Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Tipping Point

This Sunday, the 4th of Advent, we hear about Mary's visit to Elizabeth. You can learn about it here:

We read the upcoming Sunday's Gospel and pray on it every week, as a staff. This week I felt a twinge of recognition in this moment of recognition from Elizabeth, and I imagine, from Mary. This is the story of a tipping point- a moment in history that will change everything. It's a moment where a distinct line is drawn between "before" and "after." I imagine that Both Mary and Elizabeth, even if they can't imagine what their lives are to become, are feeling that uneasy/exciting feeling of knowing that after this exchange, everything will be different.
I can relate because as a parish we seem to be poised on that dividing line too. There's been some tension among us, which is unusual for us as a group. I think part of the tension is that we're on that line of knowing that things are about  to change, and we don't know how or when, but we are seeing an old age end and anticipating the beginning of a new one. I know that whatever happens, I'll look back fondly at this "before" time and miss these days of relative certainty.
The pastoral plan that faces us is something that's not yet fully realized, has never been done before, and could change at any point. We can't know who the pastor will be here at our parish, and therefore, we can't know if we'll be employed here in the future.
I am a gal who likes a plan. I like to end a meeting with a "to do" list, action items, a framework on which to build whatever needs building. Whenever poor Scott shares his goals for me, I inevitably bleat out "but HOW?" I like to know what we're shooting for, and I like to have things to do that help move the plan along.  At this point, though, I've got nothing. We can dimly see a possible future, but can't move toward it.
Well, in the meantime, we've got lots of stuff going on, and the parish is still a Spirit-filled, productive place, and I'm treasuring my time here. I have plenty to do, and I will just have to ignore the Great Unknown for now. Tonight our staff gathers for a Christmas celebration together, and it may be just what we need, a tiny break in the fever. But when I hear Mary and Elizabeth's story this Sunday, I'll nod to myself in recognition of the bring upon which these two faithful women stand.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

heyyyyy just for the record...

... I believe in cooperation with grace. But I believe that a mature faith cooperates with grace out of love, not out of fear. Did I make that clear? Sometimes it's not till my drive home that I realize what I've been trying to say.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Follow Your String

I have a little brochure on my bulletin board (along with my "too bad it's raining" toon) titled "Hell Exists and We Might Go There." Below the title there's an illustration of Our Lady of Fatima "showing the three shepherd children the vision of hell." I have to admit, it makes me chuckle, every time I see it. Hell exists. We might go there. Don't go saying you never were told.
I know there's a sort of existential fight going on in the Church about how we should think about hell. As long as I can remember, I've heard opposing views on the damned place: hell exists, but it is empty. Hell exists, and it might be empty, for all we know. Hell is full of people!!! I've often heard it said that the reason the Church (and the world) is falling apart is that no one's afraid of going to hell anymore.
This week at a parish activity, one of our participants said that she is so thankful that we're still alive and can pray for our salvation- that we can pray for those in purgatory- that we still have a chance of heaven, unlike the poor people who suffer in hell, and the other poor people who suffer in purgatory. She mourned that so many people walk around every day not knowing that they should be praying to avoid hell... wasting time that could be spent trying to reverse their fortunes. She also said that it's just too bad for those people who didn't do something while they were alive, because those in purgatory can't help themselves, and those who are in hell, well, it's over for them. That door has been closed.
I felt the other members of our group stiffen at her words, her passion. This was a group of older people, pre-Vatican II people, raised on vivid images of hell. But each one who responded to our first commenter urged her to remember that Jesus spoke of mercy along with justice. (I feel quite sure she was unconvinced though...)
Maybe I've written about this here before, but it's been a defining image in my faith life and understanding of God, so I'll tell it again: at a prayer group with high school girls, the topic of and salvation came up. One of the girls said that her grandmother used to throw big birthday parties for the kids, where they'd arrive and be handed a piece of string, and they'd have to follow that string to the end, where a gift was attached. The string would lead them through every room of the house, up and down stairs, into corners and closets and out again.
Okay, but here's the clincher. She said that night that, she thought, if one of the kids at the party failed to find her gift by the end of the event, Grandma would say "SORRY KID! TIME'S UP!" She said her grandmother wanted each child to find that gift. She said she thought that God wants us to have salvation so much that God will find a way to give it to us, even if we run out of time, even if we mess up and tie our string up in knots.
I had to agree with her. What kind of God would set a time limit on salvation? This, then, is the faith-and-good-works problem: do we earn salvation, receive it by grace, or do we have to cooperate in some way, once the grace is given, to keep it? It's an eternal question, and the Catholic Church has an answer- can you guess what it is?
I read recently that free will makes no sense if there's no hell. I forget where I was reading it, but basically, the author said that if God saved everyone for no good reason, that would make his grace "cheap." I know that's a common understanding. But I think... that kind of thinking is like saying that marriage doesn't make sense if there's no divorce (or... matricide?). I know it's not a perfect analogy- (for instance, I'm talking about a good marriage here, one built on love) but I also know that I work hard in my marriage not because I'm afraid of being divorced, but because I love my husband. I think it's possible that love could be a good enough reason for salvation, and that it would not cheapen grace. This is a harder concept to teach than hell and damnation, but I think it's what Jesus stood for.
I guess I'm gambling my salvation on this, but it's a bet I'm comfortable wagering.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Welcome to the CAPE

