Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ah, the good old days...

Holy Week begins in three days. I have about 8 services to prepare yet (for which I should count myself lucky - I know pastors who have close to twice that because they serve larger parishes or multiple point charges). I have stuff I should be doing. But, tonight, I just spent an hour reminiscing and playing Oregon Trail. The same exact version I played in third grade every day. Sure, there are newer versions. But none can compare to the one I knew and loved. I made it to Oregon with food to spare, but I did manage to lose one of the members of my wagon. Alas!

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Family Tree

Earlier this month Jay at Only Wonder wrote about a site called Geni.com that helps you make your family tree online. It is also somewhat of a social networking site, because as you add member to your family tree, you can insert their email addresses and invite them to see your tree, and on and on, with the idea that eventually you could see how you were related to people you never realize you were related to. Their tag line: "Everyone's related." They are still in 'beta' and have some features yet to be added that I hope they get soon. But Jay's post inspired me to check out Geni and get back to an interest I haven't spent time with in a long time - genealogy.

Genealogy, quite appropriately, is an interest that runs in the family. I was pretty passionate about genealogy around sixth and seventh grade. Then, my interest (and ability) consisted more in copying down available information that other family members could give me. My paternal grandmother was an avid genealogist - she traveled a few times to Europe to research our ancestors, and uncovered a lot of information. My great-great aunt also shared many of her family memories before she died, and I had copies of her notebooks. And we've had family legends that we all know: we're related to the famed 'Loomis Gang', a Peabody from the Mayflower, and, I kid you not, someone called "Tom Quick the Indian Slayer," who is from the same side of the family as are our Cherokee ancestors.

Now, I've been inspired to take up the project again, and research is much easier thanks to the internet. If you can trace your family tree back a few generations at least, it is easy to find someone else who has significant research posted online with a common ancestor. Thanks to the hard work of others, I have been able to trace some parts of my tree back to the 12th century! I've also been enjoying running into research and posts online from my cousin and her mother, my Aunt Nan, who passed away a few years ago. I keep running into forums that she had posted in, or encouragement she was giving to others as they were doing their research, and it makes me feel connected to her too.

Family trees are funny things. My family has always been proud to lay claim to our Cherokee ancestry on the Quick side. I'm only something like 1/128th Cherokee, but it is something that we've always talked about in our family as a point of pride. Apparently, this woman, Nanyehe Ghigau, is my ancestor, and she was a strong and courageous Cherokee woman. Our Cherokee roots may be generations ago, but the physical features of our Cherokee ancestry are still apparent in my family today. The men in particular in the Quick family, but also my cousin and I, have physical features and coloring that I can only imagine are directly a result of our Cherokee heritage. So tracing this history provides a sense of connection.

On the other hand, family trees can also reveal or remind of painful things. Nanyehe Ghigau, for example, was a slave-owner. She was the first Cherokee woman known to own a slave, I read. My family mostly settled in the Northeast when they arrived from Germany, England, Sweden, Scotland, the Netherlands, and so I thought maybe we didn't have any slave owners in my family tree. But surprise - now I know otherwise. There are also complications closer to home. What about previous marriages that cause enough pain in real life without showing up on a 'proper' family tree? Or adoptions that have whole loving stories to them that could never be told on a simple pedigree chart on paper? Families - today's families and families from biblical times and before - have never been neat and simple things that could fit into boxes on a chart. Families, how they got to be the shape that they are, these are stories that have to be told with love and carefulness.

So, I am enjoying my look into my own history, my own roots. I'm finding out things like (eek!) that the surname 'Cheney' appears in my history, or that I actually did have some relatives that settled in Kentucky and Tennessee - who knew? What will I do with all this information? I'm not sure. Pass it on, I guess, to the generations after me. But also, I hope, learn more about the people on my charts than when they were born and when they died.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Just Griping

Who knew? I certainly didn't think of it before I became a pastor. Who knew that there is a whole subgroup of junk mail and telemarketing just for churches and church leaders? Ugh. I get so much church-related junk mail every day it is ridiculous. And I just ran frantically through the church trying to get to the phone in time only to hear a sales pitch for some "inspirational gifts" that my youth group could sell for a fundraiser...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Pastors and Working Time

John recently linked to this article (via this post) about the recent study on how pastors use their time and how much time pastors spend working. Of course, a common joke is that pastors work only one hour a week - the worship hour on Sunday morning - but most(!) people know pastors work more than that. But how much more? And what exactly are they doing during that time?

Interesting questions, even for those of us who are pastors. What are we doing with all our time? I usually don't keep specific track of my hours in a week, but I do occasionally do a tally just to see how and when I am actually spending my time. I would say my weeks aren't very consistent from week to week. Some weeks I spend more time on worship than others, some weeks I seem to be frequently at the hospital, some weeks it seems all my annual conference responsibilities are scheduled in one five-day stretch. I suspect that this is typical for many pastors.

