Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Seek and Assume

In the past few weeks I've found myself in situations where groups of people were working to make things happen. First, the parish picnic, then camping with my siblings and friends, and tonight a movie night at our parish.
At the picnic, we did what we do as a staff every year, which is forget to ask for help. We also forget to determine who (if anyone!) is in charge of the event. So, this leadership vacuum opens up and woe to the one who steps into it, because suddenly every problem, every situation, every question (even if the question is "where should the garbage cans go?") becomes YOURS. No one wants to be this person, and when a leader materializes, everyone else stops thinking. At the end of the picnic I actually went to my office, put my head down on my desk, and took a nap before the 5:00 Mass.
On the camping trip, we were tripping over each other to be the leader. It's not as bad as it sounds- no one fought for the position of top dog or anything, and no one was bothered when someone used another person's lantern instead of theirs or anything like that. It was more like... we all wanted to be the one who had what anyone needed. Anytime one of us would approach the supply table, voices would ring out "what do you need? I've got that!" Everyone was so excited to camp that we'd all brought our A game, and we ended up with lots of copies of the same stuff (which was actually helpful, usually- tarps? stoves? utensils? bungees? We've got that!).
Tonight one person was in charge of the whole thing from the start, which is great- except that she forgot to address one big detail which made other people on the staff have to run around and put out little fires all day today.
I have to admit that in situations two and three, I tend to disappear- to sit back and not add my voice to the crowd of voices, unless really, there is no one else saying what I would say. I'm not that desperate to use my camp stove that I'd walk past everyone else's to do it (although I do love that stove, it's news, and so cool!) and when there are 5 or 8 or 15 leaders working on bungee arrangement I have instant faith that they can come up with something without my help. Tonight I am hiding in the office until all the "what should we do about _____" questions have been answered, and that is because I am loathe to jump into a fire that's already burning. As a leader I'm a lot more likely to plan out the steps long before, make lists, etc... I try to avoid panic.
When I worked in a residential that used the "Reality Therapy" model, one of the teachings was "seek and assume"- it meant that the residents should look for and take on positions of leadership whenever they came up. I think it's a good habit, and I think it's a philosophy I've adopted and live by. But I guess I also do the opposite- I watch for situations where my leadership is not needed, and I step back. Ah, so maybe I assume but don't necessarily seek... hmmm....

Monday, June 28, 2010

Visiting Churches

Remember how I told you I'd be church-jumping these past two Sundays? Well I did.
Last Saturday we ended up free (disappointingly! But we adapted and got to go to Mass at a parish we wanted to visit) so we headed to Wakefield and went to the 4 at St. Joseph.
It's such a neat experience to be a visitor at a parish Mass. It gives new perspective into what it must be like to visit our parish, and makes me want to do better at welcoming people.
At St. Joseph we felt like people were happy to be there- I got the feeling that the 4 crowd is pretty much identical from week to week- all in the same seats, of course- and the ministries were all done very well. There were a couple of interesting flourishes added to the liturgy, like the prayer that the presider recited, from the chair, after communion but before the final blessing- like his own personal Prayer After Communion.
At the end of Mass, at the final blessing, a dog (his dog) ran down the center aisle and into the priest's arms. He (the priest) thanked all of us for worshiping there, and waved his dog's paw at us. Everyone seemed delighted.
Yesterday we found a Mass in Westfield, a different diocese even, that had an 11:00 start time. We had read that the church building was new and were interested to see it- and it was beautiful. Lots of detail and flair and fancy touches. Everyone was dressed very well. The narthex was welcoming and full of information about this apparently very busy parish. It was all going pretty well until the presider, who was also the pastor, stepped down into the front of the sanctuary for his homily.
He quoted from the Gospel, "...the Lord had no place to lay His head." I thought "uh oh." But he went on to say that the members of this parish knew how the Lord felt, and were like the Lord, because while their (beautiful) church was being built, they had to have Mass somewhere else. So. Great analogy. Then he went on to say that now their parish center needs a new roof. But not to worry, because they have money in the account. But, they do need a flag for a Veteran's memorial. He announced that they would be doing a coffee-can fundraiser for that. Also, they would be having a dinner dance to celebrate their 100th anniversary as a parish, and a concert was in the works for July. And that was his homily.
I was pretty bummed out. The whole rest of the Mass was okay, but kind of lifeless. The ministries were sort of timidly done, the music was cute (kids choir and a synthesizer and guitar) but not very inspiring. But did I mention, the church was beautiful.
It reminded me that the important things in a church need to stay important- and that it's so easy to forget what's important when you are caught up in ordering light fixtures and hand-carved altars. I'd rather worship a thousand times in a worn-down church building with a happy, welcoming, faith-filled crowd than sit through a bunch of announcements disguised as a homily in a beautiful church building.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

