Thursday, November 30, 2006

Random

I pulled into the local grocery store parking lot at 11pm tonight. It's my favorite time to shop - there's really only one grocery store in town (besides Wal-Mart) and it is always packed all day - 11pm is usually a safe time to go. Tonight, I was in desperate need of cat food. I pulled in and immediately saw the pastor of the other United Methodist Church in town and the captain of the Salvation Army, standing in the parking lot, chatting. A mini impromptu gathering of the clergy women of Oneida. Random!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Confronting the Controversy

Regular readers of my blog will know that I generally try to avoid offending when I can - at least I like to think I avoid offending. I usually feel I can say what I need to say without tearing down people who think differently than me. But recently, I've been moved to make a more bold, declaratory statement.

Here goes....

White Christmas lights are boring. Multi-colored Christmas lights are fun. Possisble exception: if you have candles in your windows ONLY, then it is ok to use just white lights. Otherwise, people, go for the color! If you want an 'elegant' look, I've seen some very nice very pale multi-colored lights that are not too boring. Seriously.

Sorry. But it had to be said.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Too Close for Comfort

Found this great cartoon via Lake Neuron, post aptly titled, "Too Close for Comfort." Indeed!

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

(Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Reflections: Exploration 2006

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of leading a group of young people from my annual conference to Exploration 2006, in Jacksonville, Florida. We had 6 youth/young adults from our AC, and two other young clergy lead with me. I had the opportunity twice to go to Exploration ('96 and '98) in high-school and college, and I remember being the only one from my annual conference, or at least the only one I was aware of at the time. So, I wanted to give a more organized experience to young people from NCNY this time around. One of the frustrating parts of the process for me in pursuing ordination was feeling disconnected. I knew I wanted to be a pastor, and communicated that to adults early on and consistently in my journey, but it wasn't until I was back inside the AC bounds serving a church as a probation that I felt really connected again. I've heard many young people express a sense of call, and I always wonder - is anyone following up with them? Is anyone keeping in touch with them? Helping them figure out what to do next? So, I'm trying to answer my own critique at least in part, and make sure I help that connection process take place.

Attending as an adult certainly made me reflect on my two experiences as a participant. When I went in '96 (Dallas/Fort Worth) I was recovering from surgery, and was popping Tylenol with Codeine every four hours for the pain. I slept through most of the event. I remember focusing all of my energy/attention on staying awake, only to realize I had been nodding off mid-sermon. I also remember being pretty sure at that time that I was going into youth ministry, would never attend seminary, and certainly would never become a pastor. I went to Exploration because my own pastor encouraged it, and helped fund the trip. But I did enjoy my time, half-awake and all. It was the first time I ever traveled solo, which is still something I enjoy. And it was fun to be in the presence of so many other young people considering ministry.

In 1998, I had a much different experience. I attended with a handful of friends from Ohio Wesleyan. The event was in Los Angeles, and we flew over the Grand Canyon on the way out. It may sound silly, but I couldn't believe how big it was, even from way up in the plane. I mean, I guess it is the Grand Canyon and all, but it was *so* big and beautiful. (I'm hoping to actually get to Arizona this year to see it a little closer up!) I managed to dig up my participant book this weekend to look through. (Yes, I'm a pack rat.) The structure of the event, the schedule is mostly unchanged. But I was apparently less critical as a young person than as an adult! I made comments in my book about all the preachers and speakers and workshops. I attended two workshops - Women in Ministry and Discerning and Discovering God's Call. I went to the second because my friends were all going to that one, and it turned out to be surprisingly thought-provoking. I was struggling, at the time, with a decision about whether or not to graduate a year early from Ohio Wesleyan. I eventually chose to do so, and my decision in part was from that workshop. I had high praise for Bishop Woodie White, who preached at the commitment service, Bishop Roy Sano, host bishop, and then Rev. Minerva Carcano. Liked the music team. Like all of it, really.

Now, as an adult leader, I couldn't turn off my critical lens. Our leadership from NCNY was interesting - three of us ordained together this June - theologically at opposite ends of the spectrum. All of us under 40. We tend to disagree with each other on most things, but have somewhat of a common understanding about where the church is and where the church needs to be, which makes us interesting partners in ministry too. We talked to each other a lot about the language, the music, the preaching, the structure of the schedule, the seminary displays, etc., though I suspect that we had a lot more to say about this than the young people with us did. Bishop Carcano was supposed to preach the closing worship at this event, but was not able to attend, so I was disappointed there. All in all, though, I know the youth we took had a great time and each took at least something helpful away.

