn out alright and so on.  But I can't.  I have no idea if God will make it turn out alright.  He might die, and it will not be alright for them if that happens.  He may come out of this but have severe brain damage or other problems, and that won't really be alright either.  Maybe in some greater cosmic sense it will be alright, and one way or another they will get through whatever it turns out to be, but I can't look them in the eye and in good conscience tell them that things will be anything approximating fine.  All I can say with confidence is that God is somewhere in this, deeply loving all of them.  But even that falls pretty flat when you're looking at your kid and the doctors are telling you he might not make it.

I'm probably supposed to be able to say something else about all of this, but I haven't figured out what that is yet.  I might be a bad pastor because I don't know what that is.  I don't know, I seem to do better with kids and non-church people.  Kids don't have expectations about what a pastor should say, so they just respond to people being real with them.  Non-church people often aren't big fans of the typical platitudes anyway, so my lack of answers works for some of them.  But this pastoral care for church people thing, man, I don't know.  Not really my gift.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Never Never Land

It's been a long time since I watched "Peter Pan," but I seem to remember that, in the end, Wendy goes home, grows up, and has children of her own, while Peter remains eternally carefree and youthful.  I've been thinking about this story today, as it occurred to me last night that I've been paying some visits to Never Never Land as of late.

I recently became acquainted with some guys who basically opened a bar because they wanted somewhere they and their friends could hang out and drink whenever they wanted.  This is the dream of any number of men that I know (hell, it's not like I haven't considered it myself), but it's one of those things that you pretty much know is not really going to work.  But that's because most guys with this kind of dream don't actually know how to run a bar.  These guys do, at least for a certain segment of the population.  The important games are always on, but the sound isn't.  The music is always good, and there is no juke box, so you never have to hear annoying pop or hip hop.  If you request a song in one of these genres, they'll happily tell you that one of the other hundred bars in town might be a more fitting place for you to hang out.  If you request a song at all, the answer is no.  The decor is dark and simple.  The food is fantastic.  The beer selection is not fancy but it covers a wide enough range to keep people happy.  They even have good wine, which is pretty rare for a "guy bar."  If you're a regular, there are all kinds of benefits, but we'll get back to that.

Anyway, their plan worked.  Maybe too well, since now the place is usually crowded and the guys actually have to work.  I get the idea that they don't mind too much, though, since they're all making money, and they all seem to show up even when they're not working.  It's impossible most of the time to tell who is working, since the workers are drinking and the drinkers are working.  Which brings us to Never Never Land.  Half the time the ones who aren't working have told their wives/girlfriends that they are, so I guess it's more legit if they carry some dishes to the kitchen from time to time, but mostly they're just meandering around, entertaining themselves and everyone else.  They shoot hoops on the patio and smoke like chimneys and go through untold bottles of Irish whiskey.  They have entirely too much fun, and so do people like me, who have been adopted into the crazy little clan that eerily resembles the Lost Boys.

Regular visitors to Never Never Land - the ones they like, anyway - are treated basically like employees without duties (although I've been known to clear dirty dishes to the kitchen, bring back order slips, and answer the phone).  If they have a closing time, it doesn't apply.  As it has gotten warmer, we've been slipping through the kitchen to congregate on the patio that isn't yet open to the public.  My tab seldom reflects anything resembling what I've consumed.  Last night, long after the kitchen was closed, I was lounging on the patio in the breeze, away from the sweaty crowd inside, eating some kind of amazing chicken and prosciutto sandwich that had appeared unexpectedly, although there's nothing with prosciutto on their menu.  You get the idea.  

I love my Never Never Land, and my Lost Boys.  They look out for me, which is an important quality.  I found them at a time when I needed a new space and a new group, and oddly enough, when I needed to regain hope that men could be decent human beings.  I say oddly because these are in some ways the least responsible (and occasionally least decent) people in my regular acquaintance.  They treat each other and me and other various people in the circle really well; they also routinely lie to and often cheat on their girlfriends and wives.  If I ever dated or married one of them, I think I'd have to kill him.  In hindsight, I often wonder if I should have been appalled by something they've done or said.  But as friends, they are just so very fun.

I feel a little Wendy-ish when I'm with them.  I'm the one with the other job, the other life, the responsibilities.  I have to go away and grow up at the end of every evening I spend there.  But for a little while, it's nice to be in denial.  I suspect that at some point, I may have to grow up so much that, like Wendy, I can't get back to Never Never Land.  I don't think most of them ever will.  There is something mildly disturbing in that that I think is tied to gender expectations; it's okay for men to keep being boys and having fun, but girls need to grow and be settled down women.  I don't really want to settle down right now, and I don't really want to settle down that much, ever, but I'm not going to move into Never Never Land, either.  I kind of like visiting both worlds.  And if the time ever comes when I can't go back, I hope some of my Peter Pans will remember to come visit me.      

