Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Power Priest

There have never been any superhero priests, have there? Too bad, since with the big fluffy surplices and the large flapping hoods and the immense billowy chasubles, we are all suited up for flying. We wouldn't even need to hide our secret identities, which is cool, since I've always secretly wondered if Wonder Woman's bustier chafed under her regular clothes.

All this comes about after I got off the phone with the local newspaper, Voices. Voices is THE thing to read around here. If you want to know what is going on, you must read Voices, or else you are hopelessly, shamefully lost. The rest of us will know how to properly pasture our horses, who got ticketed for drunk driving, who made Eagle Scout, and where the local school board is campaigning and you will be stuck getting second-hand rumors from the PTA. I'm just sayin'.

I called the Voices to discuss (read, complain) about a very distressing "Guest Sermon" column. Prior colleagues had used the space to write lovely sermons that were welcoming or thought-provoking, or at the least, just a little dull. But this past week, one new colleague used the space to write up "Ten Reasons Why The Pro-Life Movement is Winning". ouch. If I am Power Priest/Wonder Woman, it was as if I had discovered my own private Cheetah (Wonder Woman's nemesis). Yes, it was actually worse in the reading than it was in the title, and God only knows why the gentleman chose to submit this sermon and not the friendly one I am sure he prepared for the kids' homily.

I got phone calls from parishoners and comments chittering about this little parish, kinda like the noise that precedes the sending of the Bat-signal or the calls of "I am the master of the Universe!" (He-man. I don't remember what Wonder Woman used to shout...) End result: I did call Voices, and had a lovely conversation with the lady in charge. Essentially, it was a last-minute substitution made while she was away, so it was not properly vetted. Whoops. I do not envy the amount of phone mail she is currently wading through.

Just goes to show what sort of power words carry. We figured that out in the comic books ages ago. I certainly wish that more tough-talkers took lessons from, say, the Green Lantern, the Sandman, the Joker, Cheetah, Skeltor, Megatron, or any other great cartoon nemesis. Hard words hang tough. Usually, the bad guy sorta wishes he hadn't said them (in the end. Sometimes, the bad guy even gets redeemed! We'll ignore the times that the bad guy gets, say, dumped in the ocean a'la Megatron.)

And (to bring this back to Power Priest), I had a lovely discussion. I took several hours to dial down from my astonishment and anger, and to research the statements made in the sermon, and to decide whom to talk to. (Initial thoughts: call the newspaper! Call the priest! Call the state police! Call the diocese! And the other Diocese! Pull out sword of righteousness and make like Lucy Lawless!) which of course are systemically unhealthy. It took a while to de-triangle myself to the point I could make a healthy and reasonable response: speak to the editor in charge of the feature.

End result: one of Epiphany's sermons will be featured (the week after Easter, so look for a 'rousing' piece!). I got to speak calmly and persuasively. My points were made and understood, and no one was victimized. I felt all mighty and suave, but not crazed with madness. And best of all, I didn't even have to cause my wristlets to blow up. I've always wondered if that didn't sting, just a little.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Final San Fran Post

yes, that's right! It's Sunday! I did not blog the final day on Friday, since I managed to get myself invited along with a group that was going to dinner, and by the time I got back to the hotel, it was time to pack up and go to sleep. My van was due to arrive at 4:3AM to take me back to the airport. It was also raining. Those of you who have seen, say, "The Matrix" might remember the scene where they take him out of the matrix, and it's pouring sheets and sheets of water. It was like that. POURING rain. I got so soaked just walking that I had to change clothes before dinner.

Anyhoo: very interesting day Friday. We started at Grace Cathedral to explore that physical space and its challenges and opportunities. Now, some folks had a hard time with things like the altar rail, and Rick (one of our leaders) gave the hilarious history of the altar rail, courtesy of William Laud who got annoyed when the nieghborhood dogs made free with the altar, as dogs do. He insisted an altar rail be put up, so the dogs could not approach the altar. Ahem.

At any rate, I love cathedrals. I love the hugeness. I love the art. I love the immense altars that make me look like I'm a bug. Sure, I have problems with the sound. But I love the immensity of the soaring ceilings and the labryinth. I think that National Cathedral might have it most right: the cathedrals aren't really set up well for regular congregational worship. We should encourage people to become involved on the local level. But for a certain crowd and for all peoples, the great cathedrals make pretty awesome houses of prayer. Now, bishops of CT, please don't feel bad! We have a very nice Cathedral that has its own special history. The big cathedrals probably think our little wooden one is very cute, and we know it's a big tough cathedral! CT's cathedral church is sort of a chihuahua amongst cathedrals, but there's a place for chihuahuas everywhere.