I was just glad to be in Jacksonville instead of Central New York in late November. Our hotel was gorgeous, and right on the river/boardwalk. It was beautiful all weekend, and I was glad to have no responsibilities at the event!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sites to Check Out

Just got home from Exploration (where I finally, if briefly, got to meet Natalie of Take My Hand - excellent!) and I'm not ready to recap yet, so in the meantime, here are a couple of sites I've been visiting a lot lately:

CoolPeopleCare.org - This site will email you a daily tip on something you can do ("5 Minutes of Caring") to re-focus your life on others, the environment, justice, etc. I like the tips so far, like today's, which focuses on an ongoing theme of theirs, "Christmas is not your birthday."

Another is Treehugger.com which is a blog/site that highlights eco-friendly products/inventions/innovations, like this water-powered clock, and lots of cool eco-friendly off-the-grid type pre-fab homes (sorry, big-bro, can't find the one I wanted to show you.)

Check 'em out.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Review: How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins

I finally finished reading (#19) How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins. I would describe this book as a theology of the emergent movement, a 'foundations' sort of book. Maybe Rollins wouldn't describe it that way, but I mean it as a compliment. The book describes an understanding of God - or a not-understanding of God - that is where I see a lot of people these days, where I see a lot of people who are looking for a spiritual life, a faith community.

Rollins writes two parts - the first is the 'heavy' stuff - the theology, and the second is outlines and explanations of twelve worship services that represent what he's talked about in the first part. The services aren't meant to be copied, though they can be, but they're meant to give more tangible examples of what he's talking about. I had a hard time getting into the book at first, so I went and read the services, part two, first, and then went back and read the 'heavy' stuff, which I found a helpful approach. I managed to finally finish it off (I have no excuse, really, it is a short book) when I was stuck in a doctor's office waiting room for 2+ hours.

Rollins talks a lot about how we often think we can talk about God in a knowledgeable way, but he stresses that what we don't know, and our realization of what we don't know, is often more significant. He talks about "conceptual idols" - making idols of our beliefs about God. "Like an aesthetic idol . . . the conceptual idol refers to any system of thought which the individual or community takes to be a visible rendering of God. The only significant different between the aesthetic idol and the conceptual idol lies in the fact that the former reduces God to a physical object while the latter reduces God to an intellectual object." (12) Revelation is "not to be though of either as that which makes God known or as that which leaves God unknown, but rather as the overpowering light that renders God known as unknown." (17)

Rollins talks a lot about our beliefs, our theology, as something that can potential get in our way of having actual encounters with God. He sees this is the problem of the Pharisees in the New Testament. "They held so closely to their interpretation of the Messiah that when the Messiah finally appeared in a form that was different to what they expected, they rejected the Messiah in order to retain the integrity of their interpretation." (21) It isn't, then, necessarily that what they Pharisees believe is so wrong or destructive. It is that what they believe and how committed they are to the rightness of what they believe leaves them unable to experience anything greater than their beliefs. He continues, "If theology comes to be understood as they place where God speaks, then we must seek, not to speak of God, but rather to be that place where God speaks." Compelling.

Some other highlights:
"God is not the object of our thought but rather the absolute subject before whom we are the object. This is confirmed in baptism when we say that we are 'baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.' Here we do not name God but God's name names us." (23, bold is my emphasis.)
What Rollins calls an "a/theistic" approach to God: "a form of disbelieving what one believes, or rather, believing in God while remain in dubious concerning what one believes about God." (26)
The idea of God as "hypernomous" - not anonymous as in completely unknown. But hypernomous - so known to us that God is unknown. Overwhelming.
"It is only in the midst of undecidability that real decisions are made. For instance, take the example of two people getting married with the firm conviction that the union will last as long as they both live. In this state of obvious delusion no real decision needs to be made. The future is believed to be so certain that the decision to marry requires no decision at all. Yet if two people understand that their relationship will face various hardships, that the future is uncertain and that there are no guarantees, then, far from preventing a decision, this is the very point when a real decision needs to be made. The vows of marriage are not so much affirmations of what one believes will take place but rather promises that one will work towards ensuring that it will indeed happen." (34)
Rollins talks about Jesus not as one who gives us all the answers, but as one who makes us want more, ask more: "Instead of religious discourse being a type of drink designed to satisfy our thirst for answers, Jesus made his teaching salty, evoking thirst." (37)
"A true spiritual seeking can be understood as the ultimate sign that one already has that which on seeks, or rather, that one is already grasped by that which one seeks to grasp. Consequently a genuine seeking after God is evidence of having found." (50)

All along while reading I had been thinking of Derrida and deconstruction, so I was glad Rollins mentioned him (45-46) too. I first encountered Derrida in my senior year of high-school English, and found it all a bit overwhelming and disagreeable. So, I took a whole course on Derrida in seminary, and found him a little bit more disagreeable (and thought-provoking.) But the context in which Rollins talks about Derrida and theology finally had me getting and appreciating a bit more.

