Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wrapping things up...

Push is quickly coming to shove, and my upcoming move approaches at an alarming rate, As I was packing up the contents of my desk at school, I started waxing nostalgic every item as I wrapped each piece. And I decided it was time for another blog entry.  I had pictures I wanted to incorporate, but the computer was being disagreeable and I decided to let it go.  I'll post the pictures on Facebook.  Anywho...

A little wooden plaque given to me by my college chaplain, who became my mentor and colleague, but now I simply call her my dear friend.   It says, "When God created man, She was only fooling."  At the time I was no doubt undone by… well, I know exactly who it was but discretion demands my silence! In any event, Marty told me that someone had given it to her at some point, and someday, I would pass it along, as well. And I am sure I will. Someday.

A miniature “wall” made of Lego knock offs, with a bandage on the front. When I was at Mount Union, bell hooks came and spoke on campus. My friend and I were moved beyond belief. We were in awe of her intellect, inamored by her passionate presens, inspired by her prophetic prose. We made a promise to one another to devote more time and engergy, not to mention intellect, to those things that mattered the most to us. Dr. H, the original chaplain turned full time professor and advisor extraordinaire for all things environmental, overheard a bit of our coversation. He sat down with us, shaking his head with a look of concern in his very gentle eyes. “I worry about the two of you sometimes. You have such great vision, and wonderful plans and ideas. I am afraid that you will spend much of your lives slamming into brick walls. One of us, I don’t remember who, joked that we would just have to make sure to have a box of bandaids with us. I made this little reminder when I was serving a church in Danville IL. It was a part of a devotional I led with a group of clergy women. It is a wonderful symbol of a very formative time in my life… not to mention a great story to share with students! When I have students… And I will, again, have students.

An unbroken geode. Not very attractive. It came from a bin at some or other science store. No special significance beyond that which I have assigned it. I have given them as gifts as friends have celebrated their ordinations. It isn’t much to look at. It’s just a rock. But even though I can’t see it, I know that its beauty lies within. People are like that, too. Rough around the edges, difficult to take, downright aggravating and annoying. But hidden underneath, treasures unfold as we open up to the possibility it sometimes takes someone else to recognize in us. You have to use a hammer to open up the geode. People require a more gentle touch – even if that touch turns into a bit of an insistent shove sometimes. I often wonder whether my friends who also have unbroken geodes have chosen to break them open. Or, like me, are they opting to sit with the rough exterior, trusting in what they know lies inside.

A rock I painted for my grandpa when I was a little girl. On the back, Grandpa wrote “pet rock,” appropriate for the time frame of the mid to late seventies. One the front, he wrote my name. I can tell that he used one of his felt-tip pens, the ones he kept in one of two repurposed frozen juice containers which resided, respectively, on his bedside table and on the table next to his chair in the living room. Another treasure on that table, the crossword puzzle dictionary I gave him for Christmas one year. Grandpa was a crossword aficionado! He did at least two a day, every day, always in ink. Inside the crossword dictionary, he wrote down tidbits he tended to forget… such as the fact that the theme song for Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer is “Harlem Nocturne.” If I had such a list, I would include Gene Hackman as an actor I rarely remember. And the fact that there are five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes in a year, which I learned from the musical “Rent.”

A stone, mossy green and polished smooth upon which someone carved the word “peace.” It goes along with the figurine of two hands, cupped for holding, into which I have placed a blue marble. Because I grew up watching “Big Blue Marble” on PBS, just like Alice Walker’s daughter, Rebecca, who once told her mom that there was a world in her eye. Alice has scar tissue on her eye from an accident with a BB gun when she was a child. Indeed, it looked just like the earth as shown from outer space. “The world’s a big blue marble when you see it from up there.” “There is a World in your eye” was the first part of the title of my MA thesis. Which is on spirituality in the writings of Alice Walker. Also held in the hands on my desk, a string of prayer beads. I think there are 36 beads, one for every country at war when I made them. I don’t remember. I could have written it down in my hypothetical list. I can’t share a picture of the hands, becaue they are already packed. And I am not going to open up a box that has already been packed. Although, I admit, that is probably something I would do.