Back to the St. Gregory (we carpooled and I got a ride in a very cool Spider convertible! Couldn't put the top down thanks to the rain, but very cool!) We shared lunch with the food pantry, and that was fabulous. The food pantry is less like a food giveaway and more like a farmers' market or an organic store. I have NEVER seen so many veggies and fruits for people to take away. No king-size government cans of peanut butter, this. Sara Miles has at least totally nailed the "feed the hungry" part- it's not feed the hungry just what they technically need to survive, but feed the hungry what you yourself would buy and eat. And she does it fabulously.

I had a chance to process with Donald and a few people about my touch boundaries. Yes, some say I'm over-sensitive. Some say I'm stand-offish. Some say I can be hard to get to know. I know that's a boundary that I have, and I deserve to have that respected. I know there's probably a parishoner out there who is saying to herself, "Oh, god, please don't let this be that sort of parish where everyone fake-hugs me!". I do wish we had the chance to talk more in the larger group (especially since some people, I think, need to hear and consider violation of boundaries and group and such, EVEN IF it boils down to a difference between Californians and Yankees). But we did have limited time and spent some energy on "What Did We Notice", which is a fun game the Vestry will be playing at Epiphany.

Overall, I will say it was a worthwhile conference. The plane rides were not the worst ever, only dreadful as normal. And now... it's off to Sunday church and the Annual Meeting. See you round!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Day 4, San Fran

A much more interesting and comfortable day:

In which the pastor got to eat pub grub and talk to strangers. Since I was alone in the city, I called M to ask him what he would take me out to eat for dinner if we were together. He came up with fish and chips. So I walked around and found a pub within three blocks of this hotel. (Have I told you yet how cool Hotel Metropolis is? AWE-some!) I had some great fish and chips and mushy peas and had a lovely conversation with a stranger at the bar. Isn't that fun?

In which I got to talk to conference attendees and an organizer about yesterday's experience. I had a really tough day yesterday, so I talked to a few fellow attendees, and found I was not alone in feeling that I was lacking in processing time. And I was able to talk to a director about how the morning lectures went for me yesterday and we had some interesting conversation. End result: the whole group gets to process tomorrow, and we are going to talk a little about permission and touch and learning styles.

In which we played games. I love games. We played a game where we were supposed to figure out and act out the dominant emotion engendered by a snippet of story. Most of us knew by heart the full story, so we completely screwed up and acted out the story. Perhaps they need to give us stories we don't know. Which means, stories that aren't from the bible. Knowing the story so intimately, of course we told the whole thing. But we got to play.

In which we had a chaotic planning day but a very nice Eucharist. We split up into groups to plan for a Eucharist service. The groups were Music and Sound, Movement and Gesture, "Angelic messengers"/overall coordinators, and one other... It was amazingly chaotic, since every time one group made a decision, we'd discover that the other groups had made competing decisions. At one point, we had settled on music for the service only to discover that the other group's choice of Eucharistic prayer would wipe out those choices, and the movement groups concept of how to use the movement would negate our theological idea for use of instruments. Tempers flared. Snappy comments were made. And in the end... it all went off beautifully. We had ourselves a nice St. Gregory style Eucharist. Sure, I probably won't ever get Ephiphany to dance in church (not that we have the space), but I sure hope I can bring the sense of rhythm home to you all.

In which the pastor signs off early, so she can go to bed. Not only is my back KILLING me (too much sitting and odd twisting of torso, ow!!), but it's SO COLD here. And it's a damp cold, so chilly in the bones. People, I need some warm stuff going on. Good night, and see you here tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Day 3, San Francisco

Wow, and a day of highs and lows.

First, the highs. The desk attendant at my hotel (the adorable Hotel Metropolis, which is of COURSE where you are staying next time you go to San Francisco!) recommended this neat sushi joint, the Hana Zen. The chefs are amiable and talkative, and recommended some cool types of sushi that I hadn't had before. They were really great about pushing me out of my comfort zone (with permission!) and talking through things to see how adventurous I really wanted to be. They nailed the perfect balance of permission and pushing, of safety and risk-taking. Wow.

We also had a few fun field trips to two other churches in town: a traditional place (much like Epiphany, old and historical) that had made very minor renovations, and a large place that had cleared its floor for flexible worship space. The first was interesting- the respect for the historical was evident, but there were a few quirks, such as the clashing wood (two colors of dark wood), the expanse of boring color, and the dissonance of the architectural space. I plan to look at Epiphany in our architectural shapes to explore our unspoken messages. I also plan to take the Liturgy Committee on a trip to our sanctuary so we can examine our own sweet spots in our space.