     Many years ago, at a Youth Ministry conference, I heard a speaker (it might have been Tom Booth?) talk about the day his son fell off a dock into the lake. He said that when he saw his child in trouble, heard him cry out to his father for help, he had never felt love like that before.
     That story moved me because I know that so many of us are reluctant to turn to God when we're really low, when we're struggling, when we're drowning in stress and anxiety. But God wants to hear from us then- when we cry out to God in distress, we can imagine that like the drowning boy's father, God will be moved with immense love to come to us.
     I had a friend who had been away from church for a while, and as Easter approached, I asked if she'd be going to church to celebrate. She said "no, after being away for so long it seems wrong to go suddenly on Sunday." I thought that was a funny thing. Even when I've not heard from a friend in forever, I'm so touched to get a greeting from them on my birthday. I don't think "sheesh, all this distance, and now they want to celebrate me? Whatever!!" I can't imagine that God is ever sorry to hear from us, whatever the occasion.
     I've heard, too, that parishes need to be more like AA meetings. When an alcoholic comes to a meeting, no matter how long it's been, they're welcomed- no "where have you been? Why haven't you been coming? What have you been doing instead of coming to meetings?" Their fellow group members know that it's a good thing whenever someone comes to a meeting. The important thing isn't why they've been away, but that they're there- and that by being there, they might be saved from a life of suffering with addiction.
     This Christmas we can rest assured that there will be people among us who haven't been to Mass in some time- maybe since last Christmas- and we have an opportunity to love like God loves. We must welcome the sufferer, the guilty, the distant. We must show everyone that God is glad to see them, no matter why they've been away, and no matter why they've come back.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Your Parish Is The Curriculum

    During the last round of parish closings here in our Archdiocese, I was asked by a religious ed. director to come and help her plan for the year ahead. One year from that time, 3 of the town's parishes would be closed down, and all would be joining together at the 4th (where she worked). She would be incorporating 3 additional parishes-worth of faith formation kids (just kids, no lifelong catechesis there at the time) into her one program. She was worried about how she'd integrate the four parish groups together, how to make the new kids feel welcome.
     After talking for a while, this was my suggestion: Throw the next year's religious education calendar out the window, and instead, hold 4 large group gatherings. Each parish's young people would meet individually and plan an evening, where they would host the other 3 groups at their soon-to-be-shuttered church, make and serve dinner to their guests (maybe something that reflected their parish's Italian heritage, for instance), give them a tour of their church, tell stories about the history of their parish, talk about their patron.
     The fourth gathering would be at the new "home" parish. The kids from that parish would do the same thing. After their dinner/tour/presentation, a welcoming ceremony might be celebrated, combining favorite songs or rituals from each of the parishes. Maybe everyone would get a t-shirt with a new parish logo on it. By the end of the year, each child would know more about their own "heritage" and about their new parish, they would have met the kids from the other parishes, and would feel some ownership over the process.
      The DRE couldn't do it. She couldn't throw out her curriculum for the coming year. How would the kids learn about the Creed? About the Old Testament? About whatever was on their list of topics? Ultimately, I heard that she just went ahead and did her usual thing, wrote up class lists and recruited classroom teachers, and soldiered on, hoping for the best. I'm sure the parish made efforts to welcome the new families, but I've always felt like it was a missed opportunity.
      When we welcome new people into our community, it can't be seen as a process of swallowing everyone whole, washing away their history and immersing them into "our" culture. Integration can't deny the existence of a history, of a loyalty to community, to pain in losing a church building (even though it's "just a building," something that was said over and over during that time of painful change and loss). People don't come into a parish community as a white page, waiting to be colored in.
     Many years ago (before all that consolidation even began), I read with fascination an article in "Today's Parish Minister" (I think... I wish I could find that issue!) called "Your Parish IS The Curriculum" which talked about the deposit of faith that exists within the community, in its rituals, its traditions, its memory, its actions. Before it was cool, TPM said that there was plenty of fodder for faith formation right in our parishes. Leaving the textbooks unopened for a year wouldn't necessarily mean that people weren't being formed.
     I can't help but mention that lifelong faith formation allows us to be freer than this DRE must have felt. Since we intend (and believe it will happen!) to be forming our people in faith throughout their entire life, and not just until they turn 16, we can forgive ourselves for not hitting every point of faith on a time-sensitive schedule. Kids have their whole lives to learn the creed, the Old Testament, etc. We can address real-life, real-world concerns catechetically, we can focus on evangelization and know that people will "get it" in one way or another.
     Curriculum is not the Gospel.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

