Wednesday, June 19, 2013

10 More and Less

Author and blogger Rachel Held Evans offered an interesting list of things that she would like pastoral church leaders  to say and do more often.  I will admit that I feel she is right about many of them.  Furthermore parts of the conversation that follow in the comments are an important further exploration of boundaries, shepherding and well being in pursuit of God's reign.  

She asked about what her readers might add, and I have a few items from the pastoral side of the pitch.  

5 Things A Church Should Say and Do More:
·         Mulligans.  ‘This is awful. Let’s start over.’  Worship isn't a performance, it is a relationship with a God who excels at ‘do-overs’. 
·         Assume that people can do difficult new things if they are taught how.  I have seen it.  Really.
·         ‘Dead Air’ in worship is a good time to tell a loved one a joke or tickle a small child.  A laugh track might do the church a lot of good.
·         Make it clear that crying, laughing and wiggling in worship are fine at any age.  Whining and being mean is not.  Worship is not about any solitary person in a congregation.  Attempts to insult, cage or dismiss the natural ways of young families should be considered a red card foul on our baptismal vows.
·         To paraphrase Nerdfighter/Vlogbrother Hank Green: We should care about things, care a whole lot, with a whole lot of attention and energy.  Get Excited because the frozen chosen routine is deathly. Try not to get too down on yourself, or anyone else.  We are imperfect people striving imperfectly, and we are invited to screw up, have regrets and try again!  Enjoy the ever-present game of knowing more about our world, our faith, ourselves and our neighbors.  If there isn't anything to get excited about, then for goodness sake… fix that before you have another committee meeting about the liturgical year!

5 Things this Single, Childless Family Minister Wishes She Heard Less Often:
Now let me say I love and care for every person who has ever uttered these words and I am aware that we are imperfect people in a challenging world.  And that I have never had to raise my own munchkins.  However, perhaps an objective voice...

·         ‘Glad it is you and not me.’  It takes a village to raise a child is not a notion that stops at the edge of church property.  We need the love and care and witness of all generations with young people.  I was at a packed funeral of fine servant of God and country a few months ago.  Every remembrance made me wish that our young people could have known his powerful witness better.  We need your real messy Christian  lives and real journeys to share with our young people.  
·         ‘I couldn't get my child/teen out of bed.’  I suspect this feels like a polite excuse that is trying to say 'it's not you', but mostly it makes me wonder who is in charge.  When I was a child, and it was time to get out of bed, I got out of bed.  And I have never been a nice person in the morning.  My mom called me ‘the bear.’ 
·         ‘I am so glad you were strict with my child.  I just couldn't tell her no’.  How does this help prepare the child to deal with a future boss, partner or neighbor?  Your no and the impending pouting is a much better situation than most of the people can hope to dwell in.  
·         ‘Don’t we need more Bible coloring sheets in the nursery?’  What I want most for infants and toddlers is a community that knows, welcomes and loves them.  Plus a lot of what counts as Jesus coloring books are abysmal crud.  I have a creepy Jesus collection of such products.  
·          ‘Youth are the future of the church.’  There is no guarantee that anyone in our pews will be in our pews in 10 years.  We devote time and talent to ministry young people because they are people in need of love, concern, sacraments and community right now.  If our work leads them to more just, compassionate and holy adult lives then ‘tbtg’.

So former's of faith, parents of munchkins, neighbors, friends, strangers and pastoral types: what would you like more of and what could you use less of?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Long Green Ordinary Moving Time

In my experience most children experience their lives as normal.  Children are naturally self-centered, but not in the way that it would be a detriment for an adult.  Childhood expert Robert Coles once wrote about the geography of childhood being small and low to the ground.  You take a child to the Grand Canyon and they get excited about the lizards on the ground.  The view of childhood is limited, and therefore all seems ordinary.

Whether it  is growing up at your parents country store or dancing on stage with your father's band, what lies in front of you is normal. In my life both my parents were Army officers, and therefore wearing fatigues and boots was normal.  So to was moving.  I recall one occasion when my parents seemed to be making a big deal about telling us about our next move.  Maybe they made a big deal when I was younger and I simply do not remember it.  Perhaps it was a big deal for my younger sister, however for me it was as if they had told me that we would go see fireworks on the 4th of July.  Not an everyday thing, but still perfectly ordinary in my life.

My lack of stage-fright and anxiety about moving is perhaps quite unusual.  Most personality schemes would suggest that my comfort with moving isn't based in my childhood as much as my God given personality.  Yet from years of work with families I know that moving can cause humongous anxiety.   I want to share with you one terrific children's book that might help with moving anxiety in your children.  It is written by Anita Lobel and titled Nini Here and There.  It is the experience of a move through the eyes of a house cat, and is rather darling.  Things may seem traumatic as the move begins and progresses, but the people and the love remain the same on the other side of the change.  This is a lesson we all may need to remember as we wander through the trials and changes of life.

I have met fellow military 'brats' who harbor a significant deal of resentment about their mobile childhoods.  I don't feel that way at all.  It gave me solid skills at negotiating a new place, a lack of perfectionism about new living quarters, and a lifetime of conversation starters.  It also made me really good at packing and moving; which has turned out to be a useful skill in my adulthood.

