Resources

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I got a call from the women’s shelter that I teach art classes at. Someone died. A forty-five-year-old resident, who was moving into her own place next week. It’s so tragic.

She didn’t have a church, but the residents and staff want something to have some time and space to remember her. So, I’ll be leading something with a handful of women at the shelter. But it’s not a religious service….

I’m wondering, does anyone have some good resources–poetry, readings, etc. that might be good for such a time as this?

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Still healing…

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My father and I enter a huge concrete block building with no windows, the carpet is brown and there are people everywhere, it seems like seven hundred of them. My dad does not use a cane yet, but he needs to, so he holds me on the back of my neck to steady him, and I act as a kind of human crutch. I am about nine-years-old, so I guess I am just the right size for it. I walk slowly, feeling him lean on my back, trying to keep the same pace.

The service begins with praise music, and a man named Jimmy plays the piano, belting out the choruses into a microphone, while everyone else claps and sways; they close their eyes and lift up their hands. There are no hymnals, the words are written with markers on overhead projectors and displayed on the two screens in the front of the auditorium. The choruses are easy to pick up, and they stick in my head. The children are all running around: racing back and forth to the water fountain in the corner of the room, and I am shocked because I have never been able to do that in the Baptist church where I was a member.

Jimmy’s music turns from playing a song to playing chords, and the notes wave over the congregation as he says, “I sense that there is someone in this church who came for healing.” That’s an obvious statement, as we’re at a healing service. My father has a neurological condition that grows worse over time. He never had much control over his lower body and he moved his feet by swinging his arms and chest. Eventually he will move to a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair, and he’ll fight each progression, with a hearty insistence that it’s not going to happen. But his body never cooperates with his strong will.

As a daughter, watching my father debilitate is difficult. It’s hard for all of us, I suppose, to watch our parents age, to see them weaken, to observe that great patriarchal force diminish, becoming incapacitated.

Dad doesn’t have much use for doctors or physical therapists. Every time he goes, he ends up with a different diagnosis: everything from polio to Multiple Sclerosis to a simple vitamin B deficiency. Even though he doesn’t seek medical help often, the hope for a cure absolutely drives him; he’s always looking for a miracle.

And that’s why we’re here, at the service. Jimmy continues, “She has just been diagnosed with cancer and God wants to touch her tonight,” and I can see a woman across the auditorium, her face changes, she’s shocked as tears well up into her eyes. She makes her way down the aisle so that she can be prayed for, and people surround her, pleading with God that her cancer might go away. The sick woman stands in the middle of this, she becomes overwhelmed by it all, and she faints. She’s been “slain in the Spirit.”

A couple of ushers have these modesty cloths ready, and they move in quickly to put it over her knees, so that her dress does not ride up while she’s out. Jimmy pronounces, with his fingers still dancing over the piano, “Sister, your cancer is gone. God has healed you. It is gone,” and the crowd erupts in applause and shouting, everyone is so excited because they are sure that the next X-ray will show a shrinking lump.

Jimmy had more words for the people in the crowd: there was someone with one leg longer than the other, and another person with asthma, and another with allergies. One by one they came up for prayer. Then, the first woman wakes up and she is telling everyone how she was diagnosed with lung cancer, and how she did not want to come to the service, but she came anyways, and now she is healed. The people yell out with loud “Hallelujahs” and “Thank you, Jesus.”

This testimony seems to fuel the fire and more people make it to the steps so that they can receive healing. The service seems to continue for hours, but Jimmy never says anything about my dad, and I wonder why. I stand there, a fervent and very religious little girl, and I pray, as hard as I can, that my dad will be healed. I pray that his feet will become straight and that his back will no longer be crooked, and I believe with my whole being that it will happen. I can see miracles all around, and I just know that if I have enough faith, mountains will be moved and my dad will be healed.

But then the songs and prayers end, and we walk out, with my father’s hand bearing down on the back of my neck, just like when we walked in the meeting. My heart’s crushed, just like the last time we went to one of these. I wonder if God can’t hear me. I think maybe I am doing something wrong, and I imagine my prayers bouncing off the ceiling and never reaching the ears of the divine. I can’t understand why God passes out the miracles to everyone but my dad. I can’t figure out why my father would end up after each service, with the same halting steps that he had before.