We'll pack tomorrow

Now how am I supposed to pack the car for camping??

Strawberry Shortcake Season

working on a lovely and deeply thoughtful blog post about Protestants and the "post-denominational age" but I'm in the "pre-writing" stage. So in the meantime, here's a few pics on my latest efforts as a Domestic Goddess.
I hate recipe sites that make you wade through a whole story about their food-emotion-associations before getting to the nitty gritty. But technically this isn't a recipe (and this sure isn't a recipe site) so settle in and enjoy my personal food-emotion-association story.
When I was a kid strawberry season was a big deal- once the strawberry stands started appearing on the sides of the roads, we knew what was for supper.
(Now, of course, we can have what you can only with finger quotes call "strawberries" from California, all year long, but noooo. Not the same. Noooooooo.)
My Dad always told us that his family had strawberry shortcake for dinner- not for dessert. And that's what we did, too- it felt so crazy to have it for dinner, but we never argued. My Dad's recipe for SS was to mash the strawberries with a glass, which is a wicked cool visual experience. He added sugar to the mash and we ate ours on biscuits with homemade whipped cream.
And here we get to my recipe: I chop the strawberries, because I like the chunks- in my "vidalia chopper," As Seen On TV. Then I soak them in some honey- OH God it's good that way. Not too sugary-sweet, and smooth and yummy. I make my biscuits from Bisquick, and sometimes I put white chocolate chips in the bisc's because they don't really taste like chocolate but give a little burst of sweetness with every couple of bites.
Homemade whipped cream is incredibly easy!! Who knew??
In all the excitement I forgot to take an "after" picture, but in all fairness, it didn't sit long enough to pose. Happy Strawberry season everyone!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

10:30 would be perfect

I'm on vacation and will be away from the parish for two delicious Sundays! Suddenly, with party plans and lots to do, it's tricky to decide where to go to Mass. How about that? We live in a neighborhood that is equidistant to/from two churches. But their Mass times are either too early or too late for us this Sunday. That is, too late because we have family coming, and too early because we are that kinda lazy.
So we dialed up and found a bunch of nicely-timed Masses nearby and chose one, based on timing and on the parish (because we know the Mass there will be well done).
Which leads me to think about how the not-employed-by-a-parish Catholic designs their Massgoing life. We in the Church sometimes whine about the inconsistent attendance of the crowds, lightly-attended holiday weekends, and (most of all) parents who present their kids for sacraments while we rarely see them in the pews (not that we're keeping track).
But the world is not set up for easy consistent Mass attendance- especially for parents of kids. We all know that more happens on Sundays now than when we were kids, and that means rehearsals, practices, games, etc... and that our families are more mobile than ever before in history. Stop me if you've read this here before, but have you noticed that the main doors of churches go mostly unused now? Now the busy entrance is the one that leads to the parking lot. In fact some church renovations are turning in that direction, sprucing up the parking lot entrances as the main entry points and putting much less emphasis on the front doors. Almost no one walks to Mass anymore, like they did when those churches were first designed.
I think the mobility of Catholics is a significant fact that needs to be considered. How are we to respond? Should we look at our Mass schedules and see if they're impossible for those parents to attend? Do we know what kinds of things are happening in the community that might conflict with our set schedules?
There's not a whole lot we can do to attack this scheduling problem- we can't go about changing our Mass schedule with each new sports season. But two things we can do: We can make sure that when people come, they feel welcomed and important. And we can do Mass really, really well. If time is hard to find for people to squeeze in Mass on weekends, then we'd better offer them something worth that sliver of time. Homilies that will carry them out into the world beyond the parking lot, music that they can sing and which helps them ingest the readings, and a feeling of joy in the Good News that is as much theirs as the person who makes it to every 7AM Mass, every week, on time.
PS, as a Church Geek I'm excited to attend Mass in a new place, I will be spying to be sure, and ready to steal anything good (practices, I mean, not... statues or anything...).

