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I still have good days and bad days.  (I suspect I always will.)  The difference between good and bad and better and worse is often one of degrees.  Today my head hurts slightly.  Today I will always know where the excedrin bottle is.  Today I will barely leave the couch.  Today I will only get out of bed.  And similar scales.  Most of my days, thankfully, land on the better and good end of the scale.  I know what it’s like when days tend to land on the other end of the scale.  When the “good” days are the days when you only have to take two naps, one pain pill, can think.   And I know that there are days in the middle days where I don’t want to or don’t have time to or am just sick of talking about being sick and so need to pass as healthy,  as having a good day.  I need to act healthy.  Despite the pain in my head, or my back, or my leg, or whatever.

There’s another time I do this.  I do this after surgery as I become healthy.  It’s actually an important skill then.  Because if I don’t start acting healthy, despite wanting to sit on the couch and sleep, despite better knowing how to be sick, I’ll never really believe that I am healthy.  I’ll never discover that I can make it down the street or up the stairs or do whatever or go where ever.

In the church I think we get caught thinking we are still sick.  Or to put in the terms we use, still dysfunctional, still caught in a prior generation’s way of thinking, still caught up in the way we’ve always done things.  We forget that the world has moved and that we, sometimes, oftentimes, haven’t.  And as this reality catches up with us, we want to take things slow.  To stay on the couch and have committee meetings, to read books, to commission studies, when what we need to do, sometimes, oftentimes, is try getting up and moving across the room.

But sometimes we need to act healthy.  Today.  Even when it seems impossible to believe that it could be true.  Even when our heads hurt or our muscles ache and the people coming to church aren’t the people we thought would come or aren’t coming at all.  Because sometimes when we act healthy we discover that we are better off than we thought we were.  Today.

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Both of my ordination certificates declare that I have been “ordained as a [deacon/priest] in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”  It’s a line I cherish.  It links me (even if only in a vague and can’t-really-be-proved historically way) with everyone else who has ever done my job in any way, place, or time.  It’s profound.  And it’s important for how my Church understands itself and how I understand myself.

And yet sometimes I think it should have come with an * and some fine print at the bottom of the page.  I was ordained at 25.  I’m still the youngest clergy person in my diocese.  There is no sign that this will change in the near to middling future.  Most of my colleagues are my parents’ age.  Which doesn’t disturb me.  Until.

Until Gen Y or Millennials come up and every one looks at me.  (Or worse, no one looks at me because every one has forgotten that I’m actually there.)  Because clearly, I know everything about this generation that I barely belong to.*  Because even after you ignore all of the problems of dating a generation or a movement (as my history professors would say, “people don’t wake up one morning knowing they are a part of the next movement/era/generation”), I got ordained at 25.  I can intelligently discuss the hypostatic union, eschatology vs apocalypse, and the theology of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  And would often rather have those conversations or ones like them than talk about most TV shows, computer games, popular music, etc.

I may not actually represent my generation all that well.  Just because I’m in Church doesn’t mean the rest of them will find their way into the Church, and certainly doesn’t mean they’ll stay if they do.

I know things about my generation, this Millennial group, in part because I have worked with them for years, in part because I am like them, but also because I read everything I can get my hands on about them.  Then again, I also read about Gen X, Baby Boomers, the Greatest Generation, and everyone else, because my job means I have to figure all of them out.  They are all (or should all) be sitting in the pews.  Because we are all (or should all) be linked.

*Most dates that I see attached to Gen Y or Millennials start either right around the year I was born or right after.  Either way, I’m probably more accurately part of the cusp between Gen X and the Millennials, especially when I compare myself to my younger siblings.

I’m writing this on Ash Wednesday.  This is important to know.

It’s the pause in my day between my services and I’m taking a chance to eat something and work on my vestry agenda for tomorrow.  Season 2 of The West Wing is playing in the background because I love Aaron Sorkin and I know it well enough that I can work and listen.  And in the middle of all of this I’m still bothered by my sermon.

It’s a good sermon.  I make good points.  Gospel points.  I believe everything I say.  Still, it’s under my skin.  And then a character on the show, a one-off character so I don’t know his name, says, “My entire life doesn’t have to be about this one thing.”  And I think but “sometimes it is.”

