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.