Monday, October 20, 2014

A Monday ~

Sometimes, I just like to list my day's activities ~

Read a big chunk of a book assigned for the transitional ministry training I'm doing in a couple of weeks ~

"Met" (by telephone) with someone who's closing in on the end of the Spiritual Exercises ~

Walked two miles through my neighborhood ~

Engaged in several emails, texts, and phone calls related to scheduling a meeting for the leaders of three churches considering some sort of new venture together ~

Scheduled my mammogram, which took 20 minutes, which is reason no. 1 of about 100 for why I avoid medical appointments ~

Taught my college class on religion and law ~

Went to the grocery ~

Graded my midterms ~

Had dinner with my husband and son ~

Finished grading the exams ~

And now I'm watching The Town with my son.

Tomorrow starts with a trip to the orthopedic surgeon,  I'm going extra early in an effort to prevent it from taking three hours from my day.  Reason no. 2 of 100.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Why Walk?

Early morning before the Toledo walk, a few weeks ago
I was a senior in high school the first time I ever walked for a cause.  I don't remember the cause, but I think it had something to do with hunger.  I don't remember the route, but it was somewhere in western Massachusetts.  What I do remember is that we walked 20 miles and my big toenails turned black and fell off.
Forty-three years later, I could not hop out of bed on a Saturday morning and walk 20 miles!  But I can walk the three or so Out of the Darkness miles for suicide prevention tomorrow, despite a still-healing ankle that slows me down and a tender tendon which I have come to accept as a permanent fact of life.
In between?  Two previous of these walks.  One last year for Diversity Day here in downtown Cleveland ~ that was a lively, colorful, sunny morning.  One down to the lake long ago to support the Museum of Natural History, where I volunteered for years.  A Komen walk the year my daughter's Girl Scout troop walked to earn a badge.  Same place as we will be tomorrow. Those are the walks which come to mind at the moment.
I'm feeling a bit wistful this morning.  It took my own experience with breast cancer to nudge me into suicide prevention work ~ grasping what all that pink had accomplished in terms of public awareness, research money, and reduction of stigma.  But this is harder.  I have tremendous support from my various online communities, where many people have read my blog for years, but few of my friends here at home come out.  I muttered something some weeks ago about the weekly summer evenings given over to a friend's birthday preparations, and people can't come up with one morning for this.  "Mom!" exclaimed my son, "A 60th birthday party versus a walk focused on suicide ~ where do you THINK people are going to go?"
Truthfully, this walk has the potential to be a lot of fun -- although the steady cold rain last year and its return predicted for tomorrow quite possibly produce(d) more misery than fun.  Some people hug and cry ~ as they do at Komen events ~ but most people talk and laugh and feel a lot of energy around the ability to DO something, which was not an option for us when it mattered most.
The money?  Our little AFSP* chapter, entirely volunteer-run, is less than a year old, from an official point of view. But several of us have been to Washington to lobby for mental health legislation.  And we are launching an effort to educate first responders in suicide awareness -- a major urban police force is eager to make our training event a quarterly opportunity.  We are on our way.
I wonder sometimes what Josh would say.  His father and brother don't say much.  His sister has been writing a series of daily FB vignettes, lovely memories of her brother.  I think Josh would roll his eyes and make a droll joke, because if he were here he would have no idea that depression can run a person down as swiftly and surely as a locomotive can.
I had no idea, either.  And maybe that's, in the end, really why we walk.  It is of some comfort to spend a morning with others who get it, in the most powerful kind of way. 
*The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the nation's pre-eminent non-profit organization addressing suicide prevention through research, advocacy, and education.  Community walks take place across the country all fall, and campus walks all spring.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Seminary Satisfaction

Comments (mostly elsewhere) yesterday tell me that my rendition of the beginning of seminary resonated with a number of people.  I want to write a second post about how wonderful that year of my life became.
It took a few months, but I settled into my new environment.  I found a rhythm that provided me with enough time for quiet and prayer and, most importantly, I began to make a few friends, who remain good friends today.  I was surprised by how difficult that process was, but many of the students were within a year or two of college graduation and often spoke about they knew they were called to seminary because everything had fallen into place ~ admission, scholarships, jobs for them and their spouses, places to live. It took awhile to find those who persisted despite very different indications ~ those who had left behind good jobs, were taking time away from spouses and families for part of the week, had taken on second and third mortgages, were in the midst of divorces or caring for children with difficulties or paying college tuitions on top of their own, or some combination of the foregoing.  Once I found those folks, I felt a lot better, and was better able to appreciate the everything-fell-together folks as well.   We all loved seminary, but for some of us, things were seldom in place.
My one regret: I never did settle into the city beyond the immediate neighborhood (which was great for long walks).  As a friend and I realized when we were there for a day of our denominational General Assembly a couple of years later, we had discovered nothing about Pittsburgh in our time there.  We were too busy running back and forth to Cleveland and trying to remain attentive to our families ~ young adults in my case and aging parents in hers ~ to spend time out on the town with our seminary classmates. In retrospect, that's one thing I would try to do differently. 
I loved my classes.  The emphasis on the lecture method continued, but several of our professors were brilliant lecturers so, ok.  I never came to terms with Greek, but my professor was unfailingly kind and patient, and I pestered the tutors relentlessly.  I am sure that the hours I spent on that confounding language would have been far better spent on material of some use to me in ministry or in hanging out with my classmates, but so be it.
There were a few organization on campus; I got involved, became co-leader of one, and a group of us began planning an event on GLBTQ issues for the next year, designed to help us learn to negotiate controversies in our congregations, and that one in particular.
So: a solid academic experience, a developing social experience, engagement in the community, long walks, and enough solitude for a deep and contemplative life of prayer. 
If my seminary life had continued along those lines, it would have been the incredible experience I had anticipated.  As things turned out, Josh died right before my second year, and the remainder became a long marathon of endurance.  I've written about that time in my life extensively, so I won't go into it again. 
I just wanted to remember that there were, indeed, a few incredibly good and satisfying months.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First Week of Seminary