Presbymergent

The good folk at the Presbymergent site are looking for a logo. Or, for those who don’t like any hint of branding or labels, it’s a temporary artistic expression of who we are. We will use it to loosely identify ourselves, but it could change at any moment.

One of the over-arching images of the emerging church is that you don’t look to the outer branches of the trees to survey the health of an ecosystem, you look at the new growth on the ground floor (Brian McLaren). The wonderful thing about mainline emerging movement is that we have that canopy of cover that protects the new growth (Diana Butler Bass). That was the vision I was trying to get across–the emergence of new growth from the forest ground. You can click on them to make them larger.

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We’re still submerged here.

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We’re growing up here.

These still need to be cleaned up, which I’ll take the time to do if anyone’s interested in them. So, what do you think? Which one do you like better? Even if you have nothing to do with Presby- or -mergent, I’d love to hear your opinions.

Ryan Pappan’s got some cool designs in the works. Here’s a link to his.

Safe space

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I was in my twenties when I arrived on the scene in one of my congregations. I made a commitment to have office hours. Not that I planned to be tied to my desk, it’s just that as a pastor, I always think it’s good when our members know that you’re going to show up at the job. So, I’m at the office, but my husband and I are trading off one car, so he has it most of the time. There’s no secretary. The parking lot’s empty. Plus, it’s secluded, behind the church building, and surrounded by marsh.

It doesn’t take long before I see a car pull up. No one gets out. Another car pulls up. The first guy gets out, leans into the other car’s open window. Bags and money are exchanged.

“Oh great,” I mumble to myself as I watch this unfold from my desk.

Then, high school students begin gathering there. And on Sunday mornings, I find empties and condoms around the church. Then I discover the remains of an attempted bonfire on the protected marshland no more than a foot away from the building.

I went to the session about it. They all knew what was going on. It had been going on for decades. And there was a lot of history…. The response was mostly, “Kids will be kids,” and one or two, “We’ve got to do something about this.” I was definitely on the “We’ve got to do something about this” side of things.

I asked the police to begin patrolling the area on their rounds. There was a bust. Then, I drove up the next Sunday morning with the five-foot words scrawled in spray paint on the side of one of the church buildings: F-CK YOU B-TCH!

I sighed. A lovely “welcome to the neighborhood” for the new pastor. I took a picture of it, grabbed a bucket and some bleach, and began scrubbing.

After these incidents, a scary¬†homeless guy¬†forced his entry into my office. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling safe in my church.

Switch scenes.

I’m at the denominational, annually required, Safe Church Seminar (a.k.a. sexual harassment meeting). We’re watching this movie (Think high school. Think drunk-driving awareness flick.) It’s about Pastor X, who has a beautiful wife and kids. And a side affair with the secretary. And the flower committee chair. And a half-a-dozen other women in the congregation. We’re watching car wreck after car wreck. We’re groaning at every new revelation. The presenters turn on the lights and tell us that it’s a true story. None of us are surprised.

We break into groups of six to discuss the movie. My group is made up of five men including my esteemed colleague, Carl Dudley (who doesn’t know who I am, but I’ve read most of his books).

I say, “We need to rethink this training. I’m not in a powerful/predator position. And there’s nothing in this training that applies to my situation.”

Carl disagrees. He says that if you’re a pastor, you’re always in the power position.

So, my question is, who’s right?

Oh, and a prologue on the safety situation. This is how we solved it.
(1) We organized a bevy of volunteer secretaries, so I was never in the office alone.
(2) We couldn’t afford an alarm system, so we got one of those medic-alert buttons.
(3) I called the cops on the drug dealers.
(4) I began introducing myself to each and every high school student who drove into the lot: “Hi, my name’s Carol. What’s you’re name?” (It was usually John Smith or Richard Cranium.) “It’s so good to meet you, John and Richard. Do you go to X high school? I love that place. I go to every school play there. I love the students there. Listen, you can hang out here. That’s fine. But, would you do me a favor? Would you please make sure that no one drinks here? I mean, since I’m the pastor here, and you’re here, I feel really responsible for you. And it would break my heart into a million pieces if I found out that someone left this parking lot drunk and got in an accident. Would you please do that for me?”