On visiting the "pastoral center"- a poem

There are never enough seats.
Late-comers wander
cup of coffee in one hand
bag in the other
a crew comes
to set up one more table
still not enough seats
and half of the lucky ones
(with original seats)
crane their necks
and twist their backs
straining to attend politely
to the guest speaker,
who stands far behind them.
The last ones in
pull chairs from a stack near the door
and try to balance
their notebooks on their laps
set their coffee on the floor.
Everyone is uncomfortable
but the hosts,
who sit
at the front tables
at the foot of the speaker
with their backs to their

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Scratch that Chin

This year, our Christmas tree is staying in the basement. We have two crazy kittens, and a tree would just be another piece of furniture to have to pick up off the floor when we get home from work, along with our lamps and wicker screen and pillows and houseplants and full-length mirror and tablecloths and clean laundry. Advent candles are verboten, too- but we have gotten away with burning a nice balsam-scented votive now and again without lighting any tails on fire... yet. I've put the Christmas-colored kitchen towels out, and that's about it, decoration-wise. But I can still feel Christmas coming. It's kind of nice, and Adventy, to have a place to come home to that is not decked, that doesn't blare Christmas music at me, that isn't twinkling. Our home is a cozy place to wait for good things to happen. Advent can start to feel like a forced, artificial way of getting everyone to hold back on their Christmas celebrations, a velvet (purple) rope behind which to wait before you rush toward Santa. (I've watched Catholics reprimanding other Catholics for daring to utter the C-word during Advent)But this year, maybe more than ever, I see the wisdom in a season of waiting. Time goes by sooooo fast. This year, I think every month someone has said "I can't believe it's (June, September, December, etc...) already!!" But, you know, believe it! It is December already and Summer's long gone, whether you still have your sundresses hanging in your closet and mittens still in a bin under your bed. Ready or not, here comes Christmas. Advent, though, is the cat on your lap when you're trying to write a paper... you've got a deadline, your head is full of all the things you've got to get into writing, your fingers are tapping away. But the cat wants love now. The cat is not only in your lap but is purring like crazy, is gazing passionately into your face and is demanding that you use your hands to scratch his chin, rather than type that paper that NEEDS to be typed. You can try to ignore the cat and eventually he will go away, but... you know what? Scratch that chin. Give the cat a squeeze and revel in the purring, and in a minute go back to your task. You'll be better for the break and for the love. Christmas is not here yet, there's still some time to get ourselves (and our souls) ready. Still time to take a deep breath, sit and listen to the kittens purr and the furniture crashing down, still time to think about giving and receiving,still time to ready ourselves to welcome and receive Jesus into our hearts again.

