Monday, November 23, 2009

To call or not to call

Two weeks ago I wrote about connecting to the community. At that meeting there were a lot of ideas/programs I learned about. One deals with connecting local clergy to the police that patrol in their area. I really like this idea and would like to connect with the officers that patrol where I live and work. Sort of. I mean, I would really like to meet with them and know them, but I also fear the lecture I am likely to receive when they figure out which church I pastor.

I realize that not every city worker is going to be discontented with our outreach endeavors, but I also know I have received lectures from those I have encountered. First it was the cocky new cop late one night when one of our guys was rushed to the hospital after an overdose on meth (a man who has now been sober for 9 months--ever since that event scared the desire to use out of him). The second was from the fire chief when one of our women knocked her head against the cement and then started having seizures.

I understand their perspective and can appreciate their frustrations, really I can. But I also know that when I get lectured it is from a "homelessness in general" perspective not a personal one. For instance, the fire chief talked about how he used to work downtown and how "this problem" hasn't gotten any better. He's talking about homelessness and he's right, there is still far too vast of a homeless population. He sees any endeavors as fruitless.

I, on the other hand, don't look simply at homeless in general (it is a huge social ill that is not likely to vanish anytime soon), but I look at the specific folks living on the street. When I look at those stories (particularly those of the men and women who have stayed at our church) I see 3 who have found regular, healthy, and safe housing. I have seen 2 men find/achieve/fight for sobriety. I have seen a couple be reunited, and a number come to Bible study each week and learn the word of God and the love and grace that is offered to them through Christ.

So, I don't really see it as fruitless. I look at the specifics, the city officials like to look in general.

I would like to know the officers and even be able to work with them, as long as working with them isn't simply a one way street--meaning I get to do all the things they say without being allowed to work within a Christian paradigm.

I'd also like our conversation to deal with more than the homeless. Every day there are a million teenage boys loose in our neighborhood...I'd like to work on constructive things for them to do (constructive things that do not include smoking pot on our property...or in general...). I'd also like to do constructive things with the police so that I don't hear gunfire at night or worry about the parade of patrol cars lined up on the street behind me preparing for a raid.

There's a lot that can be accomplished if we work together, it just means getting over our fears and prejudices....and by "we" I think I mean "me" least that's where it has to start....because I certainly don't think the call will be coming to my phone any time soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quote of the day

You’ve been Jesus to me
He’s wrapped His arms around me with the love you’ve given me
You’ve been Jesus to me
And I will never be the same
He’s loved me through and through-Through you
You’ve been Jesus to me

God knew that I would need someone to show me
What love that lasts forever’s all about
And so He sent a part of Him to love me
Another gift of life that I could never live without

ht: Erin

Monday, November 16, 2009

Continuing Education Events

I am working on setting goals for the coming year and need to identify some continuing education opportunities. Last year I went to the National Pastor's convention and planned to go this coming year too, but it was canceled. I had planned to go to the Festival of Homiletics in May, but because of stress and busyness and finances, I had canceled that. I did go to Clergy Convocation in September and enjoyed that, but didn't do a whole lot of the workshops etc, I mainly just talked and prayed with colleagues.

I am trying to find something inspiring. I know I have a lot to learn, so I suppose any area would be good. My particular passions include pastoral care, work with survivors of violence, preaching, Hispanic ministries, and work with the poor. Anyone have suggestions?

On a related note, as I looked up more information I found a young preachers conference, does anyone know anything about it? It might seem odd, but I am a little leery of it. It's ageist, I know, against my own people, which is weird. I feel weird even saying it. But I do wonder how it goes. I know lots of talented young preachers, so I suppose that's not actually it. Yeah, I'm gonna try not to dig myself in a hole here and just ask if anyone's been or knows much about it?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Technologically not so savvy

I am not a techie by any stretch of the imagination. I can run my computer for the most necessary programs and do a decent job on creating documents/brochures/spreadsheets etc. I can hold my own. I cannot do any programming or any website's really not my gig. And, in the last 10 years I have gone back and forth between jobs that require a lot of technology and jobs that don't. Better said, I have been in jobs that need a lot of emailing and jobs that don't.