How do you who are pastors spend your time? Do you match up with the study? Personally, I am a real night owl. I like the flexibility my schedule generally gives me, actually. Since I am single, and I am also a solo pastor with a fairly small church staff, I have a great deal of control over when, where, and on what I work, which is something I treasure. Sure, I have appointments and meetings and worship services that are at appointed times, but for other work, I definitely get rolling in the afternoon and probably do my best sermon work after 11pm.

What I found most interesting in the study were differences reported between how male and female clergy spend their time (women spend more time in administration and pastoral care, men spend more time planning worship), between how Catholic priests and Protestant clergy spend time (priests work longer weeks and spend more time working administratively), between African-American clergy and other clergy (African-American clergy work much longer weeks), and between 'conservative' clergy and 'mainline' clergy ('conservative' clergy spend more time in prayer and meditation, and less time in meetings). The study doesn't suggest reasons for these differences, and I'm not really sure what I would suggest for these differences. Thoughts?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reflections: Ecumenical Advocacy Days, Part 1

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been in DC this weekend at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days. Advocacy Days"is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community, and its recognized partners and allies, grounded in biblical witness and our shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Our goal, through worship, theological reflection and opportunities for learning and witness, is to strengthen our Christian voice and to mobilize for advocacy on a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues." (from the website.) This year the theme was "... and How are the Children?", so all of our work looked at how critical issues for people of faith and people of politics impact children. Attendees get to choose a 'track' to focus on for the weekend, and I chose the Eco-Justice track, as environmental justice is a particular passion of mine.

After an unintentionally scenic last half-hour of the drive into DC, with almost driving through the Pentagon's parking lot, and repeatedly ending up in Ladybird Johnson Memorial Grove, my colleague and I finally made it to the hotel in time for opening worship. Worship began with some excellent music - Jazz musicians Rick Whitehead (jazz guitarist), Lou Hinds (bassist), and Sanelma Sutton (pianist) were great, contemplative, and energizing. They also accompanied us on jazzy versions of traditional hymns. We the congregation weren't so good at keeping up, but it was fun!

The preacher at opening worship was Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who is the "Stated Clerk" of the General Assembly PCUSA. I had no idea other denominations had weirder titles than we United Methodists do. He said his job is to interpret their constitution, promote unity, and preserve records. Eesh- quite a task! Kirkpatrick talked about concern with churches that are "unconcerned and unengaged," concern with policies that threaten to make poverty permanent. He spoke about children's health insurance, global warming, peace and sustainability, and authentic human development as priorities for our Advocacy Days. I didn't take many notes, but I thought he was a good preacher and started us in the right direction.

Next day: tracks begin. Our first speaker was Dr. Larry Rasmussen, professor of social ethics at Columbia Theological. He referred to a comic strip which contained the phrase "insurmountable opportunities," and talked about that as the place we are in for eco-justice. He gave a great theological framework for where we are and where we want to be. He talked about how God has been made separate from nature, emphasizing transcendence over immanence, about how humanity has been separated from nature, emphasizing humans in God's image, but not the rest of creation. He talked about redemption being 'wrested' from creation, with creation left as just a backdrop, and churches reflecting rather than correction pervasive dualistic thinking and theology.

Instead, we want to be (said Rasmussen) an "earth-honoring faith." He talked about radical incarnation, bodiliness, all creation, humans as adam from adamah - 'earthlings', asceticism - voluntary simplicity, sacramentalism - the standing miracle of life, mysticism - "we can touch with our hearts the living heart of the world," prophetic liberative religious tradition, and that we are "all born to belonging. All that exists coexists."

Rev. Janet Parker was the responder. She said so often we see ourselves as "God's regent, God's stand-in, or simply god." Instead, she said, we need teacher - from indigenous cultures that are earth-honoring, and from the earth itself, and the rest of creation. We need a sense of place, and a sense of community.

OK - that's enough for one post! One more set of reflections to come.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Review: Macbeth, from Perseverance Theatre

I've been such a delinquent blogger this week. How quickly the days are flying by! This weekend I have been in Washington, DC, attending the Ecumenical Advocacy Days. I will be writing more about that in the next few days, but today I want to highlight something else I got to enjoy as part of my time away.

Friends of mine from college live in the area, and they told me about "Shakespeare in Washington," a several month long festival in DC of celebrating Shakespeare and his influence on culture and entertainment. They'd looked over events that would coincide with my time in DC, and found out the (fairly) new National Museum of the American Indian would be hosting the Perseverance Theatre's production of Macbeth.

Perseverance Theatre is based in Juneau, Alaska, and focuses on working with Alaskan artists and showing work that highlights unique Alaskan experiences. This production of Macbeth was done in the style/context of indigenous Southeast Alaska culture, according to the program, "fusing language, music, dancing, and visual design of this rich and living culture." What does this mean? A very amazing and unique production.