Monday, December 03, 2012

we can be pastoral

Next year will be our tenth year of lifelong faith formation. The staff made the arduous but rewarding transition before I came into the family, and by the time I got there, they were getting really good at it. It's a truly collaborative staff and when I came on, in about year 5 of the new model, they were starting to really gain confidence in their ability to teach in this way. Now here we are at year 9.5 and today we asked ourselves some existential questions. What are the numbers like? Are we doing okay? Are we boring people? When they don't come, why do they stay away? What should our expectations be? Having whole families attend together, combined with the fact that people are expected to attend throughout their lifetimes, gives us the luxury of not having to enforce attendance rules. There is no far that if a kid misses a session- or even a year- that that means they'll go off into the world with no formation. We have their whole lives to form people, and people have their whole lives to learn. If they have a family crisis and miss a year, they'll get it next time around. But what if we're not being tough enough? Are we devaluing what we offer by not having higher behavioral expectations from our participants? Should we be offended when they miss a session? As we hashed it out, two visions arose. An administrative approach had us tracking attendance records, raising expectations, setting boundaries (you must attend 7 out of 8 sessions, you must attend a make-up session, etc.) and the second was a pastoral approach. We decided to work harder to make the teaching more varied in style, send more reminder emails. We decided to send our participants a card that would remind them of upcoming dates but also thank them for making our program and parish such a special place. We are going to start sending topical updates between sessions. And we will be sending "we missed you this month" cards to families who are absent (something the High School and Middle School program already does)... not because we want to harrass them into attending, and not because we're worried about numbers, but because GOF is better when everyone's there. We're going to tell them we miss them, because we do miss them. I am thankful to be part of a staff and community that thinks this way. I know it can be done, to do faith formation pastorally, and I think if parishes want to survive, it's going to be vital that we all learn how to do it.

Vatican II Catholics

I pulled out my resume the other day. It's an old one, from two jobs and several years ago- I guess I only made one updated copy when I interviewed for this job, and my pastor kept it. But what caught my eye on this copy on my desk is the subtitle under my name and contact info: it says "A creative, experienced minister to youth and their families, in the traditions of 'Renewing the Vision' and the Vatican II Church."
I used to see that kind of statement on job announcements and bulletins: "St. Whatever: a Vatican II Parish." I don't see that anymore, anywhere. Depending on your own stance, that could be a good thing- of course, we're all supposed to be Vatican II churches, right? It's the current council, it stands. Maybe it doesn't have to be stated anymore. But I think the fact that no one brags of their Vatican 2-ness is a sign of something else, of the discouragement we've all gotten from thinking of our parishes as places of growth and progress, the hope and openness that were associated with The Council.
The current buzzword is "The New Evangelization" and it is starting to nag at me- it sounds like a development, an improvement on the old. On the surface, it sounds like something we should all be behind; not only does TNE encourage us to share the Good News with those who've never heard it before, but also to make efforts to reach out to those who have walked away.
Sounds good, right? But I'm starting to see this term adopted by the more conservative end of the Catholic spectrum, and the undertone is that of correction. In this context, TNE is about bringing people back in order, correcting their theological or spiritual errors, and getting everyone in line again, like it was in the 1950's.
I swear, I swear I'm not against conservative Catholicism. (I am one of those spectrum-thinkers, comfortable seeing everything in terms of where it falls on a pendulum. I tend to think the middle is the best place, but I also can weather the outer edges because I know that drastic left-ness, like drastic right-ness, never lasts.) But I think there's something dangerous lurking here. It seems it's not enough to reach out to those wanderers with love and hospitality- if they're going to come back, they'd better come back right. It seems that obedience is the goal and cure, not conversion.
I understand the nostalgia for that time in the Church. It looks great in the old movies, and I suppose it was if you were male, white, and cool with praying in a foreign language. It's said that in the wonderful 1950's people behaved how the Church told them to, believed the way the Church taught- they paid, prayed, obeyed. But I know so many "pre-Vatican II" Catholics who still agonize about the things they were taught, 50 years later. A near-saintly elderly parishioner here asked, at a recent meeting, "but what about those people who ate meat by mistake on Friday, and then were hit by a car before they could go to Confession???" She asked sincerely and with concern, genuinely worried about the fate of these people who did not know the merciful God like we do now. You'd be hard-pressed to find a "Vatican II Catholic" who stays up nights worrying about such things.
I suppose that many people would say that this is where the Church went wrong, lost its grip on people- when they started talking about mercy and other lovey-dovey stuff like that. I wasn't alive in the 1950's, so I can't say which is better or worse, but I do know that I'm still proud to call myself a "Vatican II Catholic."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How's your resume lookin'?

