Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sometimes Sermons Don't Work...

Despite the plethora of sermon-preparation resources at my fingertips (from online sources to my trusty old books and notes), sometimes sermons just don't GELL.

I started working on this one on MONDAY. I spent 5... that's FIVE... hours in the library researching and poking at this sermon. I took three of my own books. I hit up the libraries resources. I drank a whole bottle of water and wore through the battery on my computer. I made a few pages of notes.

Still nothing.

All week long, I read the words of other priests also wrestling with this passage.

Still nothing.

M asked me what I was preaching on.


It's after 11, a time when I usually have at least a draft to work from. What on earth am I supposed to do? Urgh. I have no sermon. John is a most frustratingly obtuse writer, really. Where are we supposed to focus with these musings of his? You'll note there are NO cute children's sermon illustrations centered around THIS passage.

What's a priest to do?

Input is invited from any of my colleagues, active and retired, who happen to be reading this. RC, where'd you get to, these days? Haven't seen you for months!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Not a day over 30...

I turned 30 on Tuesday. It still sounds rather shocking. As a child, I used to actually feel *different* on major life occasions. I *felt* 7 when I turned 7. When I got my final report card in 2nd grade, I *felt* like a 3rd grader. That softened up from here on out.

I felt rather depressed for a while. I mean, my only real life goal by this point was to survive and to become a reasonably productive member of society. Being that I run around with people who carry guns and get in scuffles for a living, I think I've done decently. No major work-related injuries, and the last broken nose was thanks to my late dog. I haven't managed to break anything in the last few years, and have successfully not caused any fires, car accidents, or dropped innocent babies for a few years now. I'm about to finish my taxes. And I recently realized that all my awesome friends are turning 30 with me! All those girls from Leach 1st floor are with me! So, survive, and become reasonably productive. Mission accomplished.

But what now? I'm a 7 on the Enneagram scale. We are always looking for the new adventure in life. I do confess to feeling stagnated in Connecticut. It feels so same-old. I have said about three times a week that I'm moving back to Virginia (thanks to CT's horrible winter!), but I know that I left Virginia for good reasons. Grad school for M, the chance to work for Bishop Smith in THIS diocese, the chance to be closer to family and see if they like me any more. (Secretly, I think my family is on a mission to convince me to buy a house and start having babies. It's kind of depressing, really, to realize that they seem to expect me to be the Priest all the time. They look at me funny when I swear, drink a second glass of anything, or make a superstitious gesture. And then expect I will fulfill all the family religious rituals. PRESSURE!)

I've been dreaming weird dreams lately. I have always dreamed VERY vivid dreams. I've always been able to dream lucid dreams. But lately, I'm finding dreams full of silver keys, that I put into locks and turn with all my might... but they won't unlock. What's behind those locks? What's there? What's waiting? What's next?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Clubs And Teaching moments

Last night was night two of the Lent Book Club series. The book is "The Shack", which I admit was an interesting surprise. At times, the writing tends to the glurge-eriffic (a little melodramatic and emotional, perhaps), and at times, I'm not totally on board with the God (are we creating a new stereotype of the black woman as big, happy, and deeply spiritual?), but it was a reasonable read that is creating good discussion.

Granted, I would have liked to see a larger group. After an initial group of 17, I split the tables up into three groups (two for the book club, one for the Vestry), and hoped to stimulate more discussion in smaller groups. 17 is a little large to have a real in-depth discussion. But with several Vestry members AWOL, we were able to keep the group in one group after all. I got a lot of flak and talk-back on splitting up into groups. My favorite comment was, "Well, everyone will just sit with everyone they know, and we won't get to know anyone else!". Well, if that's the problem, then you need to learn to say to your friends, "Hey guys, I love ya, but I'm going to go sit with that group over there to get to know someone new, ok? We'll do lunch."

