Monday, January 28, 2013

Small Sips Prefers Snickers to Clark Bars, Actually

Yeah. Me too. Katherine Willis Pershey lists ten things that she loves about being a pastor:
10. This is what I'm called to do, by a loving God who has extended so much grace to me through this vocation. I felt very unworthy of this calling throughout seminary and my first years in ministry, but I echo the sentiments of Martin Copenhaver, who writes in This Odd and Wondrous Calling, "I do believe that, by donning such a role and by doing those things that are associated with such a role, being a pastor has made me better than I am." It is such an honor to serve Christ by serving in the local church, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
There are nine others, of course, but this one sums it up. This is the type of post for pastors to bookmark in those inevitable moments where we wonder, "Why the hell am I doing this again?"

This. A hundred times this. Jamie the Very Worst Missionary reflects on depression:
This morning I shuffled around my house looking for some unknown thing, circled the internet in search of nothing at all, and told myself repeatedly to “get it together”. When none of that got me anywhere, I prayed, telling God repeatedly to “get it together”. I need to write, I said. I need to cook. I need to buy toilet paperThis grimy, stupefied, agoraphobe thing isn't really working for meI don't have time for mental illness, I told him. You're gonna have to make it go away. 
And then I remembered the one thing some Christians will never admit out loud, which is that sometimes Jesus isn't all you need. Sometimes you need Zoloft. 
I've fought with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember (seriously, like since I was a small child) and I know the things I need to do to escape this ditch. For me it requires healthy food, sunshine, exercise, safe friends, and, yes, Faith in my Healer and Counselor. 
But, sometimes, it also means addressing the chemical needs of my body. 
Sometimes it means popping a little blue pill.  
And guess what? It helps!
I can recall a fellow Christian once telling me, "I don't believe in mental illness, because I don't believe that God makes junk." Hopefully readers can spot not only the terrible theology in that statement but also its abusive qualities as well. How would that statement sound to someone wrestling with depression, who perhaps is already feeling like "junk?" When God created the universe in Genesis 1, God proclaimed it all good. Does struggling with depression negate how God sees us? I'd say no.

Not only does mental illness continue to carry a huge stigma in society in general, but it seems to be amplified in certain corners of Christianity due to the reasoning, as Jamie observes, that "Jesus should be enough." How much has that phrase, or the other mentioned above, added to one's suffering more than it's helped ease it? I'd wager quite a bit.

Human beings need to be thought of holistically, and need to be cared for accordingly. That means spiritually, physically, emotionally. That doesn't somehow lessen God or Jesus. I'd say it's what God wants us to do.

Just gonna leave this here. Mark Driscoll tweeted a stupid thing on Inauguration Day. Here's nakedpastor's take on it:


Heart problems. Rachel Held Evans writes about what really caused her to question the culture and ethos of evangelical Christianity:

But the questions that have weighed most heavily on me these past ten years have been questions not of the mind but of the heart, questions of conscience and empathy. It was not the so-called “scandal of the evangelical mind” that rocked my faith; it was the scandal of the evangelical heart. 
If you’ve read Evolving in Monkey Town, you know that the public execution of a woman named Zarmina in Afghanistan marked a turning point in my faith journey. The injustice of the situation was troublesome enough, but when my friends insisted that Zarmina went to hell because she was a Muslim, I began wrestling with some serious questions about heaven, hell, predestination, free will, God’s goodness, and religious pluralism. 
Evangelical apologists were quick to respond. And while their answers made enough sense in my head; they never sat right with my soul. 
Why would God fashion a person in her mother’ s womb, number the hairs on her head, and then leave her without any hope of salvation? Can salvation be boiled down to luck of the draw? How is that just? Shouldn't  God be more loving and compassionate than I?

See what Jamie writes above about mental illness for further reflections on the heart issues that certain Christian traditions are having.

