Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Prayer

As I mentioned in a recent post, at St. Paul's during Lent we have weekly communion services. This year we are focusing on prayer. Things aren't all planned out yet (hey, I still have 6 hours til the first session!!), but we'll be looking at prayer from different ways, exploring different prayers and types of prayer, looking at the Lord's Prayer, experimenting with Lectio Divina, etc.

My own 'prayer life' has gone through many incarnations. When I was little, and having a spiritual crisis in fourth grade (no joke), my mother asked me if I was praying everyday. "No!" So she told me to pray every night and that I should do that by telling God about my day. I took her quite literally, and being an obedient child, I did exactly what she said. I would first pray the "God bless"es, systematically going through each family member and each extended family member, including all two dozen or so cousins and occasionally even select second cousins. And then I would tell God about my day, in nauseating detail: "Dear God, today I went to school and first we studied math and then we had a spelling test and then we had lunch and then..." If I made it through all of this, I would end with the Lord's Prayer, but more often than not, I fell asleep somewhere through my recitation of events. Actually though, this, along with the daily Bible reading my mom suggested, really helped me through that time and comforted me.

As I got older, I experimented with different ways of praying, never quite returning to that childhood pattern. Now I like to think of my prayer life as more intertwined with everything I do. Isn't conversation with God supposed to be part of all we do? But, still, I have to admit that I'm more likely to do the talking and less likely to do the listening. Intertwining prayer with life only works if there is a space in there to hear as well. I'm not so good at emptying out all the bustling noises of my head to make space for anything other than myself to talk back to me. (I'm reminded of this excellent post by my brother about his meditation experiences...)

Having a disciplined, set-aside, formatted prayer time frankly seems tedious to me sometimes. But I guess that is part of the reality of discipline. If it was something we would do outside of a disciplined routine, then we wouldn't need the discipline of it. But like all disciplines, they are there to shape us even when we don't really want to be shaped.

Praying together is a different matter. I hate reading unison prayers if I feel like I (or we) don't really mean all the words we are saying. And yet, I find that praying together is important, and that we have corporate things to share with God as well as individual. I can think of some specific times when corporate prayer was very meaningful, but I find it hard to consistently avoid feeling like we're just going through the motions.

Do you have a favorite way of praying? Do you find (and how do you find) corporate prayer to be meaningful? Do you have a disciplined way to pray?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Weekend Update

Nothing too lengthy and/or profound to say, so here's what's left:

- I like watching the Oscars, but I hate listening to acceptance speeches. I find them so awkward 50% of the time. I give people about one sentence to see if they will actually give a good speech, and then I hit mute until the speech is over.

- I think I like facebook better than myspace.

- I've given up Diet Coke for Lent (all soda, but I only drink Diet Coke anyway.) Two of my members challenged me - one is giving up soda and the other is giving up meat in exchange for me giving up soda. The one who said she would give up meat is being very delinquent so far (not unlike Melissa at Going on to Perfection :).) I've been wanting to stop drinking soda for a while (at least so much soda) because it seems that all those chemicals can't be very good for you, but I really love my Diet Coke, and haven't made myself take the plunge before. But I am extremely competitive, so I'm finding it easier to hold up my end of the deal this time around...

- I've added some new blogs to my regular read list: Will Samson, Lisa Samson, TallSkinyKiwi are a few to check out.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Relay for Life 2007

I am walking again in the Relay for Life this year - the fourth year our church will have a team participating in this American Cancer Society event. I'm really bad at raising money in person - I ask my parishioners to give enough to other things (like to the church!) so I usually have better luck with online fundraising. If you're looking for a place to put $10 (or more, of course...), I invite you to check out my page here and consider making a donation.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Paying Attention

I've been reading on various blogs about what different pastors/seminarian/theology-types are doing for Lent - giving something up, some even abstaining from the internet or blogging for Lent (eek - brave souls)... I don't usually give something up for Lent. Sometimes I try, but I rarely keep at it through the whole season, and more often than not, I just don't give something up at all. I'm not sure quite what my plan will be this year, but the time is fast approaching!

I do feel a bit more prepared for Lent this year - some of my clergy colleagues and I - other young women in my conference who are pastors - have been getting together to plan worship for Advent and now Lent. We talk over ideas and themes and texts together, and I've found it extremely helpful. Advent and Lent have ways of sneaking up on me, but this time around, I actually have at least a general plan to take me from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

Still, though, one of the hard things about being a pastor is that you never get to fully immerse yourself in the season you are actually in - at least, this is a struggle I have. By the time Lent is actually here, my mind is already halfway into the post-Easter season, thinking about April and May and June. I find it hard to be fully present in the time we're in. And when I'm worrying about the details of each service, I find it hard to also have a sense that I am also a worship participant. Of course, I find ways to nurture my spirit on my own, but I do miss being part of a corporate worshipping body in non-pastor ways!

