Friday, March 31, 2006

from - Holy poor sportsmanship! - Mar 31, 2006

Check out this article from "Holy poor sportsmanship!" - Apparaently a youth minister was charged with assault after kicking one of his youth in the groin during a game of dodgeball gone bad. Ah, at least I'm not this stressed!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Confession - Stress

In the last few years (non-coincidentally, right about when I started pastoring), I've become much more aware of how I handle stress, and how I let things in my life affect me and stress me. I've become more intentional in handling stress, because I've found that when I don't pay attention to whatever is causing me anxiety or worry, I can become really weighed-down, letting this stressor work away at me in a corner of my mind without my really paying attention to it. Whatever stresses me isn’t necessarily at the center of my attention, but in the background, creating an underlying feeling of anxiety that affects the rest of what I’m trying to do or trying to think about.

This anxiety can get out of hand. In college, my advisor once suggested, after a string of times being sick with flu or bronchitis or similar, that I might be making myself sick. I don’t think he meant I was making it up or anything – I definitely was sick – but he meant that I was getting so stressed and overloaded that I was getting sick. I think he was right. The sickest I ever was during college was my senior year – I was graduating a year early, and stage managing a theatre production, and going to General Conference 2000, and it was all too much. I needed a way out of something, but I couldn’t say no to anything, didn’t want to quit anything. Result? Worst flu I’ve ever had.

Now, when I realize I’m anxiety-filled, I’ve found that the best thing for me to do is stop and review what’s swimming around inside my head until I can pinpoint the issue that’s causing my stress. Usually once I do this, I can think over the issue and put it in its proper place, and move on. For example: last week I was feeling that anxiety, and tried to think of what was causing it. I realized I was anxious because of the headline about the Time article on global warming – polar icecaps melted by 2060 (not to worry, though – CNN headlines only remain top stories for about 5 minutes). Yep. Anxious about polar icecap melt. Now, I think this is a real concern. A real threat. An extremely important issue. But is it something that should cause a gnawing stress in the pit of my stomach? Probably not, since that anxiety isn’t going to cause my action – it is only going to cause my inability to act.

In the ministry, I’ve found that a million things can cause this anxiety in me. Someone mentions that the service went 15 minutes too long, or that we’re still struggling financially, or that I didn’t call someone who was in the hospital, or I see that attendance is down again – if I’m not careful, these things can cause me a great deal of anxiety. This past week, I’ve been on vacation, and I’ve spent most of it sick, worried about this, that, etc. Most of what I worry about is outside of my control. Jesus’ words about worry run through my mind. How on target, and how in opposition to how we live today. We don’t like not being able to control things. Maybe that’s what it all comes down to.

So, after my rambling post, I ask – how do you deal with stress? Are you an anxious person? A worrier? If you are a pastor, how does stress affect your ministry?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Review: Inside Man

This week I went to see the new Spike Lee movie Inside Man, which starts Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, and Jodie Foster. Lee is known for his controversial social justice issue-themed movies. But if you've seen trailers for Inside Man, you know that the movie appears to be a typical action/thriller movie. Lots of commentary and critique/review beforehand mentioned this surprising change in genre for Lee, wondering and speculating (correctly) that this more mainstream movie would earn Lee his biggest box-office opening yet.

I really enjoyed the movie, on many levels. The acting was excellent. Clive Owens does smug so well. Jodie Foster took on a different character than I have seen from her in other movies, and Denzel Washington is always fabulous. But the plot was the best - better than I expected. The movie is not as mainstream as the trailer looks, and I didn't think it was completely predictable.

Also, I thought Lee included a good deal of social commentary, just in very subtle ways. Race and racism come up a lot in the movie - not as major plot points, but as parts of conversations, part of the setting of the film. I liked this - isn't it how we experience race and racism everyday? For many people, I think that experiences of racism or experiences of being racist aren't typically big, one-time events, but the little, on-going things, that are part of our day to day experiences of life. Easy to ignore, if we experience just passing comments, minor incidents in the scheme of things, right? The only danger with Lee's approach is that we can pass over the commentary in his film as well, because it is so subtle.