At Emory, everything was through email. Notices, updates, to-do lists, all of it came via email. It was functional and fast and very efficient. At my first church, not so much. With an older congregation (many of whom did not even have email) and a senior pastor who checked his email about once a day email was not super functional.

At my current church (once we got email installed in the church office...the need for which should tell you something about our technological state) I use it all the time. I email staff, committee members and congregants all the time. Though, admittedly there are a number of folks not on email, so in some ways they get left out of the loop. It is definitely not intentional, it just happens, and as part of that, sometimes feelings get hurt.

One example of this came months ago when I had to arrange a last minute potluck. We had a University choral group coming to sing and I totally forgot we were supposed to offer lunch. So, two days before they came, I sent an email to everyone I had an email for and asked for people to bring things. On Sunday, we had a wonderful meal and reception for the group. And it was only a matter of minutes before I was hearing third hand reports about certain women wondering why they hadn't been asked to bring things. Fortunately, the person they spoke with knew that it had been last minute and had been emailed out and it was, in no way, meant to be an affront to anyone and it said nothing of anyone's respect (or lack thereof) for their cooking.

It was a minor thing, but it said a lot. It's important to make sure people feel included. And sadly, it hasn't been the only time. There have been prayer concerns, meeting announcements, and requests that go out regularly that some people get. In some ways you could say it's ageist (though when my oldest member who is 90 still checks email, that argument loses some power), but really it's just faster. It takes time to call and individually ask people, and you have to be ready to call at the right hours (and for the record 10:00 at night when I remember is NOT the best time!)

To be honest, it's hard for me sometimes to slow down enough to just use the phone. Email is handy and easy and available almost anytime anywhere. But, as a reminder to myself and a caution for folks who aren't attentive to it, it's important to make those phone calls and include those people, even if it takes more time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Community connection

In seminary, I heard time and time again that I should be a pastor in the community. In seminary and in various trainings in the immediate year afterward, I was told to get involved with civic groups, the city council and other decision making groups in my community. At my first appointment that didn't work out so well. I went to a few meetings here and there but never felt connected and didn't work overly hard to make myself nutty to make it happen.

Riverside, however, has been a whole different story. From the beginning connecting easily with the community has been a confirmation from God that this is indeed where I am supposed to be. I easily connected with the young professionals group, had a connection with a local university, met with various networks and got connected to some very well connected people. In some ways, I got so connected that it was hard to keep up, there were regular meetings that overlapped with one another and I found it extremely difficult to make it to any of them. And in some ways, I never really felt like it was the place I needed to be, only that I should be there.

Yesterday, I actually made it to one. It was nice, after having been chewed out by various city people, to go some place where people are on the same page and doing ministry in the ways they feel called and are trying to find more effective ways to help rather than the so-called "least invasive" ways....or the ways that are the least noticeable to the general public. It was nice to meet some new folks and see how they plan to collaborate over the holidays and hear some praise reports and some cool plans.

This group works particularly with homelessness and foster children. They see the two as directly tied, that foster kids often end up on the streets and to work on adoptions into healthy families reduces homelessness (in the long run). So one of the praise reports was that 15 kids were adopted last month in our area. Another praise report, and a sign of how this city likes to work with clergy/people of faith, was that clergy and police are trying to collaborate--get to know each other and be able to call on one another. People of faith have also been invited to the area schools (well, they are starting with one high school after the example of San Bernardino county) to come for lunch and be in relationship with the students. In SB County, they saw a marked decrease in expulsions and truancy and crime. One of the cool plans was to take parents living in shelters shopping...area churches provide the gift cards and rides and then the parents actually get to buy the gifts (rather than having them bought for them). It is a very empowering program and one I am hopeful we can help with! In other words, lots of good stuff is happening.