My last post got me thinking about those first days of seminary seven years ago.
The weather was really beautiful.
During our first chapel service, one of our classmates got down on his knees and prayed on our behalf to "Father God" in language completely unfamiliar to me.  I mean, it was English, but not the kind of prayer to which I was accustomed. I decided that maybe I was not going to like chapel.
Church History ~ that was going to be fine.  I had been teaching world history for years; all I had to do was pay attention to a slightly different slant.
First OT course ~ terrific lecturer.  Dismayed to discover that that was it -- no exegesis, no debate of texts.  After six years teaching in a Jewish school, I had developed an understanding about how to approach a text that involved a lot of argument.    I missed it. 
Spiritual Formation ~ I loved this course.  I was doing my spiritual direction certificate elsewhere so I felt kind of immersed in spirituality stuff.  But this class addressed Christian spirituality from the first century onward.  A lot of the material was new to me and I was delighted.  Also we had to read Augustine's Confessions, one of those books you know you should read but never do. 
Greek ~ Oh. My. God.  What a nightmare.  Pages filled with symbols from a geometry textbook (bad memories there) and words like . . .  oh, mercifully I have mostly forgotten those words.  Words like GenitiveNominative.  (I just looked that up, so I would have another word.  I mean, what kind of words are those?) There were some other words like that.  I could never remember what any of them meant.   And really, did I care whether something happened, or had happened, or was happening?  I mean, I know the differences are significant, but I'd be happy to argue the text any old way.  I could not remember all those endings, or which ones meant what.  There was a Greek professor, rumored to be extremely demanding, who was on sabbatical that year.  I often think that, had he been there, I would have dropped out by the second week.  As things turned out,  I was merely destined to spend 40 (I counted once) hours a week for the next several months trying to learn Greek.  All of which I had forgotten by June.
One of my classmates told me in the bathroom one day that Greek made her feel closer to Jesus.  I knew for sure then that I was in the wrong place.
Greek did NOT make me feel closer to Jesus.
Lunch!  I am not such a fan of group lunches.  I usually need some solitude at that point in the day. But I discovered that lunch was the one place that everyone congregated, and if I were going to make new friends, lunch in the dining room would have to become part of my routine.
Shock ~ I looked around that dining room and thought: I am going to die.  I did not know a single person.  I was used to being the one who knew what was going on ~ 23 years in the same house, 30 in the same city, 15 in the same church, 7 at the same job.  Suddenly I was clueless. 
Kind of strange to look back.  I was so excited.  And so lonely.  And I hated Greek so very, very much.
It's really surprising that I'm in ministry today.  I wonder whether I would be better at it if I knew what the word genitive means.

What, Exactly?

Some days I cannot imagine or recall what it was that propelled me into seminary.  It was only seven years ago that I first set foot on the campus as a student, but it seems as if several lifetimes have passed, most of them belonging to someone else.  If I were a cat, I think I would be on about number eight.
I wanted to be a pastor, but that meant a specific kind of thing to me.  As an adult, I had been active in two churches ~  a 1500-member United Methodist congregation and a 500-member Presbyterian one, both of them in a diverse, highly-educated, progressive community.  Lively, multi-generational churches in which education and outreach thrived.  I served on all kinds of committees and ran all kinds of programs, taught the Twenty-Third Psalm to kids and the women of Matthew's geneaology to adults, and was a member of the council (UMC) and the session (PCUSA).  I didn't bake and I didn't sing, but I did about everything else at one time or another.  That's what church, Protestant variety, was to me.  That's what I thought churches were like.  I figured I would become an associate pastor somewhere, focused on adult education and spiritual growth, and that would be that.  Given my age, I wasn't headed for any long-term career trajectory leading to a tall-steeple church.
I had no idea about small churches, rural churches, conservative churches, faltering churches.  So I have had quite the education since seminary.
These days . . .  I am feeling tired and old and broke.  I took today off and so far I've painted a ceiling, and my back feels as if I had tried out for the U.S. gymnastic team.  I haven't really had much brainpower for the past six years.  This morning I talked to a friend whose son died nearly three years ago, quite an extraordinary woman, really, and she said, "I can work in spurts, and then . . .  I can't.  I can't do anything."  Ay-yep. And we're not really broke at all, but when I see friends retired and heading off for their annual cruise, I do think, Wow, we got that wrong, didn't we?  Not that I want to go on a  cruise.  But I would like to go and spend a month in Italy.
But then . . .  my little church is struggling, in obvious ways (money money money) and not so obvious ways (why are we here? which is not a question so many people are thinking to ask).  And we have approached two other churches about putting together something new.  And one, or at least a representative of one, has responded with great enthusiasm, and suddenly we might be on track to A New Thing.    And I am Really Excited.  Not to merge and do same old same old.  But to start afresh and create something brand new, in a neighborhood in need of a spark of faith.
So.  Church turns out not to be what I thought.  I turn out not to be whom I thought.  But I am thinking that we could both spend the next few years re-creating ourselves, and that that might be an excellent way to spend the next five years or so of both my ministry and my personal life.
And then . . .  would someone please give a few of us that big old property on the beach and that big pile of bucks so we can start a retreat center?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Random Friday Five

