Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Best of...My Favorite 2005 Posts

Last week Gavin asked bloggers about their favorite 5 posts of 2005, where he will nicely compile them for us here.

I spent a lot (read: way too much) of time reading through my blog posts today to finally get to this project. I've liked my posts more of late than when I first started blogging - feel like I'm getting into a rhythm, and have a better sense of reading. I'm glad Gavin suggested the project - I think it is always good to reflect on where we've come from. I've been keeping journals since I was in fifth grade, and looking back on them assures me that I do change over the years, and grow in maturity. Back when we were warring in Iraq the first time around, and I was in elementary school, I mentioned Hussein in one sentence and soccer practice in the next, and my latest crush in the next. Perspective...

So, best of 2005?

In chronological order -
* My survey on pastoral calling and the post with a summary of responses received.
* My thoughts on serving communion and the comments I received on this post. Since this post, I have started tearing the bread off the loaf for each person - I find it more meaningful, and I hope they do too.
* My post about my visit during the last GBCS meeting to talk with Roy Blunt's policy director, Neil Bradley, about the federal budget.
* My post following the judicial council decision regarding pastors' authority over receiving members about what 'we', progressive United Methodists, really want.
* My post, following some visits to old stomping grounds, about changing relationships and the sense of loss that comes from relationships that are no more.

There it is. My favorite five. Thanks for the challenge, Gavin.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas: Reporting In

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. I certainly did. Today we had our extended family gathering at my mother's house, and for the first time in a long time, managed to get most of the crew - aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmothers - there at the same time. I think we had 25 people at my mom's house. It was crazy, and tiring, but fun. Everyone stayed late. I'm lucky to have my extended family all living in New York State, and I feel blessed that our family, for the most part, is pretty close.

I'm pleased to report that we had a fairly decent crowd in church on Sunday morning. Not record-breaking, but about what we get on a holiday weekend like Labor Day. It was actually a nice, relaxing, but spirit-filled worship experience, at least from my perspective.

On Christmas Eve, we had two worship services. At our early service, the highlight was the lighting of the Christ Candle. A young couple was doing the reading, and their two-year-old wandered up from the back of the sanctuary with his children's bag, sat on the chancel, and looked through it. Then, as they were lighting the candles, he stood up, and spent the rest of the time trying to blow the candles out. Hilarious. Needless to say, I don't think anyone caught much of the candle liturgy.

For the message/children's time, I read a book - Mary's First Christmas. I don't think this went over very well (except that the adults did like looking at the pictures - I had some young adults walk up and down the aisles with extra copies of the book so the adults could see), and I was really stressed out and disappointed by the end of the service about how badly I thought this went. But I had to remind myself that feeling so upset about it was probably a sign that I thought I was the most important part of the Christmas Eve service. So, I'm trying to get over it!

At the late service, my actor-brother Todd performed two monoguges, adapted from these two sources. The late service is always my favorite. More contemplative, the "silent night" that we sing about.

Do you have any exciting/meaninful Christmas experiences to report?

Friday, December 23, 2005

What to do with Santa

Today I ran across this article on cnn.com about the TV show Everybody Hates Chris, the show about Chris Rock's childhood. Apparently, some folks are upset because on a recent episode, the Mom reveals to her daughter that Santa Claus is not real. "Come here," the mom says, "let me show you something. I'm taking you to the toys ... Santa doesn't come down the chimney. We don't even have a chimney. We have radiators."

The complaints - well - if you know anything about Chris Rock's style, then I'm not sure why you would let your child watch his show. But aside from that, I've been thinking -

What do you do with Santa as people of faith? My three brothers and I were raised on Santa, though I found out the truth from an older cousin when I was five. But my mom has said in recent years that if she had to do it again, she wouldn't teach us to 'believe in' Santa Claus. Her reasoning? Parents spend so much time trying to get their kids to believe in Santa - a more and more elaborate string of "white lies" has to be told to keep a child believing. But, eventually, the truth comes out. If we go through all this elaborate stuff, all of which, in today's incarnation, has little to with the birth of Christ, only to reveal later that it is all made up, what are young people to think of all that they hear about God, perhaps harder to learn about to begin with?