A stone, smallish, smooth, but not polished. Painted upon it, a purple spiral, or swirl. It was a favor from friends’ covenent ceremony. I don’t remember if that is what they called it, though. It’s not important. What is important is that they love one another deeply, and that they made a commitment to share their lives, each with the other, and now with a beautiful little girl. It was my privilege to officiate at their ceremony, and I think of them whenever that stone catches my eye. It occurs to me that I have a lot of rocks and stones on my desk. That probably isn’t the greatest idea in the world. I’ll leave it to the imagination concerning why.

A star made, I believe, of tiger’s eye, given to me by a parishioner. A dear woman, homebound much of the time due to debilitating pain. Our visits together were a gift… I always left feeling uplifted, held in positive regard. Not everyone has the capacity to make one feel that way. Especially when one is of the mindset that it should be the other way around. I don’t know. I think that there is a mutual quality to ministry that cannot be taught… it must be discovered, experienced, happened upon. Now I am thinking about a Robert Frost poem: “Choose something like a star to stay your mind on and be stayed.”

I think you might call this an “executive decision maker.” It was given to me in appreciation for my service on the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals Board several years ago. That was one of my “other duties as assigned” that I did not enjoy. It was heartbreaking, truth be told. Every decision we made was painstakingly deliberate. Which makes this an almost ironic choice for a token of appreciation. I do enjoy having it on my desk, though. I like the arbitrary nature, when so much seems so arbitrary, as much a matter of luck and chance as of skill, or will. As though as much is something of which I need to be reminded.

Two worry dolls, I think from Guatemala. I bought them in San Antonio, at a NACUC Conference – National Association of College and University Chaplains. Two probably aren’t really enough.

A picture of my mom and dad. I would love to know what he has just said, given the sly grin on his face and the subtle irritation registering on her face. Love her dress, and the shoes… Also love that you can see Grandma’s nativity on the mantle, and the praying hands on the table.

A picture of my favorite soon to be five year old, Ethan. Although I am pretty sure that he is only three in this particular picture. Which is entirely my fault. His mom has generously supplied me with more recent photos, I am just a little behind in my updating.

A picture of the pastoral staff at Rockefellar Chapel 1998-1999. I cannot tell you how many times in my first (and second) call, I looked to this picture for a reminder of three people who I knew had my back, and my heart, in hand. Three people who had shared so graciously with me, and I with them. Three people I continue to believe are “there” for me, no matter where time has taken us.

A picture of me and Dr. H, taken at Red Bird Mission in 1990. I have written about it before, many times. This picture has a lot to do with how I ended up where I ended up. And I’ll leave it at that for now.

A picture of my 12th grade English teacher. We are friends on Facebook (and, we actually did keep in touch through the years before the onslaught of social media) and this particular photo was her profile picture a while ago. There is something in the look… I can be feeling frustrated, down on myself and the world in general, and I glance at that picture, and I see that expression, that smile, that slightly raised eyebrow… And I try a little harder, push a little farther, look a little deeper. So, yes… a picture of my 12th grade English teacher, who I now call “Beth,” somewhat comfortably.

A box, given to me by one of my mom’s friends when I received my M.Div degree. This box contains notes that I have collected through the years from people who evidently look to me as I have looked to Marty, or Dr. H, or Sam, or Alison, or Beth. I open it up and pull one out when I need a boost. When it gets full, I transfer them to an annex location in my apartment. Everyone should have something like this. Everyone.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A day late and a dollar short, but...

When something is important to me, really important to me, I don't always have the words to give it voice immediately. Oh sure, I can usually come up with something off the cuff, but off the cuff doesn't generally do justice to what I am feeling on a deeply emotional level. It would have been more timely had I managed to write this several weeks ago. But, I didn't. I am writing it now -- timely or not.