I spoke to a friend and colleague today on the phone. He's been in ministry for a long time and has a lot of experience with pastoral planning and change. He's seen it all. He has a glancing knowledge of what's going on here in our area, and has done some work with our staff to help us get our house in order as we look to the future of collaboration. He called to check in on me today.
He asked me what I'll do if my job goes away, whether I (we) would be willing to move somewhere to take a good job, and how my resume's coming along. How's that for comforting?? He's right, though, we need to start having those conversations. I've been so concerned with what might happen in the next 6 months or year that I haven't really spent any time in prayer or thought about that 5-year future, and beyond. He offered this advice, as someone who's "been there-" he said, whether or not you know you'll have a job in the future, act as if you do. He was basically saying "be here, now."
Our staff met this week to look ahead and make some decisions for the future, and our pastor reminded us that we should not consider him as a variable in the decision-making process. That is, he doesn't know if he'll be with us here or not. The tricky part is, then, that we can't know if we'll be here or not. No matter what, it seems, it all will come down to who will be our pastor. If the new pastor likes what we've done, or isn't ambitious, or isn't concerned with (if you'll excuse me) peeing on the trees here, then he might leave things in their current state, support our work, encourage us to keep developing along our current track. But if someone comes along who thinks our faith formation model is bogus, or who has a beloved staff from his former parish who would be happy to work with him again, or who thinks that Youth Ministry is not a reasonable budget item, we'll have to hit the road.
So we wait, and try to read the signs, pray for discernment, try to be proactive, and live here, now.

Monday, November 12, 2012


   We present Generations of Faith sessions twice. Parishioners can attend a Friday night session starting with dinner at around 6, or Sunday afternoon starting with lunch around 12. This month our topic (in this year of prayer) was Thanksgiving.
   I had a hard time preparing for the parent session for this. I'd written and presented three different talks already that week, so my head was pretty well spent, but really, I was kind of stumped as to how I was going to teach about giving thanks to adults for 45 + minutes. Like Super Grover's Mommy and her wise words about fighting, I imagined myself saying to the crowd "be thankful" and leaving it at that.

   Anyway, on Friday night I went in to my wonderful parent group and started in. I'd already had a rough night and was blaming my performance on the tryptophan from the turkey we'd just had for dinner, or on Daylight Savings Time. The parents on Friday are SO wonderful- they go wherever I drag them to and are theologically thoughtful, willing to think about things in new ways, and (best of all) they laugh at all my jokes. I love working with this group and I think (hope) they can feel the amount of respect I have for them, their importance in their families and in the Church, and the hard work that their jobs entail.
   Well, this time around I did a pretty rough job with the topic, taking them around the block to get next door and apologizing and making jokes at my own expense as I went. They were great and patient and good-natured, and one parent even told me later that I'd given her some things to think about. I had to laugh because at the end, as I was handing out supplies for our closing prayer, one parent said "aw, you're too hard on yourself, I thought you really pulled it out there in the end."
   On Sunday, I re-wrote the whole lesson using a scripture story and did some lectio divina on Luke 17:11-19 and somehow managed to come around to the point that I'd tried to make on Friday. The Sunday parents are wonderful too, and I was so impressed by their willingness to look deeply at the scripture, to think about it in new ways, to consider different nuances to the story that they'd heard so many times. One parent said "I love how excited you get about this stuff!" and I consider that vindication for Friday's  flop.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What're you going as?

Here are some possible Halloween costumes for me this year:

  • girl with bad eyesight
  • girl with beer in living room while husband is giving out candy at the kitchen door
  • girl with who needs to pluck her eyebrows
  • one of the mysterious childless neighbors. What's their deal? They seem nice, though, and they keep the yard neat. 
  • girl who shouldn't have picked at that blemish on her nose this morning, seriously, no one would have even noticed it but now look at it.
  • girl who owns one orange shirt
  • girl wearing the same jeans she wore yesterday
  • girl with random hot flashes
  • un-sexy pastoral minister
  • survivor of some awful illness that doesn't actually show. Stomach ulcers?
  • girl who doesn't dress up for work
  • girl who's really not into Halloween
Really the options are endless, and all of them apply today- so take your pick! Happy Halloween, or whatever, everyone!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

7 Quick Takes, don'tcha know

1) I went to an exercise class at my church the other night. It's offered a couple of times a week, through our senior citizen group, so I was one of the younger people there. It's called Aerobics Plus, and the Plus is weights and stretches. I haven't been to an exercise class in probably 10 years, so I was a little nervous, but the leader is encouraging and positive, and when I got to the point where I thought I couldn't go on, there were a few people there to look at who were significantly older than me, and they were doing it... or, there were some people there who are younger than me who were taking breaks, like I was, whenever the teacher turned her back. Encouraging!
The next day I felt pretty good, not agonizingly sore like I expected to be, and I slept great that night. I'll go back.