As a side note, I thought the soundtrack was great. Part of another theme of the film as a whole: we live in a global community. All kinds of people from all kinds of places and backgrounds. We live together, and will have to continue to live together. How will we do it?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Review: The Dante Club

For book #7 in my 52-this-year-resolution, I read The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl. I had no particular interest in this novel - I saw it at a book sale at a library in Syracuse, and it looked interesting, so I picked it up.

The book is fiction, but uses some factual settings from Boston, 1865. The focus is on "America's first Dante scholars" - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and publisher J.T. Fields. They are working together in their Dante Club to help Longfellow as he undertakes a translation of Dante's Inferno. (This much seems to be historical fact.) The group then gets caught up in a series of gruesome murders, and their expertise makes them most likely to solve the crimes. I don't want to give much more away than that. The book started extremely slow - I thought I would never get into it. But by the end I was reading bigger and bigger chunks at a time.

An excerpt:
"In medical school, the sciences had allowed Oliver Wendell Holmes to discover how nature operated when freed from superstition and fear. He believed that just as astronomy had replaced astrology, so would 'theonomy' rise up one day over its slow-witted twin. With this faith, Holmes prospered as a poet and a professor." (pg. 42)

Hm...I was a "pre-theology" major in college. My brothers always used to tease me that this meant "pre-God." What do you think - are we students of God, or "knowers" of God - as Holmes' theonomy would suggest? Maybe we should all just stick with "theophilos" instead - loving God ;)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Jesus' Greatest Hits: Volume 1

Last night I was telling my mother that I'd bought two Bibles for one of my friends. I wanted the NRSV translation, but also wanted a compact Bible, and couldn't find the combination I wanted. So I bought I regular-sized NRSV and a compact TNIV.

When I explained this to my mother, she asked, "What does 'compact' mean? Just that it's smaller?" I told her yes - 'compact' just referred to size. But then I teased, "No mom, it's the 'highlights' edition of the Bible. Only the best included." She envisioned one of those commercials - you know the kind, for the CD compilations of love songs, etc. - with Jesus performing the hits: Sermon on the Mount. The Last Supper. The Passion: Remix. Can't you just imagine?

Of course, now that I am blogging through the Bible in 90 days, along with a group of bloggers, I don't think my idea is so crazy. I could have done without 1 and 2 Chronicles for the most part. Now, in the midst of the prophets (I'm about 10 days behind - apparantly, doing my own program: The Bible in 101 days.), Jeremiah and Ezekiel are sounding an awful lot alike, and God has condemned just about every geographical area I can think of at least twice. Even the Psalms, some of which I love, were getting repetitive - starting out in a lovely, poetic fashion, and ending with the Psalmist calling for God to smite all enemies.

But kidding aside, reading the Bible so quickly like this, I've renewed my appreciation for all of it, even the stuff that's harder to wade through. I never could understand Bibles that included only The New Testament and Psalms/Proverbs - perhaps one version of the Bible's Greatest Hits. I may be a flaming liberal, and I find things in scripture with which I disagree wholeheartedly, and I certainly don't interpret it literally, but I love the scriptures, love the story of God and God's people, love the ways people struggle and understand God differently, and express their faith in God differently. John Wesley often talked about the "whole scope and tenor" of the scriptures - the wholeness and unity of the Bible that is expressed when you look at it not as separate verses, but as one book.

I may have in my mind my own version of "Greatest Hits" - verses that inspire me. But the whole book - that's what truly challenges me.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Redemption: Believe it, or not?

My mom sent me a link to this CNN article, about a man who became an ordained Episcopalian priest while serving a prison sentence for a second-degree murder he helped (a homeless man who was stabbed to death) commit at age 17 in 1986.

The priest, Rev. James Tramel, earned his M.Div in 1998, while in prison. He is now engaged to another Episcopal priest (I don't know how that came about, won't go there in this post...) and will now be serving as assistant pastor at a small Episcopal church. The congregation, the article reports, is excited to receive him there. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger granted his parole earlier this month.

The family of the murdered man is not so excited. Some family members wonder if the conversion is a trick to get released from prison. The twenty years he served was not enough, some say.

I think this raises interesting questions. Do we believe a person can be redeemed? I don't blame the family for their skepticism. I am sure I would feel the same way if it was my loved one who was murdered. But do we not believe that a person who commits a crime at 17 can be changed by the time they are 38 into a different person? A person who has repented and been forgiven, if not by the family, then by God?