Rollins' final section in part one transitions towards the more concrete, talking about love and ethics and what the previous chapters mean about how we live as disciples of Jesus Christ. This leads to the transition to the worship services, which are really quite unique.

An excellent read. And probably a short read, if you're a bit more determined than I've been about reading these last few months!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Heroes

Since I haven't been in the mood to write anything else, I thought I'd respond in a new post to John's question in the comments of my last post about All Saints Day: "So, who were your heroes?" Put the names out there into the blogosphere. He was referring to this part of my post:
"And yet, I'm not sure we can help but make heroes of those we admire. When I was in junior-high, I regularly kept a 'hero-list'. I will confess to you that I a bit(?!) arrogantly consider myself hard to impress, so the list was pretty hard to get onto. But I can remember today almost everyone whose name graced the list, and I remember how and why they got there. A couple teachers, a classmate or two, some family members, people in the arts, even an inspirational speaker that came to speak to us. I like to think they gave me something to work for, a model to be like, to try to be like at least."

Well, I admit I had to spend some time going through my old journals to find the complete list. Some people were added on through the years of course, and others dropped off when they become less a part of my current state of mind, though I don't think I ever mentally 'kicked someone off'!

Here's the list:
Al DeNeve - Mr. DeNeve was my ninth grade English teacher. A few of my classmates and I used to call him "the smartest man in the world." He seemed to know everything - both useful and silly things. He would share poetry with us, and loved to rewrite fairy tales using words that sounded like the right words when said quickly (like "cheeses priced" instead of "Jesus Christ"). He was the first teacher that I had that ever interpreted what we were reading in a deeper way. We read many, many short stories that year, and he would always talk to us about the metaphors in the stories and the subtexts and I'd never had anyone do that before. I felt like he was solving literature mysteries for us. I was fascinated. Plus, hey, he taught me grammar. Some of it I still use! A nice man, an excellent teacher.

James Wygant - Mr. Wygant I considered second only in intelligent teachers to Mr. DeNeve. He was my eighth grade science teacher - basic physics/chemistry stuff. I always hated science, so anyone who could make me enjoy it was already winning points. I liked Mr. Wygant because, as I wrote in my journal, he was "quiet, but always smiling on the inside." I felt like he was always laughing to himself about the silliness of junior high drama.

Frankie Scinta - Scinta came to my junior high school as a motivational speaker. Like people are with a good sermon, I don't remember the specifics - just that he was funny and direct and encouraging general goodness out of the students and managed to be cool while doing it. Apparently, he and his family now perform a family-friendly show in Las Vegas.

Carol Finn - Carol and I went to high school together (sometime toward the end of high school is when I stopped keeping the list) and I primarily knew her through orchestra. Carol was the concert mistress, which gave her a step in the right direction right there, and she was one who didn't seem to lord her principal chair status over others (a common problem!). But what I liked most about Carol was that she didn't seem to fit any particular mold, didn't seem to be part of any particular set clique, which is of course a miracle in high school. She had her own style, was very intelligent, never seemed to care what other people thought of her. She was funny, and adventurous (at least to my timid mind) without doing dumb things for adventure. I got to room with her on a trip to Austria with one of our string groups when I was a junior and she was a freshman in college. The trip would not have been nearly as much fun without her.

Kevin "Bull" Troy - When I was in between fifth and sixth grades, I went to "Adventure Camp" at our conference church camp, Camp Aldersgate. The 'dean' of the camp, a clergyperson, had to cancel last minute. Taking over for him were two counselors, Laura and Bull. My mom was not excited - Bull was huge - 6' 4" and muscular, pierced ears, bandana over a shaved head, and generally your stereotype of a tough-guy. He was great! The nicest guy, friendly and tender-hearted. He was on staff the next several years, and has since stayed connected with my uncle (a pastor appointed near Aldersgate), and I always looked forward to seeing him.
Meredith Niles - I met Meredith at Camp when I was going into ninth grade. (She has a twin that I never did get to know - Mindy - so Meredith was called "Mork" by many.) Like Carol, Meredith struck me as a non-conformist with her own style. She had a deep faith, and yet still struggled and was down on herself about so much. She was a couple years older than me - I thought she was very mature, and I really admired her, her creativity.