This type of thing goes all the way back to Jesus, when people asked him questions such as who sinned to cause a blind man to be born blind, or whether the Galileans on whom the tower of Siloam fell were worse sinners than anyone else. Maybe, rather than root out the sin that obviously caused this horrible thing, Christians are called to sit with people without talking; maybe weeping instead. Some people can't help themselves, though, and that's a shame for all of us. To say the least.

I...uh... Gordon Atkinson continues his series on becoming Episcopalian, including not knowing all the rubrics of the worship service when he first shows up. And he drops this thought in the middle of it:
Because here’s the deal: do you really want to go to a church for the first time and understand everything that’s going on? Do you really want to walk into the most sacred hour of the week for an ancient spiritual tradition and find no surprises and nothing to learn or strive for? Do you really want a spiritual community to be so perfectly enmeshed with your cultural expectations that you can drop right into the mix with no effort at all, as if you walked into a convenience store in another city and were comforted to find that they sell Clark Bars, just like the 7-11 back home? 
I do hope you’ll give this a little more effort than that. Because something wonderful can happen when you stop trying to figure out what you should be doing in a worship service. When you admit to yourself that you don’t know what’s going on, you’ll just sit and listen. Because that’s really all you can do. And that’s actually a very nice spiritual move for you to make.
This flies in the face of what churches are being encouraged to do nowadays, which is to spell everything out as clearly as possible so that newcomers don't feel so out of place. It certainly flies in the face of what I strive to do when putting worship together. I've long kept in mind a thought from Nadia Bolz-Weber that people shouldn't have to "culturally commute" when they enter the church.

But really, they do anyway. Gordon's point is that church is a foreign place in our culture, and a certain amount of strangeness felt by those curious enough to wander in is going to happen. And at that point, one has a choice to listen and explore and do some homework, or to give up. Maybe those aren't the only two options, and those who do know what's going on should at least be ready and willing to help, but I like that he pushes back against some of the church's attempts to make worship as simple as possible for visitors. I'll be thinking about this one for a while.

Misc. Jan thinks church should be more fun. Black Coffee Reflections on the larger issues behind Driscoll's tweet. He identifies the usual stuff, but sometimes certain things are worth repeating. PeaceBang on what Newtown, CT is like these days.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pop Culture Roundup

This week I finished Rachel Held Evans' new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, in which she explores just what exactly the term "Biblical womanhood really means." She does this by trying to take the Bible's directives for women as literally as possible, even taking certain things a few steps further than they're intended. She camps out in the yard during her period, she "submits" to her husband, she remains completely silent during worship (unless she's prophesying with her head covered, of course), and she attempts to live into the image of womanhood found in Proverbs 31 as much as possible. Along the way she visits an Amish community, regularly corresponds with a Jewish woman in Israel, spends a few days with a Baby Think-It-Over, cooks her way through Martha Stewart's cookbook, and prepares a seder meal, among so much else. As she not only recounts all of these experiences but also delves into a deep treatment of various scripture passages (including profiles of some Biblical women), her basic conclusion is that there's no such thing as "Biblical womanhood;" that some passages such as Proverbs 31 are not meant to be taken literally or as a set of rules, and that many women in the Bible do not hold to the concept either, which is really more of a 1950s housewife model to begin with. Evans' book is a call to treat scripture as living tradition, a humorous take on the "traditional" model of womanhood, a celebration of womanhood past and present in all its diversity.

Some days, I wonder why I've gotten into zombies so much the past few years. I wonder whether it's just the thrill, or maybe there's something redemptive about such a universe or at least the hope of something redemptive, or maybe it's just brainless fun. I'm not sure. I'm halfway through the episodes so far released for the third season of The Walking Dead, and while on the one hand I'm completely engrossed in the story and the world that it presents, it's really an incredibly bleak show. I really can't help but root for these characters, but at the same time I watch knowing that one or more of them may not make it through any given episode. It can be depressing and scary, and I just can't help myself.