The vestry had a nice meeting, though a few grumbles are re-surfacing. The vestry is doing a great job of being very can-do and positive thinking. We get some grumbles, like around the Palm Sunday service. The Liturgy Committee and I decided to have just Morning Prayer, followed by rehearsal for the Passion Gospel, then a BIG, All-stops-pulled Palm Sunday service at 10. Last year, I had a ton of complaints that there was no communal reading of the Gospel. This year, I'm responding to that. But honestly, in a parish with an average Sunday attendance of 25, you can't do two all-stops-pulled services in one day. You gotta put your energy and your eggs in one basket. Is it ideal? No. But I'd rather have one service done really, really well, then two services just half-baked. In a part-time parish, even at the "high holies" of the year, I feel we best serve God by doing liturgy deeply and well- even if it means fewer liturgies. Do fewer services and do them astoundingly well, rather than a lot of services badly done.

Of course, I'm a little confused right now. I was getting complaints that I just DID things and didn't teach anybody what was going on. Then I started going over services with the participants before the service so we could all understand what was happening and why, and I started doing short explanations before the service of new bits of the liturgy. Now I am getting the complaint that I'm being too "teacherly" and spending too much time explaining when people just want to worship. Oy! What's the balance?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On Flying Squirrels and Defense of Parish

Regular readers might recall the Adventures last summer involving the flying squirrels. They were tiny little guys back then- probably small enough to curl up in a half-cup measure.

I opened my office door into the parish hall today, ready to pull the easel out into the hall for use in tonight's class, when who do I catch red-pawed in the middle of the floor but one big ole fat flying squirrel? I made a startled squeaking sound (okay, I screamed a little). He just stared at me, probably aghast that he was caught. I dropped the easel, pulled the liner out of my wastepaper basket and prepared to capture him.

I'm not sure if he was slow because he's fat and out of shape, or if he's just dumb, but he sure wasn't moving very quickly or doing a very good job of plotting his escape route. I caught him, took him outside, and released him.

He promptly leapt into a pricker bush and got his little flaps of skin all caught on the prickers. Don't worry- I was all set to help him, but he just twisted around and used his paws to un-catch himself. He must do that a lot...

I wonder if catching squirrels is the same principle as catching trout- you catch and release the young tiny ones, so that by the time they grow up a little, they are bigger and tastier. Of course, they've also gotten smarter, so you have to be a little sneaky in how you catch them. This squirrel certainly hadn't improved in intelligence at all, but he certainly got bigger and fatter.

Well, guys, that is YOUR PRIEST at WORK! Forget sermons. Forget visiting. Forget committees. It's all about defending my people from the onslaught of VARMINTS. I am the servant of the Junior Warden, who officially records in his logs that he is working to eradicate the Varmints. You go, Jim. I'll be waiting with the wastebasket for the next one.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

On Not Traumatizing Young Kids

So, the Old Testament today was Noah and the ark. (You know, great flood, God saves, rainbow in sky...) For the sermon, I had a great prop of a simple boat-shaped pulltoy that I have filled with Ikea finger puppets of animals. At the 10 o'clock, I invited the kids up and had a conversation with them on the story. The idea was to use play to discuss myth and legend, and how Noah's ark wasn't a real story, but a legend passed down so we could know a great truth about God (God intimately interacting with God's people through salvation). The kids were 7 and 10.

Developmentally, they are just getting into different places. I asked, at one point, how could there be a ship where a desert-dwelling elephant and a swamp-dwelling frog could both be happy. The 10 year old replied that the ark was just the precursor of the big cruise ships, and they'd just be at different ends. There they go, with the image of the giant, city-sized boats of today floating in their mind.

When I got to the part where I started working on "the story isn't factual", I started seeing the seven-year-old's eyes getting bigger and bigger and a look of abject horror growing on her face: the same sort of look kids get when you are about to destroy the tales of Santa Claus. Whoops!

A lot of quick restructuring happened, right then. The rest of the sermon pretty much blew, since it all hinged on "the story doesn't have to be real in order for us to know a great truth about God". But at least I did not make a seven-year-old cry in church.

Whew. Poor kid's mom is going to have her hands full. "Mommy, why is Noah and Thumbelina different types of stories?"

Somehow, developmental ages never came up like that in Seminary. No one ever cautioned us to be careful around Noah and kids, lest we destroy the magic.