Toward the end of the meeting the group did some brainstorming and then tried to narrow their focus for the coming year to establish goals. After a couple broad and nebulous things were named, I said, "I know I am new here, but from my experience and the people I work with and the state of our national economy, I think we need to work on teaching financial planning and budgeting." They added it to the board and we moved on. The next woman who spoke was passionate about how we need to change our language--that it can't be "us and them" (which I am totally on board about). The trouble was she was looking straight at me and it felt very accusatory. I wasn't sure what I had said that had offended her so deeply. Others affirmed her statement and we finished our meeting. Afterward I thought I should go and apologize. I still didn't know what I had done wrong, but figured it didn't really matter, if she was offended she was offended and I should try and clear the air. I was reluctant to go. I figured I could just let it ride and move on. But then I thought it was hurtful to feel called out in a meeting and not know what I had done, I thought, "this might keep me from ever coming back." And I knew I needed to address it. So I went over and said, "I want to apologize, I didn't mean to offend you." She stopped me mid-apology and said I hadn't, that she was speaking in general and that I was making eye contact, so she looked at me and then worried I might have thought she was speaking to me. (She was right).

We cleared the air and then actually she thanked me for my work. She said we work with two of her favorite people and is super thankful we let them stay at our church. In essence, my reputation had proceeded me. She even told me that she had nudged the person next to her in the meeting and said, "We love her." It was a nice change of tone in a matter of seconds. We talked about her ministry (a community garden, food ministry, and church) and she even offered us food for our food ministry. She said she had even come for breakfast one Sunday morning to see what we were about. It was a very cool connection. One that I think will spawn more connections as she knows EVERYBODY!

After going to various meetings over the last year and a half, I feel like I finally found the place I need to be. It's the place where people are working on similar things and I feel like I have both something to gain and something to offer. I am excited about going back, rather than just thinking I should go back.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jail Rape

Over the years I have done a number of trainings to work with survivors of sexual and domestic violence. My second year in college I was an RA at UCLA and my director, DB, and several of my co-RA's were involved with Take Back the Night and Clothesline Project. In the winter of that year I did a training called "SVAA" (Sexual Violence Awareness Advocacy). It took place over a couple of weekends and taught me A LOT! I can't enumerate everything here, but will share some now.

The most powerful component for me was when we saw a role play of the escalation of violence between a couple...first the shouting, the demeaning language, the romantic efforts of the abuser to woo his partner all over again, then the grabbing, the continued degradation, the romantic interlude, then the beatings, and the romantic interlude yet again. It scared me, mostly because I could see the beginning signs in one of my friend's relationships. I had witnessed the yelling, the degradation, the demeaning language and it scared me.

So the next week I wrote her a letter. I told her as objectively as possible what I had seen her partner say/do and what my concerns were. I told her I wasn't trying to hurt her or break up her relationship, only that there were things I thought needed to be addressed and hoped they had/would. I lost a friend that year. She never responded to me. She would not respond to calls or emails and later, when we were back in our hometown together, she wouldn't speak to me. It broke my heart. She had been a friend for 15 years (which was a lot at the age of 19) and I had never wanted to hurt her. But I understood her reaction and simply had to accept it. I lost a lot, but I was glad I had said something because I would have hated myself if his demeaning remarks had escalated to violence. I had to make a decision about which was more valuable a) a friendship or b) my friend. I decided my friend was more valuable than the actual friendship and chose to say something and accepted the consequences. I am glad to report that 4 years later she started talking to me again. Three years after that our friendship was actually restored to a place where we could communicate regularly.

I should probably save other learnings for another day, but will share that we also heard the stories of survivors--male and female, acquaintance, family, and stranger rape victims. We heard the heart wrenching stories of abuse and the life-giving stories of surviving...moving from being a victim to a survivor--finding healing after profound trauma.