I guess some of Santa Claus can represent the "spirit of Christmas" - sharing gifts with loved ones? But I think that isn't how Santa is usually taught to kids. Santa is the one who brings toys to good boys and girls. (More and better toys to richer girls and boys.)

I don't have children yet, so right now it is easy for me to say that I won't teach my kids to "believe in" Santa Claus. I'm sure their classmates' parents will be thrilled with me. What about you out there? Thoughts? Does Santa come to your house?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Person of the Year

Time magazine announced its Person of the Year (people, actually) the other day, honoring Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates. Interesting combination, isn't it? (Ps - you have to watch an ad to read the whole article for free.) I guess I appreciate that the people making the cover at least are making it for trying to help others.

What do you think of the selection? Who would you have named as Person of the Year if you were in charge? Who is your favorite well-known person of the year? Who is your personal person of the year?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ringing the Bell

Today I spent some time with other church folks ringing the bell for Salvation Army at Wal-Mart. It was about 15 degrees out today in Central New York, and I ended up with a chill that was hard to get rid of for the rest of the day, and a sneaking suspicion that my throat is a bit sore, despite my attempt to bundle up today. (I'm usually not the coat-wearing type.)

Aside from the cold, I had a good time ringing the bell. The Salvation Army has a theology more conservative than my own, but I really admire the hands-on work they do. The other day I ran across the quote, ascribed both to Charles Dickens and Mahatma Gandhi - not sure which is correct - "There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."

At least in my community, the Salvation Army is the group of people of faith who runs the soup kitchen, has a food pantry, provides emergency shelter, helps people connect with the right social service agencies, hands out thanksgiving baskets and christmas toys, gives out school supplies, and leads after-school programs. Not to say that they are the only group doing such outreach - but they are certainly the leaders. That's why our church, and most others in the community, are happy to help feed into and support their programs in the community. They're already doing what I wish we were doing more of in my congregation.

Today, ringing the bell, it was fun to watch how people approached (or didn't approach...) the red kettle. I appreciated especially the children who were thrilled to "get to" put money in the red kettle, and appreciated those parents who were already cultivating an attitude of joy of giving in their young kids. I noticed that those who seemed, by outward appearances at least, least able to give were the most likely to give. But people of all kinds would stop to give. I laughed at the little boy - maybe two - who found a quarter on the ground. His mother encouraged him to give the quarter to the kettle, but he said, "Nah!" A little girl waiting with her mother for a taxi for about 1/2 an hour got permission first to run over to me to say "Merry Christmas" and then to come put a dollar in.

Are the kettles out in your community? Wal-Mart is not my favorite place, but I'm glad that they continue to allow the Salvation Army to ring out front.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Convenience and Myself

Last week, I wrote about convenience and the church. Should the church try to be convenient for people in order to bring them the gospel?

Convenience. Convenience makes the world go round. Every week it seems you can find some new advertisement for a product that you should buy because you will have the ability to throw it away sooner than usual. Mops? Disposable. Digital cameras? Disposable. Cell phones? Disposable. Why buy one when you can buy them over and over again and create some garbage in the process?

I listen to books on tape all the time when I drive. I travel a lot, and books on tape help the time go by much faster. I typically listen to 'lighter' fare than I would read in printed form - John Grisham, Maeve Binchy, Mary Higgins Clark, Janet Evanovich. Most classics, most 'heavier' literature isn't quick-paced enough for keeping my attention while driving - with notable exceptions like the good-in-any-medium Barbara Kingsolver. My local library only has a limited collection of books on tape, so I'm always having to try new authors and hope I like them.

