Thursday, December 27, 2007

Advent... over

Another Advent has come and gone, and now it is time to pack away my Advent vestments. Well, actually, this year, they will be going to my mother's for a little bit of fine finishing. My vestments this year included a blue chasuble, with a front and back orphry band (the thing that runs down the front of a chasuble) from a lighter blue with a batik mosaic.

They were hand-sewn and designed by my mother (KDB Designs) who has been developing quite a background in liturgical items. She's now done frontals and stoles, but this was her first chasuble. It debuted to rave reviews. I think she should include it on her webpage, along with the full hanging it was based on.

Years ago, she created a series of five hangings for my home parish, Grace Church Newington, for Advent. Each panel is an Advent candle, growing taller and taller as the sky gradually grows dark. The final panel is the Star of the East, in a field of crystal bead stars. She's used this design as the inspiration of several stoles and now the chasuble. It's sad that they will probably never all be seen together, because they all coordinate.

The coordination thing is very cool. None of the items were made at the same time, but they all share common elements in the color scheme and the use of batiks. The items grow, develop, and change each time, but still are unified and complimentary. I suppose, kinda like life is supposed to be.

Good job, mom! (If you start reading my blog, that is, so you can find out how cool you are! hello!)

I hope everyone is enjoying a peaceful post-Christmas. Between hospital hours, the parish, and 6 services in three days plus shut-in visits, this year was SO hectic, it's only now I have 24 hours of something like peace and quiet. Meaning I had to get up early for a Cochlear implant programming before running off to the mall to check deals at the Mac store to get my favorite grad student his new school computer...

Be at peace. See you in the New Year to cause lots more trouble!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Preacher's Snow Day

When I was a kid, I always got mad at the administrators of the school system. Whenever there was a snow day,I always had to wake up and usually get up. By the time the die-hards cancelled school, I would be breakfasted and the chance of sleeping late was already gone.

I always pictured them, sitting in their PJs at home, lazily rolling over in bed, looking out their window, and flipping coins to decide whether to close.

Oh my. How wrong was I, how wrong!

In order to cancel services today, I started conversations with the wardens and the Altar Guild Directoress (whose ladies are usually the first to arrive, so I wanted them to have first warning) yesterday afternoon. At midnight, I was watching the weather anxiously. When my alarm went off at six, I hit the floor (well, I *did* hit snooze once). I was picking out clothes that were warm yet professional when I heard a sound like thunder. I looked out the window to see the plow guy entering the lot.

Down I ran, grabbing my parka. At 630AM, I was standing outside in the sleet discussing the road conditions and his professional opinion. "It's terrible", he said. The worst combination of weather we could have. Back in I ran to call the wardens and confirm if we should close.

Then it's a flurry of phone calls: to the news stations to report our closing, to the organist to tell him to stay home, to the secretary to make sure I did all that right.

Then over to the church at 8AM, to check if anyone did come (so I could let them warm up in the church before braving the roads back), which I will do again at 10, when I will also go over and pray the prayer list with the "great cloud of witnesses". The only parishoners there today are in our columbarium, so they will have to lend their celestial voices for us today.

Whew! All for a snow day! The only cars in the roads are the plow trucks, big and small. I like our plow guy, who very sweetly plowed my rather long ribbon shaped driveway under the guise of 'checking it out' to give us a quote for plowing it. Ain't that sweet? Now I can get in and out without stopping to shovel my car wheels, like I did yesterday! Thanks, dude!

And for the rest of the day, I'm taking advantage of the unexpected day off. I visited my visit list yesterday, so I have nothing to do but knit Christmas gifts, work on our wedding scrapbook, and make friends with my couch.

And I even got to eat leftover pizza for breakfast! Something I typically couldn't do if I were about to be preaching to a crowd of 40!

God bless snowdays, and for all you in the parish out there, stay warm and stay safe!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Nintendo Wii

Just a little note to all the "sweet dears" in my congregation: I heard a lot of chatting about the Nintendo Wii system today. Only one of you admitted wanting it for yourself, and even you said something about "the grandkids would like it" in your house.

The Washington Post had an article on the explosion of Wii popularity in retirement homes.

A local electronic store, they said, declares that they have seen an increasing number of retired people expressing interest in the system. Most of them say they want it for their grandkids.

Yeah, right! We're on to you, people! We see you buying those fishing and bowling games, and you there, we see you buying the shoot-em-up game and chuckling away. Grandkids... suuuuuuure.