The second church was in space some what like St. Mark's Capitol Hill in its use of open space and the columns. They took some visual cues from Taize. At this point int he week, they looked like a cluttered backstage area. I can't really judge their space without seeing them set up for worship.

Now, the lows. I'm going to focus on the morning lecture, in which I felt my personal boundaries completely violated and our group discussion short-circuited by individuals who missed the idea of creative discussion and collaboration. The lecturer believed that touch is an essential part of ministry, but she made it sound like you would recieve a failing grade from God if you weren't embracing people in your arms and putting your hands in the muck. I could hear much good in her statements, but I needed to talk it through amongst a group. Instead...

We separated into groups to explore our use of touch in different arenas. Food blessings, corporate blessing, healing prayer... I went to the healing prayer group, and it was... hellish. One woman immediately announced that she needed healing prayer and explained her difficult situation. While I sympathize, really, I do, I do object to a hijacking of the group exercise. Let's discuss! I would have had no problem with holding a healing prayer moment for her as part of our exercise, but as it worked out, no one even had a chance to introduce themselves. No one had a chance to tell their stories. I am all about stories. Instead, another member of the group took over the prayers and ran the entire show, up to pouring oil from a bottle over her head. Messy. Tactile. Very potent for her. But for me, this threw me so far out of my comfort zone it is not even funny. I was angry, frightened, uncomfortable, and irritated all at once.

Remember what I said about the sushi guys earlier in this post? They challenged me in a good way: they welcomed me, made me comfortable, and asked permission as they challenged. I was able to accept or not accept their invitation. I was also invited to tell my story a little.

That element was totally lacking in the blessing and touch exercise. Invitation and welcome was steamrolled by a person operating out of her own pain, and challenge and story-sharing was hijacked by a person who seemed to think that letting the Spirit guide him is more powerful than letting the Spirit guide the group.

Back in the larger group, the lecture leader asked for reflections. A musician shared the spoken lyrics of a special song, and suddenly, the leader decided that we should all sing the song and bless each other! Suddenly, no reflection, no discussion, just more experience, experience, and touchy-feely blessing stuff going on. My muscles knotted so hard I thought my back would break. Again, WAY, WAY out of my comfort zone.

The moral of that story: touch can indeed be extremely powerful. The hurt woman of the story earlier declared she felt healed. That's wonderful, but I felt violated and angry and ignored. She and he felt like a million bucks. I felt like a speck of dirt. When touching AND when blessing, it is so VITALLY important to be invited into another person's space. they MUST give their permission to be approached, and yes, to be prayed for. Part of the skill of chaplaincy is learning to discern when we are being given that permission. That is a skill that a number of my colleagues need to learn... badly!

There's also the element of being careful (yes, even in church) of coming in with your pain. Privacy is a great thing... think long and hard before you reveal your deep pain. I have no doubt the woman today was in great pain: but I hold that she did not choose the best time to reveal and explore that pain. She chose a time that hijacked our group time... and smothered creative dialogue.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Day 2, Start of Conference

Well, I'm back from a delightful dinner at Farmer Brown, which is the San Francisco version of Comfort (the cute Southern-food joint in Richmond). I haven't yet found an equivalent in CT, but can you imagine Yankees drinking out of mason jars and putting shrimp on their grits? Not us Puritans!

The conference has been fascinating so far. San Fran is COLD and DAMP with a lot of rain and wind, so we were all chilly.

The major areas we covered today: -the energy of the worship space -what is useful and what are we up to when we do church? -Teaching song as an integral part of worship -multiple snacks.

Last bit first: All Saints' welcomed us with coffee, tea, and fruit and carbs. So the unhealthy eaters could chow down along with the rabbit food crowd. Each break included breaks for more tea (and coffee), and several breaks featured fruit instead of cookies. Love that! And they won my undying loyalty when Daniel announced that there was spinach lasagna for the vegetarians. Vegetarians as full citizens? Awesome!

Seriously, we spent a lot of time on Big Questions. Rick started with the question of "What are we up to?". If you looked around at the average church citizen on Sunday, what it is that we are up to, and is that obvious? I took away two ideas: the answer is different for everyone; and a successful and happy church is one where everyone can have their own idea all the time, but also where everyone is ok with sharing one main idea most of the time. How we answer the question is up to us and our continuing conversation.

