Saturday, November 26, 2005

whatcha doin for christmas?

What are your plans for Christmas/Christmas Eve services at your place of worship?

I like to do something dramatic - a monologue or something - but I always have a tough time finding something that's - well, not cheezy. And I rarely feel competent and inspired enough to write something of my own.

We've also done lessons and carols, without a specific message, but sometimes this seems to work better than others.

Thoughts? Insights?

movie reviews: Rent and Walk the Line

I went to see two movies this weekend, Rent and Walk the Line. This time of year, when many Oscar-hopeful movies come out all it once, drives me crazy, because there are so many good movies out at once that I want to see.

First up, Rent. Rent debuted as a musical on Broadway when I was in high-school, and I remember the craze it was among my friends, the theatre-kids. I never saw the stage version, but I eventually came to know the music pretty well from listening to the soundtrack.

I'd read some reviews in advance of seeing the show which suggested that Rent, the movie, would have been better if it had come out ten years ago like the musical. The original Broadway cast is mostly intact for the movie, only now, all the twenty-somethings of the stage show are thirty-somethings. Also, one of the major themes of the play - people living with AIDs - has taken a different place in our culture than in the early nineties. I don't mean that AIDs is any less important or critical of an issue. But I mean the way it is dealt with in Rent represents a ten-years-ago mindset.

So, the movie. I think the music is excellent, and the actors did a great job. Each character was strong - no weak links. It was great to see Jesse Martin, who I've known only from Law & Order, singing and dancing!

What I don't like about the movie itself: I don't see any real growth in the characters. No one seems to me to go through any change, or transformation. I guess that's not always a requirement, but I didn't seen any development of characters, any maturing. I was confused, too, by the 'gang''s pushing Roger and Mimi together. Roger, a character who lost a woman he loved to AIDs, who watched her breakdown because of drug use, didn't want to be with Mimi because she also was a user, and he clearly wanted her to stop using, or he wouldn't be with her. But she and his friends act like he's being irrational. I don't get it.

I do appreciate that the group supports one another, is a family, but I thought the group also bordered on self-centered and selfish. Lyrics from Another Day: "There's Only Us/There's Only This/ Forget Regret/ Or Life Is Yours To Miss/ No Other Road/ No Other Way/ No Day But Today." I think the song shoots for a 'carpe diem' theme, but ends up with a 'anything goes if it seems good right now' feeling instead.

At one point, the character Mark, filming for his documentary, videotapes a homeless woman being shoved off by police officers. But she gets mad at Mark, asking what he's really doing about anything. He doesn't have an answer for her, and I don't think he gets one by the end of the movie either.

Still, it was an enjoyable movie. Just not - as profound or deep as it seems to want to be, I suppose.

As for Walk the Line - I thought it was superb. I didn't know much of anything of Johnny Cash in the early years. I became a fan of his, actually, from hearing him first on the U2 album Zooropa, singing "The Wanderer." His voice was so unique - a one of a kind voice. Eventually, I expanded my Johnny Cash knowledge during seminary, and especially love some of his covers on his last(?) album, American IV: The Man Comes Around.

The movie - it is a love story between Johnny and second wife June Carter-Cash. It's a story about becoming who you might be. Joaquin Phoenix, playing Cash, even seemed to become Cash more fully throughout the film. And Reese Witherspoon, who I always enjoy, seems mature beyond her years. I am also impressed, as many are who've seen the film, that the pair do all their own singing in the movie. No lip-syncing. They sound great. This movie doesn't try to be complex or confusing. And it succeeds in touching the heart in the process.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

from CNN.com - One man's trash is another's dinner - Nov 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!
My mom sent me this link from cnn.com, about "freegans," a story about people who find a different way to feast for Thanksgiving:

