Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lightning strikes twice....

Id like to give out a shout out to my 15-year-old nephew Andrew who has managed to break both of his ankles in the past 3 weeks.
One was due to normal kid stuff - horsing around with his friends.
But the second was just bizarrely bad luck.

The poor kid managed to get himself upstairs from the basement to the kitchen, crutches and all, but the family dog who was tied up in the kitchen noticed Andrew's bright red cast and managed to leap on top of him, knocking him backwards and causing him to tumble all the way down the stairs.
The result?
He broke his other ankle - and luckily nothing else.

Keep Andrew in your prayers as he is missing the last month of school and is suffering through this 98 degree heat with no mobility whatsoever.
And keep his mom (my sister Mary) in your prayers as she now has a frustrated teenage boy on her hands who can't leave the house and has to be waited on hand and foot.

Here's to fast healing!

Monday, June 9, 2008

“You're traveling through another dimension -- a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind…”

Yesterday I did a pulpit fill-in at a local Disciples of Christ church that just lost it’s minister, and it was…..interesting.

This is only the third pulpit fill-in I’ve done outside of my home church but I’m starting to feel more comfortable preaching to an unknown audience. I still stress over the usual things – the length of my sermon, the possibility of low attendance, whether people will ‘get’ what it is I’m trying to say – but thankfully I’m starting to feel less concerned over whether people like me and more concerned over whether the message of the sermon is getting through to them.

I admit that when I first started preaching, my ego loved hearing all the “You were great”, “You’re a natural at this” comments, and on some level I still need to hear those things (don’t we all??), but now what I really want to hear are comments on the message. Did they get it - did something resonate with them, did something NOT resonate with them, did something in the sermon make them think, laugh, cry, or piss them off to the point that they needed to let me know.
Usually they don’t let me know. Either they don’t say anything, or on their way out they’ll say “thank you for the sermon, it was (pause) interesting…”
I’ve found that “Interesting” can mean anything from “I don’t know what the hell you were talking about” to “get-your-crazy-liberal-progressive-theology-out-of-my-church.”

While I didn’t get any “interesting”s yesterday, the whole experience was just a little off – like a Twilight Zone episode where everyone except one guy has been replaced by martians and the poor schmuck can’t seem to put his finger on what’s wrong.

It started off oddly.
My SO and I arrived a half-hour before the service and entered through the back of the church, where the parking lot is. While the sanctuary itself is not that large, the church has a large network of classrooms, auditoriums, and offices attached to it. We walked in and had no idea where to go.

The first gentleman we ran across seemed startled to see us. I introduced myself, told him I was there to meet Jeff (their contact elder) and could he point me in the direction of the sanctuary. He nervously stammered that he hadn’t seen Jeff yet and kind of vaguely gestured in the direction we needed to go. He was wearing shorts, sneakers, and a rather large wooden cross around his neck, which was the first tip-off that this was not going to be a typical church experience. His mannerisms and nervousness led me to believe that he was just not the social type, so I moved on through the maze and asked a few more people where it is I needed to go. I introduced myself, told them why I was there, and I was friendly and pleasant and they didn’t seem to know what to do with that.
It was like they’d never had a stranger enter their space before.
No one greeted our obvious confusion with a “Welcome! Jeff’s not here yet but let me show you were to go.” They all just kind of looked at each other and seemed baffled as to how to respond. Very strange.

We finally found the sanctuary and Jeff showed up. He was very friendly and seemed genuinely excited to have me there and to show off his church, but as he took me around and introduced me to everyone, again, it was like bizzaro world. People would kind of half-smile and say hello but not really look me in the eye, and half-heartedly shake my hand. I sensed a real presence of wariness. Not just prior to the service, but during the passing of the peace and afterward as well.

