Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tips and insight

As I mentioned in my last post, we've adopted 3 extra families this Christmas (in addition to the three families and 25 homeless the church bought gifts for). And in case buying presents for families in need isn't something you do regularly, you should know it's a fair amount of work. For us, it includes food, clothes, toys, and sometimes stockings. It includes buying, sorting, wrapping, sorting some more, and delivering. It can be quite consuming and very costly.

To cut costs, I asked friends in the area who also do outreach ministries if they had "extras" and a couple did. We went to CAYA ("Come As You Are" ministries and sorted through the donations they received from the girl scouts. We found about 10 items in the bags she showed us and then thanked her and prepared to leave. She was disappointed we hadn't found more and I told her we needed clothes for "itty bitty" kids (toddlers and young elementary) so she took us to a different room with more bags and invited us to look some more!

As we sorted, there were a couple of things that struck me and I thought I would share.

1) Some people separated clothes by size and gender (4 year old boy in one bag and 9 year old girl in another). This was SUPER helpful. When you are looking for clothes (for 20 people) you keep track of people by gender and size...so knowing that a whole bag was for 4 year old boy and I didn't have a 4 year old boy to look for meant I could skip the whole bag. Also, knowing that I did have a 9 year old girl meant the other bag was one to really examine. So if you are donating, or even just organizing...keep it simple! Designate by size and gender!!

2) Different people have different standards. Some clothes were in awesome shape...hardly worn and good hand-me-downs. Other clothes were stained and worn and looked as though they had made it through 10 generations...these are not the items to donate. If it's too ratty for you to wear...it's probably too ratty for someone else to wear. So, save folks time and energy and just ditch it!

3) Though the woman who invited us to look through the bags knew who I was and what I do, the others in the office didn't. So, at one point the senior minister told "Joe" to take a picture and said, "that'd make a good shot Joe." In some ways it wasn't a big deal, but in other ways it was alienating. I knew we'd end up on some wall or in some photo book as the "poor people in need finding clothes at Christmas" or some such thing. The truth (or lack thereof) didn't matter. We were being type cast, as I am sure many are. All too often church groups want to take pictures (which seems reasonable enough) but all too often the pictures have the attitude of "look who needed us" or "Look who we helped" or "Look what we gave them, they'd have nothing without us". All of those notions can be degrading and even humiliating. Be cautious in taking pictures, ask first, and be very careful how you label the people and the pictures.

4) This is a side note to the picture thing, but in some cases (probably more than most of us would like to admit) Domestic violence is a factor in creating a need and victims of violence often have to hide from their abuser and taking pictures (and posting them on your website) can make them an easy target and easily found. So be doubly cautious in taking pictures if you do not know the circumstances of those you serve...

5) Where possible, give options. Not being able to buy your kids the things they need is a tough experience. Empowering parents, where possible is a way to help restore pride and dignity. the local shelters, instead of just giving presents already wrapped, gave target and walmart cards and had volunteers take parents shopping so they could pick out their own gifts. Others ask specific questions about preferences...colors...logos...etc... Another way to empower is to allow parents to wrap gifts for themselves...you may need to buy the paper/tape/ribbons, but many parents can wrap and would enjoy doing it...other don't want/need to, but giving the option is helpful and can help parents feel more a part. Where possible, give people an option.

6) In shopping for pants (in particular) I learned years ago to try and find pants that could hold a dual function...buying sweatpants allows kids to wear them to school or to bed. Fun is good. Functional is better!

I'm sure I still have a lot to learn and that we could do a better job of empowering parents, but those are just a few of this year's learnings. If you have other insights and tips, please feel free to post them in the comments!


Growing up, we always had presents under the tree. We had presents before Christmas, and more on Christmas, and sometimes, if there were stragglers, even after Christmas. Not having presents has never been a reality for me. And so, as a pastor, when I hear of families who won't "have Christmas" (meaning presents) it kills me and I do everything I can to make sure the kids have something to open to help them celebrate.

I know, full well, that the presents aren't the meaning of Christmas, instead they are (or at least should be) an outpouring of thanks for all the gifts we have received through Christ. So, in some ways, even though they aren't the focus, it's even more important that there are gifts...in the sense that they reflect how grateful we are...no gifts would then mean no gratitude.

I realize that part of me is caving to cultural norms, but part of me also knows that giving gifts is a way of blessing others, and we bless others because we have already been blessed.

As such, I have been buying and wrapping and sorting and counting to be sure I can deliver gifts to three families in need who came to me at the last minute. I want them to celebrate on Christmas. I want them to be blessed as I have been blessed.