This move is not as hurried as most of my more recent adventures.  It is its own long green growing time.  There have already been a few months since the new call was accepted, and there is more than a month left.  I have to hold myself back from packing.  I like the satisfaction of a packed and taped up box.  I like knowing that table linens and socks make great gap fillers.  There is something lovely about a stack of packed boxes.  I have a whole home and a whole life here that will not need to begin getting wrapped up for about a month.  This home is my longest lifetime residence and at first I panicked.  How will I get out?  Do I know how to move anymore?  To which the answer is, of course you can do this.  The good thing about normal and ordinary is that it usually comes back to you quickly.

Now as I stare at the more than 40 days worth of clothing in my closet and think, I don't need this much for this nearly 40 days of a mostly dress casual life. I do not need this much clothing for my everyday life at any time.  I need to use this adventure to help me learn to live with less, to be more satisfied with clean and fully dressed.   I suspect many of us are this way.

This next forty-plus days are a bit like a Lenten journey, and a long green growing time. (Or at least this is what we are praying for in the high desert).   Lots of letting go to be made ready for something brand new.  There is nothing easy about the cleaning out, the examination, the anxiety or the tears.  Yet it is important to journey through this time with love, patience and an open heart.

I saw a Lenten suggestion last winter about eliminating items from our overstuffed lives using a keep 2, donate 1 strategy.  Do you have three nearly identical white shirts?  Keep two and donate one.  Perhaps to squash my desire to pack I can try this discipline on this summer.  Any chance to examine your life, both the human part and the material part is a good thing.

Sometimes I wonder if the long season of Ordinary time needs subsections, perhaps three.  Each could have a different discipline focus: rogation and hunger for early ordinary time, a celebration of growth for the middle and an extra examination of the saints leading into All Saints.   I already consider October to be a Franciscan mini-season.   I like big themes and clear directions that help in the practices of the Christian life.

The ordinary is crucial, it is after all normal and ordinary.  However how we approach it as leaders communicates its vitality or its lack of importance.  Is it a low focus vacation time or not? We have big deal secular holidays on a regular schedule because they help us mark the time.   They help children to connect the focus in front of them to the anticipation of what comes next.   What focuses would you add to our wandering through Ordinary time? The long green growing time is a good thing; how can we help families experience the Christian practices more deeply in its midst?

Friday, June 14, 2013

My Underwear is Showing: Yoga and this Pastoral Life

I fell off the yoga wagon, or should I say that I fell off the mat, over a year ago.  Once or twice I had unrolled
the mat at home and wandered through a few vinyasas (a basic pose sequence) but nothing more.   As I began to focus in on returning to my practice I discovered there are dozens and dozens of yoga videos on Youtube, everything from 10 minutes to an hour, offering a wide range of quality and styles.  These home videos are helpful; but for me the in person classes are better.  In part it is personality, my extroverted self probably spends to much time at home with reading, sewing and baseball games.  In person classes are an important part of any yoga practice.  You can do it on your own, but that is probably not the most authentic approach.

Every time I am in a yoga class I cannot help but think of all the analogies with church work and life.  What if we demanded this much sweat from Christian practice?  What if worship was this body centered?  What if we were better at letting the presider preside like a loving shepherd?  A good yoga instructor is very much like a living good shepherd parable. What if we were better at following along as best we are able, yet with a plethora of adjustments based on our bodies and where we are being led?  

Classes at the studio I frequent (when I am ‘on the mat’) are quietly social.  They are a good mix of ages and gender and styles and ethnicity.  An hour in a room together you learn things about each other; the lives of the people around you find ways into your consciousness.   A young woman is pregnant, almost due, so full to term I didn’t need to ask.  Yet she keeps up the yoga practice with patience and grace.  A man wore his underwear inside out.  I wondered, was that on purpose?  Another man who is clearly a regular could not step away from his iPhone.   I wonder if others noticed how out of practice I am, or my wretched dry skin leaving white dust all over my mat?  

Coming back for the first time in a year was very much like some of the church newcomers I have encountered over the years.  Oh yeah that is how this starts.  A what pose?  My confusion is increased because I cannot see the instructor, so I look around me to learn what are my neighbors doing, oh, ok.  And then oh my, that muscle hasn’t been used recently.  I was at times befuddled and inspired, at home and off balance.  I had to ask a few questions, however I made it through. 

The casual analogy observations are very good food for thought for this Christian life.  It is natural theological reflection.  It takes away the very personal nature of shepherding a human community I am immersed in.  It lets me be a rather observant sheep, but without my critical-church-expert voice taking away from the opportunity. I am always amazed by how suddenly and naturally prayer arises during my yoga practice.  However I still struggle deeply with the Om chant.  Heresy alarms go off deep within my being.  I tell myself they are just syllables.  But no, to far off the edge of the boat for this pro-pluralistic progressive Christian.  So I quietly hum something like Alleluia instead. 

