Thursday, August 30, 2007

From New Jersey

So you don't think I've disappeared, here's a brief post to say I'm in New Jersey! This has been such an exhausting week. The people of Oneida sent me off with so many moving gestures, and the people of Franklin Lakes have already been welcoming me with acts of hospitality and kindness. I have lots more to say, but very little energy to say it right now... But thank you to all of you who have given me helpful thoughts about transitions.
Back soon!

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Long Goodbye

Sorry for the light blogging. I'm 9 days away from my move to New Jersey, and my calendar is jam packed with lunches and dinners with friends, family, and church folks. On the upside, I don't think I'll have to get my own food from now until I'm settled into New Jersey. I'm being treated to meals left and right, and having a good time spending time with loved ones.

The downside: This goodbye is very hard, and very long. On the 12th I sang a solo in worship - I usually sing a solo once a year for summer special music. I sang, "You are Mine," that beautiful song in The Faith We Sing. I was doing ok until the last verse when I realized people were crying, including my mother, who was there, and that did me in. And I hate crying in front of people.

This Sunday, the 19th, I celebrated three baptisms, the last three I will perform at St. Paul's. What a joy - celebrating baptisms - probably my favorite thing in ministry. I baptized my cousin's child (the picture is of him with my grandmother), and he dropped his pacifier into the baptismal font. My cousin said she'd have to keep it forever, since it is now clearly blessed in holy water. The choir director presented me with a blanket made in my favorite colors, since the choir director will be out of town on my last Sunday.

And all week I'm doing last things - last nursing home service, last meals with other parishioners who will be away this week, last administrative councils (ok - I didn't cry over that one.) My emotions are right under the surface, and honestly, I usually prefer to keep them down a bit farther than that!

At the same time, I head out tomorrow morning to spend a day in Franklin Lakes. Firsts, hellos: moving things into my office. Meetings with members of the staff and leaders of committees. First visit without being helped along in the day by my predecessor, who is now two months into his own new appointment. I'm really excited to be going - starting. I've been imagining what things will be like for months now, and I want to begin, dig in. There's so much hope in a new start, a new beginning, and it's almost like I'm starting a new school year, fresh packs of paper and all.

I've been blessed by thoughtful cards and notes from folks in both Franklin Lakes and Oneida. Folks in Oneida are writing to share memories of our four years together. Franklin Lakes members have been writing to wish me a speedy recovery, and to offer to help me get to know the town, take me to meals, settle me into the parsonage.

I know, oh faithful readers, you are probably tired of hearing about all this transition talk, but of course, this is virtually the only thing on my mind (besides the joy of getting to babysit my nephew this week.) Bear with me a bit longer!

My strategy, and a request for advice: In an effort to actually survive my last Sunday, I can't imagine referring in my sermon to the fact that it's my last Sunday. I think I'll preach just like it was any other Sunday. We're having a potluck following worship, and I think there will be time for goodbyes then. Does that seem sensible? Have you preached a last sermon somewhere? What did you say/do? How did you 'survive'?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I've been meaning to write my own review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for a few weeks now, having finished the book a few days after it came out. I'm always staying up too late, and I'll admit staying up til 3 and 4 in the morning a couple nights to finish Harry Potter. I know there are about a million reviews of this book here, there, and everywhere (my favorite (if you ignore the bizarre illustrations) by Stephen King is here), but what is a blog for if not to add your own two cents to an already talked-over topic? Warning - this post will contain spoilers, so if you don't want to know anything about the book, stop reading now.

I started reading the Harry Potter books when book 3 came out - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I hadn't heard much about them - my pastor actually recommended them. I loved them. The first thing I heard in the media about them was that some Christian groups were condemning the books. This baffled me, first, because The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis, which are generally beloved in the Christian community, certainly have magic and spells and witches and wizards in them, and no one (that I know of) accused Lewis of promoting Satanism among children, and second, because the books seem to ooze with themes that seem quite, well, biblical. Sacrificial love? Selfless love? Ring any bells?

Any lingering doubts should be eliminated with Deathly Hallows. I could preach a sermon series with themes from this book (maybe I will!) In fact, Rowling quotes the Bible twice, although she doesn't cite her source :). "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." A good review focusing on these themes is here.

I won't rehash all the details, but here's a few highlights for me:

- I think it is great that Rowling doesn't have any 'saints' in these books, if by saint you mean 'perfect person.' Dumbledore is as close as the series came to having a saintly sage figure, and Deathly Hallows gives us so much more about who Dumbledore is and how he came to be the man Harry knew as headmaster. I like this added complexity. Dumbledore isn't perfect - in fact, his past is very troubled. In the end, Harry is able to respect him more and learn more from him because of it. And hardly anyone is simply 'evil' either - there is room for redemption for almost everyone. Even Voldemort gets a chance, Peter Pettigrew tries for it, Percy Weasley, etc. Severus Snape is certainly no all-admired hero by the close of the story, but he too experiences repentance, because of his love for Lily. I'm so glad Rowling didn't leave Snape to just be a 'bad guy' as many wondered after book 6, but I'm even happier that she also didn't make him simply a 'good guy' who was just misunderstood. Her characters are deeper and more layered than that.