That's the fun part...not the blunder.

The blunder came on Sunday morning during the Children's moment. I was trying to talk about anticipation and patience and wanted to talk about having to wait to open the presents under the tree. So, I asked, "Do you have presents under the tree?" And I got, "No." and then another "no" and another and another. I know not everyone puts the presents out early. I also know that not everyone has enough for presents this year and I could have kicked myself for not realizing or thinking about it ahead of time.

From my background, it's an easy mistake to make. But, knowing the families I do and working with so many in need, I should know that gifts under the tree aren't a given. (heck, this year, I don't have any under my own tree...namely because the dog thinks they are chew toys, but still, even I couldn't have said "yes".)

This may or may not be a relevant message for you, but if you do work in ministry, know that there are probably families in your parish who do not have presents under the tree and who may not be able to get presents. And to ask such a "simple" question can invoke sadness for the kids and shame for the parents and all of that could easily be avoided.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Moments of inspiration

Lately there have been lots of inspiring moments happening at the church, here are just two:

* Having a young adult plan her college class schedule around upcoming Bible studies so she can be sure to attend.

*The Sunday morning breakfast cooks decided they wanted to make breakfast Christmas morning and throw a Christmas party for the homeless.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Administrative Fatigue

Sometimes, the life of a senior pastor is a mixed bag. Generally, I enjoy it. I like having freedom to be creative, to try new things, and working to coordinate the programs and ministries of staff and volunteers. But sometimes, the administrative/organizational side of things is draining.

Lately, it's been the latter.

I have been working with various people of the church to do more long-term planning. We are trying to have a plan for each area of ministry for 4-6 months out. For folks who have this as a regular practice at their church, you might say to yourself, "Yeah...and?!" But for folks who don't, you might say to yourself, "Lord, I hope I don't have to do that!"

Planning ahead is both a blessing and a curse, at the outset anyway. It's a blessing because it encourages greater collaboration, delegation and creativity. It's a curse because it means double work as you do both this week's sermon prep and the sermon prep for Easter. It's overwhelming to try and hold the balance.

I know the work is worth it. Not only does it help me to be more organized, but it also frees me to delegate more aspects of ministry so that others are empowered to serve. For example, if I'm working week to week, then I probably won't know the true heart of a sermon until Saturday night or even Sunday morning. That doesn't lend itself to sharing that with someone so they can plan a children's moment that addresses the heart of the sermon. On the other hand, if I already know what I will preach about on January 24th, then I can give that information to the children's moment person and they have over a month to plan. Planning ahead = shared ministry. And that's a good thing.

But it's also a daunting thing when you are working on such a plan for worship and education and mission as well as planning a mission trip for 25 and summer camp for 100. Right now my church seems to be in a "training phase" where a lot of people are embarking on new ministries...which is GREAT! It still involves a lot of extra time walking people through the basics so they feel comfortable and confident with the task at hand.

And all of that extra time and energy seems to drain me of my creative juices. I suppose I'm not without creativity, it's just being aimed at planning and organizing (which rarely feels creative) rather than focusing on worship or new programs...something that looks more creative as an end product. I like creating new ways of doing worship and bringing in tactile examples and experiential components to preaching, but it's been hard to do lately with all my energy being focused elsewhere.

I'm still hoping that in the end it will all pan out and be worth it, but for now I am tired and wishing for some creative juices for the next few weeks of worship.

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"....at 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 stuff...it'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 it...it 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.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Swine Flu prevention tips

as a follow up to the last post....

Dr. Vinay Goyal is an MBBS,DRM,DNB (Intensivist and Thyroid specialist) having clinical experience of over 20 years. He has worked in institutions like Hinduja Hospital , Bombay Hospital , Saifee Hospital , Tata Memorial etc.. Presently, he is heading our Nuclear Medicine Department and Thyroid clinic at Riddhivinayak Cardiac and Critical Centre, Malad (W). The following message given by him, I feel makes a lot of sense and is important for all to know The only portals of entry are the nostrils and mouth/ throat. In a global epidemic of this nature, it's almost impossible to avoid coming into contact with H1N1 in spite of all precautions. Contact with H1N1 is not so much of a problem as proliferation is.

