Friday, July 28, 2006

Thank You, Adam Walker Cleaveland

A while back, when I was looking into prayer stations for worship, I found Adam Walker Cleaveland's blog, pomomusings. I loved the worship images, and eventually subscribed for the content as a whole.

This past week, Adam ran a 'contest' to give away copies of a new book, How (Not) to Speak of God, by Peter Rollins. I managed to get a copy.

Then, Adam ran another 'contest' (generous blogger, no?) to give away invites to ebible.com. I managed to snag one of those as well. (I now have three of my own to give away, if you're interested.)

And finally, after weeks of reading his reviews, I ended up watching So You Think You Can Dance? on Fox. Like I need another TV show (I'm a LOST addict) to watch. Of course, unlike Adam, who was rooting for Allison, I prefer Heidi, Benji, and Travis. In his most recent post about the show, Adam actually got criticized because his post wasn't about Lebanon. Geez. The conflict breaks my heart, and I think about it, and talk about it, and have ideas about it. But I do continue to go on with the rest of my life. Maybe it shouldn't be that way. But I thought the criticism was a little petty. But anyway, thanks, Adam, for a good week in the blogosphere!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Relaxation - need ideas!

This week I'm teaching a workshop on relaxation for a gathering of youth. If you read my blog regularly, you may have gathered that relaxation and managing stress are not my strong suits. I wasn't originally supposed to teach this workshop though, but circumstances have left me in charge.

Do you have inspiring ideas, creative and fun ideas for talking about relaxation with youth? Let me know!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Briefly

Briefly:
  • Why is it that meat-eaters have such a problem with vegetarians? I rarely talk about my vegetarianism, or try to 'convert' folks unless they ask me about it, but sometimes when meat-eaters notice I'm a vegetarian, they act like I'm insulting them somehow. I don't get it. I really don't. (My brother has written on the topic as well, back around Thanksgiving time.)
  • This week I had the experience of being too late, twice, to provide the pastoral care I was hoping/needing to do in a certain context. Ugh. But in the same week, I found myself perfectly placed as the perfect person to provide pastoral care in an unexpected situation. Funny how that works. Now if I could only get the good feelings about the later to match the bad feelings about the former.
  • from cnn.com, other world news: "Food emergencies in Africa are occurring three times more often now than in the mid-1980s, but the global response to famine continues to be "too little, too late," the international aid agency Oxfam said on Monday. Conflict, AIDS and climate change are all exacerbating food shortages for sub-Saharan Africa's 750 million people, with innovative solutions and massive long-term support needed to break the cycle, the British-based group added in a new report." The pervasive and continued existence of hunger, when I can throw out food just because I simply never got around to eating it before it went bad, is appalling.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Perspective.

When I was little, we usually had one of those 20 inch deep wading pools, or, in more desperate times, just a sprinkler. We played a lot in the sprinkler, which was never used for the silly purpose of watering grass. It was our pseudo-beach-swimming-pool-oasis. We had great fun with it. For super fun, a sprinkler/wading pool combination was a treat. In summers when we could afford the fee, we might also get a pass to state parks, where we could swim in the local lake. But, park passes weren't always in the budget either.

This summer, my mother installed an above-ground swimming pool. As a life-long camper and once-upon-a-time lifeguard, I love swimming. I love the pool. And with the heat wave this week, and my hot swampy-smelling parsonage, I've been spending a lot of evenings in Rome (to Mom's delight of course.) It has been so warm this week that the pool water, without solar cover help, has been 85 or 86 degrees some days. It is actually almost too warm, we complain. Like bath water. You know you can't really claim your lower-middle-class status anymore when your pool water is too warm for you.

Last month Peter Sawtell, executive director of Eco-Justice Ministries, wrote his "Eco-Justice Notes" about air-conditioning, and the column has stuck with me. He talked about how amazed people are that his office isn't air-conditioned. He talked about hundreds who've died in heat waves. He talked about whether we can tolerate the inconvenience of being a bit too warm or a bit too cold.

Recently, I've asked our church trustees to look into an air-conditioner for the parsonage. These days, going for $80 or so, I'd pick up one myself, but of course the parsonage has those crank-out windows, and needs a special air-conditioner. But this summer, my fourth in the parsonage, the heat seems unbearable, even with sometimes three (three!) fans on in the room, and windows open. The thermostat read "91" in my bedroom several days this week. Ugh. I just can't do it.