I have returned to yoga practice for multiple reasons, however it is the search of reliving a sense of spiritual dryness that looms large.   I sense that this feeling of dryness isn’t just the meteorological drought.   Yoga wisdom says that what is going on on your mat is what is going on in your life.  Having fallen off the mat, there may be a lot of no there there.   As I move through this transition in my work and home life, I need to ‘work it out’ on the mat.  With other people, stretching and leaning and falling.   So how can we be better at nurturing congregations where folks can ‘work it out’ ‘on the mat’ so that we may seek and serve Christ in the world beyond the studio?   Now if only it would rain really hard so I could get that mat really clean.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

How about them apples?

A common 'side-game' with Apples to Apples
is that your green card's describe you.  This is usually quite funny.
Way back in the mid-1990’s  I sold upscale toys in a trendy neighborhood. By upscale I mean Brio trains and Madame Alexander dolls and hundred-dollar tricycles designed by Porshe.  It was local and stuffed to the brim with more toys and games than you can imagine.  Perhaps the best part was when game company sales representatives would visit the store after hours with pizza, beer and new games. I am still friends with a co-worker from that store, and I suspect that the opportunities to play together on an everyday basis bound us together more than co-workers in other jobs. 
It was during that time when I first encountered the game Apples to Apples.  It was just a big box of cards, and not nearly as large as the contemporary version.  No pieces to move, no international brand...'so what' was my first thought.   My retail days are long past, however I suspect that I have sold hundreds of the games since. It is my nearly fail safe, absolutely necessary, but not necessarily religious, ministry tool.  I lug that big box along on every trip, every retreat.  A local grocery store put them on clearance, and I bought four!   If you haven't played the game it is basically about comparisons and subjectivity; it is a simple game that is hard to explain, so I won't try.  I have played the game with youth for over 4 hours straight; I have enjoyed it with nearly 20 people (not the best way to play, btw) while lounging in the shade at choir camp, used it in pastoral work and even made up my own Harry Potter version for camp.  Many people young and mature are drawn to the mental playground, of the game.  It isn't for everybody, however it does seem to be for a lot of folks in my life and work.

In the time since I first opened that small cream box, Apples to Apples expanded their editions, produced a Junior version and won awards from Mensa and Parent's Choice. Eventually the rights were sold to Mattel, who now sell the game at every department store, plus there are now Bible (which should be called Bible and Christian history), Jewish, multi-lingual, and dice based versions.  There was even a Wendy’s toy prize give away.  Still, it remains a blessed favorite.  Why? Because it sets up a 'playground for transcendence', it asks people to make decisions and relate to one another on a deeper level. It makes people laugh, it creates connection, and it requires moral judgment.  Apples to Apples challenges us to consider our knowledge of ourselves, our companions and the world we live in.  Forming faithful lives that seek justice and serve the common good can be supported by something as silly as a card game of comparisons.  We need to draw stiff hands into the work of redemption,  and one way to do this is through playfulness.  The impact of Montessori based formation shouldn’t end at the atrium door.  Play matters for faith formation.  What we should strive for is the type of playfulness that is a place and time set apart from the forces of competition, perfectionism and individuality. Ministries of formation for all ages need moments where we can playfully draw from the ethical lessons of the past and consider the moral demands of the future; we need a time where these critical theological thinking can be played out with our friends and neighbors.  So what ways does playfulness build up your works of faith formation?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Deep Blue Something or Other

a sea bound adventure for senior high youth, since before I was such
In these last days
young hearts sat at in vinyl thrones
under steel mast and vacant crows nest.
Resting in primordial dressing
Taught hands glazed with sea and sun.
Steep stone cay crashing into salty waters
Reflecting the warm fluid firmament of heaven,
Ringed with scrubby green brushes,
Followed by the moon, the stars and the sky.
Alone at the edge of the deep blue something
the horizon within reach before us
restraints slouching far behind.
No concerns of rations, of consequence
Of ethics or justice or peace.
Summoned paradise, fitted for freedom.
Kings and queens of alternate dimensions
For this we were born, for this we would die.
Every eye could see, every heart could hear
The other side unfurled
Blessing unveiled fears released.
Subtle slick hull slicing through deep blue forever
Havana daydreams full of grace.
All was possible, the books laid open
Dominion that does not pass away
Wholeness that is nothingness
Lines between in and out ceased.
The ship could have sailed through the sky
Our gleam could have carried the ship on a solar wind
Hearts of fiery flames
Cries were not cautioned now
Abundance without an opposite reaction.
Everyday apocalypse not of inestimable horror
An ascending pursuit of redemption.
Crouched in blue sea bliss
Reaching out to touch the edge of being,
Transgress the realm of fear
We found the enchanted isle where not could not be.
Plunged off the edge into warmth pain suspended
Thrilled by soaring heartbeats
Passions of salty goodness
Liberation by trust
An alpha and an omega of the eternal trip.
We who once were but strangers are now householders
Embracing the tides, kissing the sea lion

Seeking the shore across the sea.

by jag

to learn more about such an adventure for your young person visit Action Quest.