While you are still healthy and not showing any symptoms of H1N1 infection, in order to prevent proliferation, aggravation of symptoms and development of secondary infections, some very simple steps, not fully highlighted in most official communications, can be practiced (instead of focusing on how to stock N95 or Tamiflu):
1. Frequent hand-washing (well highlighted in all official communications).
2. "Hands-off-the-face" approach. Resist all temptations to touch any part of face (unless you want to eat, bathe or slap).
3. *Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine if you don't trust salt). *H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat/ nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way,gargling with salt water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an infected one. Don't underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.
4.. Similar to 3 above, *clean your nostrils at least once every day with warm salt water. *Not everybody may
be good at Jala Neti or Sutra Neti (very good Yogaasanas to clean nasal cavities), but *blowing the nose hard once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.*
5. *Boost your natural immunity with foods that are rich in Vitamin C (Amla and other citrus fruits). *If you have to supplement with Vitamin C tablets, make sure that it also has Zinc to boost absorption.
6. *Drink as much of warm liquids (tea, coffee, etc) as you can. *Drinking warm liquids has the same effect as
gargling, but in the reverse direction. They wash off proliferating viruses from the throat into the stomach
where they cannot survive, proliferate or do any harm.

Baptisms and swine flu

I was looking up worship ideas on gbod.org the other day and came across this. It was new information to me and wasn't sure if others had heard. Having done 4 infant baptisms just a few weeks ago, it would have been good to know sooner....

Sign ups or selection?

Our charge conference is a little over a month away and we are working on filling committees and signing people up. But this year we are trying to do more than fill holes. We are trying to plug people into ministries. We want them to be active and to see ministry and service in the church as more than simply going to committee meetings, so we are trying a new tactic.

In 2 weeks we will hold a ministry fair. Each of our committees will be represented, as will each of our work areas. We are planning to entice people with food to visit each spot and learn more about the ministries and then sign up for where they'd like to serve. I've asked each ministry head to do a breakdown of how people can be in ministry (not just "sing in the choir" but also "sing a solo", "sing at the holidays" or "do special music when needed".) In other words, not all commitments need to be for a lifetime, or 3 years, or even a full year. Some people need to start slow. Others are super busy and really can't make another long-term commitment, but would be willing to help on occasion. So, we are trying to provide an outlet for people to sign up.

All of this really got started at a leadership training in the district. The only person who signed up to go with me was a 90 year old woman. Granted, she's wonderful and able, but it struck me that a 90 year old wanted to go. So, at one point in our discussion I asked her, "V, what prompted you to come today?" "Well, anything I can do to help the church I'll do it. I mean, I can do all kinds of things, but no one ever asks me, so I just keep my mouth shut." "Well, V, if that's all it takes..." "Well, what is there to do?" "Hmm....(V is already on a committee, so I couldn't suggest that type of service)..." I was dumbstruck. There are the homeless feedings we do at the shelter twice a month and Sunday morning breakfasts, but other than those opportunities, or Sunday school, which she already indicated she did not want to do, I didn't know what to say. I had to think for a bit and then offered some possibilities.

I was disappointed that it took so much thinking to think of an answer. It shouldn't be that hard. And if it's that hard for me as the pastor, I can only imagine how hard it would be for others...so, I decided we would do something about it. And that's just what we are doing!

So we have lots of sign ups to do, and lots of opportunities to present, and then lots of follow up to do so we actually help people serve where they want to.

Now, here's the rub (potentially anyway). Some of my mentors suggest being very particular about who you nominate to serve on committees. They suggest being stragetic about where you put people for the first three years at a church so you can get people where you want them to really support you in ministry. I understand that logic to a degree, but it also feels manipulative. I may feel differently if I get burned with this open ended option, but for now I struggle to do that. It feels controlling. I feel like people should serve where they feel called, where they have an interest. And hopefully, that's what will result from this ministry fair.

I am a little concerned about who will end up on which committee, but I don't want to rule people out just because it might be difficult to work with them.

On the other hand, I've had the most amazing trustee and SPRC chairs--actually all my committee chairs rock, I've just had to work most closely with the two above. So, it's hard to imagine working with anyone else. My SPRC chair has been my primary confidant at the church, and it's hard to prepare myself to share so deeply with someone else. If we were selecting people, then I could figure out who I'd want in that position and put them there, in essence, I could insure a good fit. But that seems forced. So, for now, I will sit and wait for the sign-ups and see what we get.

Team Leadership (a.k.a. nominating) still gets some say, they will have to take the committee sign up sheets and finalize things and they may have to move people around. Finance needs 5 people and if we only have 3 sign up, we will have to find more. On the other hand SPRC may only need 3 and may get 5 sign ups, and not all can serve. So there will be at least some level of screening, just not as much deliberation as we have done in previous years. But, hopefully, also not as much teeth-pulling as in previous years...