We discussed what was useful in church. Now, this is where I have a quibble. We had a list of many ideas: adoration, praising God, feeding the hungry, and so on, as ideas for what the church is "up to". In "what was useful", we separated out action items from concept items, and discussed what is useful. In the grand scheme of human existence, is worship useful? Is adoration useful? Is what we do in church useful for making life a better place? The class managed to cross lots of stuff off that list. And this is where I must argue- the comment I did not have time to make was that God created many things (like the Leviathian from the psalms!) which were not useful. God created these things because God took joy in creating, and it was fun. Shouldn't church be the same way? We create church not because we HAVE to, but because the church worships a God who sometimes just is. Perhaps we don't have to be useful in order to justify our being.

We spent a lot of time discussing the energy inherent in a worship space: where are the resonating areas, how to find them. We started in the 'parking lot' and worked our way into the church, discussing acoustics, visual environment, feelings evoked by the architecture, decoration. Noticing all this helped us to start tracing the energy of the building itself, much the same way that my husband is training to teach museum patrons how to look at a picture in such a way that the energy of the picture leads your eye to tell you the story.

Our song leaders worked on teaching us songs without music. We sang a few songs with music in hand, but also a number of repetitive tunes that were just taught on the fly. This would be an interesting technique for a place like Epiphany, and I can't wait to get Todd on board, especially since he's busy checking out the Taize music!

Final thought for today: our leaders gave us a few quotes for reflection. One said, "If the teacher is not creative, than the student is not bold". The class does not belong to the brilliance of the teacher, but to the relationship with the students and with their ability to think, stretch, change. This church thing is totally a relationship. The other great quote was that "Creativity occurs in the space between organization and chaos." Picture a Venn diagram (two circles with a little overlap). One circle is Chaos, and one Organization. They each have their boundaries defined, but where the two meet, unexplained and inspired things happen. Leave space for that unpredictable!

Well, it's off to bed for me! I'm a little tired (it's about 1AM at home, though it's 10PM here) and I'm ready for a nice nap. See you tomorrow, when I take lots of photos of St Gregory of Nyssa for you. Can't post them til I get home, since Essential Cable is at home in desk. Such is my life...

Monday, January 21, 2008

The "40" Sermon

For anyone who was wondering what the mysterious Sunday sermon was about:

I preached on Psalm 40. Basic idea was the psalms were songs sung to God, the Jewish equivalent to our hymnal today, the musical component of Jewish worship. And Psalm 40 is SO radical because the Psalmist essentially says, "Wow, God, you delivered me even though I had not done anything to deserve it! Those old songs about how we had to appease your angry wrath just don't fit the bill anymore. I'd better sing you a new song!"

As a people of God, we are still creating and seeking to find new ways to sing new songs to God.

So I brought in U2's "40". True, the sound system needs some tweaking (I couldn't hear the vocals). But still, it was rock music, in the sanctuary, at both services! (Plus our fab organist at the early service in a special guest appearance).

No one needed to be carried out on a stretcher, and several people came up after the 8AM and asked why I had only played it once, since they would have liked to hear it a few times and maybe even sing along.

For anyone who's wondering, Epiphany in Southbury, that's where we be singing some new songs!

More on the issue of homelessness

As long as we are mentioning human dignity and all persons, check out this one from Father Jake Stops the world:


Yes, it's part of my unofficial homework for class, but it's sure interesting!

Now I gotta call the front desk... this room has suddenly become FREEZING!

San Francisco, Day 1

I find myself in the rather cozy Hotel Metropolis in the Very Rainy city of San Francisco. Thus far, the trip has been productive. How, you say, since I just got here?

I spent the day on the planes (delayed several hours due to heavy rain in Chicago), and we were delayed and it was Really Boring. So I read 2 magazines, the airplane mag, and Skymall (the best time waster in the plane), and wrote most of my Easter Letter, my Red Door article, my Lenten introduction, and a bunch of other stuff, and half-planned my Paul classes. So really quite productive.

The airport shuttle arrived right away, and whisked me away to Hotel Metropolis. I was a little nervous about this place: some reviews made out like it is in High Crime District. But it's super cool, with curvy modern lines in the lobby, a cute bathroom, and a VIEW! When Martin and I were in San Fran for our honeymoon, all our views in our character hotels were of brick walls. I can actually see city lights from here! The paint job is fresh and nice, the bedding soothing, and the overall ambiance of this place is just more cheery than the places M and I had stayed previously.