If we believe in redemption, does redemption override the need for punishment? How much redemption do we need to outweigh the need for continuing punishment?

These questions are also the questions I have when we talk about death-penalty issues. I strongly oppose the death penalty for many reasons, including the way the death penalty is applied, how death sentences are carried out, who decides the sentence, etc., but also because I don't see in the death penalty room for redemption.

I understand the struggle. How does the victim and the family of the victim find solace in the redemption of the criminal? The victim has no such opportunity to change over twenty years of their life has been cut short. But must we always have "an eye for an eye"?

Perhaps we could argue that a person redeemed spiritually can still serve out a punishment for a crime - they can be redeemed and forgiven and still required to be punished - it is only fair. But still, I wonder - do we believe they've been redeemed or not? Or do we still see the criminal as that - a criminal - no matter how long it has been, how different they are, how much their life has changed?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Women Blogging

Lately Shane and John have both commented on the growing size of the Methodist Blogroll and thus the Methodist Blogger Weekly Roundup. Our growing numbers are super - remember back when the MBWR highlighted about 10 blogs? I think it is super that so many Methodists, lay and clergy, are sharing in this tool, blogging. I've certainly enjoyed my blogging experiences so far. With the launching by Shane of Wesley Daily, I've specifically been wondering about women and men and blogging. The first several posts at Wesley Daily were by men. One post from a woman blogger. Then some more men.

Before you think I'm picking on Shane, let me say - my noticing led me to look at the Methodist Blogroll as a whole. Waay more male bloggers than female. I didn't count everyone, but I'd guess there are at least 3 or 4 times more men on our list than women. The posts at Wesley Daily reflect the Methodist Blogroll membership. So I did some quick google searches on women and blogging and came across some articles I found interesting. Theories and arguments (in these articles about women blogging primarily on political issues) about why women seem less present.

Theories include: women less likely to engage in the out-and-out fighting that goes on in some blogs. Men less likely to link to women and thus provide women traffic to their blogs. Women less likely to promote their own blogs (mentioning their posts in comments, advertising, actively cultivating readership.) I'm not sure what to make of the theories, though I think that I can see myself in some of the theories. I have definitely cultivated readership of my blog, but haven't advertised and usually don't mention my posts outside my own blog. And I am definitely turned off by the angry debates that sometimes happen on blogs.

My own experience of women blogging has been enriched by my participation in the RevGalBlogPals group self-described as "An Open Table set for a diverse group of people -- women pursuing or discerning a religious vocation -- and their friends". Over a hundred blogs in this group, mostly women, and women pursuing or discerning a call to vocational ministry. Not all Metho-bloggers - an ecumenical community. A different space in the blogosphere, which I appreciate.

Just some observations. No conclusions. Thoughts percolating in the brain made in to a post. Do you have thoughts to share about men and women blogging?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Review: Noises Off

In Book #6 in my 52-books-this-year resolution (whew, I'm flying along now...), I finished a quick read, Noises Off, a play by Michael Frayn. My hometown's community theatre has chosen Noises Off as its spring show, and I've been considering auditioning.

Noises Off is hilarious. I was literally shaking with laughter reading it. I can only imagine how good it must be when staged. The first act shows a second-rate drama troupe rehearsing a comedy, Nothing On. It is the dress rehearsal, but clearly things are not going well. Act II shows the troupe again, now performing their play, only this time we see the action from backstage. We see the drama behind the performance. Finally, in Act III, we see the play yet again, from the front again. This time, the company members are so upset with each other, and so jumbled, that they begin to seriously show their dysfunction in their performance. Their lines are wrong, understudies show up on stage, along with the assigned actors. The troupe barely makes it to the curtain.

Nothing deep and profound about this play - just funny, great timing.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Review: Talking about Homosexuality

For book #5 in my 52-books-resolution, (yes, I know I'm a month behind) I just finished Holy Conversations: Talking About Homosexuality - a congregational resource by Karen P. Oliveto, Kelly D. Turney, and Traci C. West. I picked the book up at my seminary during alumni lectures back in October, drawn to it particularly because Traci West was my favorite professor in seminary, and because the book with a quick flip-through appeared to be practical and hands-on. The book is apparently first in a series of books that will tackle tough issues, focusing on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as a study model.