To a Friend on Her Ordination

Dear Friend,

Today I received the invitation to your ordination in the mail.  I will be there, of course, celebrating with you at long last.  That will not be a day for the grief to creep in and mix with the joy.  Nonetheless, sadness and anger temper my happiness at seeing that invitation in the mail.  It is a good grief, a necessary grief, an earned grief, and needs to find expression somewhere.  Not on the day of your ordination.  And so it finds its voice here.

When we met, you were only a year behind me in seminary, and it was easy for me to believe that your path to ordination would be no harder than mine.  I am now certain that you knew better, although no one would have known it then.  You were the most unabashedly positive person I knew about ministry, the most energetic, and one of the most gifted.  No one seemed to want you, so you took a tiny church no one wanted, and loved them and let them love you.  It's still a pretty small church, but not nearly as small as it was then.  While I've moved between three positions, you've stuck it out with them.  Occasionally I've visited, and we've pounded the pavement, stapling up posters advertising your next pet blessing or Easter service, and I've been reminded that although I work hard, you work harder.  My youth group has painted your church and fallen in love with you and the community you've created, and returned to ask their elders why we, who have so much more, don't run a soup kitchen and food pantry and 12-step ministry the way you do.  They all want to move to Brooklyn, and I blame that on you.

In the meantime, you also fell in love, and got married.  As a consequence, I found myself standing with you and your family in front of our denominational assembly as they stripped your father, a lifelong servant of the church, of his credentials - almost as though they had never existed at all, as though he had not led their seminary or taught their pastors.  Of course, after that, they weren't going to really acknowledge that you existed either.  So they kept you in the church no one wanted but refused to ordain you, to support you or make you official.  And still you held on and hoped, even when those who opposed you were most cruel and those who claimed to support you were most apathetic.

By the way, if this is what we mean when we promise to love, support, and encourage those we baptize, I'm surprised more people don't opt out.

I can't give you this letter.  Not yet, anyway, not when you are being ordained in a week.  Maybe sometime later, because I want you to know how very happy I am that you are finally able to take this step.  But I also want you to know how angry I am that you can't do it within the church family that you have always loved so well, even while they spit all over you.  We have been blessed to have you ministering in one of our churches, and would have been even more so to count you among our clergy.  Our loss is the UCC's gain.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Meeting Etiquette 101

I don't have a whole lot of patience.  With anything.  This is something I continually hope to improve, but I also accept that it is the way I am, and that there are positive things about it.  For example, I am extremely efficient at running meetings.  I like efficiency.  It means that we get done what needs to be done, do not deal with extraneous crap, and finish in a timely manner.  I run good meetings.  I like running meetings.  I do not, however, like sitting in meetings that most other people run.

Case in point, last night's meeting, in which a bunch of ministers engaged in typical minister meeting behavior, such as: speaking with a pompous affect, using a lot of Christianese so that people feel unholy when they disagree, and talking four times longer than is necessary.  Someone made an announcement about a seminar he is teaching, but none of us need to go, because we got at least 2/3 of the lecture in the announcement.  Also, I'm all about worship and all, but when we have a meeting that begins at 7pm, and the business is likely to take at least two hours, I don't really think we need to kick it off with an hour of worship.  Sing a song to gather us, pray for guidance for the meeting, and get on with it.  No one wants to be in this meeting until 10pm.  Especially when it's out in the boonies an hour from anywhere.  And the NHL Western Conference finals are happening.

End of rant.

In other, less frivolous news, my nine year-old niece is having terrible seizures, worse than she ever has, and no one appears to be able to do anything about them.  She's on a four-month waiting list to get into the Mayo Clinic, but having several seizures a day, I'm not sure she's going to make it four months.  Also, a cousin (second? third? something removed?  I have no idea) has a son with cancer and a bastard husband who has left her in the middle of it all and is trying to vacate his adoption of her son, and she also has some issues with her dog who is being "cared for" by her idiot brother and sister-in-law, who have announced that they are going to shoot the dog if she doesn't pick it up today, although her son is in surgery 4 hours away from them today.  I know all of this because it is ALL over Facebook, which makes me feel even worse for all of them.  If one of my deeply Minnesotan relatives is flashing her problems all over a public forum, you know she is seriously at the end of her rope.  Prayers for all of the above are welcome and appreciated.    