I have only one thing to say to you people who are buying that video game system for yourself as a toy to play with. I don't have anything like that in my house. I don't own a single video game. So...

Will you invite me over to play? Puh-lease??

Solitary Eatin's

M is out of town this weekend. It's the first time in our marriage that he's been away on a trip. He went away to Southern states to hang out with his friends...

It's the fantasy football playoffs. Lord, have mercy upon me.

To celebrate my singleness for the weekend, I decided I would make me a decadent feast. My parish threw this fabu cookie walk today. I served as 'quality control'. Suffice it to say, I was well-fed on carbs.

I decided to make seafood. Lots, and lots of seafood, the sort you can nibble on. I thought that steaming up a bunch of mussels would be nice. Then I saw the clams on sale, so I picked up a mixed pound of mussels and clams. And then, there was a big ole mound of nice squid. M has discovered my love of squid! I decided to take that home, and to make me a nice pizza with the squid, some capers, roasted peppers, halved tomatoes, and a bit of fresh mozzarella, over a plain garlic/olive oil base. You know, a simple little fry-up.

So there I am, with a seafood pizza and a pound of mussels and clams. And a bottle of wine, and a mini-cranberry pie with the flakiest crust I have ever eaten. I am in pie heaven (and I'm not usually a pie person!) I am going to go FIND THE BAKER and bring her/him home to bake me some more pies! Oh, yum!

I like to read when I eat alone (despite the doomsday warnings of every diet on earth, and against the Slow Food principle). I happened to pick Sojourners. Yep, the social-justice mag of the church world. I find it to be enlightening, funny at times, and an interesting conversation starter.

But social justice principles make me do things like look at the big dinner I had before me, (and the leftovers I now have). With a small, guilty shock, I realized, "wow, I can't believe how wealthy I am."

I had been feeling poor all day, since I am building up after a recent round of grad school. I can't run to the mall with impunity and go to town in the Nordstroms shoe department. I was feeling worried that I would have a difficult time giving the affordable Christmas presents we had picked out. I am busy paying down debt and building up savings, and that choice was making me feel poor and stingy.

Sojourners has this way of reminding me to think of the people for whom any food is a luxury, and to accept with contentment what I do have.

So tonight as I finished dinner, I did thank God for a solid job that provides enough to live comfortably on, for an ample food budget that makes a feast like this reasonable, for the skills of being able to cook, for a great guy and a good partner to share with, and for all the comforts that I do have.

I still want to find that baker and take her home to make me more cranberry pie, but I feel a lot more content, sitting in my house where I am wearing an old Seminary sweatshirt and I still haven't bought a rug for the living room.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Sunday was not the best day of my entire career. I have some issues with a speech disorder, as well as mild dsylexia. Both decided to act up in concert on Sunday. My brain felt as if it were spinning in circles and misfiring like an old, cranky pickup truck all day. It was so bad I was actually having trouble reading... reading lines out of order, reading words incorrectly, seeing words backwords and being unable to pronounce them.

It was bad enough that I decided to abandon my scripted sermon and just preach what I had learned from the visual outline I draw.

I began with Isaiah and his prophecies. I merged into Matthew's telling us the story in such a way that we can have no doubt but to know that Jesus is King. I (hopefully) gently challenged the parish that we now go a little deeper by realizing that Jesus passed his spirit (his anointing, his work) onto all of us as a people of God. I even brought in Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day and The Great Divorce as sermon illustrations. (I told a little vignette from TGD, and I told the parish that I still read myself A&THNGVBD after a bad day to make myself feel better.) But my brain was still whirling.

Throughout the sermon, a little boy in the parish colored away, drawing picture after picture.

After the service, he came through the hand-shaking line, and presented me with the picture he'd drawn during the sermon.

A stick figure wears a crown upon his head. It is titled, "He is a good keeng". Below the picture, there is a caption: "This is God".

I wanna nominate that kid for a PhD. He gets it. Brilliant kid, and if his mom sees this, she better know, he TOTALLY made my day! Rock it, kid!

Holy Eucharist at the Rehab Home

So, today is the Tuesday where I visit the rehab center in town and offer Eucharist for the residents. I have an adorable little picnic basket that I pack my chalice and paten in for transportation. I throw in a little printout of the readings and a flask of wine and a tube pack of wafers.