I was alerted to this video of a "virtual choir" put together by composer Eric Whitacre, and was so inspired by it that I talked about it in my sermon this past Sunday. He's put together four of these, but I still like this first one the best. It's just amazing to me what technology has made possible, uniting people from all over the world in projects like this:



Albumwatch, Mea Culpa Edition!

This is a version of Albumwatch where I take a second listen to albums that I didn't really like the first time to see if I've changed my mind, and offer up some "mea culpas" for those that struck me in a more positive way the second time around. I think doing one of these maybe mid-year and then at the end of the year is a good way to handle it, so this one will be for as long as I started including this feature up to this point.

No Doubt, Push and Shove - When Coffeewife gets ready for work in the morning, she likes to listen to dance-pop radio on her iPhone. The first time I listened to this album, I called it a weak, lazy electronics-heavy effort that made No Doubt sound like a shell of its former self. Upon listening to it again, I was able to appreciate it as more of the kind of dance-pop that Coffeewife likes. Besides that, I was able to pick up on the ska influences that this group is known for. I still don't think it's their best effort, but could at least appreciate it more.

Zola Jesus, Stridulum - I think that if I was feeling really down, as in wanting to sit in the dark drinking wine by myself, and I needed an appropriate soundtrack for that situation, I would choose this. Being that I heard this again when I was in a more positive state of mind than that, I yet again did not find it to be ideal listening. But I'm saying that there would be an ideal situation for it. So I guess that counts.

The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow - I did enjoy this album a lot more the second time around. I think I was in much more of a reflective mood, and this laid-back, acoustic-driven sound aided it perfectly.

Professor Elemental, Father of Invention - If I wanted to award a top Mea Culpa Of The Week, it would probably go to Professor Elemental. I won't do such an award, I'm just saying that this is probably the one I didn't get into the first time that I feel worst about, since a second listen showed me that he's just as hilarious and brilliant in this effort as with others. Silly me.

Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits - I'm still not big on '80s revival type stuff, but it was much more tolerable the second time around. Plus Coffeewife dancing around goofily to it was fun. I'm glad she doesn't read my blog very often.

Passion Pit, Gossamer - I was pretty lukewarm to this the first time I heard it. I found myself bouncing my foot to it and having a little more fun during a second listen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A New Thing, Or Several

Hey, you know how I'm moving to a new church in less than a month?

And you know how my moving to a new church is therefore going to entail moving to a new house?

Well...the Coffeefamily is expanding.

As in, Coffeechild #2 is on his/her way.

A bun is in the oven. The stork is preparing to take flight. When a man and a woman love each other very much...well, you get it.

There aren't many more huge life transitions we could coordinate this year. I think we're pretty well covered on that for a while. In fact, we're thinking of taking 2014 off in order to recover (no, not really).

I don't have much more to say about it at this point. We're excited. We're looking forward to welcoming a new little one into our family. Coffeeson is excited, even though we know it'll be a huge transition for him as well.

It's going to be quite a year, that's for sure.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Adjusting Expectations

Each individual or family comes to church with their own expectations. Whether it's someone attending for the first time or a longtime member, we each may expect different things out of the church. Based on my experience, here are some general examples:

  • The oldest among us may expect certain social or fellowship activities such as dinners and game groups, like they've always known churches and communities to provide.
  • Families may expect groups or events for their children, either simply to get them involved in something, to help teach them about faith or morality, or even just because it'll look good on a college application.
  • Youth may expect something worth engaging in. Not necessarily to be entertained, but to be engaged: to be taken seriously, to have room to ask questions, and to be validated for who they are.
  • Those in need may expect help, be it a gas card or a program that helps sustain them in weak moments.
There are other programmatic things we may expect: opportunities to learn more about the Bible or discipleship, engaging worship, a chance to be in community, to be welcomed, preaching that relates the Bible to everyday life (variations on this phrase has appeared on every church profile I've ever read while in Search and Call).