Wish us luck!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nerve Damage

R recently had 4 screws removed from his foot. He had shattered it nearly 2 years ago and it has been a long process of surgeries, healing, more surgeries, chronic pain, healing, x-rays and more surgeries.

His last surgery was nearly a month ago and they removed the 4 screws that were there to help his foot heal straight. Since the initial break and surgery he has had no feeling in the outer 3 toes. Since the hardware was removed, he regained feeling. I regularly thank God for sensation he feels and get giddy when his foot twitches because I have tickled his toes. (He's not nearly as ecstatic that I insist on tickling him).

The renewed feeling is the good news (and the answer to prayer).

The bad news is now he gets pretty severe shooting pain from those toes. My theory is a nerve was pinched by the screws and that's why he lost feeling. Now that the screw is gone, the feeling is back. But, the nerve is also damaged from where the screw was hitting it. So, now the nerve needs to heal from that pressure/damage. I continue to pray about that healing for him and hope he won't have such pain for much longer.

But this post isn't really about that. I mean, it is and it isn't. This post is really about the theological parallel I drew from that.

I wonder if it's not similar in our own lives. We sustain a major injury (call it trauma, crisis, abuse...) and in trying to heal the injury, something (that is meant to help) pinches a nerve. We become numb. Obviously being numb isn't what we want, but we endure because that *something* is meant to help. Finally that *something* has served it's purpose and is taken away. Lo and behold, when it does, we regain feeling. We are no longer numb, which is a blessing, an answer to prayer. But we are left with the nerve damage. We endure shocking moments of extreme pain and sometimes wonder if staying numb wasn't the way to go. Ideally, the nerve will heal and the shooting pains will stop and we can regain a sense of normal, but the healing remains to be seen and the pain must be endured.

There are times in our life when we will suffer a major injury and in trying to recover, we may sustain nerve damage. Hopefully, our injury will heal and the hardware can be removed, and we will no longer be numb. Prayerfully, the moments of breath-stealing pain will end and we can move on. Hopefully. But I'm afraid that sometimes the nerve damage will be so severe that the shooting pains will never fully end. We may have to suck in our breath for those few short moments and wait faithfully for relief. And though we continue to suffer, we can be reminded that our primary injury has healed, that we are no longer numb, but able to feel, and, though severe, those moments of pain are only moments and they will fade as quickly as they came.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Last week I started to get sick. It's not surprising, really. I mean, it is the middle of October, Stewardship campaign is fully underway, charge conference is just around the bend, we had a MAJOR fundraiser on Sunday, etc, etc, etc. All of which is to say I have been working a lot of overtime and the weather is temperamental, all of which contributes to a good time of sick.

I was whiny and miserable on Thursday. Friday I laid low and generally did a whole lot of nothing. Saturday and Sunday I went full boar because there was no other option with our major fundraiser happening Sunday night. Monday I went to Bible study and then went home for the majority of the rest of the day. Tuesday, I did staff meeting and came home and by the time I was done Tuesday my voice was totally gone.

This morning wasn't any better. In fact, it was worse. No voice. I can eek out some stuff to talk if I have to, but it's painful. It actually hurts to talk.

I realize this happens to lots of people all the time, but it has never happened to me. Even in my years of yelling as a cheerleader, I never lost my voice. I got a little hoarse on occasion, but never lost my voice.

And, to be honest, as someone who speaks as a big part of her profession, it's kinda scary.

I am fairly certain this will be short lived and I will be back to talking like normal. But I also have to admit that there is a part of me that is scared out of her wits that I might never get my voice back. I realize that's not rational thought, really I do, but I can't help but go there.

I mean really, what if I never get my voice back? That would ruin my life as a preacher. What would I do then? What would I do if I couldn't be a preacher? That's my life. That's my identity. That's what I know and love and I don't want to do anything besides be a preacher. And then there's the part of what would I do? I'm bilingual and I've always figured I could rely on that for another job if I needed too....it's marketable...unless you can't speak, then it's kind of worthless...unless I work as a translator of written works (which I've done on occasion).

I try not to dwell in delusional paranoia too long, and really do trust that my voice will return. But it has made me take a step back and think about what my other options would be if for some reason I could not be a pastor. It's weird to even imagine rebuilding my life around anything other than ministry. Impossibly hard actually.