Robert Zazzara - He conducted the area all-state choir when I was in ninth grade. (He's faculty - retired? - at Ithaca College.) This was the first music event I was part of that was outside of my own school. I loved my junior high chorus teacher - she was great. But this was my first experience with someone of his level of training, singing with other singers who were more serious students, and singing songs that were at a higher level of difficulty. I loved it. I still remember a couple of the pieces we sang. And I thought he was an awesome conductor.

Henry Wilson - I've written about Henry before. Henry played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at Salt City Playhouse for the first three seasons I went to see it there. Without ever speaking to him, I was totally infatuated with him in a way that only junior high kids can be. But because of my huge crush, I came to know and love the Lenten and Easter seasons better. I still love Jesus Christ Superstar. I am still intrigued by what propelled Judas Iscariot, still wonder what he was really like. Henry was an excellent actor and singer. These days, he (among other things, I'm sure) sings in a local band.

A few others here and there, but these were the 'main' members of my elite group.
Who are your heroes?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day. I don't ever remember celebrating All Saints Sunday when I was growing up. (I apologize to my former pastor for forgetting if we did!) But in seminary, we always had an All Saints-themed worship in chapel, and the church I served as youth pastor also had a day to remember those in the congregation who died during the previous year. When I started serving St. Paul's, I introduced an All Saints Sunday celebration. My first and second years were filled, it seemed, with deaths of long-time faithful members, and I think as a congregation we were grieving for the collective loss, and I hoped an All Saints celebration would be a way to give voice to our community grief.

This year, we have just a handful of folks who've passed away that are directly related to the congregation, though one loss is very recent and very difficult - a young mother, who died after a battle with ALS, which is just a horrific disease. But regardless of the numbers, I find it a meaningful time to reflect on who we've lost, why we loved them, and how we might wish to live in a way that we too could be so loved.

I think we, perhaps as an American society, perhaps just as human beings, do interesting things to history when people die. What one has been and how one lived and what one did during their days on earth don't always have a lot to do with how we remember them. This is essential, merciful, grace-full, forgiving, and sometimes troubling all at once. Human beings have a wonderful way of forgetting history, and sometimes this is extremely detrimental. On the other hand, things that seemed so important to remember, to hold grudges over, to tally up when someone was living can seem pretty trivial in light of our mortality. Perhaps, hoping that others won't hold all of our bad deeds, no doubt readily accessible to our own minds, against us when we're gone, we're anxious to forgive and forget when others pass.

My youngest brother and I got in a conversation about these sort of things the other day. By conversation, I mean argument. But it was ok - Todd and I have similar personalities in a lot of ways, and we're both stubborn, and we take some sort of strange pleasure out of arguing topics to the point of ridiculousness. Anyway, we were talking about Todd's plans for the future. As an actor, they are ever-changing. He was dreaming about opening an 'institute' for the performing arts, and thinking about naming buildings and things after all the people who influenced him. I, knowing some of these influencers, mentioned my surprise at some of his choices. So many flaws among some of those he named. Do you honor such a person? Where do you draw the line? I had in mind a particular person from the area who died in a way we consider 'heroic', but who I knew to be a not nice person in some significant ways - abusive to women, for example. Yet, he's memorialized around these parts - is that smart? What does that say?

Or, for another example: Martin Luther King, Jr. A man with flaws, serious flaws. A man who moved millions, continues to move people. But, he's held up so high as a cultural icon that we easily ignore the harder, challenging things he said, worked for. One of my favorite poems about MLK, by Carl Wendell Himes, Jr., says: "Now that he is safely dead / Let us praise him / build monuments to his glory / sing hosannas to his name. / Dead men make / such convenient heroes: They cannot rise / to challenge the images / we would fashion from their lives. / And besides, / it is easier to build monuments / than to make a better world."

There is something about making people into saints that takes away their power to really touch us, because as soon as we 'saint' them, we make them something we don't think we can become. We make MLK's dream unrealistic, because we know we're no MLK.

And yet, I'm not sure we can help but make heroes of those we admire. When I was in junior-high, I regularly kept a 'hero-list'. I will confess to you that I a bit(?!) arrogantly consider myself hard to impress, so the list was pretty hard to get onto. But I can remember today almost everyone whose name graced the list, and I remember how and why they got there. A couple teachers, a classmate or two, some family members, people in the arts, even an inspirational speaker that came to speak to us. I like to think they gave me something to work for, a model to be like, to try to be like at least.

Ah, the end of the post, and no clear conclusions. Somewhere between cynicism and hope...