In large part, we may expect our churches to do or be certain things for us. None of the above mentioned things are bad or not worthwhile, and there's no reason for churches not to do their best within their means to encourage and organize education, mission, worship, and fellowship for members and non-members alike. But they do all happen to be things that we want to be provided for our benefit in some way.

We need to adjust our expectations for the church and for ourselves.

These expectations need to include what we expect to contribute to a community: how we help organize fellowship, how we encourage or engage our children and youth, how we help ease the needs of others, what kind of energy we bring to worship, how we welcome others.

There's nothing new about what I've written here. People have been saying it for years. Really, people have been saying it since the days when Paul and others were writing their epistles. Along the way, churches have become more consumer-oriented than contributor-oriented, be it the sale of indulgences and icons in various parts of the Catholic church's history to most of the modern American Christian Industrial Complex.

Rather than asking what the church can do for us, we should be asking what we can do for the church. And if that sounds too much like trying to prop up the institution, we should be asking what we can do for others on a spiritual journey similar to our own. It's not really meant to be an either-or, but a both-and: community is about what we give as well as what we receive.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Vintage CC: Roots


While anticipating my upcoming transition, I've been thinking about this entry a little. I still wonder about whether it's possible--or maybe even desirable--for me truly to plant myself somewhere.

As a pastor, I've visited a lot of cemeteries.

It's an inevitable part of my vocation. Somebody calls me to let me know that their wife, husband, father, mother, grandparent, sister, brother, or whomever died. I get a call from the funeral home maybe a day later, at which point they tell me when and where the service is taking place, and where the burial will be. The location of the service is usually a predictable choice between the soft pink lights and soothing piano music on CD of the funeral home, or in the sanctuary of the church. It makes no difference to me, really. Funeral home services are much shorter due to the general lack of hymns and corporately read prayers. Every once in a while somebody would like a favorite song sung together, or at least as much as people are up for singing. But for the most part, they're about half as long as a church service which, as you might expect, is normally held at the request of member families who couldn't imagine the one for whom they grieve not being commended to God from the pews in which they sat for decades.

No, the place where one's life is celebrated, stories are shared, scriptures and prayers and songs are lifted is a fairly predictable choice for me. In that sense, I know what to expect and plan for as soon as I know what the people want. The place of burial, however, is almost a guessing game. I've been to perhaps a dozen or so such places in the area, and it could be any of them, or some new place I've never experienced. Depending on where we end up, we may say final goodbyes in a chapel, under a pavilion, or under the green tent with minimal padded seating. We may stand near a vault or over a rectangular hole. There may already be the stone memorializing a spouse, parent, or child close by, to which the departed will now be enjoined at least in a symbolic way.

My favorite to visit is probably the nearby national cemetery. Like any military cemetery, the word that defines one's entire experience there is "precision." When the funeral caravan arrives, it must stop next to a front office building where the funeral director delivers papers and waits for the Go signal. Then, on the half hour, we make our way through the perfectly-aligned rows of markers and vaults to a pavilion where a small group of veterans awaits. Military honors are conducted first, and before I open my prayer book I am reminded that I'll be cut off if I go too long in order to prepare for the next group when the half hour hits once again. I always approach this with an extra sense of honor and privilege that is much less due to the strict schedule and much more for the simple pageantry and elegance of it all. I can say this about all cemeteries that I've experienced, really. But this is a unique place for me.

The church has its own cemetery of respectable size whose residents go all the way back to the congregation's founding. Ours is typical of most non-military cemeteries: smaller markers of faded limestone are generally relegated to the side closest to the road, overtaken more and more by larger, modern works of granite and marble. Brass stars slowly turning green from age mark where our veterans are all year, but small American flags are added just before Memorial Day and remain through Veterans Day. Familiar names that go back generations litter the landscape, inviting questions of relation to those still on the rolls. Decorations are modest, usually featuring a few floral arrangements or, in some cases, a tree or bush planted in one's honor. More recent markers are personalized with pictures of the deceased, familiar quotes, symbols of favorite hobbies, beloved civic groups, or one's faith.