I suppose it's one of those times where you don't realize how much you need/want/appreciate something until it's gone. If I'm honest I totally undervalue my voice. I have little appreciation for all that I am able to do through spoken word. I preach. I teach. I counsel. I bring comfort. I pray. I lead meetings. I give vision. I advocate for others. I share ideas. I give instructions. The list goes on and on.

And it's not that I have to be talking all the time either. I'm good with silence. It doesn't bother me a bit to be in silence. I don't get squeamish or anxious. But I guess all of that is because I know I could communicate if I wanted to. I always trust there will be a return to talking, so why panic? Just enjoy the quiet.

But now...it's creepy and frustrating not being able to talk. I can't return phone calls. I can't teach. I can't check on people who have been in the hospital. I can't lead a meeting. I can't even call outside to let R know it's time for lunch. Nothing.

I suppose, for now, I need to appreciate the silence (I need to let my voice rest and find peace in not having to speak all the time). I also need to appreciate all that my voice does allow me to do so I can be even more grateful when it returns. And....as Berta reminded me, if I don't regain my voice, I can follow the wise words of Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In re: Monday's comment

So, I've thought a lot about the comment made about this post. I understand the rationale behind his comments and can get on board with that, however, I also think it's somewhat myopic in the sense that there are 1000s of ways to do liturgy--from various denominations in different styles and languages and cultures.

In support of his argument, I like that I can go to any United Methodist Church and be familiar with the liturgy. Even when the liturgy is done in a foreign language, I can still follow along because I know the rhythms of the liturgy. For that reason, I do still use the communion and baptism liturgies regularly in worship (we are using the traditional UM communion liturgy from the hymnal every other month and I used the traditional baptism liturgy at the last baptism we did).

However, I have also found God through the diversity of liturgy in seminary and in churches around the world. From simple to complex, wordy to brief, I have been able to see and understand the significance of worship (including the sacraments) in many ways. Because of that, I like to offer a diversity of experience to my congregation(s). I want them to feel comfortable in UMCs. I also want them to feel comfortable in other churches, regardless of denomination or style.

Worship is dynamic and living. It is not a prescribed formula, worship is what the church (meaning the people) make it. Creativity and imagination draw us into worship. And while the staples of liturgy help us to find the familiar and comfortable voice of God, the creative and new elements help us to encounter the dynamic and challenging face of God.

I am a United Methodist pastor and I will teach the history of the church and help my congregation(s) to learn the ways of the church. I am also a creative worship leader and will continue to bring in new experiences and offer the unexpected in hopes that we can be a flexible and open congregation rather than a stagnant and rigid institution.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Baptism Liturgy

I have to admit that sometimes (ok, maybe often) I find the liturgies in the hymnal to be distant and complicated. People get so lost in trying to follow along that they often lose the meaning of what they are saying and answering. I find this to be less true of communion, but that's in part because I've said/done/used it so many times that it's no longer complicated.

Anyway, because of my frustrations, I have rewritten the baptism liturgy. It's not super simple, but it seems clearer and less cumbersome....it worked for my church anyway....we got to baptize 4 kids on Sunday!!

Baptism is a time when we acknowledge the redemptive work God does in our lives. It is a symbolic act for the cleansing and purifying work God is doing within us. In Methodist terms, it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. In other words, God acts invisibly within us offering forgiveness, new life, and salvation and we use baptism to mark that work.

For infants and children, at the time of baptism, parents confess their faith and make a covenant with God to help their children grow in Christian discipleship. Today, we will be welcoming four children into the body of Christ and the Wesley family. To each of the parents, I ask:

· Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil power of this world, and repent of your sin?

· Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

· Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

· Will you nurture these children in Christ’s holy church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?

Each of you are here today because you are a part of the community of faith. As Christians, we participate in community. We are connected to one another. And even though we baptize an individual, we don’t do it in isolation because each of us needs help, support, encouragement, and accountability in our faith walk and that comes from our Christian brothers and sisters. Today, these parents confessed their faith and their commitment to their children and each of us will commit to share our faith with them and their children.

So, to all of you, I ask:

· Will you be faithful to Christ and to the Holy Scriptures in study and in practice?

· Will you live the greatest commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself?

· Will you humbly give to others sharing the blessings you have received?

· Will you uplift one another in faith and in love?

· Will you nurture, care for, and teach these children in the ways of Christian discipleship?

Water is a powerful symbol. It represents purification and being clean. It is with water we wash our hands and bodies, washing away any impurities. And symbolically at baptism, water purifies our souls—it represents the way God washes us of all impurities.