Sometimes my entire life is about being a priest.  (Try dating me, being my friend for very long and you’ll learn this lesson.)  Sometimes my entire life is about having had brain surgery and my health issues.  Listen to my sermon.  (Except, of course, you can’t.  I’m sorry.)  Hear me talk about mortality and death.  I learned those lessons the hard way.  The way of pain and suffering and blood work and tests.  Of having looked into the certain knowledge that death was close.  Sometimes my life is informed by one aspect of my life so completely it is as if my entire life is about that one thing.

All of that often makes me a better person and a better priest.  But this week, this week between MRI #17 and the doctor’s appointment, this week when my mortality is a little closer to me, I wonder if my knowledge of my mortality has bleed too close to my priesthood.  Because if my schedule were different, my sermon would be different.  It’s a good sermon.  I just wonder.  I wonder what other words I would have found, would have said.  What other part of the Gospel I would have proclaimed.

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

 

 

It says something about The Church or me that seeing this LOLcats made me think of my job and, fortunately, laugh.  Probably more about me than the Church because, knowing this, I’ll still cheerfully wind up working today (which is theoretically my day off).  (But only because there is so much I want to do.)

Yes, I’ve looked at the definition of workaholic recently.  Some how people keep asking me that.

There are parts of my job that are exhausting and frustrating and that occasionally drive me crazy. And I love my job. Sometimes in the exact same moment. It can be hard to explain to people who exhausting/frustrating/crazy moments exist. It’s true. I think, sometimes because of what people say, sometimes because of what is in their eyes, that they get a better impression of me than they probably should. I experience the exhausting and the frustrating and the crazy-making. And then I tell myself I can’t quit and remind myself about why I love my job. And then I pray. That one always works.

I use my hands and my voice
to hold wine and bread and tell a story
but the story isn’t mine, and shortly,
neither is the wine or bread
I use my voice, it’s tone and strength,
my ability and view, to breathe life
through words I wrote, and speak
a Gospel new again, old as it may be
and not despite, but because of all the me present
it is not about me at all, but God,
Who wrote and spoke and breathed into me
This is what ministry is.

At the end of the day,
when I am tired and weary,
with all the little holes worn through myself
from the miles of listening,
I sit down and speak back the stories I have heard
to the One who listened with me
and remember that I was not alone
and neither are those who spoke.
As I work my way back through the worries I carry
it is as though I work thorns out and
let Divine hands soothe,
and carry the thorns away.
This is what ministry is.

It is knowing that the work I do
is never done alone
is never done for me
is never about me
is always important
but best of all
it is knowing that the work I do
matters to me
matters to people
matters to God.
This is what ministry is.

written 4-16-10

I meant with my canonically required mentor today.  I like my mentor, which mostly works out well me, as I’d have a mentor anyways.  She asked me if seminary had taught me everything I needed to know.

It’s a tough question to answer.  The answer is always yes and no.

Yes.  Seminary taught me all that it could teach me.  There are only so many answers that can printed on a page or communicated in an exercise.  I worked hard in seminary.  (Which almost none of you know, because this blog didn’t exist in this format back then.)  I sought out practical and class based experiences that I thought would serve me well in practical ministry.  And mostly, I think I was right.  I don’t know, ask me again in another twenty years.

No.  Seminary can’t teach you everything.  The Church is real people and that means real messiness.  Seminary isn’t where I learned how to deal with that.  I learned how to deal with that in the Church, when I looked across the aisle at someone I’d spent the weekend vehemently disagreeing with and realized we both had to go to Communion.  I was young and I figured it out.  So facing it now isn’t that shocking.

I already knew.  The Church is messy.  God loves us.  My job is to communicate the good news and deal with the rest.  I learned how to do that before seminary, but seminary helped.

So did seminary teach me what I needed to know?

I learned good and important things in seminary.  Some of them were on the required course list and some weren’t.  I learned some things before seminary and I’ve learned many things since.  I plan to keep learning.

Yes and no.

When I, as the priest, the pastor, the person who is magically suppose to know what to say, hears my parishioners telling me what their life is like because of their disability or chronic illness, I hear my story.  I hear the stories of others with disabilities and chronic illnesses that I have listened to.  And I still do not know what to say.

Do I tell my story?  Is it over-sharing?  One of the great clergy sins?  Or is it reassuring my parishioner that they are not, in fact, alone?

Do I practice my “active listening skills”?  Leaving their story in the spotlight and letting them know passively, intuitively, possibly, that I understand?