I could tell you stories about our residents. As the years go by, I know more and more of them. I could tell you about the 34-year-old woman who died of lung cancer, for whom I officiated her baptism, wedding, and funeral within the same year. I could tell you about the time she shared that one of her friends at her wedding thought I was "hot". I could tell you about her then-9-year-old son who must be in his emotional 40s by now. I could tell you about the woman who lived to be almost 102, who'd fill me in on the church's history every month that I brought her communion. I could tell you about the chocolates she almost always had waiting for me when I arrived.

There are people whom I've never met that I could tell you about as well. I could tell you about the other woman, clearly one of this church's beloved saints, who lived past 100 and who stood all of four feet tall. I could tell you about the father who was never the same after his wife died and, according to those who knew him best, "gave up" shortly after. I could tell you about the young track coach who suddenly collapsed at a meet and whose funeral saw a sanctuary bursting at the seams with people reeling from his loss.

And I could tell you about the pastor. We have at least one buried in our cemetery, and his memorial identifies him so. He ministered to our church for over 25 years, a mark that no other pastor has even come close to meeting. The name is recognizable because no less than four generations of his family still attend and serve in various roles, though not in the stereotypical way one may associate with big families and small churches. He's buried right next to the church, clearly visible from both the sanctuary and office windows, almost as if he's keeping watch over whomever fills the pulpit forever after.

I think about this pastor often. I never met him, so I don't think about his life so much as what it took for him to be buried here in our cemetery.

Where you are buried is your last identifying gesture. You are forever linked to the nearest community, and even long after people's memories of you fade, that is still where the remnants of your physical self will reside. You will be visited by loved ones who will decorate, clean, stop to remember; wherever they live, they will always need to travel to that spot. Later on, that same spot may be visited by genealogy enthusiasts searching for ancestors and constructing family trees. Eventually children may hold a piece of paper up to your gravestone and rub a crayon over it, and they probably won't know you at all. Whomever comes to visit, they'll visit you right here. And in most cases, you're buried where you are because it's close to where you lived, where people knew you and valued you and could tell embarrassing stories about you. More often than not, you are buried close to home.

Except in the most tragic circumstances possible, I don't anticipate being buried in my church's cemetery. It would only be some unexpected event that would dictate my final resting place being close to this other pastor. Something would have to happen to me, or something would have to happen to Coffeewife or Coffeeson that would automatically cause me to decide that this is where I will rest when my own time comes. Barring that sort of thing happening, though, I have no idea where that plot will be secured. I don't know where life, let alone death, will take me.

I sometimes wonder where my final stop will be. I wonder if it will be a place that I've known and that knows me, where we valued each other and where people will tell embarrassing stories about me. I wonder if I'll be buried in a place that I could come to know for years or even decades, where there will be people to leave flowers for me and linger to remember who I was for a while. I wonder if it will be a church cemetery after all, where my memorial will say "Pastor" and generations of members will be able to tell children and grandchildren about me, how maybe I was a trusted friend or how I always wanted to drink the regular coffee or how I always had weird ideas about church and worship and Jesus. I wonder if I'll be known that well close to where I'm buried.

I wonder if I'll have grown roots before I'm in the ground.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pop Culture Roundup

A while back I was given the book Seeing David in the Stone by a business-minded church member who thought I might benefit from its lessons on leadership. I hasten to add that this was not as a judgment, he just figured it'd be a useful tool. As I've become more interested in how organizations run and the role of leadership in that process, I decided to finally give this book a look. Citing the examples of many well-known figures such as Marie Curie, Dwight Eisenhower, Thomas Edison, and Sam Walton, among others, the authors present 12 signature marks of effective leadership including differentiating oneself for opportunity, convincing the cautious, working with critics, and so on. I had a little trouble with this book on two fronts. First, some of the jargon used was and is something I need to spend more time with in order to understand, and second, I'm dubious as to how much of this is translatable into a church setting. A non-profit volunteer organization is a much different animal from a corporation. There was useful stuff here, but it would still need to be adapted to account for context.