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Someday I Just Need to Write a Book About Weddings

This weekend I officiated the cutest wedding (cute in a good way, which is seldom the case).  I wasn't sure what to expect going into it; they didn't want a rehearsal, which always makes me a little nervous when it's not one of those backyard-and-bluejeans affairs.  I also didn't get to meet the couple in advance.  That is frequently the case these days, as I do a lot of last-minute weddings for people who call from the city clerk's office because the judge has cancelled or the mayor had something more important to do or they just want their wedding to feel a little more sacred than a few formal words and a document signed in an office in city hall.  This wedding was not a spontaneous deal.  The reception was a served dinner at a fairly swanky restaurant.  But I got the call just a couple of weeks before the event.  No rehearsal, no frills.  They sent me a script for the ceremony.  I said, "Your wedding is going to be about five minutes long."  They said that was perfect.  Oooooookay.  In my experience, people say that, but then when it's so short, they end up feeling like it lacked weight.  But I do a lot of weddings, and generally, I just do what the bride and groom want, as long as they don't want me to pray to some alternate god or do a tribal dance of blessing or something.

I met the bride for the first time when she stood before me at the front of the room.  She said, "Nice to meet you," and had to stop herself from shaking my hand.  I got to chat a bit with the groom, who I swear was veritably glowing.  It turns out that they wanted the ceremony short because they were both afraid they would break down and cry if it lasted too long.  He and I stood in the appointed place, waiting for the bride to come downstairs.  The rustle of a wedding dress in the hall, the music began, and just before she rounded the corner, he glanced at me and whispered, "I've been in love with her since I was fifteen."

Dude, you're going to make me cry.

Many of the ministers I know don't like doing weddings.  Both of my colleagues generally decline unless it's a church member or someone they know well.  I can understand that; sometimes weddings are a big pain in the derriere.  But I sort of love them anyway.  I love them for the strange opportunity to stand in this oddly intimate role during a huge moment in people's lives.  I love them for these weird, sudden moments when I get to see the raw hope and the deep capacity for love that people have.  I see raw a lot, but usually it's raw pain, anger, grief, emptiness, etc.  It's nice to see the other side of things from time to time, to see that joy, too, can be stripped naked and shown to the world.

It was a bad week for me personally in the relationship realm of things.  The CNR continues to become more complicated.  I can't quite manage to stay away, and yet the whole thing is eroding my trust in people's ability to be committed, honest, and loving.  It's quite the pickle.  There is an easy solution...which I am currently not taking.  I'm annoying myself.  "I do what I do not want to do, and what I want to do, I do not do..." or something.

But in the midst of my crazy life, in which nothing really seems to go right, and I am constantly encountering people and situations that make me despair of the possibility that anyone could ever really be happily partnered, I also do all these weddings.  Eighteen year-olds making a quick union before he gets deployed.  Hindus whose priest reveals after a three-day celebration that he isn't authorized to legalize marriages.  Couples who have been together well over a decade and already have children together, who have decided that it's time to "make it official."  Catholics whose priests won't marry them because they're already living together.  People who met on Myspace (remember when people actually used that?), eHarmony, and through speed-dating.  People who hooked up at a bar and just stayed together.  Weddings in creeks, parks, back yards, banquet halls, beaches, historic forts, restaurants, and yes, even churches.  Weddings with guest lists numbering in the 400s and weddings where I have to get the receptionist out of the office to be a second witness.

In almost every single one, there is that moment where you can absolutely see why these two people are making this leap together, why they have decided to share a life.  Honestly, I don't have a lot of hope for myself, but at least it's enough to give me hope for other people.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Quest Toward Self Improvement

In the interest of not being so cranky, whiny, irritable, and self-involved, I have decided that this spring/summer, I will actually be the active, outdoorsy person that I imagine myself to be.  I've been trying to do some sort of outside physical activity every day, unless it's pouring down more of the miserable rain.  I've been hiking a couple of times, started playing tennis with a friend once or twice a week, and on other days, I run/walk with my dog.