The book gives plans for a six week study on homosexuality in local church congregations, complete with teaching plans, activities, assignments, etc. I like the model a lot - a variety of kinds of exercises, appealing to different learning styles, the Wesleyan quadrilateral as an entry point to examining a controversial issue, etc. I think the model is good and would be usable for many different studies - easily adaptable to other topics of debate.

I doubt, though, that I would ever use this resource in my congregation without highly adapting it first. Why? I think it doesn't take in to account where people are beginning - not a realistic sense of what a good starting point might be. The authors clearly support the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the community and church, as I do. But I know that my congregants do not all feel this way, and, more importantly, many have never talked at all about why/how they feel/believe what they do. I feel like this might be a good resource for later on in the discussion, or for a church that expected most people to lean in a more embracing direction already, but not a first-time-trying-to-talk-about-sex study.

Also, I'll admit - the random sentences in Spanish seemed out of place to me. The authors make a point of reminding us that we are a diverse people and that we need to remember and recognize our diversity - I agree. But random sentences in Spanish seem out of place to me - unless the book is published in English/Spanish side-by-side, which might be a good idea - what's the point?

I'll recommend the book for the teaching style set forth - and for the optimism that a study could start here in an everyday congregation. If you've used this resource in your congregation, I'd love to hear about it. But I would want to find an easier starting point before diving into these conversations in my own setting. Maybe that's just my fear speaking, but I think it would be more authentic to my community too.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Relay for Life 2006

Hey all -I'm participating again in the Relay for Life this June in Oneida. Everyday it seems I find out that someone else I love and care for is struggling with cancer. So many in my congregation are going through surgeries and treatments - I'm sure you have the same experience. I've found personally that my only luck in raising funds is through online donations, since everyone I know around Oneida is a church member of mine! So, if you're feeling inspired, click on this link below or on the Relay icon to the left in the sidebar, and help support cancer research. Thanks!

Click to donate:

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Reporting Back: Mississippi

I've been mostly absent blogging this week - I'm still trying to catch up, after returning from my trip to Mississippi last week, and beginning Lent this week. But I wanted to write something about my week in Mississippi - it's hard to process, but important to share, I think. So here are some random thoughts:

* People who used to live in reasonably-sized homes are now living in campers (this is what the FEMA trailers are.) I could do this for a week, or even maybe a month. But sixth months? I cannot imagine.

*Our team was divided into two groups - half of us worked on rebuilding homes that had been cleaned out already - these were our skilled workers, who could work on electricity and plumbing and finishing and other things I most definitely cannot do. The rest of us were on clean-up/sanitizing crews, which were really demolition crews. Anywhere two feet above the water level and below in houses had to be torn out to the studs. The black mold growing was everywhere. One house we worked on had to be torn out except the ceiling. These houses have not been touched since late August.

*One women, whose home was extremely damaged by the hurricane, but whose home is now in the rebuild stage, commented on how hard it was to have people come in to clean-up and sanitize. She knew they were there helping, but as they threw away her broken and destroyed possessions, she would follow behind and pick things up, wanting to save broken lamps, etc., the only things she had to hold onto. She urged volunteer workers to have compassion for such behavior, for trying to hold on to any piece of life-before possible.

*There was noticeable difference in how the hurricane impacted/continues to impact people from different socio-economic backgrounds. Better-built houses obviously fared better - other homes were already weak before sitting in water. Those with resources can rebuild more quickly, and others have to wait longer for help to come. The long term effects of this disparity in the overall recovery and rebuilding of the communities will be interesting to watch unfold, important.

*If you have a week, volunteer! I definitely suggest working with CORE - Christians Organized for Relief Efforts on the grounds of St. Paul UMC in Ocean Springs. They have tents to stay on, and serve three meals a day, at a cost of $60 for your stay (typically a week) - and this is not required, but suggested for those who are able. They have tools, a shower truck (really nice!), work advisors, devotional time, etc. I found the leadership to be more theologically conservative than I am, but that, I thought, was hardly at issue for our purposes. I wouldn't want to live in the tents for long, but it was certainly comfortable for a week. And they have a wireless network - what more could one want? Plus, St. Paul has its doors open from 6am to 10pm for workers to get inside and relax. Their hospitality to the base camp is truly amazing.