Recently, I listened to Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic. It's in the style Bridget Jones' Diary, which I thought was hilarious. In fact, it is so much in the style of BJD, that the parallels are ridiculously too many, with the exception that Kinsella's main character, Rebecca, is a shopaholic. Rebecca, as I was listening to the book, drives me crazy. Her spending habits - the focus of the book - are just ridiculous, indulgent, unbelievable. It was hard for me to be sympathetic for such a heroine, with so little self-control, so little thought about others, so little though even about how harmful her own actions were for herself. She spends hundreds of pounds a day (she's British, like Bridget.)

But, then I started thinking about my own spending habits. I can't afford, even in an over-spending way, the name-brand stylish spending sprees that Rebecca engages in in Shopaholic. But I'm just as bad, in my own way, and I'm not a fictitious character in a light novel. I remember back when I started as a pastor, after having been a financially struggling student for so many years. My new pastor salary, three times what I'd ever made in a year as a student, seemed huge to me. I'd never be broke again! I'd never be able to feel like I didn't have enough with this huge salary. Granted, I hadn't yet given a lot of thought to the whopping taxes I'd be paying as a so-called "self-employed" clergy person. But still, I knew I would be pretty well-off.

Two-and-a-half years later, I find that I often spend my money ridiculously. I make a budget, and then ignore it in favor of spending my money for convenience. For me, it's eating out. I hate cooking. I'd rather buy something ready-made. I take what I eat very seriously as a moral and ethical issue - that's why I've been a vegetarian for 8 years. But I can't seem to expand my scope to remember the moral/ethical issues of where I buy my food, how I spend my money, etc., in those same day-to-day choices.

When I see things happening like the US government continuing a failure to take global warming seriously if it means somebody's profits might go down, I think: how can we be so short-sighted? But when I buy a soda that comes in plastic cup that I will throw away instead of drinking some of the soda (or water!) that I have at home, choosing convenience over my small piece of the pollution pie...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Review: The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Yesterday I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with my brother and sister-in-law. (You can read my brother's shorter, less flattering review here.)

I love the Chronicles of Narnia. I reread them every year or so - I always enjoy them. I know that they are children's books - more so than Harry Potter - these books are short, quick reads, and meant for children - younger children. But I find them fascinating to read as an adult - I love the way C.S. Lewis likes fiction. Lewis' theology isn't exactly my cup of tea all the time, but sometimes I think in his fiction he lets his theology run a little wilder, a little more free. So I love the imagination in the Chronicles.

The movie is - OK. I thought, as I was watching, that if you were an adult seeing the movie, you wouldn't like it unless a) you had kids with you or b) you were a big fan of the books. (Side note - so glad they appear to be doing the movies in the original publishing order of the books. I know C.S. Lewis mentioned that they could be better ordered chronologically according to Narnia time, but frankly, I don't think he thought it through. The make much more sense as published.) The movie doesn't stray too terribly from the book, and I think they do a good job putting into tangible images Lewis' words. Narnia looks like I have always imagined it looking.

The problem, I think, is that things that Lewis writes on the page seem plausible in words and imaginations. But putting them on the screen makes them seem awfully silly. It was hard to watch the battle scenes and not laugh. These children, fighting? Please. And Liam Neeson, who I like as an actor, I did not like as the voice of Aslan. I was expecting something deeper, and more powerful in sound. Also, as a side detail, I was shocked at the poor makeup jobs for some characters. I have some stage makeup background - nothing great, but enough to know that in a movie, you shouldn't be able to "see" the makeup so much. It was very distracting.

Still, I will probably go see any future editions of the Chronicles. Maybe, as Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter grow up, so will the movies.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Convenience and the Church

I've been thinking a lot about convenience lately. And I've been thinking about Church on Christmas Sunday this year. A lot of people have been posting about it - Ben Witherington and BroGreg are just two. Apparently, the idea of churches closing on Christmas of all days is such good news that it has made CNN.com's front page - story here. (thanks for the heads up Mom.)

The conversations about churches being open for services or not ask questions about convenience. Should the church try to be convenient for people? Or should the church push to be counter-cultural and sometimes, then, non-accommodating? Or something in the middle?