Over the past month or so, Facebook has been aflutter with folks posting a "Back to Church" video. As many of my friends have attested, in many ways it is lovely. It celebrates a welcoming church. It challenges the assumptions that can keep people out of the pews. It invites people to return, or visit for the first time. Lovely, and yet...

Another friend posted a different message. A message cautioning folks to be mindful before signing on with this campaign of sorts. If you dig a little deeper, you realize that the people behind this lovely video clip have a theological stance which would make many people I know vastly uncomfortable. True enough, it would seem, all are welcome. As long as you are just like us! As long as if you aren't just like us, you will do everything in your power to become just like us. Open and affirming, they are not.

I tend not to jump into the fray of such "conversations" on Facebook, but I felt compelled to share what others had shared with me. The video strikes me as a bait and switch -- folks who are progressively minded sign off on it because it sounds like good stuff. Except for the not so good stuff. Problem is, you have signed off on it. All of it.

Most of my friends chose to stand by the video. They felt the message was too good, too powerful to dismiss because of theological differences. That is certainly their choice. That is not my choice.

It has taken me a while to articulate why this is so important to me. Then last night, I realized why it mattered so much. When I baptize a baby, or dedicate an infant as the case may be, I like to walk down the center aisle with the child in my arms so that the congregation can welcome her. As the organist plays "Jesus loves me" or a lullaby, I turn off my lapel mike and whisper to the little one. "This is your church home. You will always be welcome here. No matter what. Always." And I tend to tear up, just a bit, as I hope and pray that as much will indeed be the case.

I don't think you can easily differentiate the content of that video clip from the character of the theology. Just like you can't stop bedbugs from hitching a ride on a suitcase. (I do apologize for that image... it does work, though.)

It's a commercial. PR. It feels good to feel welcoming. But that person in the third pew from the front? That couple all the way in the back? That little one who was just baptized? They are people who depend upon the wide welcome they have come to know within their congregation. And if there is even a chance that the narrow vision that framed the video clip in question will compromise their safety, their ability to be who they are as beloved children of God... well, the choice I will make isn't even a question.

Actions speak so much louder than words. When I show up on campus at the ALLY meeting organized by the LGBTQ community and their allies, my presense speaks volumes. The church has hurt a lot of people around issues of sexuality. It is important to me to be present, to suggest that there is more than one voice. This matters. It's important to someone. It's important to me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The politics of what is possible

I've been thinking a lot lately about the politics of doing what you feel called to do, even in the absence of tangible support. I've been thinking about what it means to offer support to others. I've been thinking about my mentors... how they did it with what seemed such effortless grace. I feel clumsy, at best. Double standards, inconsistencies... they seem to be everywhere. I know this -- this shouldn't come as a surprise, but every time I confront them, it still does. I haven't been here long enough to know the whys and wherefores. Nor have I been here long enough to accept them without question.

I've also been thinking about what it means to navigate one's way in a evolving position. It is a blessing to be in a position that is in fact evolving. Sometimes, though, it feels a little like a curse. My mantra when the going gets tough, "I'm good at what I do." And I really do believe that, much of the time. I guess, though, I am finding that how I go about being good at what I do, and what that looks like from setting to the next, is very fluid -- ever changing.

I sat down at the computer with a little more vitriol than I have given voice. Discretion can not be discounted. But, I will say that I am leaving the computer somehow calmer, more collected. I'm still frustrated. I still want to trouble the waters a bit. But right now, at 9:50 pm, it's enough to realize I am tired, weary even. I have not had the best of days. And it's okay to crawl under the covers and try again tomorrow.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Seven on Saturday

1. I cleaned the bathroom this morning. Really well. Elbow grease was involved and everything. Not that cleaning my bathroom is a rare occurence. It's just that there are levels. There's the "company's coming" spruce up, and the "suppose I should really clean the bathroom," and then there's the "I'm feeling industrious for no known reason so I'm really going to clean the bathroom.

2. I think the fact that I wrote about cleaning my bathroom indicates either that I shouldn't be blogging because I really don't have anything of substance to say, or that my life is just really that boring. Which might be why I am blogging in the first place.

