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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

So, the final candidate for Grand Poobah of my denomination has been publicly announced.  Frankly, this decision won't make much difference at all for most people's lives.  I'm trying to remain conscious of this in the midst of feeling greatly depressed and agitated about it myself.  I'm more involved with denominational matters than most, so it affects me somewhat more.  I also used to entertain thoughts of maybe being on denominational staff someday.  By "used to," I mean up until yesterday.  I'm now pretty dubious that a) I would ever be hired while this person is at the top of the staff pyramid, and b) I would be interested in doing the work that is likely to be part of where we will be headed.  It's frustrating.

On some level, I feel like this decision, while not about me, has communicated something about my place in this denomination.  Like that I don't have one.  And unlike normal, sane people, I don't really know how to not be involved at the denominational level.  So I'm not sure what that means for me, but at the moment, it doesn't feel good.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I Have the Weirdest Job

Ministry is a weird job.  We all do a peculiar range of things that somehow qualifies us to do absolutely nothing else.  But sometimes I think I do an even stranger range of things than most ministers.  For example, this week, I was elected to the city urban renewal board.  I'm about to go be a substitute ringer in the bell choir.  Tonight I'll make soup, pray at our Wednesday dinner, and then dash off to attend the board meeting of an emergency shelter for sexually exploited and at-risk teens.  At my desk today, I'm sorting out a budget issue, proofreading a bulletin, creating an advertising campaign for our new long-term volunteer program, and printing flags of foreign countries for a youth event.  Tomorrow I'll be meeting with my supervisees, attending a swanky fundraising dinner, and facilitating a spiritual discussion group at a local bar.  Somewhere in the middle of all this, I will learn to make curried goat.

It's really the goat part that makes it weird.

Yesterday my colleague suggested that I try to teach a course at one of the local colleges.  I love to teach, really I do.  And yet, I think I probably looked at him as though he had suggested that I strap pieces of glass to my feet and run a nude marathon.

I might be feeling slightly overwhelmed.    

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hello, Neglected Blog

So much for writing daily.  In my defense, the last couple of weeks have kicked the crap out of me.  I should have taken a vacation after the mission trip, but I didn't.  So, instead of being a sane, reasonably rested, healthy person, I am a sleep-deprived crazy person with a decimated immune system.  I have a cold that I can't kick.  I also have a water heater that hasn't worked in four days.  One ice-cold shower that left me shivering all day was quite enough, so I've been getting creative with the bathing.  This morning I heated water on my stove and dumped it over my head into the kitchen sink to wash my hair.  It was all very Little House on the Prairie.  As is this winter, which goes on and on and continues to dump massive amounts of snow on us and reminds me of when I read those books as a child and thought, "Good grief, I live in Minnesota and even we don't have winters that crazy."

I've had several major writing projects that require long stretches of uninterrupted time.  I've also had back-to-back meetings for 10-14 hours a day almost every day.  How these two things are supposed to go together is a mystery.  Meanwhile, the whole world seems to be going into crisis, and apparently I am the only person who can possibly help.  Never mind that I am about to fall off the deep end myself.  These people are not particularly interested in my state of being.  It's during times like these that I realize that I have an awful lot of friends who are one-way communicators.  They tell me things, I ask questions and give feedback.  They tell me more things, and I converse with them about those things.  At some point I tell them something, and they act like I haven't said anything at all.  "Back to me!"  Apparently, this actually happens all the time, but I don't generally notice when I'm in a healthy and stable mental state.  Right now I am tired and frazzled and in pain and cold and my nose is running and I have a pile of work that makes me want to hide under my desk and never talk to anyone again, so I'm kind of sick of listening to other people babble on about their issues, most of which are minor, and almost all of which I've heard about before.

Whew, I feel better now.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


It's been a frustrating couple of days.

I'm being extorted by a mission agency that wants me to pay for 8 extra people who did not attend the mission trip.  Strangely, we don't happen to have $3,000 sitting around waiting to be sent to people who want us to pay for services never rendered.