Safety wise, it's a winner too. It's just a few blocks away from where we had stayed in August, and it's right in the middle of the very busy shopping district. Yes, there's the usual city problem of homelessness, but I would not call this neighborhood any worse than what you see in an Average NYC street. I behave as my usual self- I walk with purpose and whenever anyone asks me for change, I say, "No, thank you. None today" and keep going. It's all about respecting a person's dignity. I don't care that a person might be just panhandling to get enough to fix the next hit... I do care that they are a human being. No, I won't support your habit. But I will reply to you as a human being.

At any rate, I got in, called my friend Will Scott of yearnsandgroans.blogspot.com fame (he's a priest at the Cathedral) who was thankfully out of the office FOR ONCE, and went to find myself some dinner. Thanks to having been here before, I recognized the neighborhood.

I got SOAKED in the rain, bought a cheapie umbrella, a big meal, and came "home". Got a chance to video iChat with M. The Apple Store loves us, they do. We both have the macbooks, and the fact that we are video iChatting instead of phone calling... how geeky are we? I even made a little movie of this room.

Going to go sleep off the jet lag now. Tomorrow we learn all about making our congregation a participatory congregation. You, yes, you, are going to become the participating people of the church today!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Control! Control!

I have decided that I am going to invite at least one of the cool parishoners out for coffee (I hear Southbury just got a coffee shop that has free wifi!) and I am going to get her to show me just how you add photos! I can't figure out where they are or how to upload them from Snapfish!

And I *so* wanted to show pictures of what I have been doing to procrastinate on the sermon for tomorrow! I mean, I got a new laptop tote off eBay (I swooped it at the last minute and made a killer deal!), M and I went to a party with a Yankee Swap and we got these cool silicon mitts, and I made inserts for my organizer, which would show in graphic detail just what a total control freak I really am!

Curious minds will want to definitely be at church on Jan 20. The Psalm that day is Psalm 40 and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Tomorrow, we're talking baptism.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Back in the Driver's Seat

Ah,I finally have my beloved Mac back after a week in the shop. M. got a new mac for school (yay! I won him over!), and when we asked the Mac Genius to help us sync them, he said, 'Uh-oh, something's not right... uh-oh, looks like a logic board problem.' Long story short, they fixed it.

It took a week.

It's been a busy week. I have not been keeping 'office hours' but I sure spent a lot of time working on parish stuff. I wrote a few things, studied up for a few sermons, planned a special service, debriefed Christmas, and spent a LOT of time finalizing my board certification materials for the Association of Professional Chaplains.

34 pages of essays and verbatims later, I was driving home Monday. That's right, New Year's Eve. M. and I had plans to get home, dress up, and go get ourselves a dinner and watch fireworks.

As I was tooling along in my beloved VW Beetle near exit 31, something started feeling wrong with the car. WAY wrong. Way, way wrong, as in, "Pull over RIGHT NOW or you die!" I was near an exit, so I pulled over double-quick and hoped I could make it to the gas station at the end of the ramp. A second later, I realized it wasn't gonna happen. I stopped, as near to the edge of the ramp as the piled-up snow would allow.

A glance out the window confirmed my fears: my right front tire was completely shredded, and I was on rims. Don't ask me HOW it happened. I strapped myself in, since it was WAY too cold to wait outside, and called AAA. Then I called Martin and requested a rescue.

I discovered that if you want AAA to come fast, park on the exit ramp. The dispatcher sounded a little bored when she first answered the phone, but suddenly she was telling me that I was on "priority because of your location". In layman's terms, she said, "We are sending help super fast so you don't die!"

After what seemed like forever (but was only 20 minutes), up comes the AAA guy. He had my tire changed in under 4 minutes. Thank you, power tools. Thank goodness that I'm a wierdo who checks the air in my spare once a year or so: I was pumped and good to go. I drove up to the gas station where M. arrived a minute later to rescue me and make me feel loved.

We finally got home, quite a bit later than planned. The weather was terrible. M. was catching a cold. We decided to call off New Year's. We rented the Simpsons Movie, and bought ourselves a little sushi feast from Sake in town. If you are local and haven't been there, check it out. It's tasty and cute with nice staff. They deliver! (Hmmm... do I smell a VESTRY DINNER???)

We fell asleep that night recounting the things to be thankful for in this New Year: both being alive despite ourselves and shredding tires, getting knocked off steep trails in Yosemite, and having hobbies of rock climbing; our wedding, which seems to have taken pretty well; our new home and new lives in CT. Our favorite moments were surprisingly not the ones that seem obvious (yes, the wedding was one of our favorites) and planned, but the moments that came along to completely surprise us.

Here's to another year of marvelous surprises, another year of things unexpected, and another year of the incredible unknowns.

Here's also to another year of renewing our AAA membership.