2) I heard Eve Ensler interviewed today on the CBC- she wrote The Vagina Monologues, which I have never seen but the title of which has always kind of conjured an odd mental image for me. It was a great interview, and she said some beautiful things about the work she is doing for girls around the world. She said (and I'm paraphrasing) that girls must be powerful because they are so feared- the one thing everyone tells both boys AND girls not to be, it's a girl. She said girls are emotional, intense, dramatic, and can't be talked out of what they know. She cited Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who was recently shot by the Taliban. She said great, intriguing things. 

3) Tonight I was sitting here with a cat in my lap, who then stepped on my iPad, snapping the cover off, which made him leap directly into my face. I have tiny cuts on my nose, cheek and ear- I mean tiny, really- but holy hell that hurt! I burst into tears and cried straight out for about ten minutes. I thought, Yes, Eve Ensler, I shall cry with abandon, and honor my girl-ness. I guess I've cried a couple of times since the kittens have joined our household, and whenever I do, they sit a few feet away from me, tails curled around them, watching me with expressions of horrified fascination. If I weren't already crying, it would totally make me laugh. 

4) It's 11:00 PM and I should be going... Tonight is the youth group laser tag overnight. I meet them at the LT place, which is here in our area, stay a while, and then come home to bed. It is a purely awesome night for young-people watching, complete with busy middle school power-walking, drama, bravado and sometimes fights. Great stuff. But it is really not my style to be going out after 11. I resolved pretty early in my youth ministry career that lock-ins were not going to be my signature move. Retreats, yes. Overnights, not so much. Since I am not The Youth Minister at these things, I get to play the part of a grandparent- coming in, loving everyone, and leaving when I need a nap.

5) Here comes Election Day and I'm as curious about its outcome as I am glad to not have to watch those damned ads anymore. I've been thinking a lot lately about how the moment of voting is a purely private moment, one where no one knows how I will act, and where the decision as to how to act is fully mine. It's a moment for me to use my conscience and faith and understanding without having to convince anyone that I'm right, or worry about judgment. It's a faith-filled moment, for me. My parents taught me long ago that our votes are private, and I am relishing that unique moment of privacy that voting will afford me this year. 

6) Here comes Sandy! This weekend we'll be battening down the hatches, and then, dammit, battening them down again. (Ha! Old movie joke!) We've got  lots if emergency supplies by virtue of being campers, and live at the top of a hill, and I have a whole passel of books to read should the power go out, so I get to be relatively excited about this. Have I mentioned my storm-geekery? I love watching them approach on the radar, love the updates, love watching the weather reporters being tossed around, LOVE snow days. As long as our big old maple tree hangs in there, I'm ready!

7) I am feeling calm and happy and good lately- maybe because my Dad is doing well, and that feeling of crisis has passed for now. But also, I'm trying not to worry a out the changes that will eventually hit our Archdiocese, and I'm really enjoying the events that come around at work. I am so glad to not be carrying around fear like I was. The trick has been, I think, that old cliche of taking things on one at a time. When I group things together in my mind, it gets overwhelming-  but individually, they're just not so scary. I feel lighter and more joyful and more fun to be around when I'm carrying less fear. I'm just so panicked that it'll come back again. Just kidding. :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Circumambulating the Stupa