I've never had air-conditioning before, except in my car (and it is currently not working). We never had them growing up. But now, we have two in my mom's house. One of my brothers has central air. Another brother has one in his dorm. Is it so much hotter? Or are we just so much more used to having complete comfort at all times? I suspect the answer is somewhat of "yes" to both. So an air-conditioner will be a guilty purchase. So many don't even have the access to fans that I do, or the park pass that I now get every year, or even the sprinkler and wading pool. But I fear soon air-conditioners will be as necessary as heaters are in Central New York weather.

Well, off to the pool...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tunnel Vision

When I was little, used to imagine that it would be great fun to have things happen that adults said weren't actually fun. For instance, I always thought it would be great to break a bone and be on crutches. Maybe that sounds silly, but it seemed like having a cast that people could sign would be fun. Walking on crutches - fun! Right? I have managed to so far escape from any bone breakage, but I have been on crutches - not so fun, as it turns out. Perspective. Maturity. Reality.

Another thing I wanted to happen: I wanted my town to experience a flood. I pictured in my mind rowing down the streets in boats. Floating around town. Swimming in the house. Great fun. Well, tonight I spent hours trying to pack up my finished parsonage basement so that the cleaners could come tomorrow to check out the water damage from heavy rains after heavy rains here in New York. The carpets, less than three years old, are probably going to have to go. Most of my stuff is fine, but a few things here and there will have to be tossed out. And of course there is the inconvenience of it all. I have a busy weekend, and I don't have time to take care of all this right now. And it's too hot. And now I have all these phone calls to make. What a pain! And last week, when area flooding caused roads to be out in many directions, I had to spend almost double time on the road to get to places. Flooding - not so fun, as it turns out.

Of course, given the devastating hurricane season in the Gulf region last year, flooding and its consequences are in the public eye. Having traveled to the area on a VIM team myself, I saw firsthand the destruction and devastation. So I can put things in perspective - I am blessed, because I'm losing my carpets, not my home. I'm blessed because my floor is wet, but my walls are not. I'm blessed because the cleaners will be here tomorrow, not months from now. I'm blessed because my community is not wiped out. Still, as I looked over possessions that have to be dried out, I wondered - why is it that we so often have to experience things for ourselves before we get a sense of deep empathy and compassion? Why can we not see what things are important unless we are immediately affected?

Speaking of pet peeves, another pet peeve of mine is when celebrities take up charity causes only after they are personally affected by them. Can't they be passionate about cancer research without having cancer themselves? I know that's hyper-critical of me. I know I'm the same way. But we need to get over ourselves, and widen our field of vision. In a time when we hear report after report about climate changes and weather patterns that might have to do with global warming, still the administration seems uninterested. I wonder, what will it take? Will Bush be uninterested until his own immediate family is somehow affected? Because it seems to me that if we're not sure about global warming, we'd better be on the safe side, and make changes. Because being wrong with the other opinion will find us in bigger trouble eventually.

In a recent promotional campaign from Yahoo! Answers, experts ask questions that the public can answer. Stephen Hawking has asked "How can the human race survive the next hundred years? In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?" Over 20,000 people have responded so far, with answers ranging from "we can't" to religious responses to philosophical rants. His questions seem timely as headlines bring news of escalating violence in Israel/Palestine/Lebanon and threats of violence elsewhere. Scary stuff.

My own answer to Hawking? We need to expand our vision. We must develop the ability to understand others without having the exact same experiences they have. We must be able to think about the consequences of our actions for others. I guess that's a pretty simple answer, but obviously harder than it seems to put into action. One of my favorite Greek words in the gospels is splanchnizomai. It is translated usually as 'to have compassion', like in the frequent cases where Jesus has compassion on the crowds of people. It literally means to "feel bowels of pity" - it is a physical, gut reaction of the insides - your stomach literally turning over in compassion. That's the what Jesus feels when he sees us. That's his sense of vision.

What do you see? How do you see?

RevGals Friday Five: Pet Peeves

I don't usually answer the RevGals Friday Five, but who doesn't want to list their pet peeves?

Here goes.
1. Grammatical pet peeve - Incorrect use of apostrophes. In my hometown, a sign hung every summer: Apply Here For Summer Job's. This year, finally, the sign has been corrected. Someone clued them in, I guess. Another? Unnecessary use of quotation marks on signs and ads. "On Sale Now!" "Thank you!" "Please watch your step!" Why the random punctuation?