Friday, June 11, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook

Simple Woman's Day Book
FOR TODAY 06/11/10...

Outside My Window...
it's gorgeous out there. I just went out to check the crops and weirdly, there's nothing to do. It's been raining for a couple of days, so the grass is growing and the raised bed is thriving- spinach, carrots, peas, and now sunflowers poking up. The pansies are gorgeous and the daylilies will be in bloom soon. All there is to do now is sit and wait and enjoy the beauty of it.
I am thinking... about our upcoming camping trip, one of my favorite weeks of the year. We have a new tent this year, don'tcha know, and it's AWESOME! I love love loved our old tent, but it was small, just big enough for our bed and a bag but no standing up, and barely even room to sit up, really- still, I am loyal to my old tent and thankful to have had it. But the new one. Wowsers!
I am thankful for... being able to afford to live in this beautiful apartment, to buy a great tent and go camping, for wonderful friends and family, for so so much.
From the kitchen... still, the smell of bacon from this morning, and the sound of Scott puttering around, up too late for breakfast but not really hungry for lunch. Tonight we're having some friends over for a fire, and I'm tickled to have plenty of food in the larder to share. I get a real kick out of having enough food for anyone who shows up at our house- it feels like such richness. I always wanted to be the house where everyone shows up and there's plenty for everyone. I toy with dreams of hosting an "anyone's invited" regular Thursday night dinner, where my friends from all parts of my life might show up and mix and mingle over my dining room table. Maybe someday. But for now, I love the feeling of being stocked up and ready to feed the troops, ready and open for business.
I am wearing... I changed from pajamas to pajama-like clothes; sweatpants and a t-shirt. I thought I'd be working outside but everything's kind of set out there, for now, so I'm back in my chair watching an old Jacques Cousteau film on TCM. I love this day!
I am creating... I have to admit, not a lot. I work best under deadline, and recently at work there have been very few deadlines- so I've been very under-productive. I'm trying to fill my time with reading up on all the catechetical journals that have stacked up on my desk over the years, so at least I'm doing work, even if it doesn't feel like hard work.
I am going... on vacation in a week and a half, with days off before camping to pack and organize and stock up on books and freeze water for the coolers, and gosh I'm excited!!! This trip, which began with a lot of YM friends joining us 8 or 9 years ago, has now turned into a Talbot family trip, with all my siblings in attendance for the first time this year. I can't frickin' wait!!!
I am reading... All those journals, like I mentioned- and on the extreme other end of the spectrum, I just finished "Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea." I have a Sarah Vowell book in the shoot, and I've decided to buckle down and finally read "Hitchhiker's Guide" this Summer. I made the mistake of listening to a "recommended books" report on NPR and have added a bunch of good-sounding ones to my amazon wishlist... after a nice literature break since the end of school I'm ready for good reading.
I am hoping... for good weather or at least good tarps for the camping trip! And for the skies to clear up for tonight's fire. And for good news for a good friend!
I am hearing... funny old-sounding narration of the film in a french accent, and tons of baby birds outside demanding to be fed.
Around the house... Scott puttering, cats sleeping, laundry lying about.
One of my favorite things... oh I should have put that thing about having enough food here. Well another one is Summer. I love Summer. And Scott, he's my favorite thing of all.
A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week:
Another gathering with good friends tomorrow, Parish Picnic on Sunday, and lunch with a friend next week. Life is so good.
Here is picture thought I am sharing.

The aforementioned tent! Isn't she a beauty??