We finally got around to watching Green Lantern a few weeks ago, starring Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, a hotshot test pilot who's a bit directionless until a fateful encounter with a crashed alien spaceship that leaves him inheriting a green lantern ring from its dying inhabitant. The other lanterns are highly skeptical of a human holding the ring until it turns out he's the only one who can come up with a way to defeat an evil fear-based entity threatening to destroy Earth. As superhero movies go, this was probably middle of the pack. The special effects are top notch, but there was something about the plot that seemed rushed. I can only expect so much from a film like this, and I enjoyed it for what it was. Reynolds is one of my favorite actors and the Green Lantern is my second favorite DC hero behind Batman, so I'll pop some popcorn and put up with some loosey-goosey plot points.

Thanks to Coffeeson's newly-acquired interest in the Stink series of books by we have watched Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer several times over the past few weeks. See, Stink is Judy Moody's younger brother, so that's been the big draw. He has a prominent role in this movie as Judy wants to totally have the bestest summer ever, you guys. Unfortunately, two of her best friends have other big summer plans elsewhere, so she's stuck at home trying to make her own fun with her brother and her Aunt Opal (Heather Graham). Also, Jaleel White can still find work, here in particular as Judy's teacher. It's a cute movie for elementary school kids, and it's one of the less annoying things that I've had to watch as a parent, so I'll call it a win on those fronts.

I've made it through four seasons of Mad Men. The fifth isn't on Netflix yet, but I'm hoping to see it before whenever the new season starts. I've certainly heard plenty about how the fifth season started, so I'll look forward to that, as well as to having a show to look forward to watching on TV as brand new episodes air. I do have to say that part of me has never gotten over the standoffish ways with which people approach each other, ever putting on airs at the expense of vulnerability or real relationship. Part of it is the business Don and company are in, but part of it is just easier. I've been meaning to write a blog post exploring this more. Guess I'll have to get around to that.

Also, it appears that I have until February 10th to get completely caught up with The Walking Dead before new episodes start airing. For me, that means basically all of seasons 2 and 3 so far. I'm making good progress, as I'm halfway through season 2 now...the past few days I've been watching 1-2 episodes a day. This is easily the most intense TV show I've ever found myself caught up in. I find it engrossing, but after many episodes I find myself either incredibly wound up or exhausted. And it's not just the constant threat of danger, it's also the emotional trauma that the characters endure either due to losing loved ones or to the tense dynamic between them at times as they do their best to survive.

Albumwatch!

The Piano Guys, The Piano Guys
- A piano guy and a cello guy combine classical pieces with modern songs to create unique and creative new tunes. My favorite is probably their combination of the theme from the Bourne movies with Vivaldi's Double Cello Concerto ("Code Name Vivaldi"). It's fun and very well done. Here, take a listen:



Passion Pit, Gossamer - You're probably familiar with Passion Pit's single "Take A Walk," which I'm ashamed to say I didn't know was by Passion Pit until recently. The rest of the album is electronic power pop, which I like when I'm in the mood, but at the time of listening to this, I don't think I was. I found the whole thing...fine.

Passion Pit, Manners - As often seems to be the case, I sometimes read reviews of an album on Amazon where many reviewers say, "Well, this is nothing like [some previous album of theirs]. If you really want to hear good stuff from this artist, listen to that instead." Such was the case when I read reviews of Gossamer: a bunch of people said that those new to Passion Pit should really listen to Manners instead. So I did. It struck me in a way that Gossamer didn't, which may have been when I listened to it, the mood I was in, or whatever else. But I liked this one better.