They would promise and soon after the introductions began the party spot closed down.

photo’s by old boy with camera

You(th) on facebook

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Here’s a great email from Jed Koball, an Interim AP at Larchmont Avenue Presbyterian:

I’m writing with an inquiry of sorts. First, I want to state clearly that there is no particular incident or situation of concern that has prompted this inquiry — only my own wild imagination and perhaps paranoia. My inquiry is with regard to ethical standards/codes of conduct that are (or are not) being taught/advised to ministers, churchworkers, seminarians, etc. with regard to one’s behavior and interaction with minors in the virtual world.

As you’re probably aware, facebook is all the rage among teens and twenty somethings. And, within the past six months it has become a growing medium for youth workers in the church to interact and communicate with the youth. There are hundreds and hundreds of Presbyterian ministers with facebook pages. Here at LAC, we have clearly identified facebook as the best method to communicate and relay information to youth…and with that, to interact on some level…i.e. wish them well on midterms…happy birthday, etc.

My approach to any encounter with youth in the “virtual world” has been to follow the same code of conduct and ethics for how I have been taught to interact with youth in the “real world”. Basically, I keep it as public as possible. Where I would do everything possible to prevent myself being in a place alone with a youth, I now do everything possible to prevent myself from “interacting” with a youth “alone” in the virtual world. To that end, on facebook, I will make comments to a youth on their “Wall” where anyone can see it. If I send a message, I send it to a group and never to an individual. Thus, any communication I have is seen by others. And all communication that I send or receive from youth, I do not delete.

Still, I’m finding there is some gray area in this unchartered water of facebook. One such example (outside of interacting with youth on facebook) is observing youth on facebook: I am now privy to lots of “inappropriate behavior” as pictures are posted by youth on their facebook pages. I see pictures of underage people drinking, and now I wonder what responsibility I have to say something. To date, all of those pictures have been of college kids, and so I have done nothing and can’t imagine that I ever would do something. But, if I were to see pictures of a 16 year old completely wasted, I’m not sure how I might react. Or, if I were to see pictures or read comments about illicit drug use, I’m not sure what I’d do either. I feel like I’ve gained access to something that I’m not entirely sure how to handle…as if pandora’s box is slowly being opened.

In the end though, I believe facebook is a cutting edge medium for SUPPORTING community — (not REPLACING community) — however, I see potential for trouble ahead if some ethical guidelines are not encouraged somewhere and somehow — especially as this younger generation who is being raised with facebook eventually grows into leadership roles in the church. Maybe I’m jumping the gun. Maybe I’m being paranoid. Mostly, I feel like I’m navigating new territory with an old map…and, I’m wondering if there might be a need to begin drawing a new map.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Please discuss.

photo’s by laughing squid

A way with words

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One of the many beautiful benefits of being a minister is that when I got pregnant, I had fabulous baby showers. My husband, Brian, and I were both serving churches in South Louisiana, and each congregation gave us the most caring, thoughtful gifts. There were hand-made quilts, crocheted infant sweaters, breast-feeding blankets, and tiny pillows. It overwhelmed me to think of what each person put into those presents, and I was extremely grateful.

You know, you register for baby showers now; it’s just like registering for a wedding. I didn’t realize that until the women in the church asked me where I was registered. When I stared at them blankly, they shooed me out the door that very afternoon so that I could drive thirty miles into the “big city” of Lafayette and put some things on a list. Brian went with me. We wandered the aisle of Toys “R” Us and became amazed at the amount of things that could be bought. There is a product for every conceivable need that a mother or a new baby could have.

We decided to stick with the basic linens and clothing. We picked out animal prints: tiny leopard skin bath towels with hoods sewn into the corners, cheetah flannel sheets, onesies with cow spots. We didn’t know if our child was going to be a girl or a boy, and we did not want to do any gender stereo-typing with our infant, so we thought animal prints would be a fun alternative to all the pastel pinks and blues.

Of course, the women of the church completely ignored our registry list, and we ended up with a sea of pastel yellows and greens. Then, we got a lot of things that people assume that pastors want for their children: there were things with Noah’s ark on them. They were beautiful nightlights, towels and blankets. They had elephants and donkeys peering over the deck, and giraffe necks extending well above the top of the boat.