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Kicking it old school

I went on retreat a couple of weeks ago, sort of a combined adult-and-teen retreat, sort of a leadership retreat, and I didn't want to go. I went because I've never been on this yearly retreat, and I love the retreat center they were going to, and my friends were going to be there, including one who'd never been on one before, and because I wanted to be with Scott.
But I didn't want to go. Usually on that weekend I spend my days at home, all by myself, working hard at long-neglected chores and reading and eating well and soaking up the sun, and I love that weekend of time by myself.
But I went like a good sport and really did enjoy myself. I know I've written here before that it's very hard for me to do Youth Ministry things while not being the Coordinator, or even, technically, a team-member, and I've held myself out of being a volunteer in the parish where I work as an adult formation person. But this time I went ahead and broke out some of my rusty old YM skills, and it felt great.
A lot of what we did was familiar stuff, and it's hard to do familiar stuff with someone else leading it, because they don't do it the way I would. But some of the stuff was new, and I tried hard to be-here-now in the familiar stuff as well.
I was reminded of the things I've long loved about youth ministry- the kids were so funny and their responses to God were so deep and sincere. Their observations were surprising and striking. They were generous with each other and took everything seriously.
And I was really reminded of the emotional quality of youth retreats. It wasn't like an old-school get-them-tired-and-play-with-their-emotions kind of thing, like they did when I was a kid. It was just... a lot of love. I could see kids turning to Christ and feeling loved and returning that love right in front of me. It felt, as it always does, I remember- it felt like such an honor to witness people falling in love.
Someday I'll be back in youth ministry, and I hope I won't forget this feeling of honor, and the value of emotion in ministry. It makes me happy to know I still want to go back to where God originally sent me, still have a heart for seeing Christ work in the hearts of young people.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Road Reunion

Today we went out for breakfast to celebrate our anniversary and the restaurant we chose was in the first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to Massachusetts. I was there for two years, I think, working and living in a group home for adolescent girls. I had no car for a chunk of that time, and did a lot of walking in that neighborhood.
I realized as we drove through it today, 18 years after moving to this state, how connected I get to my travel routes. Every time I go to that neighborhood, situated on 1A, which was also the route I took to my first youth ministry job for 9 years. I have all the homes memorized, still, and remember when some houses were empty for a long time and neglected, which now are painted and renewed and holing happy families. Being back on that route was like going to a reunion with old friends...
My trip to my last parish was a windy one up route 114 through Middleton, a road I loved. Lots of great scenery and sweet little businesses, and favorite spots that I really miss seeing now. It's funny how these things add themselves to my memory and stay there, so familiar and so contaminated with memories. Good roads and good times and bad. I'm grateful for the roads I've traveled.

happy anniversary!

It's our ninth anniversary (pottery or willow, if you're wondering...) and we are feeling pretty blissful. As I type, Scott is up and getting ready to take me out to breakfast to celebrate. Dinner together is out this week because we have too many other things going on, so he surprised me by waking me up BEFORE my alarm clock went off... that is EARLY for Scott... to invite me to breakfast.
While he was in the shower I switched on NPR, and listened intently to the story of Al and Tipper Gore's divorce. 40 years of marriage and they're calling it quits. When I was first married stories like that would have scared me to the core- but now I just ponder them. 40 years!
On the story, they interviewed a person who said we should consider their 40 years before divorcing as a "celebration of life" rather than a failure of marriage. After all, people are living so much longer than they used to. Are we really to expect that people will live with one spouse for 75 years??
I guess the missing point here is the reverence of the sacrament. We were advised, when we got married, to consider The Marriage as a third "person" in our relationship. We were to take as good care of The Marriage as we were to take care of each other. I do have much respect for this Marriage, and what it's shown us about each other, ourselves, life, and God. We promised "forever" not only to each other, but to our families, friends, and to God. Even when it's hard, I could never leave this marriage.
Of course, I imagine Al and Tipper may have made such bold statements at year 9 of their 40. But I'm not worried. Maybe their marriage was doomed just for the fact that it didn't have Scott in it. I'm blessed to have Scott and This Marriage.