So far, this quest has forced me to face up to some hard truths.  Such as:
- I am really, really out of shape.  No, seriously.  That whole falling on my head and shoulder thing and not being able to move for a while and then just continuing to not move out of sheer inertia...not good.  I'm not a fan of wanting to die after I run a mile.
- I'm not all that coordinated.  Or rather, I don't trust my body as much as I once did, and caution tends to make me a little jerky and hesitant.  It's annoying.  In high school I was never a great athlete, but I played multiple sports and thought nothing of scaling rock cliff faces.  Not so much, anymore.
- My dog is aging.  Gone are the days when she could run for hours and be fairly unaffected.  Forget about my mile exhaustion, that's also about the point when she just lies down in someone's yard and looks at me like I'm nuts to move another step.  This is not conducive to my running improvement.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that I do indeed feel better about life when I'm active and getting some fresh air and sunshine.  And I'll definitely feel better about life when I can actually walk around Europe this summer without getting exhausted and feeling like a fat, lazy American.  

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Last night I went to see "Hair," and it was fantastic.  Seriously.  I'm often a little disappointed in the casts of the touring shows that come to my local theater; for "Rent," for example, aside from the two male leads, they had clearly sent out the B team.  Not so for "Hair."  This cast is amazing - so much energy, so much crowd interaction, so much emotion, such great voices.  It's a completely crazy musical, with very little plot, but that's part of the point.

I ran into someone I knew there, who noted that there isn't really a musical for this decade the way this one represented the 60's, or "Rent" the 90s.  I found myself wondering what sort of ethos would be captured in a musical about the last ten years.  We've been at war through this entire decade, but I don't sense that it has touched most of us in anything approaching the same way that the Vietnam war affected that generation.  Personally, I feel distant and uninvolved most of the time, and I don't think I'm alone in that.  Maybe that's why there isn't a musical for the 2000s: it would be fairly difficult to portray apathy in a compelling way.

Hello, cynical.  Maybe I just feel this way because I did relate so strongly to "Rent," because I was so pulled in by "Hair" even though I didn't relate.  There is something in the struggle in both of those musicals that makes me wonder, what is the struggle now?  What is the identity that young people are trying to forge for themselves in this time?  How are teens and 20-somethings differentiating themselves from the norms of society now?

I work with teens and 20-somethings a lot, and am not all that far past that bracket myself, so I could name some broad themes.  But one of the things that I see in society right now is that societal norms themselves have been/are being dismantled.  Transience is expected - not just geographically, but also in terms of social groups, schooling, career, living situation, relationships, even morality.  I generally look at the lack of strict boundaries as a good thing, but I also see the uncertainty it can create, the way it presents so many potential paths that it becomes hard to make any decisions at all.

I remember when I returned from living in Ukraine for a few months in 1997.  I had gotten used to shopping in the tiny markets where, if you wanted peanut butter, there was one kind.  If you wanted bread, you might be able to choose between white and rye.  If you wanted milk, it was there on the counter (yes, counter...I didn't drink a lot of milk there), and there was no such thing as skim or 2%, let alone soy or flavored.  When I came back to the U.S., it took months before I could step into a grocery store without going into complete overstimulation mode.  There were just so many choices!  I no longer felt equipped to decide between 200 breakfast cereals.  It was too much.

In some ways my career - this crazy ministry vocation - has made life easier on me than some.  My path, at least in that area, is relatively stable and directed.  But I wonder sometimes if life for many of the people I encounter feels a little like a grocery store did when I came back from Ukraine, when even one section presents an overwhelming number of options, and the whole store just feels like a maze they have no idea how to get through.  It's not an easy world we live in these days.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mental Health Morning

This morning I was up at o'dark thirty to attend a meeting about community mental health issues.  I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert in this area, but my work with local service agencies and the low-income population tells me that we have a) a high proportion of people with mental health problems, and b) significant gaps in access to mental health services.  So, today we got a variety of providers, government officials, prisoner reentry workers, and assorted other interested parties in the same room and talking about the problems and how we might improve the system.

I didn't really have anything to say, frankly.  But I did learn a lot about how things work (or don't) from different angles.  The prison people say that every prisoner with mental health problems is released with an appointment, scripts for necessary medications, and either Medicaid or a temporary card to pay for the medications.  The free clinic people say they get calls all the time about released prisoners who have no scripts, or they have their scripts but have no money/Medicaid/temporary card.  Somewhere in there, something is going awry.  And then there is children's mental health.  One woman, who works with infants and toddlers (!) says that they checked several four year olds into in-patient mental health facilities this year.  FOUR YEAR OLDS.  What in the world are we doing to our children to traumatize them so much that they need in-patient mental health services at FOUR???  We didn't even mention adolescents today, which is in my mind a huge community issue, as we've had strings of teen suicides and violence.