"They call themselves 'freegans,' a play on the words 'vegan'-- vegetarians who avoid all animal products -- and 'free.' In an ideological rejection of consumer waste, they only eat food that's been discarded. And in New York City, at least, they never go hungry.
'We find more food than we could ever possibly eat,' said Adam Weissman. Just 24 hours before the dinner party, he found a hefty stash outside a gourmet supermarket in Manhattan: bags of salad nearing the sell-by date, dozens of sandwiches, boxes of Ritz crackers, some nice looking squash and loaves of still-crisp baguettes.
Although not all freegans are vegan, they all eat for free. Weissman said that with few exceptions he has not eaten store-bought food, either at home, in a restaurant or as guest of a friend, in more than a decade.
Weissman and others say they have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving, which Weissman called 'basically a celebration of excess.'
Madeline Nelson, the host of the freegan dinner party who says she recently left a job in corporate communications at a Fortune 500 company, says she's concerned about holiday over-consumption.
'We are heading into wasting season,' said Nelson, who's serving a semi-freegan Thanksgiving dinner to her family, including her 83-year-old father.
A study suggests that freegans may have a point.
Timothy Jones, an anthropology professor at the University of Arizona, conducted a 10-year study that concluded the country wastes 40 percent to 50 percent of its food. A 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture study put the loss at 27 percent of total U.S. food production, or 96 billion pounds of grub.
'The number one problem is that Americans have lost touch with the processes that bring it to the table and we don't notice the inefficiency."


I'm not sure I'm ready to go freegan. But today, as I look at all the food sitting around post-feast that I know I won't ever eat, I can't help but think maybe they're on to something...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

jockeystreet: Going Through The Motions

My brother had a great post last week about his first visit to the Zen Center, which I've been meaning to link to. Go check it out!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

changing relationships

This weekend, I attended the wedding of a seminary friend in Virginia. A beautiful ceremony - the message, focusing on making sacred space, was extremely moving. (My apologies if I haven't responded to emails and comments you've left this past week - I'm getting there, eventually)

The wedding, along with a few other gatherings I've been part of recently, has me thinking about relationships and change in relationships. In Chicago this week, I had the change to gather with several friends from Ohio Wesleyan, and last month I also saw seminary friends at Drew.

I think that change in relationships is one of the hardest, most emotional things to go through. I suppose this is true, in a way, whether the change is ultimately viewed as a positive, desired change or not. I think back on my life about friendships or even acquaintances that I've had in my life, and I can't help but want to at least know what has happened to some of the people that just aren't a part of my life anymore, for one reason or another. Where is that kid who moved to Florida when I was in grade school? What happened to my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Laitres who moved away mid school-year? What became of my senior dance date? I wonder, often, despite generally disliking my CPE experience, what happened to all the babies who were in the NICU after I finished my summer as a chaplain. Are they all healthy and strong toddlers now?

I feel a sense of sadness, a sense of loss, when I realize that some friendships won't last for years and years beyond the season of life in which they were so important, so central to everyday life. Our lives are always changing, and some relationships don't survive change. This realization sometimes has the unfortunate effect of making the memories of the friendship somehow tainted to me. Maybe it shouldn't be so, I'm not sure. But changing relationships are certainly a reality of life.

I guess, then, the strongest relationships are the ones that are sustained wherever life seems to take both people involved. In Chicago, I get to see one of my best and longest friends, who I went to high school with, and college with, and will probably end up at school with again someday. And at Christmas, she'll be here, back in Central New York. Our friendship certainly hasn't been free of struggle. We've spent a good share of time mad at each other or driving each other crazy through the years. But I think we've transcended into a place where I know she'll always be in my life and I will always be in hers, whatever changes life brings.

So, I wish for my friend and his new wife, as they begin their marriage, that they experience the kind of love that sustains them and blesses them through all the twists and turns that life brings.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

city life

I'm on vacation this week, so posting and/or responding to comments will probably be slow, and topics will be nice and non-theological, like this one!

Right now, I'm in Chicago visiting college friends. I've been thinking about cities. I've been to Chicago three times now, and I really like it. I feel like I'm getting to know my way around a bit. I feel like it is an "easy-going" sort of city. I grew up in a small city (think 30,000 people) and I now live in an even smaller city (think 10,000). When I was looking at colleges, even schools in mid-sized cities like Syracuse University seemed intimidating to me. When I went to seminary, I chose Drew over Boston in part to location. Drew would give me access to NYC without having to live right in a big city.

During seminary, I interned at the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns (say that five times fast), and got to do the whole commute-into-Manhattan-thing. I hated it (the commute, not the agency). Aside from the fact that I worked beginning in September 2001, and had to deal with the immediate change of atmosphere from 9/11, I just hated the stress of the commute. My job wasn't stressful, but getting to it was. Being near other stressed-out commuters rubbed off on me. And Manhattan - something about it just seemed life-draining to me. (Sorry to you NYC readers!) I felt like my thoughts about big cities had been confirmed - could never live in one.