Ever since, I've been working with survivors of sexual and domestic violence. I've heard stories from classmates, colleagues, parishioners, and even perfect strangers. Every time the abuse suffered is painful and scary, often it's debilitating. In this kind of work, especially as a woman, I hear from a lot of women. I rarely hear from men, though statistically men are very likely to be abused. My stats aren't all perfectly current, but I'm assuming not too much has changed in the last 10 years. The averages were that 1 in 8 teen boys had been abused and that 1 in 6 teen girls had been abused. By the time women hit adulthood, 1 in 4 has been abused in some way or another.

Maybe all of this explains my interest with Law and Order SVU. I watch it religiously and appreciate the work folks to do with survivors, whomever those folks may be. A couple of weeks ago they did a show that included male rape and I thought they covered a lot of good issues (including shame and a reluctance to report). This week, it was a female rape case and I was saddened when the rapist was told he would come to understand what his victim went through when he went to jail. While on one hand I understand the desire for vengeance. On the other hand, I'm disgusted with the ways people joke about jail rape, for the ways male victimization is dismissed and written off as deserved.

Rape, under any circumstances, is unacceptable. No one invites rape. Your clothes (or lack thereof) do not make rape justifiable. Your flirtatious attitude does not make rape justifiable. Your sexual history does not make rape acceptable. Even a history of having raped does not make rape acceptable. Rape is never ok. Joking about rape is not ok. Advocating rape as punishment is not ok.

As long as abuses (and the justifications of them) continue, we will never really be free. Even joking about abuse is a perpetuation of minimizes the severity and can be VERY detrimental to a survivor. And, as a Christian, I am always called to look to the Gospel for redemption and the possibility (and reality) of transformation for the abuser and true healing for the survivor.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless."
- Thomas A. Edison

Quote of the day

"Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."--Dwight D. Eisenhower, thirty-fourth U.S. president

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"New" Ten Commandments

I was reading Christian Century (August 11, 2009) yesterday and they listed the "New Ten Commandments". They are as follows:

1. Treat others as you would have them treat you.
2. Take responsibility for your actions.
3. Do not kill.
4. Be honest.
5. Do not steal.
6. Protect and nurture children.
7. Protect the environment.
8. Look after the vulnerable.
9. Never be violent.
10. Protect your family.

I like these rules. I think if we all followed them, the world would definitely be a better place. But, the problem with them is something is seriously lacking. None of these rules address our relationship with God. If we look at the original Ten Commandments, we see that the first 4 are explicitly about our relationship with God:

1. Thou shalt have no other God before me.
2. Thou shalt not create false idols.
3. Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain.
4. Thou shalt honor the sabbath and keep it holy.
5. Thou shalt honor thy mother and father.
6. Thou shalt not murder.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
10. Thou shalt not covet.

One through four are about our relationship with God. Five through ten are about our relationship with others. Even if we take the simplified version (a.k.a. the greatest commandment), we still have both:

Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind...You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:36-39)

It's sad to me that the new commandments have no regard for our relationship with God. Ultimately, the 10 commandments are not just about how we treat people. Their purpose is to restore our relationships and keep them intact. The laws are meant to restore us to the created order where we were in right relationship with God (read: not disobedient) and in right relationship with one another (read: not ashamed or sinful). The law isn't just about what to do or what not to do. Sure, it can seem that way at first glance and there are an awful lot of instructions, but ultimately the instructions are the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is restoration of right relationships, both with God and with neighbor. So, any new version of the commandments that does not make room for our relationship with God is wrongheaded. They negate, deny, or simply forget that we have a broken relationship with God that needs healing. They also become consumed with the letter of the law (much like the Pharisees did) and lead down a treacherous road of right and wrong that has nothing to do with the spirit of the law--restored/healed/redeemed relationships.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The little things

Most of us know that it only takes one negative or critical comment to negate all the good things you've done. Ok, maybe not all, but the negative comment will easily consume your time/energy/emotions much more quickly than we will dwell on the positive feedback we receive.

