Drive-by posting: Preacher Process

I have gone a couple of weeks without blogging again. It seems that this is going to be the rhythm of this dance, for now – a slower pace, an irregular beat that stops and starts and picks up again.

A week ago I was looking out the back window at the trees, watching leaves fall, while working on the worship service that I led last Sunday. I am a student; I do not lead worship every week, and for this I am grateful: it is still a Herculean effort to put all the things together, selecting the hymns and preparing the readings and the children’s story and writing the sermon, making sure all of it fits together in such a way that no piece of it undermines the other, that all of it is a coherent whole with a single message.

It has been suggested from time to time that I work too hard at this, that it is okay if some piece or another is not perfect. Yes, and… I do work hard, harder and longer than I will be able to when I have broader responsibilities. And no piece of it will ever be perfect. The whole thing will not be perfect. And in any case, perfect or otherwise, a bit past noon on Sunday it will be over and the next thing coming will be over the horizon and on approach. But there is a difference between unnecessary anxiety about perfection, and wishing to do the work that I am called to do, to the best degree that I am able, in the time and with the resources that I have, and that work is to discern what I message I need to bring to a particular body, at a particular time — and then to do that as completely and wholeheartedly as possible.

To blow that off, for me, feels icky. Wrong. Not in a self-castigating failure sort of way – and I know something about that – but in a “this is not who I am” sort of way.

This calling, it is a very strange thing.

Maybe it works differently for other people. Probably so, at least in some of the details. I am not sure whether I want to ask about other people’s details; I am susceptible to the false belief, or fear, that if my details do not look like the next person’s details than I am certainly doing it wrong, whatever it is.

Very well then. I will do it wrong, as best that I am able. And then I will do the next thing.

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Doin’ the Thing

A google image search on “you can do the thing” (including the quotes) will turn you up an assortment of memes in the format:

I am a Tiny [X]. I believe in you. You can do the thing.

Potato. Cactus. Octopus. You name it.

I’m sure there are others and probably, as with anything internet related, you will eventually reach some that are not appropriate for polite company. I avoid using stock and unattributed photography whenever I can craft my own images, so please forgive my late contribution to the genre:

Fingers holding a small cracked red pebble. Text reads: I am a tiny pebble. I believe in you. You can do the thing.


My heart is full right now with stories that are not mine to tell, from friends old and new who are doing, or have just done, or are about to do, some very difficult things. It is a time of hurting, of waiting, of grieving and letting go. I am holding all your unspoken stories gently, with hope and love. May you all find comfort and may all manner of things be well. Continue reading

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Work and Life and Balance

The autumnal equinox passed earlier this week and it is suddenly not summer anymore.  It had been unseasonably hot until a few days ago it wasn’t, and now I wake up and think about wool socks instead of tank shirts and resolve to haul up clothes from the basement closet real soon now. The evenings slip ever quicker into darkness – the light is gone by seven pm, even with Daylight Savings time lingering – and I have a bag of daffodil bulbs on my kitchen table that want to be put into the ground before the frost comes. It seems like it was just the other day that I paddled my feet in a pond, soaking up the sun, too hot to knit.

I guess there is no avoiding it really, this inexorable turning of the seasons, and why would you want to? But this time I am not sure where the summer went, and I am back to feeling contemplative and wanting to avoid getting any real work done, of which I have an abundance.

But what is real work?

I mean, how do we decide which work is real and which work isn’t? Is it for pay? Then I am surely not working, ever – I am a graduate student not otherwise employed, but I sure think I’m working, at least some of the time. It definitely feels like work, anyway.

Is it about obligation? I think that is a part of it – work as the doing of things we would just as soon not bother with, except that the thing needs done and not doing it would violate a social contract with the people we live with (or perhaps the people who pay us!) Spouse and I have an agreement that, outside of unusual circumstances, one of us will cook dinner and the other will clean up. Usually he is the dinner-cooker and I am the cleaner-upper, but we swapped up this weekend and it has definitely been nice to have someone else do the dishes.

(I am thinking, as I write this, of half a dozen things I could be doing which are Not This. Are any of those work? Is this?)

Sometimes work is the thing that calls you, compels you – do this thing now, and no other. Continue reading

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It is, as we say in these parts, September Already. Labor Day is late on the calendar this year, and we are nearly a full week into September. The agricultural fairs are in full swing, school started a week or two ago, and while the days have been fine and hot there is a breath of autumn on the evening air.  It whispers sweet nothings to the shy maple trees, their topmost branches just beginning to blush.

Red and gold maple leaf lying on green and brown grass.
Continue reading

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Drive by posting : Re-entry

When I got back from Chicago this week the day-lilies were almost over, but the heat wasn’t (and isn’t yet.) I am caught in the balance of catching up with the mundane things I put on hold in mid-June, and the juggling of new things that have accumulated since then: family, art, study, deadlines.

I have been thinking a lot about performance, in a lot of intersecting ways: performing arts, particularly music and theatre, in the context of a class I just took on improv in ministry; and also performance in the evaluative sense sense of results produced relative to effort expended; and also performance in the sense of conforming (or not conforming) to social constructs like gender and racial identity.