Now, I should point out that this is a church that has a large endowment and does a lot for the local community, they rent space out to numerous non-profits, turned their parsonage into a home for single mothers, they had a craft class for autistic children going on in their gym during the service. But all of this seems to be disconnected from what goes on in worship. They have no announcements so there’s no sense of what’s going on in the community, there weren’t any notices in the bulletin about upcoming events or ways to get involved, and visitors aren’t welcomed from the pulpit or given a chance to introduce themselves. There was even confusion about whether they had a coffee hour or not - Jeff said no, another congregant said yes, either way we didn’t stick around to find out.

It wasn’t all bad. During the sermon I could see some people listening intently and smiling. Afterwards, I did get some comments from congregants that indicated they enjoyed the sermon, and there were a few friendly greetings. But the impression I walked away with was that this is a church that has no energy. The hymns were sung very slowly (and they didn’t ask me to pick the hymns to ensure they fit the theme of the reading/sermon, which was odd), even the few kids that came up for the children’s message just sat there with their eyes glazed over, unwilling to participate at all (which to be fair, happens in even the liveliest of churches sometimes ;-).
At lunch afterwards, my SO and my friend E. who came as moral support remarked about how tired they felt after the service, like they’d just had the energy sucked right out of them.

Now, another interesting element to this saga is that there are a few members of this church who defected from my current church soon after our church called a lesbian pastor. I recognized one woman, even though she didn’t seem to recognize me, and as far as I know none of them knew me well enough to know my story, or know that I too am a …..gasp!......lesbian.

I just got the sense that this was an older congregation that is of the generation where being a good Christian meant you went to church every Sunday, heard a comforting, traditional sermon, and that’s it. Hospitality, welcoming the stranger, growing their church, challenging themselves spiritually and theologically – these things just aren’t on their radar screen.

Now I could be entirely wrong about this, this was only my second visit. But when Jeff asked me if I wouldn’t mind sitting in on board meetings because they needed a ‘ministerial presence’ to keep the board members “inline” (in other words, to keep them from killing each other), I got the sense that this is not a happy, lets-work-together kind of church.

What added to this feeling was the encounter I had as I went to the pulpit to gather my things after the service. Wooden cross-man, speaking to me much more boldly this time, said “so, do you believe that the bible is the inerrant word of God?”
To which I responded “No”
He seemed to think that I had misheard him, so he rephrased his question:
“Do you think the bible is infallible?”
To which I replied once again, “No.”
After a long and very pregnant pause, he said “Do you know what it is you just said?”
He seemed to think I was confused, that I was answering in the negative because I was misinterpreting the question.
So I said “Yes I know what I said, I don’t think the bible is the inerrant word of God.”
To which he replied in a bemused tone, “Then why are you entering the ministry?”


I hadn’t even stepped out of the pulpit and here I was being challenged to defend my calling.
I very calmly explained to him that I believe that the Bible is God inspired but it was filtered through the mind of man, with all his prejudices, biases, and the unavoidable influences of time/culture/translation errors etc. I believe that there is room in God’s church for all types of Christians and not all of us believe that every word in the Bible is to be taken literally. All in all, it was a very liberal Christian response, and as my friend E. pointed out afterwards, is very much a part of the Disciples of Christ “we follow no creed” covenant. In fact, this particular DOC church has it printed right on the back of their bulletin “There is no requirement that members ascribe to a particular doctrine or theology.”

Apparently those in the pulpit don’t get off so easy.

I don’t know if my answer satisfied Mr. Wooden Cross or not, but he did add that he was going to warn me about my choice of seminary – ‘Andy Newton’ as he called it – because they teach that the Bible is not inerrant.
He then went on to brag about some teaching position he had just been offered but he wasn’t sure if he was going to take it, and his whole demeanor changed. He switched into ‘give me your approval/advice’ mode, and seemed pleased that I was interested in hearing more….

Very, very strange.

Oh, and did I mention that I'm the first woman they've ever had in the pulpit?
Perhaps that's why they were looking at me as if I had two heads (and no winkie).
I can’t wait to go back and preach again this Sunday!

Thursday, June 5, 2008


There's nothing on TV tonight except "You've Got Mail" (Meg Ryan, purrrrrrrrrrrr!) so it's a good time to blog....with the chick flick on in the background of course.