One thing we do at St. Paul's that I have really come to cherish is our weekly Communion and Soup Supper Service. Each Wednesday, we meet for dinner - we bring cans of soup - one for the food pantry, and one to eat, along with different breads. We start out with a short communion service. Last year we focused on learning about communion - celebrating different ways, learning what each part of the liturgy means. This year, we will focus on prayer and ways that we pray. We usually have 15-20 people for this service, and we meet in our small chapel, and I enjoy the quiet, intimate, reflective service. I'm still leading, but the atmosphere also allows me to feel like I'm participating too.

What are you doing to pay attention to the season this Lent? Are you giving something up? If you are a worship leader, how do you participate while you are leading?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow Day

Ah, today is the kind of snow day that applies to (most) adults as well as lucky children, because there is just SO MUCH SNOW! My mailbox is covered. I couldn't open my garage door for all the snow piled against it. The church steps are buried. The amount of snow dropped on Central New York this past week has been phenomenal. Even still, I am about 45 minutes away from places like Oswego County, where a state of emergency has been declared because of the 100+ inches of snow. I am enjoying my snow day - I did make it over to the church - I live next door - but the feeling is definitely of a relaxed, easy-paced day. But do keep in your thoughts today those who are working or stuck working double shifts, those who are without heat and power, and those who are without food and shelter in this crazy weather....

This picture is of the steps into St. Paul's:
















This one is of my parsonage, with me taking the picture from the church steps. Believe it or not, that expanse in between is supposed to be our parking lot!:

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Reflections: CCYM Winter Retreat

I've been the conference youth coordinator of our CCYM for just under four years now. I was a CCYMer myself when I was in high school, and when I was asked by the youth to take over for the 'retiring' coordinator in 2003, I felt like I couldn't pass up the opportunity. It's been a bumpy four years so far. The first couple years were difficult because getting a new youth coordinator is like getting a new pastor for the youth, and the previous coordinator, Rev. Dave Hays, who was the coordinator when I myself was a youth, was dearly loved. He and I are quite different in personality and leadership style, and the transition was sometimes hard.

The next couple years were hard because we are steadily moving towards a merger of four(!) conferences and we've been in conversations as CCYMs with coming together, starting already to share ministries, and, at least in NCNYCCYM's case, changing how we do things now so that when we do merge, we'll already have like structures to deal with. We've dealt with a series of changes, one right after the other, and this has been stressful for youth and adult leaders alike. One thing that I've found in working with young people is that it is wrong to assume that young people aren't attached to "the way things are" just because they are young. Young people might adapt better to change than older adults, but it is still painful for them to go through these changes. So, these four years as coordinator have been much more difficult than I expected, and the last few months in particular have been very hard, as we've made some major changes to our schedule of events.

This past weekend, we held our annual Winter Retreat at Casowasco. I will admit, I was anxious about the event and how it would go given all the internal issues we've been going through. But I was really pleased at how the weekend went. In fact, it was the most fun I've had at a CCYM event in a long time. Weekends like this - the sharing the youth do at weekends like this - I am always reminded of why I'm doing this. Being part of the journey of young people at this transitional time in their faith journey is a gift. Hearing youth articulate their faith and have revelations and experience God's call and get senses for the first time of their unique identities - priceless to witness.

Part of our event involves a time when youth have what we call 'open witness' - a chance for them to come forward and share what God's been doing in their lives. I want to share just some of the general ideas they shared:
  • "Pay It Forward" to new people involved in CCYM
  • 1 Cor. 13 - "Everything stops but love"
  • Ecclesiastes 7:8 - "The end is better than the beginning"
  • "Beth is a pushover"!!
  • Psalm 121
  • "Where did we see God's face today?"
  • from Dr. Suess, "Don't cry because it's over, laugh because it happened."
  • One of our adults read a passage from Galatians - 3:1-5, from The Message, which is fabulous and a poignant text for those of us ever caught up in trying to be good enough for God.

We had three great keynote speakers - a DS, an elder, and a probationer (who is actually younger than me!) Rev. Becky Laird shared a powerful song - "Come Rest" from Considering Lily. I also heard "Changed for the Good" from the musical Wicked - two of the youth sung this at the talent show. I'd never heard it before, but it was apparent that all the youth had - they were singing along. Also, we had two youth who just recently returned from a jurisdictional Mission of Peace trip to Nicaragua. One of them shared a responsive litany that they used on their trip, a merging of Isaiah 65 and the Prayer of St. Francis, which I will leave you with:

Responsive Litany (please credit Rev. Ted Anderson with this arrangement if you use this.)