Now, living in a small town, I very much miss the diversity of living in the NY metro area. I miss seeing people who don't look like me. I miss not having people of other faiths living in my community. I miss not having anything open after 10pm!

So, here in Chicago, I'm thinking about cities. When I go back to school someday for doctoral work, I'm thinking you might find me in a big city.

What's your favorite city? Why? What's your least favorite? Why? Do you prefer smaller-town life?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Everytime I Feel the Spirit

I've recently been emailing with Keith Taylor, an insightful and thoughtful commenter on this and other blogs, about the church, the Holy Spirit, and what we do now in light of everything that's been going on with judicial council decisions and the division in the church those decision represent.

Keith wrote to me, "When I read the journal of John Wesley, I see the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, the gifts of the Spirit, the Power of God that appears to be missing in the modern UMC. As a UM pastor, why do you think that is so? . . . I wonder where is the Power of the Holy Spirit in the Methodist Renewal Movement of 200+ years ago?"

Good questions. I responded, in part (slightly edited), like this:

"I guess I think we don't see things because we don't (in general) expect to see them, if that makes sense. Sometimes people in my Bible study ask why we don't experience God in such ways as in a "burning bush" like they did in the scriptures. I say that I think it is because God tries to speak to us in ways we're likely to hear God. If we heard a bush talking to us today, we'd probably check ourselves into a hospital. We're not open to seeing God there. But people in biblical times were open to different things because of their knowledge of the natural world being different than ours - the natural world seemed more mysterious, and so perhaps (seemed) more of a place for God to be at work. So, I think maybe we just don't expect the movement of the Holy Spirit anymore, at least not in the same ways, which is often to our detriment. If the Holy Spirit did move among us in bold ways, I wonder if we (liberals, conservatives, whoever) would disagree with the Holy Spirit and try to quash it anyway. (that's my cynicism revealing itself) I, too, think the division in the church is pretty sad - we're all losing out here. I wish I knew how we could work through things."

I'm still struggling with how we can move forward as a church, a denomination together, if that's what we want to do. Can we really live together, and how do we do it?

I think relationship-building is really important. Revwilly commented on my previous post: "We have a major trust issue in the UMC. A relationship cannot survive wihout trust," and then, "Several years ago a study was done an about 1500 people. Each was given a test to determine he/she was a high trust or low trust person. The low trust people had a significantly higher rate of heart disease and died at a much young age. The heart of the UMC is diseased and unless something is done we will die before our time."

I think he is right - we've got some major trust issues. We've become a low trust church. How do we build trust? I think the first step is to decide whether or not we want to build trust with each other.

(PS - Thanks to all of you who've been signing my Map.)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

two things

two things borrowed from Dylan's blog -

1) follow this link to put your pin on my google map, which lets me see where everyone is from who reads my blog or visits my site.

2) Try this fun meme - type your name into google and the word "needs," and blog the top ten hits that come up. According to google, this is what "Beth needs":

1- Beth needs a considerable raise in salary.
2- Beth needs it so it will be done.
3- Beth needs people.
4- Beth needs prayers.
5- Beth needs a job.
6- Beth needs a first-floor bedroom.
7- Beth need your vote
8- Beth needs to stop it already with the lies.
9- Beth needs to realize she has a problem.
10- Beth needs cash and agrees to go deep undercover.

What a great online life I'm leading...!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

finance training, day 2

I continue at this clergy finance training event in Binghamton.

Thoughts from today:
The leaders (from the United Methodist Frontier Foundation) strongly suggest that pastors, to be in ministry, need to know what their church members are giving. If you are a pastor, do you know what your parishioners give? If you are a lay member, what do you think about pastors knowing who gives what? I know the benefits, and I also understand why some would be uncomfortable with this.

We also spent a lot of time talking about stewardship campaigns. I posted questions about stewardship campaigns last year, but that was before anyone really read my blog. So, let me try again. What kind of stewardship campaigns do you do in your congregation? Your own program? Prepackaged? Have you seen growth in giving and pledging? Do you talk about tithing in your congregation?

