Thursday, February 10, 2011

Public Prayer

I get asked to pray in public a lot.  Often it is called an "invocation," I think because that is less scary to non-religious people than the word "prayer."  Most of the time, I'm not sure why these functions begin with prayers.  Or invocations.  City Council, for example.  Why do we have religious expression in a government meeting?  And what does it mean that we pray right before we begin one of the most ungodly events I've ever seen in my life?

(Seriously, my colleague was shouted down there because he suggested that perhaps people might want to try being civil to one another.)

I also have discomfort with the Pledge of Allegiance, which they say right after the invocation, but at least that fits into the fact that it's a government meeting.  Anyway, I find myself doing the invocation fairly frequently, despite my discomfort.  I always try to make it as open and non-sectarian as I can without being all, "O great whatever we call You, or It in the case of those who believe It to be an impersonal force, or Nothing for those who are not into the divine thing..."

Today I attended a Rotary meeting as a guest.  I like Rotary; it's one of the only groups other than the church that makes singing a regular part of their meetings, and guests get serenaded.  It's a diverse sort of group.  There was an invocation.  The guy prayed to "Our heavenly Father" and ended in "the name of Christ."    


Sometimes I just really wish we'd think more about where we're putting prayer, and how it's used.  I also wish people would stop masculinizing God all the time, but I guess that's another post for another day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I'm Still Whiny (but at least I'm organized)

It took me an hour and a half and most of a 25 lb. bag of salt to move my car today.  I'm here, but I feel like I've been severely beaten.  This does not lend itself to productivity.  However, I have managed to review and prioritize my task list, so at least I will know what to do when I get around to actually doing things.

I am a complete and utter Franklin Covey addict.  My life relies on their system, and although I've switched my planning from the FC paper system that revolutionized my life several years ago over to my iPhone and a combination of Google calendar and the FC task app, I'm a Covey Coven girl at heart.  Things just work better when I schedule and prioritize.  That way, when I have a wretched case of the Februaries, as I do now, The List just tells me what to do.  Sadly, it does not actually propel me to do things.  In my defense, however, blogging is totally on my task list.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It is proving to be one of those days.  My car is stuck on ice, and since I still can't shovel, push, or haul, I can't do a thing about it, so I missed a meeting this morning and had to call a colleague to bring me to church.  Various communication glitches have led to a misunderstanding with some youth and their parents.  I'm trying to make travel arrangements for a meeting next week but seem not to have any of the necessary information to do so.  I can't seem to get anything done today.

None of this is a crisis.  I keep telling myself that.  But it's all still making me cranky, irritated, and annoyed.  Yes, I need all three of those words.  Also, I hate winter.  And I'm whiny.  

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fuzzy Brain

I spent part of last week in Michigan for the meeting of a denominational commission that I currently chair.  I'm sure it was pretty entertaining for everyone involved, since I basically lost January and am still having issues with maintaining focus.  It's hard to be the Queen of Efficient Meetings when you can't keep track of where you are on the agenda, and when you have to stop to think of the word you want.  

It's almost like they implanted a new personality in me while I was in the hospital.  This brain gets overstimulated.  It took me a while to figure out why I was getting frustrated and headachy when I tried to do work in a public place or chat online while watching TV or any number of multitasking things that I usually take for granted that I can do.  Overstimulation isn't really part of my general life experience.  Neither is introversion, but suddenly at the end of the day, I just want to go home.  I had planned to go out and watch the hockey game over a beer at one of my favorite breweries, but by the time we were done with meetings and dinner, I was done.  I watched the game from my hotel bed.  It's weird, and I don't like it.  The strangest thing of all is when it occurs to me that some people feel like this ALL THE TIME.  Me, I'm hoping my real self comes back.  She was fun.

Speaking of fun, one of the things I get to do with this commission is meet with seminary students.  I like hearing about their seminary experiences and their hopes for ministry.  That part of my own life has started to feel very distant, and there's an energy about reconnecting with it that invigorates me.  At the same time, I have to struggle against my desire to disabuse them of several of the notions that seminarians tend to have about what ministry will be like.  There are some things I can tell them, things that faculty seem not to tell seminarians, that will be helpful to them.  For example, I wish someone would have said to me during seminary that ministry would be hard - that it was supposed to be hard sometimes.  When things were hard at the beginning of my ministry, I kind of had the sense that that meant it was going wrong.  So, one of the things I find myself telling students is that difficulty doesn't equate to wrongness.  Sometimes it just means you're a human dealing with humans, and that you're in a complicated role that takes a while to figure out.  By "a while" I think I mean "a lifetime."