The production was part in English and part in Tlingit, the language and name of the indigenous people of Southeast Alaska. All group scenes were spoken in Tlingit, with English translation projected in corners of the stage. At first, this was hard to get into - watching the action and watching the screen. But I found it easier to manage as the play unfolded, especially since I knew the story of Macbeth. In fact, in the first soliloquy, which was spoken in English, the sudden which to English caught me so off-guard that it took me a minute to figure out what was being said! Tlingit is an 'endangered language' - only a few hundred speakers left, making this performance even more rare. According to the artistic director, PJ Paparelli, the performance of Macbeth was about when "self takes precedence over community, a significant taboo in Tlingit life, and an unfortunate reality in communities around the world." Native music, ceremonial dances, the three witches appearing more as animal-like creatures than human creatures, the symbolism - all of these elements added to the Tlingit perspective in the play and the unique experience.

The acting was excellent - standouts were the three witches - Lily Hudson, Austin Tagaban, and Sakara "Sky" Dunlap and Gene Tagaban as Banquo. But all of the cast was excellent. The show only plays here in DC one more weekend, but if you're around the area, I'd recommend it!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Bertha Holmes

First, thank you to all of you for your comments and prayers about Grayer. I appreciate your kind words.

Monday I went to the funeral of Bertha Holmes. Bertha was a member of Rome First UMC, the church I attended from sixth grade until the time I was appointed to St. Paul's. Bertha was a widow of a United Methodist pastor, mother of four sons, and just wonderful person. She was 95 years old. If you had asked anybody at Rome First who they would call a "saint," I'm betting a good 85% of them would quickly say "Bertha Holmes." She didn't see that in herself - she just saw herself as someone trying hard to be faithful. But to others she was a daily living example of how to live as Jesus called us to live. I remember taking Disciple Bible Study with her when I was in high school, and I was amazed that though she knew the Bible so well already, she put her all into this study, and said how much she had learned from it. She was inspiring.

When I was in college, I served in my home church a couple summers as the "ministry intern," and my then pastor (now colleague!) Rev. Bruce Webster let me spend a lot of time with him seeing what it was like to be a pastor. One of the most daunting things for me was visiting people in nursing homes and hospitals. I'm actually extremely shy (though in professional settings you might not be able to tell this) and I was terrified of having to visit people. But I remember that everywhere we went that summer, the people we visited would mention that Bertha had been recently to see them. She just made a commitment to be there with them, and they obviously greatly appreciated her presence.

Years later, when I was looking at seminaries, I told her that I had finally decided on Drew. (I had looked also at Boston and Wesley.) She looked at me and said, "Oh, I prophesied that you would go to Drew." I have to tell you, I'm a skeptic. If almost anyone else had said that to me, I would have thought they were teasing or just wrong. But with Bertha, I knew that Drew was doubtless the place for me to be.

Bertha had a stroke a few years back, and has been in a nursing home out of the area for these last few years. But despite this more recent physical disconnect from Rome First, there were easily 100+ people at her funeral, people of all ages whose lives she had touched. As I said, she was inspiring. A true saint. Would that we could all leave such a legacy of love behind us.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Goodbye, Grayer

I’ve never been a ‘cat blogger’. I am a cat-lover, and my cell phone camera boasts mostly pictures of my godson and my cats, Grayer and Ella, but I don’t usually blog about them. I have to make an exception though.

I can’t share it all as eloquently as John did when his rabbit Inlehain died, but when I came home after being out for the evening on Thursday, I found that my cat Grayer had died. He was only about three years old, young for a cat, and hadn’t shown any signs of being ill, so I have no idea what happened. Quite a shock.

Grayer was named after the little boy in the book The Nanny Diaries. I didn’t like the book. I didn’t like the name Grayer when I started reading it. But the name grew on me. I would never name a human that, but the name grew on me and I gave it to my cat!

Grayer was a good cat. A sweetheart cat. I love both my cats, but Ella is definitely the naughty climb-the-Christmas-tree cat and Grayer is the "pet me, I love you!" cat. I got Grayer shortly after I started here at St. Paul's. I saw an ad for free kittens in the paper and called the number. I wanted a female cat, but only males were left. I said OK anyway. The woman came with Grayer, six weeks old, and was carrying him tucked inside her jacket. It was love at first sight - he was so darn cute.

Right away he got in the habit of napping, laying on my arm while I was working on my laptop. This worked out well when he was two pounds. Less so when he got so big that I would constantly have to make him switch arms to ward off the numbness. But it was still his habit, his favorite place to be.

Grayer didn't take well to Ella's appearance on the scene. I actually got Ella so that Grayer would have company. He always seemed so lonesome when I was out of the house. When I brought Ella home, he spent the first couple months trying to kill/eat/maim her. Somehow, eventually, after a long time, they became friends. I even caught them snuggling occasionally. Now Ella is wandering around the house quite lost, looking for her friend, the leader.

He will be very missed.

(Images: Grayer as a kitten. Grayer and Ella. Grown-up Grayer, lover of all things canvas.)