The problem was–as grateful as I was for the gifts, as meaningful as they were because of the lovely people who took the time and energy to buy them–I was not so sure about them. The animals are precious, that’s for certain. And the rainbow extending beyond the clouds, it’s a wonderful promise. But I just didn’t think it was the right story for my little girl. I mean it is an account about a boat, about salvation, but it’s also about water, and I can’t ever forget about the animals and people drowning in that water. I hesitated to wrap my tiny pink girl in that great heavy myth.

And yet, that’s what we do. Our children run to Sunday school, and they hear the stories there. They make crafts, sing songs, and join in Christmas pageants. They learn to tell these parables because these sayings inform our lives. We may not agree with them all, they may defy human logic, and we may (like the great reformer Martin Luther) want to rip some of them right out of our Bibles.

We know that they are not accurate historic accounts. Rather, they’re much more that that. They’re well-used and worn words that were handed down from one generation to the next. They were written on scrolls, copied, edited, translated and printed. And now, thousands of years later, they have crept into the fabric of our lives and they pulse through the veins of our culture. They give us meaning in life and comfort in death. They make a way where there was none. As Carl Jung says, they are the “medicine of immortality.”

The themes of scripture are reflected in our music, our literature, our traditions–in so many facets of our society. From Tony Kushner’s Angels in America to Andy Warhol’s Last Supper to Jonathan Larson’s Rent to Matt Groening’s Simpsons, we understand our culture through these stories of our ancestors.

And they’re powerful. When we celebrate Christmas with the birth of Jesus, when we remember the resurrection with Easter, when we proclaim the attributes of love at a wedding, when we speak of life at a funeral and death at a baptism: these words begin to pulse through our veins, they seep into our dreams, and they inform our intuitions. Carl Jung explains these themes as archetypes, as unconscious images that influence our behavior and become a part of our instincts.

Hearing about the great shepherd has the power to comfort us and learning the words of Jesus causes us to uphold the oppressed and seek justice and mercy in our society. They give significance to our dreams, and meaning to our visions. They give us hope when we are desperate; they mold us into compassionate people and strengthen us in our work.

photo’s by schmish

Leadership conundrums

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There are things we just don’t learn in seminary. Which is okay, in my opinion. You just have to learn them from other church leaders. It’s on-the-job training. Here are some of my quandaries:

How does one cultivate loyalty, responsibility, and ownership for a role, without nurturing controlling, possessive, turf issues?

Should the pastor always encourage term limits on positions? I mean, what if a job is really, really hard and there’s someone who’s really, really good at it? Can we let that deeper calling flourish without squelching opportunities for others? Is there a way to do it without creating some ingrown monster who hasn’t breathed any outside air for 20 years?

If we create jobs without term limits, then how do we let the people who aren’t so great at the job go?

How do you fire a volunteer?

How do you pry the matriarch/patriarch from her/his turf?

What’s more important in leading a congregation, efficiency or tolerance?

What’s more important in leading a worship service, openness and flexibility or professionalism?

What does one do about an elderly treasurer, whom everyone loves, who can no longer do his job?

Would you rather be a good administrator or a visionary leader? Is there such a way to be both?

Is there a way to accept everyone, even the people who are mean?

How can you tell if you’re spending a lot of extra time with a person to get him/her through a temporary crisis, or if you’re helping to create a permanent dependent relationship?

Also on the pastoral care front, without all of the ordinary boundaries of a counselor (mandatory appointment times, payment, no contact outside of the office, etc.), how does one make sure that transference or sexual attraction doesn’t occur?

How does a majority white congregation have discussions about diversity, without making people of color feel like they’re tokens? Should I begin with banning the use of terms like “people of color”?

We don’t have as much problem with ethnic diversity as political and theological diversity. Which leads me to wonder, is there a way to have political and theological diversity, without watering down our message? Is it okay that some people just don’t feel comfortable in our pews?

When should a pastor pursue an angry member, and when should she just let that member go? I mean have you seen this happen? The frustrated and often destructive member finally leaves the congregation. The pastor begs for him or her to come back (in the Christian hope of reconciliation), and then the person comes back like a tornado with a second wind. They have even more catastrophic power than before. Is there ever a time when the pastor ought to just wave goodbye?

Do you know what works? How do you answer these questions?