Leader: The voice of God cries out, 'Behold, I have come to create a new heaven and a new earth, not like the old creation which you and your ancestors knew.'

People: O God, make me an instrument of your Peace.

Leader: The former troubles will be forgotten; the ways of injustice will be hidden from my sight.

People: Where there is hatred, let me sow Love. Where there is injury, let me sow Pardon.

Leader: Nation will not lift up sword against nation; no child will hunger; the face of the earth will not be laid to waste.

People: Where there is doubt, let me sow Faith. Where there is danger, let me sow Hope.

Leader: People of all races will build houses and inhabit them side by side. They will plant vineyards and share fruit.

People: Where there is darkness, let me sow Light. Where there is sadness, let me sow Joy.

Leader: The mountain of God will be recognized as the highest of all mountains, and God's people shall be one.

People: Grant, O God, that we may no so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand.

Leader: The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw with the ox. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.

People: For it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, in consecrating our lives to be messengers of your creation that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

General Conference and the Use of Technology

Sorry for the lack of posting - I've had a busy week. As I mentioned, I had a Book of Resolutions Task Force meeting this past week, in conjunction with the Interagency Legislative Task Force Meeting. The Interagency thing is where staff/members of different boards and agencies get together to talk about legislation they will be submitting to General Conference 2008. The idea is that agencies will be able to collaborate on legislation and avoid submitting similar/overlapping petitions or avoid assigning work to another agency without informing them beforehand.

During our conversation together, the issue of technology and General Conference came up. Someone asked about the rules for using things like PDAs, cell phones, and laptops during GC, especially for delegates. Currently, there are no rules in place. The conversation quickly turned to all the 'bad' ways technology might be used at GC, and a suggestion that device-use be restricted for delegates, and signals jammed onsite.

At this point, I had to speak up. I think the conversation was showing some fundamental differences in the way people make use of technology. I immediately thought of Leonard Sweet's language of 'native' and 'immigrant' when it comes to digital technology. I don't always agree with Sweet's ideas (he was a professor of mine at Drew) but I think he puts this in a helpful way to think about. Natives don't just 'use' technology - it is a fully integrated part of life, a way of life. But 'immigrants' may use technology, but more as an external tool that is employed to facilitate work. To me, attempting to limit use of technology at GC would be limiting a huge part of how people expect to be able to live, interact, and carryout work and relationships during GC. I think some of the folks as the meeting only thought of ways that technology could distract from the 'real work' to be done, but I see exciting possibilities for how it can actually positively and radically impact the work of the church.
I'm not sure I convinced everyone, but there were some who were certainly on the same page as me. To illustrate the point perfectly, one member received a text message while we were talking that had important information for our meeting. God moves in mysterious and timely ways, right?

What do you think? How can/might/will/should/shouldn't technologies be used at General Conference?
**Update: Jay mentions in comments that some rules are already in place. I'm surprised no one at the meeting knew about these. I understand the concerns Jay mentions - really, I do. But how long will these rules hold up against a changing world? That's another issue...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Review: Pan's Labyrinth

This week I went to see Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno). (I will try not to give too many details, but please don't read this review if you don't want to be spoiled!) I had read some good things about the movie, and wanted to see it to have seen it, but wasn't particularly excited about it. I was surprised, very pleasantly surprised. This was an excellent, excellent film. In fact, it is definitely one of the best movies I've seen in some time.

I found the previews for the movie, which suggest that the film is mostly a child's fantasy, to be misleading. The fantasy element is certainly a huge part of the film, but the previews that I saw mostly overlooked the 'reality' part of the movie - the war zone that is the backdrop for the fantasy world. Overall, though, the whole film has something of a fairy-tale feel to it, while at the same time maintaining a horrible, cruel realism. I found myself just blinking dumbly at the screen when the credits started to roll. This is definitely an emotionally draining movie.

The acting was superb - no actors that I recognized, though most all of them have lengthy resumes of work in Spanish films. Notable: Ivana Baquero, the (now) 12 year-old star, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones (who plays two roles in the film, not that you'd know it without looking at the credits), Alex Angulo, and Sergi Lopez.

The film touches on themes of perseverance - what are we able to cope with, as humans? And how do we cope with it? How do we manage? Of course, children are in most things more resilient than adults - they can handle so much more than can adults. They handle things differently. And this film is a bittersweet look at how one child copes with the unspeakable things she continually and unrelentingly is seeing and experiencing.

Highly recommended.

Help: Software Question

We're looking into buying electronic membership software for our church. Any recommendations on what to try? I've been looking around online, but can't find good reviews anywhere. We're not looking for anything fancy. Something that is simple for our office staff to use would be best over something with more bells and whistles.
Thanks in advance for your help!