2. Household pet peeve - Hmm. I dislike chores in general. Not sure this counts as a pet peeve. Cat hair and litter boxes? Literal pet peeves? My cats are currently my only housemates.

3. Arts & Entertainment pet peeve (movie theaters, restaurants, concerts) - People who hoot and holler at theatrical performances and ballets as if they were at a football game. Junior high kids at movies in general.

4. Liturgical pet peeve - Overused phrases like "who we are and whose we are."

5. Wild card--pet peeve that doesn't fit any of the above categories - I have many driving related pet peeves. I hate it when I pass someone (using my cruise control, just driving along) and they suddenly start going faster and pass me back again. I have some road rage issues.

Bonus: Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: What do YOU do that others might consider a pet peeve?

Me? ME?? Ah. I'm super sarcastic. Some people are less fond of this than others ;)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

This and that...

A little bit of this and that:


  • Check out my brother's post on the recent NYState decision on gay marriage. Hilarious.
  • I was grocery shopping last night and saw two new items - crackers with grooves, better to hold toppings on, apparently, and Oreo cookies specially shaped for dunking. Seriously? How have we eaten Oreos all this time without this new breakthrough?
  • I love keeping track of all the countries I've had blog or website visits from. This week, I had a visitor from Brunei Darussalam. I will admit I'd never heard of such a place, and had to look it up. Huh.
  • Just finished reading Elements of Style by Wendy Wasserstein. (#15) I picked up the book after seeing my little brother perform in her An American Daughter earlier this year, an excellent production. The book was ok, but nothing great or unique, hence not getting a lengthy review. It seemed to similar to everything 'chick lit' that is out these days, but trying to be a bit more than that, and not quite getting there. It follows a handful of upper class social climbers in a post 9/11 New York City. But entertaining enough, if you are looking for something fairly mindless to take to the beach.

Friday, July 07, 2006

United Methodist Nerds: Annual Conference 2006 Reports

For all of you United Methodist Nerds (like me - I spent an hour reading these things) the 2006 Annual Conference Reports can be found here. I personally find it interesting to read the reports and to look at the membership/worship/Sunday School statistics.

Some items of note: I don't find any annual conference in the United States that reported gains in all three areas - worship, membership, and Sunday School, except the Troy Annual Conference. However, Troy's numbers are not 'on' in that apparently, in previous years, some 20% of churches in the conference were not reporting statistics. So their actual change in numbers is hard to discern!

Other items - noting every conference that did not have across the board losses (not all include Sunday School stats in their reports):
Alaska Missionary - Worship up, Sunday School up
North Carolina - Membership up
Tennessee - Membership and Sunday School up
North Georgia - Membership up
Memphis - Sunday School up
Red Bird Missionary - Membership up
Kentucky - Worship up
Central Texas - Membership and Worship up
Missouri - Worship up
Kansas East - Worship up
Louisiana - Worship up
Arkansas - Worship and Sunday School up
Oklahoma Missionary - Sunday School up
Peninsula Delaware - Worship up
Alabama West-Florida - Membership up
New York - Worship up
Oregon-Idaho - Worship up
Rio Grande - Worship up
Wisconsin - Worship up
Northern Illinois - Worship up
North Indiana - Worship up

Of course, that list doesn't take into account how much up/down conferences were. Some had gains of 20 or 30, or losses of that size, others had gains/losses of thousands.

Other notables: The Virginia Annual Conference reports that 500 churches had no new members in the year, prompting a call for a focus on evangelism. One conference noted that statistics now call for "spiritual formation groups" to be counted in statistics as church school stats. Louisiana reported a commissioning of one "courtesy probationary elder." Anyone know what that means?

Several conferences, in response to Judicial Council Decision 1032, crafted resolutions in support of the Council of Bishops statement, in opposition to the decision, and/or calling for sexual orientation to not be a factor in membership in the UMC. Many other resolutions ranged from fair-trade, living wage, Israel/Palestine, Iraq War, federal marriage ammendment, etc.