Another thing I wish someone would have said during seminary is that the things you learn to value in seminary will not automatically be valued by the people in your congregation.  Ministers take three years or more absorbing all of these ideals.  Then we go to congregations and assume the same things will be important there - or perhaps that the congregation will value our education and our role among them enough to bow to the ideals we hold.  I'm a hard-headed person, and it took me a long time to figure out that there is a whole process of listening to the values of a congregation and compromising and working toward mutual change.  I feel like there should be a part of the worship curriculum in which the professor says, "Yes, this is the order that we're teaching you, and we have reasons for it and believe it to be valuable.  However, your congregation may have entirely different ideas about how it should work.  They probably have reasons for it too.  This is how you might go about working out together what is best within your context."

But there are other things that I often want to say that are just not helpful.  You can't, for example, tell people how young and shiny they are - even though they often are.  Even the ones who are older in actual age, even the ones who have years of experience working in churches, even the ones with significant struggles in following their call have this glistening freshness about them.  The ideal is still a lot larger in their minds than the reality.  That's a good thing, I think.  It's the energy of conviction that propels us into this vocation in the first place.  It's good for churches to have that infusion of enthusiasm and certainty that comes from people who have spent a lot of recent time studying and thinking about the best of what the church could be.  Something changes along the way for a lot of us, when we realize that our people will not always love us and that we won't always love them, that we won't always treat each other well, that we won't always understand each other, that sometimes we'll dig in our heels and make life nearly impossible for each other over the most minuscule of issues.  And yes, I'm being completely patronizing right now, but there's something refreshing about new ministers and those in preparation, whose hope for the Church hasn't been quite as tarnished yet.

And then there's the women.  Things have gotten so much better for the women in my seminary since I graduated in 2003.  It's a much more supportive environment now, and their stories are really encouraging.  Even such a short time ago, our stories were often about pain and struggle: classmates who vigorously expressed their disapproval of our presence, inability to find internships and pulpit supply opportunities, faculty who seemed at best neutral.  Things have changed there.  But it makes me wonder if the church outside of seminary is going to smack them even harder when they get out.  The seniors are already encountering church profiles that stipulate that they are seeking the "man of God" who will come to serve them.  The couples who hope for a shared call have interviewed with search committees who spoke almost solely to the man, except in questions about children's ministry and Christian education.  Their preparation is easier now, but it becomes harder and harder to explain the difficulties of being an ordained woman in this denomination.  I can only hope that the changes in the seminary will extend to the rest of the church.        


Sunday, February 6, 2011

It's a Strange World #3

Justin Bieber has a movie about the many years of hard work and suffering that contributed to his miraculous rise to success.  I don't think I need to say more than that.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's a Strange World #2

It's like Nutrisystem...for dogs!

I, of all people, have very little room to criticize people about being wacky about their dogs, but there is something wrong with a world where people pay $60 a month for food that makes their dogs thinner while children starve.

Speaking of children starving, I recently met a man at a party who told me in complete seriousness that it is immoral to contribute to organizations that feed starving people in third world countries.  Apparently starvation is nature's way of curing overpopulation.  

Let's just say that I got a good opportunity to practice my neutral pastor face, and probably utterly failed.

Actually, I agree that overpopulation is a huge problem that may well end in catastrophe for the planet and its inhabitants.  But when I think about how to solve that problem, I think of things like better sex education and increased access to various forms of birth control, worldwide.  I think of end of life issues, and the fact that keeping people alive in any state, by any means, may not be good for them or a responsible use of resources.  ***Insensitivity warning***  As much sympathy as I feel for those who struggle with fertility issues, I think of hormone treatments, in vitro fertilization, donated eggs and sperm, and surrogate mothers - the drastic measures people take to have children who are biologically theirs - and I wonder when it will occur to us that maybe some people aren't meant to reproduce.  I wonder when people will think of things other than letting poor people starve or die of preventable disease while we, the wealthy of the world, blithely use up resources.  Which of course includes me.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Life Out Loud

A couple of years ago, a woman walked up to me at a denominational assembly and introduced herself after she caught a glimpse of my name tag.  "I had a dream about you," she said, which, as you might imagine, creeped me out a little bit.  In her dream, I was an 80s-style one hit wonder who showed up on VH1 or some such thing.  It was, hands down, one of the weirdest conversations I have ever had, because I certainly had never met this woman, and had no inkling of why I might be appearing in her subconscious.

It turns out that she manages online communications and social networking for the denomination, and thus has access to my Facebook profile.  She had been seeing my status updates about playing with a band, and it ended up in her dream.  She has become a great friend since then, and now we laugh about how she met me before she really met me.  In the meantime, though, I was reminded of how much someone can know about me without really knowing me.