I arrived right on time at the home. In the middle of setting up, I was struck by this horrid feeling: you know, the one where you suddenly feel as if you've been doused by ice water as you realize you've forgotten something Terribly Important.

Yep. I had left the wine and wafers home. Unfazed, the recreation director trotted off to the dining room to rescue me by rustling up something bread like and something wine like.

She returned with Wonderbread and Koolaid.

Yep. I did the service with Wonderbread and Koolaid.

As I served each of the ladies in the congregation, one sweet old dear piped up, "Oooo, that's very good!... Can I have some more?" And another lady said, "Oh, that's much better than the stuff you brought last time."

Right.

So, either the grace of God turned Koolaid into a drinkable Jesus-like substance, or my parish gets REALLY cheapo wine and might want to upgrade their Sunday offerings. Ouch.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Ladder of Jacob (Jesse Tree)

It is Jacob's Ladder day in the Jesse Tree.

We read the story of Jacob, lying in hard conditions as he fled his homeland, not knowing if he'd return. He'd picked a huge fight with his brother Esau (to say the very least), and he knew he had to hightail it out of there.

He dreamed of a ladder going up to heaven, and of angels ascending and descending. When he woke, he knew he was in one of the 'thin places' of the world, and he built an altar to commemorate it. I wonder if that was the beginning of the time when Jacob changed, changed from a boy who would trick his brother out of his birthright to the man who would struggle with God.

I love the struggle with God part of the story. I love that our spiritual ancestors fought the Almighty. I love that we too can argue with God and try and change God's plan for our lives. I'm stubborn and rebellious,too. I sure don't obey all those rules, either, and I like that I can change and screw up and still be God's person.

The Jesse tree does bring up memories, though. On one hand, I remember the Jesse tree ladders on Bath Abbey in England. Huge stone angels crawl up and down the "lantern" church of England. Huge glass windows grace the arches, and on the front, the angels head in both directions (some of them headless due to ravages of time and weather), with God sitting at the top. I do love that city of Bath. I have wanted to return since I left. If the Bath University chaplaincy ever opens up when I am free to take a new call- you can bet I am putting in for THAT job!

I also remember a little boy in a hospital last year. I remember bringing him a little Jacob's ladder for a toy. And on this Jacob's Ladder story day, I feel a little blue, and I think of his parents. You see, Jacob struggled with God on a long-ago night. In the end, he asked God's blessing upon him, even as he suffered a dislocated hip. I imagine that those parents feel a little like they have something dislocated as well. I think of them often.

Why the Vagabond?

So the question is coming up, as I start sharing the news of the blog with others. Why the "Vagabond Priest"?

I credit the Bishop. (Yes, I do!) I am a chaplain. When I first began the Process of meeting with various church and Diocesean people during the Discernment process, The Bishop let me know that we don't ordain people to be chaplains: we ordain them to be priests for the whole church.

Over the years of Seminary, I got to serve some pretty neat parishes, like Christ Church Greenwich and St. Mark's Capitol Hill. I started finding out that, yeah, the parishes do get to do some neat stuff. I started thinking, "Hm, maybe I could actually spend some time in a professional world in a parish."

But I still had that pesky call to chaplaincy: I still lived and breathed emergency lights. I still found fulfillment as a police chaplain. I still trained to ride with the Police Unity Tour. I still yearned to do a CPE residency and go for board certification.

When I finished my first parish and was dusting my feet off to go to a new town, I met with the Bishop. I was a little rocked by the experience of that first place, and we talked a bit about how I did like some aspects of the parish, but I also simply had to do some work of chaplaincy. It was, like it or not, simply a part of my call. The way I look as a whole priest includes flashing emergency lights, police boots, and a comfort with swear words. I found that I do like days off and I do like writing days when I curl up with a cup of cocoa and a computer of sermons in progress, but I also love riding with my officers on freezing nights. It is a burning call in my soul to offer comfort and support to people sitting in a hospital emergency room, wondering if their loved one is still alive after a horrible accident. It is a burning call in my soul to help offer prayers in chapels that don't look like church.

The Bishop sighed, smiled, and said, (among many other wise words of advice, comfort, and counsel) "You know, I'm just going to have to call you my vagabond priest."