It's been a busy week - even though I am currently unemployed - this sleeping-in and doing whatever the hell I want all day long is rough stuff, let me tell ya...(I know, I can hear you all saying 'Bite Me' right now).

Children's Sunday

I had rehearsal for Children's Sunday this past Sunday. I put together a play for the kids based on Matthew 9:35-10:23 (Jesus sends out the 12 disciples) and the kids really seemed to enjoy it. We have a 12-year-old girl playing Jesus and she really hammed it up so it should be great!
Thankfully, this will be my last duty as leader of Religious Education and Sunday School Superintendent (it's two, two - two jobs in one!), and the new victim..ahem....I mean 'volunteer' takes over after on the 15th of June. Seriously, she's been a big help already. In fact she's covering for me this Sunday and during the actual Children's Sunday service as I will be off preaching elsewhere.
I put together a whole RE/Sunday School info box for her, detailing everything I did over the past two years and I included a chronological cheat sheet entitled "Things I Wish They'd Told Me I Had to Do as RE Team Leader (But They Didn't)"
I tried to include all the little things that no one ever tells you, like how many plastic eggs to buy for the Easter Egg hunt, and what exactly are people expecting at the "Happy Birthday Jesus" party....you know, earth shatteringly important stuff.
Hey, it's a lot more than anyone did for me.
All they said to me was "You're in charge, go do it."
***slap, slap*** (that's the sound of me wiping my hands of the whole kit'n'kaboodle)


I finished my sermon for this Sunday and I've got a good chunk of next week's sermon done as well. I just emailed my pastor to tell her that this preaching every week stuff is easy, especially when you don't have meetings to attend, shut-ins to visit and a whole congregation clamoring for your attention (I'm pretty sure her response to that will be 'Bite Me' as well...I'm starting to notice a pattern here).
I started out writing this monstrosity of a sermon that seemed to be going in two different directions, so I took out all the bits that didn't fit and they actually fit better with next week's gospel reading so it worked out pretty well. It was kind of like separating the J writer from E in Genesis. Once I separated the bits into two different sermons they actually made sense! (and for those of you who haven't taken Old Testament 101, google JEDP and have all your previously held assumptions shattered, enjoy!)


I spent Tuesday getting poked and prodded at the doctor's office in preparation for entering seminary. I had a laundry list of shots that I needed to get for school, including Hepatitis B, which I learned it's actually a series of 3 shots given over the course of a year. My arms are killing me but at least I have a signed document that proves I'm good to go!
I also received my financial aid info and on top of the full-tuition scholarship I qualify for the full subsidized Stafford loan amount ($8,500 a year) which should just about cover room and board.
Shots - check!
Money - check!
Toaster oven for dorm room - check!
All I need is a hair cut and I'm ready to become one of the few, the proud, the brave - those entering a low paying profession with high grad school debt...whoo hoooo!


Also on Tuesday I had the pleasure of presenting a "Physics of Cycling" presentation at the school where my SO works. I basically wheeled my bike into the classroom, talked about frame materials, race tactics, and why Lance Armstrong is a medical miracle. Afterward I sat in on my SO's GSA (gay-straight alliance) meeting with her students. We talked about gay marriage in California and listened to "I Kissed a Girl" on iTunes. High School is certainly a lot different from what I remember.

Last Friday, one of the teachers at my SO's school got box seat tickets to the Mets vs. Dodgers game from one of her student's parents. Yay! I was hoping I'd get to see the Mets at Shea one last time. We got a primo parking spot, the seats had easy access to the concession stands and the bathroom, and it was my first trip to Shea where the Mets looked like actual human beings (and not the 3" tall blurs they appear to be from the nose-bleed seats). It was so cool!
Of course, the Mets went ahead and lost the game, to which I only have one thing to say....

Whew....I feel so much better getting that off my chest.

"What's that lying all crumpled up in the dirt, David?"
"I dunno, I think it may be Heilman's career."