If we look with lenses of logic, it's silly. It's absurd really that we can hear 100 good things and we dwell on the one negative thing. Or maybe I'm alone in this?! Yeah, I doubt it.

I still remember my annual review as an RA when I was a 4th year in college (6.5 years ago). I had about 100 residents on my floor and everyone had warm bubbly affirming things to say. Everyone but one. One person said they thought I was overly critical and they couldn't connect with me. Oh yeah, and one said I should die my hair blue, but really that wasn't gonna happen. I spent weeks worried about who I might have offended and wondered why on earth they couldn't connect with me. Nevermind the 98 positive comments. Those were easily forgotten and fell by the wayside. But those other two....ingrained in my head forever.

Today is one of those 1 in 100 days. Yesterday (despite my frustration with my sermon), I got a lot of positive feedback about the additional candle lighting we did for All Saints (we named the saints who had died this year and lit a candle and rang a bell for each of them, then we had tealight candles all around the altar for people to light in memory of others from their lives who had died (either this year or in years past...). There were at least a dozen positive comments about that service.

Then today, I was reading the back of our pledge cards, which have various questions:

What was the most powerful worship moment for this year?
When did you see prayer answered?
Who is someone who embodied Christ's service to you?
What do you hope for our church in the coming year?
What is something you would like to learn more about?
What is one area of your discipleship you are working on?

To the second question there were a number of folks who cited that I had shown Christ's service to them this year. Another round of compliments. Nevertheless, when someone said she and another parishioner had been talking about the disrepair of my shoes, I almost fell apart. My shoes were admittedly wearing out (sorry BTFM) but for them to be the topic of conversation was a bit stunning. In that moment none of the compliments mattered. None of the actual work I do seemed important. Only that I had let my shoes get worn out.

Later, at home, after lunch, I cried. I felt silly for being upset about it. I even feel silly for raising it here, but it was one of those things that totally tripped me up. In the scheme of things, it's inconsequential. It really is silly. (just like the comment that I dye my hair blue, or even the expectation that I would be able to connect perfectly with 100 out of 100 people...the odds simply were not in my favor). Nevertheless, I'm sure that will be the comment that I will remember 6.5 years from now. Not the compliments about worship. Not the compliments about how I have been a Christly servant to people. Not even compliments about some of the other shoes I have worn. No. None of those will be sketched on my brain. Instead, it will be this one, that my worn out shoes became the topic of conversation.


R was wonderful, for the record. He didn't laugh at me. He didn't try and tell me how ridiculous or silly I was. He just hugged me and let me cry. Then he remarked, "They're jerks...just for today. Tomorrow, let it go." Maybe not the most lyrical of quotes, but still sage advice. I can be upset about it, even upset at them, but only for today. It's not worth it to waste more energy consumed by it. Tomorrow I will let it go.

Quote of the day

"Love is not blind - it sees more, not less. But because it sees more, it is willing to see less."
- Rabbi Julius Gordon

Sermons that tank

Every so often I preach a sermon that tanks. There's just something that totally does not work. Mostly, I am just discouraged that I didn't do more research, or explain something better, or feel like I didn't tie it up well.

I am grateful I don't feel this way every Sunday. I'd probably quit if I did. But every few months I have one of these moments. Sometimes I beat myself up for not doing more work on it. And after a few days of that I realize how unproductive it is and generally just say, "Well, I guess it was time for a bit more humility."

Bombing on a sermon reminds me that I need to take time to study and prayer during the week (not just on the weekend) and that I need to be sure that my sermon is more about God's word and less about my stuff. I suppose I am most disappointed about yesterday's sermon because if I'm fair, it was eisegesis. I think I made the text say what I needed it to say.

As a part of all this, I need to learn to let it go. I have to say my prayer, "Please God, whatever I said that wasn't right, change it around so that people hear what you need them to hear." And then I need to let go. I can't fix it now. I can't take it back. I can only more forward and do better next time.