The fact is that I have no idea how to reform the whole mental health system to serve everyone effectively.  Much like health care as a whole, it's an intricate web of needs and provisions, pathways and obstacles, problems that the system itself has created in an attempt to help, and of course, cracks through which people are constantly falling.  I think single-payer health care would help a lot of these problems, but it would almost certainly create others.

One of the things that struck me about this meeting is that I was the only representative from a faith community.  I only knew about the meeting because one of my parishioners thought I might be interested.  Faith communities are not seen as stakeholders in the mental health situation in our city.  We're not seen as a potential resource, or even as interested parties.  That has held true in nearly every gathering around community problems/improvements that I have heard of or attended in my three plus years here.  My church has gotten a reputation for being more involved than most, and it's part of my job to be present at this sort of thing, but I still get strange looks when I introduce myself, as if people are wondering why a minister would care, or why a church would be interested.  Often the assumption is that we have an ulterior motive; perhaps I'm trying to infiltrate the mental health field so that I can brainwash needy people into coming to my church?

It saddens me to realize that the church is so often seen as either apathetic or self-centered.  It's strange to spend so much of my time explaining to people that we are not trying to proselytize, recruit, convert, or take over (although we are happy to share some good news and will welcome anyone who happens to want to stop by on Sunday).  We just want to help.  We live here too, and we happen to have a lot of people and resources that could be mobilized.  But to do that, we have to overcome a lot of distrust and suspicion - and sometimes the simple assumption that we won't care.  Because too often the church has not even known about the released prisoner trying to reorient to society, or the teenager taking out depression through gang activity, or the four year old so traumatized that hospitalization is necessary.

I really want to make a series of snarky comments right now about being too busy worrying about where the flowers go on Sunday morning and other such crucial things, but it's almost too easy.  It's just a real pity that we've made it so easy for those who deal with some of the deepest and most complicated problems in our society to completely forget about our existence.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Yesterday, which is normally my day off, was spent at church meetings.  For some reason, this made me completely, unreasonably irritable.  Never mind that it was probably the normal day off for half the people in the room, or that others had likely taken vacation time from work to be there.  I was just annoyed.  EVERYTHING was getting to me.  They were praying too long, singing too much, saying stupid things.  One person who I normally like perfectly well was just smiling. So. Doggone. Much.  How dare people smile so much at a meeting.  Anyway, I was irritable, and it made me do things like yell at a friend while he was giving his report, and then realizing that I had been shouting at him made me even crabbier.

Today I am still irritable, but less in a bite-someone's-head-off sort of way and more in a dissatisfied way.  Even Pandora is ticking me off.  It seems to have no idea what I want to listen to today, and that is never the case.  I want to have profound thoughts about the death of Osama bin Laden and the warped idea of justice that makes people celebrate it with veritable glee, but I can't quite get over my own annoyance enough to reflect meaningfully.  If ever there was a day in which I should just go home and start over tomorrow, this is it.  In fact, that is what I'm going to do.  I'm going to take my cranky, self-absorbed, and irksome self home.  I'm going to curl up on my couch and mope and make notes for Sunday's sermon that I can use later this week without importing my current crappy mood.  And I'm going to have a burrito.  How's that for stream of consciousness?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Adventures in Supervising

Today I get to fire someone.  That is, if he ever calls me back.  I tell you, the fun never stops around here.  My first message of the day was "There has been an explosion."  Fortunately, not a literal one - which wasn't actually out of the question given the organization I'm dealing with.  It's a drop-in center for what are generally considered to be the most troubled and disadvantaged kids and teenagers in our community.  Our relationship with them has been interesting, to say the least.  On the positive side, it's been a lesson in some of the dynamics of the grittier side of the city.  Less positively, although the intent is good, the organization is pretty dysfunctional.  I feel like I've been on the phone with their director non-stop for a month.  Oh wait, I kind of have.  The last straw incident involved an employee screaming, cursing, and punching walls and doors, in the presence of small children no less.  

One of my other supervisees - a considerably less troubling one - asked me today if the things I handle in my job are normal duties for most ministers.  I'm going to guess that's a no.  But that's a good thing.  If nothing else, I am never bored.

Tonight is the second round of the discussion group I recently started.  It's going to be a really strange conglomeration of people and perspectives, sitting around and talking about issues of faith, spirituality, etc.  The topic on the table tonight, unless someone else brings something, is organized religion, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Last month was fun; we talked about what we don't believe about God, and mixed-religion relationships.  Hopefully people will actually show up.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Well, I survived Holy Week and made it to the other side of Easter more or less unscathed.  I treated myself to an extra day off, after which I feel shockingly refreshed.  Two days off in a row...I think that may be what normal people refer to as a "weekend."  What a lovely feeling to enjoy Monday while knowing that I had a WHOLE OTHER DAY to continue relaxing.  It helped that yesterday was sunny, warm, and gorgeous.  I got to wear a sundress and sit on a patio with a fruity and delicious liquid.  I'm a simple girl (uh...sort of), and sometimes that's all it takes.