I was not far along in seminary when I told my home congregation that there were no magic words, no perfect prayer.  There is just me, praying for wisdom and the best answer to this situation, for this person, each time this happens.

So sometimes, I tell parts of my story.  In the hopes that it is reassuring.  That my story helps bring their story closer to God.

And sometimes I just listen.  Actively.  Letting their story be in the spotlight.  And hoping that they know, somehow, that I really understand.

And sometimes I listen because I cannot, on that day, tell my story.  Because it is taking all of me to be there.  And I have no extra energy to make the decisions and draw the lines that let me tell my story.  These are the days when disability truly cripples us both.  The pastor and the parishioner.

The truth is, all of these have happened.

And the truth is, all of them will happen again.

Camp is a bunch of things.  It is smores around a fire.  (I had a great one made ‘specially for me, because at our camp you can’t make your own smore.)  It is silly songs.  It is playing in the water and on the field and outside and inside your cabin.  It is laughing at the Old Testament reading.  And it is more.

It is hearing that not even death can separate us from God.  Even when you are 8 years old, because even 8 year olds have experienced death in their lives.

It is getting a lot of attention because you need a lot of attention and leaving your priest for that week wondering and praying about why you need that much attention.

It is scrapped knees and homesickness and visits to the nurse.

It is talking with a counselor who is nearly convinced they aren’t a good counselor because they aren’t a natural clown.  And watching them figure out, over the course of that conversation and the next day or so, that they are a good counselor who can become a great counselor.

It is watching kids tell their parents about the things they have done this week–smores and sailing, games and giggling, skits and so much more and seeing the parents relax as they begin to really believe that sending their beloved children away for a week, for a whole week, was not only okay, but a really good thing.

This is, by far, my best camp story.  The week I was there as the chaplain the kids ranged from 3rd grade to 8th grade and our theme was Romans 8:38-39.   (For I know that neither depths nor heights, nor angels nor powers, etc, can separate us from the love of God in Christ.)  So, I had decided that we would spend different days talking about parts of creation or angels or life and death and how they cannot separate us from God’s love.  So I laid out my plans for the week, select mini themes for the days, picked readings, sketched sermons out in my mind, and began to think of activities.

And then we got to the day when we were talking about angels (and all the other powers, but mostly angels).  Our readings were Gabriel coming to Mary (Luke) and Balaam and his talking Donkey (Numbers).  Now, kids, and generally people, learn best when more of their senses are engaged, so I did everything I could throughout the week to encourage at least one reading as skit because I wanted the kids to learn the stories.  I think I succeeded anyways here.

The cabin who had chapel on angel day did not put on skits, and was generally a little behind the ball, but were earnestly trying.  (I’ll admit there’s a fuller story here, but it’s not germane to the funny part.)  So we get everyone settled.  I’ve checked in with them, made sure they weren’t going to use the King James translation of the Bible, and the service begins.   It doesn’t take long to get to the first reading.  It only takes another second to realize that I should have checked the translation of the second bible.  Because this kid is standing up there reading with elocution and dignity about Balaam and his talking Ass.

And everyone in camp, myself included is laughing.   Because it’s funny.

The reader, to his credit gets through the entire reading, and even pauses to tell us to be quiet.  We proceed through the psalm, the Gospel.  And when we get to the sermon I begin with, “Today you have learned something very important:  Sometimes the Bible is funny.”

Because sometimes it is.

It no longer feels odd to me, my morning ritual of putting on a shirt and clerical collar.  I am now just as likely to forget that this catches others off guard and it can take me a minute to correctly interpret their peering eyes.  “Is that…?  Does that mean..?  Wait…She’s a priest?”

And other times I cannot forget that I wear the Church’s uniform.

When I sit with a family grieving with them their loss and reminding them, with my presence, in the Church’s uniform, that they are not alone.  That I, the Church, and God are all with them.  That no one has been forgotten.

When I talk with those whose voice has gotten lost, who feel overlooked, and fear they are unimportant.  When I apologize and they tell me I had nothing to do with the slight.  And I say, “But someone from the Church needs to say I’m sorry.  So, I’m sorry.”

I worked hard to be able to put this funny thing on.  And at all times it is an honor and a privilege.  In some moments I feel the collar ringing my neck.  Not a burden, but a reminder.  Reminding me that I wear this uniform.  That, at my best and at my worst, I represent the Church, at its best and worst, and God, who loves all of us at our best and our worst.

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