These questions don't just apply to Christmas services, but to the life of the Church as a whole. This Christmas, we've moved our Christmas Eve late-night service an hour earlier, and our Sunday morning service an hour later, in an effort to both give people some family time and get them to church on Sunday morning. But I admit, I'm highly skeptical about how many will show up. Who wants to go to church on Christmas? Can we expect people to be there?

At my church, we've added a Saturday evening worship service - a second service. I like the service - it is small, and somehow more contemplative - 'contemporary' yet quiet. Relaxed, and spiritual. But I'll admit, one of the major factors in starting a second service wasn't because our Sunday service was busting at the seams - we started the Saturday service to offer a convenient time for folks to come to worship. People kept telling me reason after reason of why it was inconvenient to show up for worship on Sunday morning. I wanted to eliminate at least that variation of excuse from the rotation of reasons for not coming to worship.

The church has such an image problem - so many people see it as not welcoming, as judgmental or hurtful or abusive. So, sometimes I think it doesn't hurt for the church to accommodate people's needs, to draw them in, to get them connected, and to keep them in a place where they can slowly but surely be challenged into a life of discipleship. But when do churches cross the line and try to make it too easy, too convenient to claim faith?

What do you think?

Words from Jim Winkler

GBCS has recently started a weekly "Faith in Action" e-mail update, which you can sign up for here. In this week's edition, Jim Winkler makes a statement in response to concerns about whether the views he expresses are meant to speak for the whole church, and about the tone of his response and opinions. I found it thoughtful. You might want to check it out.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Nutcracker

Every year for as long as I can remember, I make a trip near Christmas time to see a production of The Nutcracker, the ballet by Peter Ilich Tschaikovsky. These days, I actually usually make three trips to the show - once to see all the girls and boys from my church, once to go to the production I've always gone to, and once to another company's performance for good measure.

Today I saw the production that all my church members are in. Because of my schedule this weekend, I had to go see one of the "school performances" during the day, where children from the area come to see the ballet as a field trip. I've done this before, and it is risky - hundreds of elementary school kids on a field trip aren't always in the mood to see a ballet.

But, happily, I had a great experience. The kids were so well-behaved, and it was fascinating to sort-of watch the ballet through their eyes. I was thinking of the part in Finding Neverland where J. M. Barrie invites the children from the orphanage to his opening of Peter Pan. Stodgy audience members can't help but delight in the play when they see the delighted reactions of the children watching the characters flying around on stage.

When I was little, I always loved the beginning of The Nutcracker, with the party scene, the mice and the soldiers. And I thought the pas de deux between the prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy was terribly terribly long and boring. But as I grew up, I started to think the party scene moved too slowly, and I couldn't wait for the pas de deux and the 'grown-up' dancing.

Today, sitting next to a class of first-graders, I got to experience the show as a young person again. The kids were at first not impressed by the scenery, but eventually oohed and aahed when the snow fell from the sky, and when Mother Ginger came out with her bon-bons, and when the dancing dolls appeared like magic from the box, and when the Mouse King was defeated by the prince. They were literally sitting on the edge of their seats. It was a real joy - seeing it again as I did long ago...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

from Soup Questions - Questions from Inside the Actor's Studio

I've been meaning to comment on this post from Jason's Soup Questions for a while. He asks us to answer the questions that James Lipton asks each actor on Inside the Actor's Studio. So here's my responses:

What is your favorite word? Love.

What is your least favorite word? Any words that demean others.

What is your favorite sound? Really good a capella choir music.

What is your least favorite sound? Fingernails on chalk-boards.

What is your favorite curse word? I plead the fifth. When I'm driving and I'm by myself, I can get a little road-rage going. It's not pretty.

What turns you on? Social-justice activism.

What turns you off? Meanness.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Something in theatre. Make-up design maybe.

What profession would you not like to participate in? Anything medical. I have a great fear of being responsible for the physical well-being of others.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you reach the Pearly Gates? Welcome home, we've been waiting for you.


What about you?