One conference, I forget which, committed to making sure that their GC/Jurisdictional Conference delegations for 2008 were more diverse, ethnically, and in other ways. I thought that was pretty neat, since elections can be so political. Elections are next year, don't forget! I think, reading the report, that my own Annual Conference is far less political than we think we are! I guess that's good?!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Time and Stuff

I'm in a hurry to get things done,
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die
but I'm in a hurry and don't know why.
--Alabama

I just finished reading Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, (#14) by Judith Levine. (Hey, I didn't buy it - I put it on my birthday list and had it bought for me as a present!) I saw it on Barbara Ehrenreich's blog (who wrote Nickel and Dimed) and thought it looked interesting. I really enjoyed the read. Levine, after a frustrating Christmas-shopping experience where she's realizes she's just spent huge amounts of money in a matter of a couple hours, decides with her partner Paul to attempt to go a year without buying anything that isn't necessary.

The book chronicles their year, month by month, of not buying, and the struggles, benefits, and challenges they face. First struggle, for instance, is defining what is necessary to buy. For example, obviously food is a necessity, but what kind of food? Paul argues that wine is a necessity for any Italian. Another challenge throughout the book is how others perceive their project. Other people actually find it impacts their relationship with Paul and Judy, because they can't go out to dinner together or to movies, etc. Levine also discusses feeling out of the loop - not being able to see Fahrenheit 9/11, for example, when it comes out.

The whole time I kept thinking, "I could never do this," even though I admire their project. Levine talks a lot about how buying is so tied up with our American identities. It even, we learned after 9/11, makes us more patriotic to buy things, right? Compelling stuff.

But, the thing that hit me most, because of where my mind's been lately, was her look into working and buying and time. Levine writes, "'A nation is really rich if the work day is six hours rather than twelve,' [Marx] wrote . . . Today, idleness belongs not to the superior classes but to the 'underclass,' who, being underemployed, undereducated (and, conservatives charge, undermotivated), have nothing better to do than hang out. The 'superior' classes - the executives, surgeons, and frequent-flyer inspirational speakers - are paid well enough to while away half the year at the beach, but they do not. Their status depends in part on being busy. They don't even while away the hours between 4 and 6 AM, when . . . they are all on their Nordic Tracks, making cell phone calls, and watching CNN. To be superior, you have to be industrious, even if what you do (say, manipulate your company's earnings reports to artificially raise stock values) is not useful." (pg. 203)

Levine rightly later ties this theoretically into Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which I read in college. Weber basically argues that our Protestant religious orientations make us good worker and good capitalists. Levine's point, I think, is that somewhere in our course of history, we made being busy the same as being good.

And don't we feel it?! I recently purchased a PDA, after years being fine without one. I like it, in many ways. But I have this one agenda item on my calendar called "rolling to-do list," which is probably self-explanatory. Every day, when I don't get the things on that list done, I reschedule it for the next day. It stresses me, my inability to complete that list. And yet, I know all of those things must be done eventually. It is my constant reminder of what I still have to do. Today, a holiday, my first thoughts on waking are that I've slept too late and that I should immediately get to work on something productive. I might not actually do so, but then I have a knot of guilt instead to carry with me.

Here, perhaps, is a place where left and right, progressives and conservatives are largely alike, don't you think? And in the church, we are probably disgraceful in our stressed and busy lives, especially in our leadership. We are no models of Sabbath, at least I am not. And yet, I can't picture that Jesus ever carried around a PDA, or made appointments to see people, or had to write out a plan of ministry. In reality, there is not very much that we "have to do" in this life. We must live. How much more do we feel compelled to add to that list? Must help others. Must live the gospel. What does that really entail?

My grandfather, Millard Mudge, was a man who was dearly loved - is dearly loved, even today, eight years after his death. When my brother was at the calling hour with one of his friends, and they watched people lined up for hours even outside and around the building, the friend asked my brother, "Who was your grandfather?" Well, my grandfather was a small-town man who had a garden in his backyard, and worked at Rome Cable. After he retired, he worked as a gas-station attendant, to pay the bills, and, I thought at the time, to buy me Happy Meals. I'm not sure how many awards he had to his name (except, his joy, an award one year as Father of the Year.) In his diaries, he kept track of the weather, mostly. He wore an "Jesus Loves You" clip on his sweater-vests, and he loved to give them away when people mentioned them to him. Who was he? He was a good man. And he practically has saint-status in our family. But mostly, he just lived his life.

When did that stop being enough?

I'm in a hurry to get things done,
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die
but I'm in a hurry and don't know why.