3. Tomorrow I will bake cookies with three young women who claim to have never baked cookies from scratch. When I invite someone into my kitchen to bake cookies, there will be no tubs or tubes of store-bought dough involved... that's not how I roll. I'm actually looking forward to it.

4. As a result of #3, tomorrow evening I will likely be cleaning my kitchen. Really well. The "I just had three 19-22 year olds with flour and butter and sugar in here" cleaning. That, I don't look forward to quite as much.

5. I saw The Black Swan this afternoon. So many people told me it was awful. I'm not saying that it was my favorite movie ever, but I did find it compelling. Compelling. I guess that's the word I use when I'm not yet sure what I think about something, yet I somehow suspect that it is worth thinking about. Didn't recognize Winona Ryder at all. Some how she is kind of frozen in time with Edward Scissorhands and Heathers.

6. I found a ladle for my ladle-less soup tureen that I got on clearance at Pottery Barn for next to nothing a few years ago. It was ladle-less, hence the next to nothing. Bonus -- the ladle was only $3.99. Not bad. Not bad at all.

7. Hmmm... I am kind of torn between "See #2" because purchasing a ladle for a soup tureen is kind of lame. But then, the only other thing that I can think to say right now is to exclaim how very glad I am that there is an automated machine where one can by stamps at the post office without having to wait in a ridiculously long line. That is also kind of lame.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Getting an itch...

I have been working with one of our history professors who also teaches sociology (everybody around here has at least two jobs, I am telling you...) on a pilot service learning course. The hope is that it might gain some momentum among other faculty and students, increase our positive presence in the larger community, and expose our students to a very hands on approach to learning. I've known about service learning for nearly 20 years, I suppose... Campus Outreach Opportunity League, Into The Streets, and MUVN and various and sundry other good stuff. I've read about it, considered it, but I've never seen it in action. And I'm excited. I know a handful of the students in the course (which doesn't surprise me) and I feel like I am cultivating a friendship with the professor. It's all good.

I sat in on the class today -- the folks from the mentoring program in the public schools came to give their pitch. The class is held in a classroom in the library. Walking through the main doors, it hit me... a kind of musty smell, kind of old -- I suppose perhaps it is even the smell of paper and ink and years and years of relative silence. I might add, at this point, that I could go into great detail about each and every library in each and every school, college, or university I have ever attended. At Lincoln, we had large pieces of cardboard with colors matching our tote bags -- the cardboard went on the shelf so we knew where to return a book if we decided not to check it out. At Garfield, I was a part of a small group which got to eat lunch in the library... very cool. East Junior and Harding -- nothing to write home about. Mount Union, Purdue, Bucknell, U of Chicago... each had a different character to be sure, but as I said I knew that character inside and out. I had my preferred carrels, favorite tables. I knew the stacks like the back of my hand. Well, maybe not at Purdue. The stacks weren't always the safest places to be and one was wise to let one know you were headed in that direction so a search party could be assembled if need be.

I climbed the steep stairs to get to the classroom and settled into a chair. My friend took attendance (it's the first week of the semester, after all) and launched into a 20 minute lecture about Sociology 101. And the proverbial itching began. I took Soc in college -- liked it well enough. That wasn't it. It was being in a room with fourteen other people who, ostensibly, were working toward a common purpose. It was the sound of pens scratching on paper -- not too many of our students opt for the lap top route for note taking. It was the probing questions and the tentative answers, becoming slightly more sure as the sentences drew on. It's been nearly twelve years since I've been in a classroom. And I miss it.

Visions of a doctorate dance in my head, quite often actually. Then I am rudely interrupted by reality, which says I have bills to pay... and all of the sudden, I am quite weary. To be continued, sooner or later, I am sure...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I came late to the Chronicles of Narnia. I tried them as a child -- couldn't get into them. I didn't enjoy fantasy all that much, I suppose. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Edwards worked, as did L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. Surely the the exceptions to prove the rule. But, something made me revisit them, and once I got started, I couldn't stop. I even broke my most sacred of all rules -- never tell anyone on an airplane what I do. The guy across the aisle when I was flying home for Christmas was carrying a Notre Dame back pack and reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. We had the best conversation I have had in a long while -- even walked to the baggage claim together, still talking.