Anyway, I'm back at work now, and feeling pretty good about that, except that apparently the world has decided to blow up today.  Holy crisis day, Batman.  In particular, we are having a crisis around one of the non-profits with which we partner, and a person I supervise.  It's fun, whoo boy.  This administration business occasionally gets really interesting, like when I get to sort out two radically different stories from people who work together but don't want to be in the same room.

Also, I just realized that I have a giant coffee stain on my white and green print dress.  Because clearly it's going to be that kind of day.  

So, what have I been doing other than sorting through crises and sitting on patios and spilling coffee on myself?  Well, I've been playing travel agent for work, organizing a group tour to Europe this summer.  I've been going to board meetings and meeting with couples whose weddings I'll be doing in the next few months.  I've been watching the NHL playoffs and celebrating the Red Wings' sweep of Phoenix and the demise of the Blackhawks.  I've been worrying about my niece, who is having some pretty severe health problems that the doctors haven't quite figured out yet.  I've been spending too much time at the Vortex, sorting out the CNR, and practicing with my band.  I've been writing absolutely abysmal poetry which I would happily share here except that it really is just so very painful, not in content but in quality.  Oh, and there was that whole Holy Week thing.

And somehow, it's almost May now.  Yeesh.  

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I think I'm just starting to realize exactly how beaten up I've been in the last few months.  Physically and emotionally, I've taken some of the worst injuries of my life, and I keep bumping up against the scars and bruises.  And now we come to Holy Week, which is not as crazy for me as for some ministers because I'm on a staff, but which is still crazy.  Unfortunately, I've had about enough of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  I've been there for months.  I'm waiting for some resurrection, thanks.  Someday I'll stop moaning about how crappy my life is, I promise.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Of Wrestling Snakes

I think I've mentioned my dreams here before once or twice, so it probably comes as no surprise that my subconscious is a truly weird place.  Most of the time I don't dream, or don't remember dreaming.  But when I do, this is the kind of thing that happens...

I was at the camp where I volunteer in the summer, but it looked a lot more like the Minnesota Zoo - animals behind glass partitions, display rooms and outdoor areas resembling those I remember from childhood.  I had a very clear sense, however, that I was doing what I usually do at camp: being the chaplain.

As will happen in dreams, a couple of peculiar things happened.  One of my favorite bands showed up, and conveniently, we were already BFFs, so they asked me to get up and play guitar and sing with them.  Then I decided it would be a good idea to set up a giant rope swing from the top of the orangutan cage, so I was merrily swinging around in impossible directions and much higher than the cage, while people watched from the ground.  After a moment of panic about how I was going to get down, I managed to stop the swing and land lightly on the ground.  All is well and good so far.

Then, as I took the rope down, it turned into a hose.  It was really difficult to coil, and when I looked at the end of the hose, I noticed the tail half of a large boa constrictor hanging out the end.  The snake was stretching out the hose, writhing around and hissing (as I suppose anyone would be if they had gotten themselves trapped in a hose), and I decided to grab the snake's head - because that is how I learned to handle snakes at the Minnesota Zoo - but gently holding a snake's head to guide it away from potentially biting you is somewhat different from squeezing its head in a frantic attempt to keep it from killing you.  So, I'm walking across the camp with this boa constrictor trying to wrap itself around me, break through the hose, and bite me, and  no one is paying the slightest amount of attention.  It seemed like I should find the camp director, who is a Woods Guy who generally knows what to do in wildlife emergencies, so I did, but while he was concerned, he didn't attempt to actually do anything about the situation.

The snake kept growing in size and rage, and finally broke through the hose and bit my hands repeatedly.  Someone tried to help at throwing a pail of boiling water at the snake...and my hand.  My hand was blistered and being bitten by this snake, I was screaming my fool head off and trying to crush the snake's head, and everyone else was just going about their business, except for the camp director, who was patiently watching and encouraging me to keep holding on.