Amen, Bish.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Advent and Jesse Tree

I am coloring in my Jesse tree and preparing to post it on the door. Yesterday, we had the many stars in the sky, representing God's promise to Abraham that his descendants would be numbered as many as the stars. It is no secret that I don't want children, especially not my own. At least, not at this point in my life. (I won't say never, but I will say that I have never, never wanted kids.) I can't imagine being fulfilled by the notion that your descendants will be beyond number, but it seems to have worked for Abraham. Mostly, I was thinking about the idea of peace. I was depressed by the President's recent insistence that Iran is a dangerous country. I am frustrated by the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afhanistan. I am not at all convinced that our country has ever become safer, but I have sure been involved in many more cases involving hate crimes than before. It seems to me that all this warmongering has just lowered our tolerance for each other. But, if we look upon the stars and remember God's promise to Abraham- that his descendants are far-flung and infinite in number, then it follows that we too are children of Abraham. Much like the children's song, "Father Abraham, had many sons/ Many sons had Father Abraham./ I am one them/ and so are you/ so Let's all praise the Lord! Right Arm!" And you start waving your arms and legs and it all gets very silly. The point, however, is that we are all a part of the human family, sharing matter and air. Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Pagan, Pastafarian, we are all parts of this human group and when we fight against each other, we fight against our fellow descendants. We fight against our own brothers and sisters. I wonder how we can do this.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Preacher's Sunday Afternoons

I recently read a poignant post by Peacebang, a UU minister who is widely known for her "Beauty Tips for Ministers" blog. She wrote recently of the lonely life that a preacher-person sometimes undergoes.

Her writing made me miss dorm life. I lived in a dorm for 7 years, through college and Seminary. Near the end, I was wishing for my own space where I could have a kitchen, but I did love the instant friends. My Seminary dorm rocked. There was always someone else in the common room which had a fireplace and three comfy couches, lamps, endtables, and cozy chairs. We each had a private bedroom and bath, but we shared meals in the main hall. There was always someone to talk to or be around, so if I wanted to run off and be alone for a while, it was my choice.

When I graduated (reluctantly and begging my professors not to make me graduate), I went to work for a parish in Arlington. I loved my apartment- a roomy one-bedroom overlooking Arlington's Columbia Pike, right over Bob and Edith's Diner. The parish drained me, and on Sundays I would drag myself home, exhausted. On Sundays, I would curl up on the couch and 'read the paper' (the Washington Post, best in the world, and much, much missed!), get a drink, and take a nap of two or four hours to recover. After two services and a round of meetings and visitations, I was wrecked.

We won't speak of residency life in the hospital- it was a surreal year. What with dating my then-fiancee who lived 210 miles away, I was barely keeping up.

In my new parish, I am still struggling to find a way to handle Sunday evenings. I will freely admit that it is easier than being alone and single in Arlington. It is definitely more cozy to have my own couch and my own TV and a husband who likes to cook. I will happily admit that I really like cooking together on a Sunday evening and curling up on the couch with a movie. He also convinces me sometimes to go out and play, getting around town and around our area to explore. I thankfully and happily admit that this is so far one of my favorite parishes ever. They are a small family size parish and they are challenging, but in a fun way. I am relieved and happy to be in a place where the parish is good and life is good.

But what is normal for a priest, single or un-single? What comes after Sunday morning?

For a clergyperson, Sunday evening is like a Friday evening. You see, Sunday mornings are like a concert. I feel 'wired'. They are like being on a busy shift at the hospital- you deal with small urgencies all morning, and when you get home, you are still processing what happened. They are like coming home from school on the day before Thanksgiving- you know you don't have to go to school tomorrow, but there's so much stuff about to happen you can't just sit down, not just yet.

No two clergy people finish church at the same time- our services are at different times, we have different visitation policies, some people do evening services. 'Going out for drinks' on Sunday evening, the way a nurse or an EMT or a lawyer can go for drinks after work, is not possible.

I wonder if there is a way for the clergy to have normal friends on Sunday afternoons. As I write, I suppose I envision a table at a coffeeshop, even if it keeps their doors open a few extra hours, where we can come and sit and hang out, drink our lattes, argue over the latest 'non-church' books, and relax. I suppose I envision a "Busboys and Poets" sort of thing where people actually talk to you and don't react with horror when they discover you are a priest.

I suppose I wish (sometimes!) for a re-creation of the Moore Hall common room, complete with occasional visits from our campus cat Baxter, and the 'add water get instant friends' mentality of the dorm.

I suppose I wish that Sunday afternoon was like Friday afternoon for everyone.