But, I digress. I went to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader this afternoon. Thoroughly enjoyed it, as well. I have to say, the whole idea of Aslan/God as a lion works much better cinematically for me than it does on the page. Maybe it has something to do with Liam Neeson's voice, as well. It is at once gentle and fierce -- a little volatile. Yet calming and assuring. Accessible and inaccessible all at once. Much like, I think, the way many encounter God. I could of course say more, but I want to shift gears.

I think one of the things I most appreciate about good children's literature, and young adult literature, for that matter, is the fact that it doesn't discount the fact that children and young people have very real problems and concerns. It doesn't sugarcoat the struggles, insisting on an idyllic fantasy. It's messy, and every bit as complex as the grown-up world -- whether most grown-ups will admit as much or not. I wonder if this is perhaps why I wasn't a bigger fan of fantasy as a child. I honestly don't know what I might have done with this story as a child. When Caspian tells Edmund and Aslan that he has been so busy looking for what had been taken from him, he forgot to be thankful for all he had been given... as a child whose father was taken from her entirely too soon, those words would have been very hard to take in. They still are. I get it, but they are still hard. And that's okay. The song that played through the credits -- I was sort of still transfixed, taking it all in -- speaks to the fact that we have been created for so much more than we know. Funny, but I think that we are much more aware of that as children than we are as we grow into who it is we think we are meant to be.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Holiday Greetings...

Yesterday, just under the wire, I wrote my annual holiday greeting for 2010. Christmas is a season. Epiphany was yesterday. It's all good. They aren't in the mail yet. All of the envelopes aren't even stuffed. Nearly. Some have already been delivered electronically.

I don't know that I ever thought I would be one to "indulge" in this newsy practice. I am single. I haven't got any children. I don't do all that much traveling -- just to this or that professional conference and annual visits with a few friends. What could there be to tell? Who would want to hear it? I have nothing against the practice... I enjoying reading those I receive. I will admit, I have long since stopped putting the pictures of "other people's children" on the refrigerator. Love to see them, even keep them... just can't be reminded multiple times a day that my life hasn't quite turned out the way I suppose I always thought it would. That's okay - most of the time. It's lonely -- nearly all of the time. I haven't given up on the idea that there is someone out there for me. I have started to accept that children probably aren't in the cards. Tick tock tick tock. I did bend my rules and put a few pictures of puppies and dogs on the fridge -- even though I don't have one of those, either. But I digress.

I think I wrote my first holiday letter the Christmas following my departure from the first church I served. It made sense. A holiday greeting surely didn't compromise the ethics of making as clean a break as possible with a congregation. I don't know that that ever works all that well, anyway. You figure it out as you go along, I think. I try to be funny. Sometimes, I even attempt to be wise. Whether either attempt proves successful, I will let someone else be the judge.

My list is long. I have a very hard time "cutting" people, scaling back. My list is eclectic. My second grade teacher. My Grandma and Grandpa Brown's next door neighbor in Andover -- and even good friends from Scarsdale. Several of my mom's good friends -- one person she's known since junior high. The mother of a child I used to baby sit -- the "child" is now married. Eek. The boy who I was a co-crossing guard with who moved away when we were in junior high. My elementary and junior high principal. Friends from every school I've ever attended, every job I've ever held... Some of these folks. I hear from. Others, I don't. But I think about them -- as I address each envelope, sign my name. I remember the times we have shared, the plans we once made, the dreams we have known. I think about where they are now, who they are now. I think about someone who taught with my dad. He sent us a card every year, until he passed away himself. He always signed it "With many fond memories..." or something to that effect. I remember how much I wished I too had those fond memories of my dad.

Again, I digress. I write the letter. I send the cards. I crave the connection. I have fond memories of my own. And I hope those who receive my greetings do, too.