- I've read many laments about the epilogue, readers unhappy with the lack of detail about exactly what happens to everyone. I understand, I guess. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I want to know exactly what's happened to everyone in my real life too - what happened to so-and-so who moved away in fifth grade? What happened to my best friend from camp? Where'd that person from college end up? But I know I will never know. Life isn't all neatly tied up like that. I thought the epilogue said what was important for Harry: All was well.

- The whole book (series, really) is about confronting and handling loss. I missed the book being set at Hogwarts and tied up with school life. I missed the professors and the other students. I'm glad we stayed focused on Ron, Hermione, and Harry, but I longed for the 'good old days' sometimes too. But, I think this longing, missing the 'good days' was actually a key part of the story and plot. Harry longed for that. Ron tried to recreate that when he left the group. Some of the leaders in the magical world tried to delude themselves into that. But Harry grew up. He had real life to face (real life for a fictional character, that is!).

- I'm sure Rowling had quite a task in writing book 7, but I also admire her writing because the plot seems like it had to happen that way. I heard an interview with an author recently who talked about the story taking over - he was just writing what had to happen. That's how I felt about Deathly Hallows - not that Rowling was choosing to write the book a certain way, but that based on everything that had happened in the series so far, the story was unfolding as the story had to unfold. I think that's a great quality in a book.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Red Bird Reflections

I got back Friday night from my week at Red Bird Mission in Beverly, Kentucky. This was my second trip to Red Bird - I went in 2004 with my church as well. St. Paul's has had a team going to Red Bird for fifteen or so years, and the trip is pretty well supported by the whole congregation. We run a little league concession stand all spring and summer, which mostly pays for the trip. Participants really only need to 1) work at the stand and 2) bring some spending money for the meals there and back and on the 'day off'. This makes the trip an option for everyone - the team strives not to have cost be an issue for anyone.

This time around, I wasn't able to go to the work site with the rest of the team, since I'm still recovering from my ankle surgery, and gimping around with a cane. I worked in the Community Store instead, which sells used and donated items at reduced cost. The store is quite an operation. I worked behind the scenes, where all the preparing of items takes place. Nothing is wasted. Everything is used somehow, if it all possible. Items in the store are rotated every two weeks! I enjoyed getting to know this other side of Red Bird. I did feel frustrated and not particularly useful, but the nice thing about Red Bird is that they really do try to find a place for volunteers of all kinds.

The heat in Kentucky this week was pretty oppressive. The heat index kept us at about 105 or 106 most days. Here I was lucky, since I spent most of my day in an air-conditioned building. The Red Bird staff clearly worried about so many (mostly very young) volunteers out in the heat all day. The humidity was such that the floors were actually sweating (my cane was sliding all over the place). I thanked God seriously many times for air-conditioning in the sleeping cabins. I can't imagine surviving the week otherwise.

The Fire Department at Red Bird serves ice cream once or twice a week, a dollar a scoop. The sign indicated Tuesday was an ice cream day, but apparently that was a mix-up. So about 75 of us were waiting for ice cream on Tuesday, when it became apparent no one was coming. Finally, one of the firefighters drove in, just to pick up something from the station. He had no plans of serving ice cream. But seeing so many of us there, he had pity on us, and scooped up what ice cream was already in the freezer. I think if he hadn't, there was a serious chance of a riot taking place.

This area of Kentucky is beautiful. Wednesday is a day off for all the work teams to enjoy the area. We went to Cumberland Falls State Park. We drove through the mountains, and looked at all the coal mining operations. The miners trapped in Utah was clearly on the hearts of the people I met in the Community Store - they are mostly spouses or family members of miners, and I'm sure a dread of experiencing the same kind of accident is always with them.

Other random observations:
  • Vegetarian cuisine isn't always easy to come by in Kentucky, though better than you might think. Red Bird works on serving vegetarian options at all meals, though I admit I had a lot of 'veggie sandwiches' - bread, condiments, lettuce, and shredded carrots. They make up for it with fabulous desserts, which are always vegetarian!
  • The gender dynamics are - interesting.
  • The Red Bird Missionary Conference office is tiny. But they get a lot done. The whole Red Bird campus is quite elaborate, and covers a huge range of services for the community.
  • Kentucky has many strange insects all over that you'd never see in Central New York. I packed carefully to make sure they all stayed in Kentucky where they belonged.
  • There are many Dairy Queens in Kentucky, and not nearly enough in New York. (For better or worse, there are several within 10 miles of Franklin Lakes...)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sam

Here's the latest of my nephew Sam, wearing a cute outfit I got him. Turns out I have a hard time maintaining my anti-consumeristic aspirations when it comes to Sam. Can you blame me?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

INFJ

***Update: I created a methoblogger group for these personality profiles where we can see them all in one place, per gmw's suggestion in the comments. Email me if you want to be added, and I'll send you an invite. Might be fun.

It turns out Red Bird has wi-fi now! I won't write any detailed posts yet though, but here's something fun from Jay's blog:


Click to view my Personality Profile page

I am an INFJ - apparently only 1% of the population scores this way - but the good news is that 'clergy' is on the list of professions that work well for INFJs!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Out of Town

Things have been crazy here this week, and I haven't had time to blog. I won't be blogging for the next week either - I'm off to Red Bird Mission tomorrow. Beverly, Kentucky is an internet-free cell-phone-free zone for the most part, which is hard for me to endure! I hate being so disconnected. But I guess making myself disconnect for a while is a good thing too!