Derek Webb, Stockholm Syndrome - My favorite artists who self-identify as Christian nowadays are the ones who deign to buck the "handful of cliches over 3 guitar chords" formula; the ones who don't feel the need to mention God in every verse if not every song; the ones who dare to be critical of Christian attitudes and behaviors; the ones who risk sharing an actual viewpoint about current events or some cause that's important to them. Derek Webb, whom I've been meaning to listen to for YEARS, falls into that category. Offering up an interesting mix of acoustic/electronic as he critiques the church and American culture, I can't believe I didn't make it a point to listen to this years ago. The former Caedmon's Call member has my fandom.

I think I need to start offering "Albumwatch Mea Culpas" every so often, where I take another listen to albums that I didn't really like at the time that I wrote about them to see if I've changed my mind. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood or passed judgment too quickly on some of these. So maybe I'll offer my first round of those during the next Roundup.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Last First Thing

I fondly remember my seminary years as a great time of personal growth; of deep wrestling and discovery of who I am. The classwork mostly was engaging, the field education was hit and miss. So many years after the fact, I can look back and see that it was more the experience of the big city and its cultural diversity and my summer of Clinical Pastoral Education that I really credit with this. From time to time I like to say that my years at Eden helped me learn who I am as a person.

Over the past eight years, I've been learning to be a pastor. Many may think that this is what seminary is for, but when the driving model of pastoral education is classroom study coupled with a relatively minimal amount of hours spent in a ministry setting, there's only so much practical experience that you can gain from that model. It's a fairly common wish among new pastors that seminary had focused more on administration, for instance. We have to learn those things as we go.

There are many scenarios that seminary simply can't cover. How to oversee an elevator project. How best to help a person struggling with finances. How best to rearrange your week when a funeral pops up in order to give proper care to the grieving and get your work done. How to deal with an overly demanding bride. How to work with your critics. Sure, there could have been more pointers given for some of these things, but you don't really know until you find yourself in the specifics, and you still may not know after you've given it your best shot. Ministry is an art rather than a science. We practice it as best we can, however imperfectly, hoping that instincts develop over time so that we're able to do it better.

I now have just under six weeks remaining at the church where I learned to be a pastor; where I started to develop these instincts myself. My office is becoming bare and overrun with boxes, the first carload set to go out to the new church later this week.

It depends on the moment how I feel regarding how close this change is getting. At times, I'm feeling more reflective or sad as I think about the over eight years of memories, relationships, and learnings from which I'll be moving on. At other times, and even admittedly more frequently, I'm getting excited about the possibilities of beginning again, of creating new memories and relationships. And in part, I'm excited to see how experience gleaned thus far will play in a different setting, as well as the new experiences that I'll gain there.

The difference in gained experience in a new place is that a certain amount of it won't be new this time around. At my current church, most of what I've learned was for the first time: my best routine for sermon preparation, best approaches to planning weddings and funerals, how best to respond to notification of hospital stays, conducting Bible studies, running a confirmation program. These are the sorts of things that probably won't change a whole lot; I won't have to re-learn them.

As I prepare in these final weeks for this transition, that is the primary point for which I'll be thankful. I won't have to re-learn, because this is where I learned the first time. I may develop better ways to do them, but this is where I learned them first.

And now I'm learning my last first thing: how to leave well. This has been complicated and even hindered a bit by Advent and Christmas, as those seasons tend to occupy the church's time and energy, leaving little inclination to think about transitional issues. But even in the midst of that, as I learn to entrust certain responsibilities to others and watch from the outside as Consistory goes through the process of securing an interim, as I write newsletter articles explaining what I can and can't (mostly can't) do after I leave, as I make plans for that final worship service, I'm learning that paying attention to this last thing is important. You can't just up and leave; there's still important work of transition and healing to do in these final weeks.