Water also offers life. It is composes 80% of our bodies and without it, we die. It also surrounds us in the womb, protecting us and nurturing us as we grow. Water represents both new life and our life source. The water in baptism also represents the new life God gives us spiritually, and the source of our continued life in Christ.

Water has been powerful throughout the ages. When nothing existed but chaos, God swept across the dark waters and brought forth light. In the days of Noah, God saved those on the ark through water. When God set the Israelites free from Egypt, it was water which protected them from Pharaoh’s army. It was in water of the Jordan River that Jesus was baptized. And it is today, with water, that we baptize these beloved children.

Precious God, pour out your Holy Spirit and by this gift of water and use it to wash these children and make them new in Christ Jesus. For you have washed away our sins, and you clothe us with righteousness throughout our lives, that dying and rising with Christ we may share in his final victory.

What name is given to this child?

[NAME] I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And now I anoint you with the sign of the cross. May all who see you see the light and love of Jesus Christ in all that you do and may the cross be an eternal reminder that you are a child of God.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wellness Fund

Last week I got to take a few days and enjoy time at Clergy Convocation. The theme for the week was "Made Well" with various speakers and workshops on taking time to be well in life and ministry. As I was there, I craved a massage. But my personal budget didn't allow for it and I couldn't justify using my professional reimbursable account for it, so I passed.

As I've been back and been thinking about many of the things that help give rise to wellness (exercise, counseling, quiet time, massage, acupuncture, doctors) I've also been thinking about how much money each of them costs. Pastors aren't really known for their wellness practices (which I think we should be) and many of us are even known for not going to the doctor/dentist/etc for a variety of reasons, which sometimes even includes cost.

So, I think we should add a wellness fund to the Pastor's salary. The money could be used for doctor's visits, gym memberships, counseling fees, yoga, massage, acupuncture, or even a night or two away at a retreat center.

Maybe this sounds indulgent. Maybe you think a pastor should be able to budget these items in for themselves. But I don't think so, well, not necessarily anyway. I definitely don't think it's indulgent. I think doctor's visits and counseling are necessities and paying on the front side (think preventative care) will save us a lot on the back side (major illness--physical or mental). I also think that yoga, massage, exercise, and acupuncture do great things for your body and if your body is out of whack, well....everything else often follows.

Thinking practically about this wellness fund, if there were objections from within the church I even think you could say the wellness fund would reimburse half of your costs. (Our conference Orders will reimburse half of counseling fees up to $500 for the year....) so the church could cover the other costs. You might argue that the church pays health insurance, but if the church is paying an HMO (or even a PPO) and you have uncovered procedures, then you're left without a whole lot of wiggle room in your budget.

In the UMC, this is the season for salary evaluations and budget proposals, and I think it's worth considering.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dr. Deb

For about .4 seconds in my life I wanted to be a doctor. Technically, it was longer than that. I started my second year of college thinking I should pursue pre-med. Then I went to Chemistry class. I sat there for the entire 50 minutes thinking, “I really don’t care about this.” It wasn’t the math, I could do the work; I just didn’t care. I went back to the second class and spent that entire class thinking the same thing, “I really couldn’t care less about this.” And decided to drop the class. The end goal (Dr.) was not worth being miserable all the way until I got there. So I switched and ended up with Sociology as my major—a much better choice.

Despite that, there are days I feel like I should have gone into medicine…mostly because I see a need to help people identify health problems. Knowing symptoms and treatments and issues is extremely helpful in working with people. Knowing that dementia-like symptoms are part of a urinary tract infection (UTI) for older adults is helpful. Knowing how a TIA manifests, or what treatments are necessary for angina, arrhythmia, and pneumonia is extremely useful. I am not a medical professional and I remind people of that all the time. Nevertheless, I find that when counseling in a hospital setting I need to explain or elaborate on what a doctor has said and medical knowledge is helpful.

I know there is much debate around CPE and whether or not it should be required of incoming pastors and I tend to fall on the side of mandatory. I had an amazing CPE experience, so that obviously influences my perspective, but in addition to that, there is so much to be learned in a hospital. Learning about medical procedures and symptoms is helpful. It’s nice to know what someone experiences when they have celulitis, or have to be intubated, or have diverticulitis. It’s nice not to be ignorant and asking a million questions but instead offering understanding and awareness for what they are going through.

I often wish I were a doctor, not for the notoriety or to have the title, but so I could have the wisdom and knowledge to help people get the help they need and to walk them through the expectations of surgery, recovery, and therapy.