Here's a set of random Friday Five questions, coming from Rev Karla:

1. How do you sign off in your emails, professional and personally? For example, you say “Blessings”, “Take Care”, “Remember, the Devil is watching you” (o.k. just kidding on that one.) Let us know and why…

Blessings, Peace, AMDG, Gratefully, Hopefully, Love you . . .  It depends, doesn't it?

2. If you were an animal TODAY, what is it and why?

The fall bird migration is underway, so I think that I would choose any of the terns or shorebird species headed many thousands of miles south.  How about a golden plover, headed from the northernmost reaches of Canada to southern Brazil?

3. If you get snarky, what triggers it? If you don’t get snarky, please, what is the secret?

I am finding that I really have to work on controlling the snark when people indicate that they want to do things a certain way because we always have AND it's their personal preference, with no regard for any legitimate reason for change or the preferences of others. 

4. Look up from your computer/tablet/phone screen. What is the first favorite thing your eyes land on? Describe it. (For example, I just did this, and my eyes landed on a little angel made out of multicolored wires whose head and wings are quite askew because of being chewed upon by my puppy. That aside, I love it because it was a gift from two little girls who came often to my office in my last call to play with all the tshotke on my table. They wanted to add to it.)

My kitty.  I am working in bed and she is perched at my feet -- nope, she just stretched and sat down.  She is orange and white and looking around hopefully: maybe a bird will fly in?  Now she's settled down again, eyes wide open and ears like antennae.  I love my cat.  (A few minutes later: she is curled up and asleep.)

5. Do you have a favorite pair of socks? Tell us about them!

I like those fluffy fleece socks that you can buy at the drugstore!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Learning to Walk in the Dark ~ Book Review

Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my all-time favorite preachers and writers.  "Introduced" to her via mail as a Chautauqua Institution summer preacher by my stepsister, whose church in Clarkesville, Georgia she served as priest, I became a dedicated follower, often scheduling family vacations at Chautauqua for the weeks in which she was preaching, and inhaling her books during the rest of the year.  I had ordered Learning to Walk in the Dark before it came out, and it landed on my porch a day or two before the official sales date.
I didn't crack the cover for about six months, not until day before yesterday. Much as I admire BBT, and love to listen to her for the spectacular turn of phrase or for an idea I've never considered, I did not, it turned out, want to hear what she had to say about walking in the dark.  Walking in the dark is my main activity and area of expertise.  What could even BBT have to say to me about an enterprise I know so well?
Plenty, as it turns out.  I finally read the book on a day off designed entirely for reading and walking.  It's marvelous.
I am particularly taken with her idea of endarkenment  ~ a counter-concept to the familiar idea of enlightenment.  As you might have guessed if you haven't read it already, in Learning to Walk in the Dark BBT seeks to strip from darkness its usual associations with malevolence, sorrow, and bleakness, and to invite us to walk into the dark in anticipation of new possibilities, new wonders, and a sort of healing not available in the bright light toward which we all scurry.
The book contains a couple of intriguing chapters on her efforts to become better acquainted with darkness, one of them deep inside a cave, and another, falling asleep in a cabin as the natural light recedes for the night.  She also explores ~ just a bit ~ some of the great Biblical passages having to do with night and with darkness.  If I am at all disappointed with the book, it's due to the brevity of those reflections.  The Bible is, after all and as she notes, a great herald of light, but it is also filled with stories of the night.  I don't think that Nicodemus~ a seeker of endarkenment if ever there was one ~ even rates a mention.
Nevertheless, I am much taken with the book.  Last night, the burglar alarm went off at church, and consequently I spent the hour between 12:30 and 1:30 a.m. en route to a rendezvous with the police and then home again.  The moon, just-past-half full, hung low and huge and orange in the sky. As I passed through the empty streets, and the five minutes down a long hill through a metropark into which a parishioner has told me she would never consider driving at night,  I watched for the moon and hoped for an owl.  And I considered endarkenment ~ a benefit of being roused from bed way too early, and perhaps of the opaque places in life as well.