In some ways, this work is harder than some of those others because it signals an end. But it's no less important to learn. As with so much else, I'll be glad to have learned it here.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Small Sips Is Making a Bucket List

What "missional" looks like. Jan invites readers to dream up a "bucket list" for their church, except without the concept of death mixed in and basically just of stuff they could do that is new and adventurous:
Ideas for your Church’s Bucket List:  
Spend a Saturday morning (as a church) hanging out at a local laundromat or a local Jiffy Lube and pay for everybody’s laundry/oil change that morning. (Yes this will take some cash from the Random Acts of Kindness line item in your church budget. Having this line item in your church budget should also be on your Church Bucket List.) The purpose of doing people’s laundry/oil change is to serve in a random and generous way. The purpose is NOT to invite people to your church or to hand out glossy flyers about your Sunday School. If anyone asks why you are doing this you say, “We are part of the same church.” Make them ask you the name of your church, if they really want to know. Believe me, if they are looking for a spiritual home, they will seek you out.  
Take a cooler full of popsicles to a ball field when the weather gets warmer during a Little League or soccer game. Just hand them out to anybody who wants one. Again, don’t wear church t-shirts or share a church flyer with the popsicle. Just smile and love them and feel great about serving them. And if they ask you why you are doing this, just say, “We know each other through church.”  
Challenge every person in your congregation to do some simple act of compassion or generosity for their next door neighbor. Invite them to share what they’ve done – again out of love, not out of “let’s save the neighbors!” or “let’s target them as potential new members!” Ideas: bake them cookies, rake their leaves, invite them to dinner.  
Schedule at least one regular church event (a Bible study, women’s meeting, small group, Christian Education meeting, etc.) in a public space on a monthly basis. Get out of your church building. Hang out in a diner, a bar, a public library, a park, a coffee shop.  
None of these ideas are particularly fresh. But they’re a start.
At various points, I've wanted to do stuff like this, but I think I wanted to be more organized than what Jan suggests. This sounds much more organic and in the spirit of discipleship than an overplanned church function.

That's probably a big part of the problem: we churchy types need to get out of the programmatic mindset, at least to the degree in which many of us operate. Some planning is needed, but not a ridiculous, soul-sucking amount that quashes the spirit of the act.

*scribbles reminder on paper to encourage more of this stuff*

Hey, that's...yeah! Tim at Black Coffee Reflections shares some tips on making, tracking progress on, and keeping resolutions. I found two and four especially helpful:
Second, revisit your progress twice a month. I find that I need to update my goals and resolve again quite frequently. The beginning was the hardest, so I set smaller goals of updating the resume, creating an Evernote folder, then bookmarking the websites I was going to use, telling my senior pastor what we were thinking and so forth. By the way, I entitled that Evernote folder “Keep Moving Forward.” 
[...]
Four, reward yourself when making progress. For me, it was buying great coffee or trying a new beer or splurging a little on my family. I liked the positive reinforcement, I liked what it meant, I liked that it was life-giving. Cross a key item off my list and I was headed to the Ridgewood Coffee House to buy a cup of Clover-pressed Intelligentisia. I’d do some work, I’d read a little and then work through that Evernote folder.
I used to use that positive reinforcement trick in college and seminary whenever I'd finish some paper or project. It makes sense to use them for these other goals, especially resolution-y ones.

Gives new meaning to "liturgical dance." Matthew Paul Turner has found that Gangnam Style praise is a thing, and that thing is pretty terrible:



If you actually clicked "play," I apologize.

A thing that is not terrible. On New Year's Day, Michigan lost to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. That made me sad, mostly because it was Denard Robinson's last game as a Wolverine. While his work as a QB wasn't always pretty, he was still one of the most exciting players to wear a winged helmet in a long time, and a great representative and person off the field. MGoBlog has posted a video of highlights spanning his entire career:



Good luck, Denard. And thanks.

Misc. Luke gives me a shout-out on his year-end blog summary. Jamie on remembering Christmas' true purpose. You say it's past the time to link such a thing, I say it's the 10th day of the Christmas season, so stuff it. Rachel Held Evans has a year-end best-of post, too. Gordon Atkinson is going to blog his experiences in becoming Episcopalian.