The denominational gossip mill tells me that the search for a new head executive has come down to a final candidate.  This candidate makes me profoundly displeased.  Which is to say, I am wondering what kind of Kool-aid they were serving the search committee that prevented them from seeing that this person is all kinds of wrong for the position.  This person's priorities, values, and general demeanor cause me to wonder if there will be any place for me in a denomination that he leads.  And that's highly annoying, because I am the person who has so often said that I made my vows here and will stay until they kick me out.  I just can't imagine a denomination under the leadership of this person being an organization I'd have any interest in being a part of.

The city decided to plow my entire neighborhood the same time.  So, every street for a five-block radius around my house was papered with No Parking After 7AM signs.  Since I had to move my car by 7AM, and had nowhere remotely near my house to park it, I decided to just come to work early.  Any of you who have experienced my morning persona can probably imagine what a fabulous idea that was.

My colleague just stuck his head in to ask if I am okay, because apparently I have frown lines today.  Shocking.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lenten Devotional

By request, the devotional I wrote for the church's Lenten book.
Jeremiah 31:31-34
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
There is a verse from another Old Testament prophet, Amos, that tends to show up in my life with unusual frequency: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).  It started appearing when I was in college and new to this Christianity business, in my favorite worship song, at my dorm Bible study, and in my religion classes.  It popped up repeatedly during seminary as an assigned text for classes and sermons.  For my ordination, I  let the minister who was preaching chose his text and surprise me - and guess what passage he read!  Something similar happened at my installation to my first congregation.  By the time I accepted the call to this church, I had fully accepted that this verse is meant to be key to my ministry, and included it as part of my installation here.  

I also had it tattooed on my ankle for the fifth anniversary of my ordination.  Now, tattoos are sort of controversial, especially for a minister, and I got a lot of questions about this one.  But the fact is, these words have so shaped my sense of calling and direction in life that I wanted them literally written on me, so that they would be there always, so that I would never forget them.
Unfortunately, I do forget them, even though they are permanently printed on my body.  It turns out that I don’t look at my own ankle all that often.  The pain and novelty have faded.  After three years, I take that marking for granted and barely notice it most of the time.  In that, I’m not much different than the people to whom Jeremiah is speaking.  They keep forgetting about their relationship with God, or taking it for granted.  God’s presence just keeps slipping their minds.

God promises them a new covenant - a tattooing of the heart, if you will - in which their relationship with God will be simply known, God’s presence as close and tangible as that of human loved ones.  They will not have to be taught or reminded; they will know.

Of course, in the busyness, uncertainty, and distraction of our lives, we can tend to forget about that internal tattoo, and lose sight of our identity as God’s people.  And yet, God keeps making that same promise, over and over: “They will be my people, and I will be their God.”  That promise is for us, written on our hearts more securely and permanently than any tattoo.  Thanks be to God.
Constant and faithful God, keep us mindful of your presence during this Lenten season and throughout the year.  Help us to be attentive to your provisions that sustain us to your promises that hold us in hope.  Amen.


So, I've been gone for a week, on a mission trip in Toronto with our youth group.  Running around with a herd of teenagers is always an interesting (and exhausting) experience, but this was a pretty fantastic trip.  They all think they're going to move to Canada now, so apparently I've produced a bunch of future ex-pats.  Sweet.  I, on the other hand, had my eyes opened to some of the less positive things about Canada's social service system.  It was a good reminder for me not to idealize another country.  They get a lot of things right up there; there are also some things seriously wrong.  Sort of like here, only kinder and less frenetic.

I feel like I should have a lot to say about the trip, but I think my brain is still too tired from shepherding teenagers all week to think of anything profound.  This week I have been counselor, nurse, parent, babysitter, therapist, coach, enforcement officer, bank, teacher, pastor, friend, referee, chief cook and bottle washer, chauffeur, dictator, cheerleader, and magic 8-ball.  I have held my tongue and temper more times than I can count, and lost them both a couple of times as well.  I have a good excuse to be tired.