We use the same word for these ideas. To what degree and in what manner are they similar? Is my performance of a (white, professional-class) feminine gender role identity – or is it art (or at least artifice?) Does the answer depend on how much fun I am having with it in a particular moment? Or does it depend on how (and by whom) my performance is being evaluated, and to what end?

No answers today, just heat and humidity and questions and ice cream. I want to blog something substantial but I have around 20 pp worth of assigned papers to write in the next couple of weeks so blogging will have to wait.

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Drive by posting: General Assembly

I promise I have a half written blog post that I did not finish before heading out to General Assembly two days ago. (I think it was two days ago. Only two days ago? The days are long and full and blur together at the edges.) 

Today I am in Portland, Oregon and I have coffee and marriage equality.

It is something to celebrate. It is a victory.  Pause, cheer, love.

It is not a place to stop. The work of equality and justice is not finished.  For people living in states with discriminatory laws unrelated to marriage – those who can be fired from jobs or denied custody of children because of their sexual orientation or gender presentation – the work is not yet done.  For LGBTQ people of color, the work is not yet done. For economically disadvantaged people of all colors and genders and abilities, the work is not yet done.

Today, we celebrate one step.  Tonight, tomorrow, for the rest of our lives, the work continues. 

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By their book piles ye shall know them

It’s been a long time – a very long time, maybe a year now? – since I wrote anything ordinary around here.

It is June. The winter that seemed like it would never end has ended; the mounds of dirty snow long gone, replaced by tangled mounds of rhododendrons and day-lilies and whatever those little green things are. I moved a pile of day-lilies last month and it looks like a few of them have forgiven me enough to bloom this year anyway. (They will be fine. It is all but impossible to kill day-lilies around here. Drive out a remote country road ten miles into nowhere, and you will eventually see a fine bank of orange day-lilies, and know that somewhere nearby there is a cellar wall or an old family cemetery, all that remains of an abandoned homestead. The stone walls and the day-lilies remember.)

The spring term is complete and I am now two weeks into the summer term, which means that I have added a small pile of books, on African-American humanism and theatrical improv, to the previous four semesters’ book piles. It is the navigational hazard of a scholarly life (or the approximation thereof), compounded by a genuine lack of places to put more bookshelves. I have books on the sideboard and books on the table and books next to the back porch door.

And then there are the personal books – books that pre-dated seminary, some of them going back to my undergraduate days, two transcontinental moves ago, and newer acquisitions. Since last fall I have started to attract orphaned books – the remnants of other people’s libraries that are ready to move on to a new keeper. So my basement has four or five boxes now, from two different people’s collections, and when I was offered a chance to go through someone else’s book cull last weekend I was extremely judicious in my selection and still ended up with a small pile of things that will, I hope, prove either interesting or beneficial.

I can’t even really categorize them any more. They mix themselves up by project: pastoral caregiving, poetry, Pagan ritual design, Universalist history, psychology, art, a pile of hymnals and a pile of meditation manuals… and a pile of books on craft technique and another pile of Bibles. I think that pile is all Bibles. I’d have to go look.

I am trying, these days, to buy books electronically whenever I can – if only because I am running out of places to put them.

Sometimes I look at the piles of books on the bedroom floor and want not so much to read them as to have read them, to already have absorbed and internalized whatever wisdom or perspective a particular author has about a particular thing. Even I cannot possibly read fast enough and deeply enough to internalize all of the knowledge that is already contained between covers in my possession — and there is more, new, faster information coming through the computer every single day.

And all these books – a fragment of a fraction of the sum total of human knowledge and understanding – are still too much for any one person to master in a natural lifetime.

The world is changing fast and the things we know turn out to be uncertain. I find this strangely exhilarating, the breathless leap into the unknown, unknowable future. There is a lot of conversation right now that is moving too fast for me to reflect and comment on it; conversation about the sustainability of our economic models, the entangled and interdependent nature of the problems we face (as individuals, communities, institutions, and cultures), the necessity of shifting our fundamental assumptions about how the world works, or ought to work. It is messy and terrifying and – to me at least – a rich and beautiful opportunity.

So what do we do with it?

I’m in favor of indexing. Knowing where to find a bit of information is probably more important most of the time than actually having it memorized, especially for bits of information that are subject to frequent change. Moving from memorization of an established body of knowledge to an efficient indexing system is a piece of the deeper-level shift from “one right answer once and for all time” to “let’s see what works now and come back and check again later if we need to.” It is no longer enough to know what is true; we need to be able to learn what truth looks like, over and over again, as it grows and changes and multiplies.

I’m also in favor of… I don’t know what the professionals call it, but what I think of as pattern analysis or the big-picture view: being able to perceive what emerges through considering lots of disparate data points all together; the chronological arc of history, perhaps, or parallel timelines, or comparing the distribution patterns from one group of data sets to those of an unrelated group of data sets. (I’m reminded of James Gleick’s Chaos, which I read back in the early 1990s. I have a copy around here someplace. I think it’s in the pile next to the back door with Starhawk and Clinebell and Welch.) It’s about looking for similarities and parallels, appreciating correlations and releasing the need to attribute causality or blame. “Whose fault was it?” and “How exactly did it start?” are less important questions than “What are we going to do from here?”

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