Another 'hot' topics we talked about:
1) Do pastors share how much they give with the congregation? If yes, how?
2) Do pastors somehow recognize and thank those who are big givers or big givers in proportion to income (assuming pastors have this information)?

Thoughts and insights are welcome. We also learned about endowments, gift annuities, and other things I have never before thought about in my life today. Lots of figures and ideas floating around in my head tonight . . .

Monday, November 07, 2005

offertory prayer

I am spending a few days in Binghamton, NY at a clergy finance training, where we talk about fun things like personal finances, clergy tax law, stewardship programs, etc. Actually, it is very informative, and helpful to ask some questions that I had not yet found answers for, especially relating to wonderful clergy tax law.

Anyway, our first presenter today shared this quote from Hilbert Berger, an "offertory prayer" that we probably don't hear on Sundays: "O Lord, no matter what we say or what we do, here is what we think of you."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Know Your Bible?

Now, for something a little - different - take this 100 question Bible exam to see how well you know the Book.

(found via A Religious Liberal Blog)

My results:

ACTS AND PAULINE LETTERS 73%
GOSPELS 100%
HISTORICAL BOOKS 84%
PENTATEUCH 82%
PROPHETS 66%
PSALMS AND WISDOM LITERATURE 90%
REST OF NEW TESTAMENT 70%
TOTAL 81%

Ah, the propehts. I guess I know where I need to study up. That and that whole "rest of the new testament" category! I'm afraid I only did as well as I did on the prophet section though by some lucky guessing ;)!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

What do we really want?

The recent judicial council decisions in the United Methodist Church have sent the blogosphere into a state of - energetic, if not friendly, blogging that I haven't experienced in a while. The decision over whether or not a pastor has the right to deny membership to practicing gay and lesbian persons has been particularly troubling, with the Council of Bishops already issuing a statement that leans toward (by my reading) clear disagreement with the Judicial Council on this issue.

What does this mean for the church? The United Methodist community?

Over at WesleyBlog, Shane Raynor has recently written a post titled, "The Left Gets Ridiculous," where he concludes, "The far left is losing its stranglehold on our denomination, so they're beginning to say and do ridiculous things in an attempt to hang on to power. Meanwhile, the UMC continues to move in a more conservative and more evangelical direction."

As a self-defined member of the "far left," I'm surprised ot hear we've had a stranglehold on the UMC. I guess that's a matter of perspective, because it has felt like an uphill struggle most of the time.

My concern: One of the things I've so appreciated about blogging is the chance to converse with people of widely divergent theological views. Connectionalism at its best in a new format. Folks like Shane and John have been a real blessing to me, and I feel like we have some blog-dialogue that we don't always get face to face. But the tone of Shane's comments, and comments from many others (and I don't want to put words into Shane's mouth, so I say tone) leaves me feeling like some are just holding out hope that eventually all people of divergent viewpoints will just go somewhere else, so that everybody in the church can agree and get on with things. I think folks on the right (and the left) sometimes express these thoughts, directly or indirectly.

John asked recently if we (on the left) are ready for amicable separation yet. Not many responded that they were. We don't like to talk about it, many of us. We've been a church with people of very divergent viewpoints for a long, long time. And we've lived together. But John raises a good question, I think.

What is it we really want? Do we want a church where everyone has the same viewpoint? Same understanding of scriptural authority and interpretation? If we want people of varied views, how varied can views be, before, to use a question from John, the line is drawn and crossed?

What are the benefits of staying together? What are the benefits of splitting up?
If we stay together, is our goal really stay together, or is it just to wipe each other out - to "win"?

I feel like there is a lot of winning and losing language floating around, a lot of power language, a lot of victory/defeat language. Is that what we're about?

Do conservatives really doubt the motives of those of us on the left? I hear a lot of talk about our "pro-homosexual agenda." Do conservatives doubt that my motives are based on something other than a sincere belief that God is calling for a fully inclusive church? Believe that if I interpret the Bible differntly, I must automatically hold it in a lower place in my life?

Do liberals doubt the motives of those on the right? Do we believe that conservatives are bigoted and close-minded?

I don't have answers to all of my own questions, just more questions. Where do we go from here? What do we really want?