(Warning: this is about to get kind of gross) There was blood everywhere from my hands and the snake, and finally I succeeded in crushing the snake's head.  Its jaw cracked and its teeth fell out, and I was just sitting there, holding this stupid bloody snake jaw bone and watching giant blisters form on my hands, and trying to remember whether boa constrictors have absolutely no venom or just a much weaker venom than snakes that are considered poisonous (they are non-venomous, in case you wanted to know).    I decided to take the jaw bone as a souvenir, wondered how I was going to explain the blisters and fang marks to the Complicated Non-Relationship, and then woke up.

So, that was weird, but not exactly subtle, since just yesterday I was talking about my paralyzing fear of failure, desperate sense of being alone, and series of things going terribly awry.  Wrestling a snake, screaming for help but having no one come, getting bloody and bruised, but finally managing to crush the snake's head: yep, sounds about right for my current mental state.  At least my psyche seems to be trying to tell me that I can overcome.  Or something.

I like to think that beneath the recent near-crippling anxiety, I still have that sense of myself, that I actually am not a total wreck, that I am capable of accomplishing great things.  My sense of self has been a bit messed up in the last year.  Slogging away in a position where I'm considered "junior minister," with a senior minister who is great in many ways but for whom nothing ever seems to be quite enough, continuing to struggle to manage my finances and home life, and utterly failing in my relational life has not been great for my usually more than adequate self-esteem.  It's kind of nice to have my subconscious remind me that, yes, I'm a bit beaten up, but I can still manage.

I'm entertained by the fact that the camp director, who is sort of a model in my life of capability and success, showed up, cared what was happening, but just kept insisting that I could do it myself.  He would never actually refuse to help that way, but it's a dream, and I enjoy him representing the part of my subconscious that has to tell another part of my subconscious to buck up and do what needs to be done.  I also kind of like how the CNR shows up in a completely casual thought at the end of all of this, like, "Oh yeah, that guy...wonder what he's going to say when I tell him about this?"  Apparently, while I care what he thinks, I'm not expecting him to save me from giant snakes (or whatever).  Which is a relief, because I don't get the idea that he's really the rescuing type.  And it's good to know that I'm still not the getting rescued type.  I was starting to wonder.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Anxiety Diet

Well, this is fun.  I have been nauseated for about six days, and have been subsisting on liquids, saltine crackers, and a little soup.  At first I thought I must have caught some sort of stomach bug; after six days I've had to admit to myself that I'm not physically sick - or rather, that the source of this is not physical.  Apparently my anxiety level is so high that it is taking out my digestive system.  I've lost five pounds.  I've decided to market this as the Anxiety Diet and make a killing (which will relieve one of the areas of stress in my life: finances).  I have plenty of problems to hand out for anyone lacking their own.

None of it is really all that interesting, especially since details must be withheld to protect the innocent (and sometimes the guilty).  My family is having all manner of problems back in Minnesota and there isn't a darned thing I can do about any of it.  I, who do not generally fight with my friends, had major fallings out with two friends this week, one of which will probably not be reparable.  Someone I barely know is making random malicious comments about me to God only knows how many people.  There is a situation with one of my supervisees that I have absolutely no idea how to handle, and I've managed to in turn tick off my senior pastor by not doing enough or not doing what he thinks I should do or something, and by disappearing into thin air on Friday without telling anyone, which he hates.  In my defense, I was busy doing my taxes and trying not to vomit up my life, but I knew I should call, and I didn't, and now I feel guilt about that, and anxiety about my meeting with him later today, at which he will surely have something to say about all of this.  Taxes this year are...ugh, let's not even go there.  I've somehow managed to get myself into a rather complicated non-relationship that is driving me a little batty.

Speaking of which, I am finding myself wanting to sit down all the single seminarians I can get hold of and tell them that they may be about to get into an absolute mess.  This single clergy business is no joke.  Meeting people in the first place is difficult, but I think that's true for most single people.  Getting past the initial "You do what for a living?" conversation and all the assumptions that go along with it is, well, necessary but annoying.  How many times, really, do I need to be asked if I only work one day a week, or if I'm required to be celibate?  Then you have the actual attempting to date phase.  Dating someone with a "real job," with regular, normal working hours of the 9-5 sort, is nearly impossible, because I do not have regular, normal working hours.  Oh, you wanted to go to dinner?  Well, I can squeeze that in at 4pm between meetings or at 10pm afterward...what, you need to sleep or something?  Saturday date night?  Sorry, I'm confined to my apartment for sermon completion.  This just doesn't really work.  So then there are the people with unusual working hours, which for me usually means restaurant/bar/musician people whose lives happen primarily at night.  That works fairly well for my natural sleeping preferences, but not so well when I have to work in the morning, even though I don't work quite as early as the 9-5 people.  Night people also have a tendency toward, how shall I say this...a different moral compass than might be expected of, say, clergy.  Complicated Non-Relationship has led to some irresponsibility on my part lately - which has led to more anxiety about the things I've missed, about my own irresponsibility in general, and about the possibility that I may be incompetent.