I can be pretty prolific in my Facebook updates, so this sort of thing happens to me pretty regularly now.  Okay, so I don't necessarily show up in dreams, but I do have people I barely know make remarks about how often I travel, my running habits (when I have them), and my various neurological issues.  I no longer accept friend requests from people I wouldn't know if I saw them on the street, and I've defriended everyone who doesn't fit that description as well, but I still have well over 600 "friends" on Facebook.  I have an old blog that people used to read, and a bit of a reputation in the very small circle of young clergy women as the Single Rev, from three years of editing (and writing frequently for) this column in Fidelia's Sisters, an online journal by and for that demographic.  People know of me from the newspaper in my community, where I work in the church that gets perhaps more than its fair share of publicity.  A bunch of Welsh rugby players I met in Ireland found me by Googling "Stacey Minister New York," which encompassed their knowledge of me.  My denomination is small, and at gatherings I usually meet someone who has heard stories about me, which is what happens when you function as the social director at all denominational meetings.  I'm far from famous, but the point is, I often have to deal with people knowing more about me than I know about them.

It's a small world, and it's getting smaller every day.  Welcome to the digital age.

I love the digital age, by the way.  It is just so much easier to keep a connection with people I've known at various stages of life.  I'm just old enough to remember when it wasn't this easy.  Ten years ago, if I had been in the hospital, I would have had to actually call people to tell them.  I would have had to tell the story over and over.  For weeks after, I would have run into people who had no idea that anything had happened.  That is not true now.  I posted one brief update that I was in the hospital, and the troops were mobilized.  Even the people who don't live on the internet knew, because there were enough people who knew to tell them.  Talk about convenience!  

On the other hand, it means that about 599 people who don't really want or need to know my every movement often do.  But this is how it works these days.  I know a lot about people I haven't talked to in years, people I thought I had bid adieu to after high school/college/whatever life stage I shared with them.  An overwhelming amount of information about complete strangers is available via the internet.  It's not enough to simply live life anymore; we also have to Facebook it, Tweet it, Youtube it, and Foursquare it.  And, if possible, have it chronicled on one of the 8 million "reality" TV shows.

Our lives are increasingly public.  What we say in conversation ends up in status updates.  What we say to a reporter doesn't just show up in a newspaper or magazine; it's searchable on the internet forever, and subject to endless online commentary.  If we hadn't learned this lesson already, we learned it recently as a result of the previously mentioned Marie Claire incident.

Early in my ministry, I screwed up big time by posting something about a congregant's funeral that completely broke trust with the family.  I thought I had "cleaned up" my blog, but I hadn't looked closely enough.  I had another crisis in my first church when I posted about a band I liked, and someone searched the band and found questionable statements that they suddenly connected to me.  A few months ago, I agreed to be filmed for a music video for an unheard-of band...that ended up in the local papers, and led people to believe that I was criticizing the city where I live.  I'm a slow learner.

It's just so wonderful to be able to share parts of my life with people who wouldn't be able to hear about them, and to hear about their lives, that I sometimes forget how very public it all is.  I forget how people might take things out of context or misinterpret my intent.  I have a big mouth and say too much in normal conversation.  I'm not cautious by nature.  In this uber-public society, I'm just waiting for the next time it gets me in trouble.    

Returning to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Today I am in the same location I was yesterday - on my couch - and yet it is no longer my day off, so I shall cease and desist from blogging about stupid television.  Apparently we are having Snowmaggedon here today.  Given that I can neither shovel nor scrape ice at present, I opted to work from home.  The ability to do this from time to time is one of the most wondrous things about my vocation.  So, I'm drinking better quality coffee than we get at work, sitting at an angle that doesn't make me want to have my entire upper right quadrant amputated, and watching mass quantities of snow fall outside while I slog through my to-do list for the day, which mostly consists of details for the upcoming mission trip.

The youth group has grown this year.  That's a good thing.  It has outgrown our van.  That's a challenging thing.  Fortunately, I just remembered that a church we've helped out quite a bit owns a small bus - and they are willing to lend it to us!  So, I am going to extend my driving skills to even larger vehicles.  Sometimes I think I might as well just get my CDL and be done with it.  Most of the time, I drive a tiny little bubble of a car, and I'm the only one in it, so it's always entertaining getting behind the wheel of a 15-passenger van - or a bus - and hauling around a bunch of teenagers.

Well, I started this blog post at 10am, and now it's after 2pm.  During that time, I not only found the bus, I also confirmed our fourth adult chaperon, revised website information on the trip, arranged a meeting with the director of an urban youth program, talked to members of the board of said youth program, updated a really out-of-date list of church activities and service opportunities, found a consent form for traveling abroad with minors, ordered team bling, wrote an absurd amount of email, and suddenly realized that it was almost 2:30 and I had forgotten to eat.  So I'm going to do that now, just in case you were wondering.