Yes, I realize it's kind of a leap from being late for a meeting to being completely incapable of doing my job, but this is how my mind works when everything is going wrong.  It's not just an off week at work, it's a question of my whole vocational aptitude.  It's not just one complicated guy situation, it's my entire ability to begin and sustain relationships.  It's not just a bit of financial ickiness, it's an abyss of idiocy out of which I may never be able to climb.

In addition to all of this, it's Holy Week.  Appropriately, I'm in charge of the Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service.  I really do not at all want to write a sermon this week.  At all.  But if I am going to write a sermon, I guess it's fitting that I'm writing a sermon about darkness, anxiety, and loss.  This is what keeps me from wallowing for too long, I suppose: the necessity of looking at my own problems within the wider perspective of the human condition, of delving for the holy in what looks like a steaming pile of crap, of remembering that I'm not the only one walking around, looking fairly normal, but oozing inside with pain and stress and need.

So, here's a poem for your reading enjoyment, on the normalcy of suffering.  Cheery, right?              

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Incredible Vanishing Me

This morning I got an email from a friend who also helps out with our youth group.  "I'm sorry, I've fallen off the face of the earth this winter, I'll be getting back into the loop soon."  It's true; she has sort of disappeared for a few months.  Maybe it's because I was expecting it (ski season always steals her away in the winter), but I realized as I read her email that I had barely noticed.  I haven't really seen much of most of my friends for the last few months.  She isn't the only one who has fallen off the face of the earth.  I've been more or less gone since January.

Spring is slowly arriving now, so gradually, I am catching back up with life.  Several of the major projects that were swamping me are now over.  We're rolling toward summer, which is a relatively slow season in the life of the church.  After May, my workdays get shorter and the office gets quieter.  I have fewer meetings and more time to read and think.  Can you tell I'm looking forward to it?  The anticipation in itself is making me less tired and cranky.  A little sunshine and warmth has done wonders for me.  I've even developed a bit of a spring crush, which is pretty entertaining, and quite the hopeful sign given that I had pretty much decided that my ability to have such feelings had been effectively beaten to a pulp and left for dead.

In other happy news, my horrible neighbors are finally being evicted!  I feel a little bad being so delighted by someone else's demise,  but after months of dealing with the garbage everywhere, wall-shaking music at all hours of the day and night, dog poop covering the yard and walkways, stupid entrance-blocking parking, and so on, I am just very glad to be getting my pleasant living environment back.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Going Solo

Today it finally happened: I collapsed.  I've been expecting it all week, dragging a little more every day, feeling my eyes drooping earlier.  My shoulder has been in pain and my sinuses have been killing me.  Today was the end; I gave up and slept in, and then moved to the couch and slept some more, and then stopped sleeping but stayed on the couch.  I did a little work, but mostly the only productive things I did all day were wash some dishes and take down the Christmas/St. Patrick's Day tree (stop judging me).

The bad news is that, although I feel significantly better than I did yesterday, it would take a few more days of this to recover entirely, and I'm not going to get them.  So far, I'm not such a fan of 2011.  Some good things have happened, and there certainly has not been a dull moment, but it's been pretty brutal between injury, sickness, and my schedule.  I've really got nothing left, energy-wise, and when I went looking for a couple of days to get away in April or May, I found nothing.  Not a single two day stretch that doesn't already have some major event happening that I can't back out of.  Clearly I need to book my vacations more wisely and further in advance.

So, since I can't actually get away now, I decided to look ahead to my next vacation.  It's not going to be a particularly restful one, which I'm starting to question at this point, but it will definitely be interesting.  I'm going to wander around Europe for a couple of weeks after I take a group of church people around Scotland.  I really do mean wander around.  I'm going to a music festival in Germany, but other than that, I have no plans.  I just have to be back for my return flight (and even that may be questionable).  And I think the most relaxing thing I've done all day is search for driving routes and potential destinations, because I reminded myself how much I love traveling alone.  I know it freaks some people out, but I love it.  No one else to worry about, going at my own pace, looking at the things I want to see, ignoring the things I don't, meeting locals, driving on the left without a car full of shrieking, love, love it.  It's three months away, but I can't wait.