Right now, I'm watching the Buddhist temple down the street online- they are streaming a live visit from the Dali Lama this afternoon, which everyone around here has been very excited about.
I'll confess that I don't know much about the DL, and probably should. I asked a friend "what is everyone so excited about?" Is he going to say something earth-shattering? Does he have a message from... somewhere? God, or aliens? Or, is he just a really inspiring speaker? Would it be like having a Pope come here?
My friend said that he brings a message of compassion. So, okay, I'll watch.
When I tuned in, people were chanting, and other people were singing, and still other people were dancing but it didn't appear that they were dancing either to the chanting or to the music. Now people are dancing along to music by a band.
It reminds me of something my mother once said. She imagined that anyone peeking in the window of a Catholic Church on Good Friday, not knowing anything about our Story, might think there was something crazy and cultish going on.
In the early Church, going to Mass was not an entry-level activity. You became involved in the Church through interacting with its members, inquiring to know more, proving yourself sincere, and learning your way into the sacred rites that the Church held so dearly, like the Mass. You can still see RCIA candidates leaving after the reading of the Gospel as Easter nears, harkening back to those early days. Now it's a bit of an empty (or, even, non-sensical) gesture, as it means that those who are sincerely seeking entry to the Church are removed from the assembly before the Communion Rite but any other person who may not even want to be there in the first place, is welcome to stay.
Back in the day the Church was protective of Her rites, because Christians were persecuted, and so they needed to be really sure a person wanted to commit themselves to the faith before they would expose their sacred rituals to potentially dangerous outsiders.
Today I am an outsider looking in, and it reminds me to pray for those people who sit inside our Church but still feel like outsiders. It reminds me to pray for seekers everywhere.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

the Work of the People (two new posts)

I should mention that I'm not trying to say that the Mass that is most meaningful to me is the RIGHT Mass. A  wise professor of mine pointed out that conservatives do just that... they work to conserve what has been. During this week's Mass I felt a strong kinship to the pre-Vatican II conservatives who might be longing for the Mass of their youth, because I am longing for the Mass of mine. That's all.

I went to Mass the other night to kick off the Year of Faith, and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. I was starting to get excited to learn more about the Council, which is directly shaped my faith and my life in the church since I was born. We invited the priests from our local area to come and concelebrate, and asked them to advertise the Mass in their bulletin (and, we called that "collaboration"- it wasn't, and I'll write more about that in another post). We had a smattering of priests participating, and about 50 people sprinkled throughout the pews of our giant church.
It was, as we joked about afterward over coffee, less than "scintillating". I love the Mass, although I do confess to feeling a little out of step with it since the new translation. We had invited the local Bishop who has been named to be in charge of the New Evangelization, and ordered cool prayer cards to hand out. In short, and without pointing fingers, the Mass was overall (in my opinion) a joyless experience. It was somber, not celebratory, and... even a little boring. I struggled through it.
As I sat there in the last pew, camera poised to catch anything great that came up, my mind wandered to other Masses that have imprinted in my memory. Memorable Masses.
I remember gathering for Mass with our parish priest at Bradbury State Park after climbing around the mountain all day on a youth group trip. There were probably only 10-20 of us there, but I was transfixed by the priest's words, the readings, and the community in the midst of God's beautiful creation. I remember sitting on boulders in a circle and sharing Communion with my peers.
I remember being given the opportunity to plan Mass at Catholic Leadership Institute back in 1986. Each small group had a turn planning the Mass for a night during that week, choosing the readings, the Psalm, and the music from scratch to reflect what we had done that day, and to connect with our little community. It felt so moving to seek out inspiration from the Word of God for our peers, and to be given the opportunity to minister to each other through the liturgy. The music was scrapped together with whatever shreds of talent happened to be present in the group, and sometimes the readings were less than polished. But it brought us closer as a group of leaders and as a community every time, without fail.
I remembered being with my friend Ann-Marie at a Good Friday Mass, sensing her start to cry as the story of Christ's Passion was read.
Another Mass I witnessed from the back pew of my parish, celebrating an anniversary of Cursillo. The large crowd was packed in the front of the church, wanting to be near each other and near the altar. The music was imperfect but that crowd sang their hearts out, because each song was meaningful to them as worshipers and as a community. It was breathtaking to see their earnest and expressive faith.
I guess I've been to Mass thousands of times... I've forgotten a lot of them, which is natural, I guess. I remember more important Masses and moments than I could write about here. But I can see a thread that connects the Masses that have stayed in my heart- these were liturgies that reflected the community, bonded us, responded to our individual and communal needs. They were Masses where my God-given gifts counted and mattered. They were Masses where I knew the people around me. They were Masses that acknowledged my existence and my importance to God and His church.
My weekly experience at my own parish fits those characteristics, and I'm afraid that I am one of the very few blessed in that way, these days. But to get to that point, it has taken hard work on my part. It's work I'm willing to do and work that the Church might really benefit from encouraging among all its members.


I saw a secret the other day, saw it happen in a room full of people but no one else did, and if I hadn't, the moment would have been lost to history, lost to consciousness.
My Dad, in his nursing home bed, was groggy and sluggish, struggling mightily to stay awake because he had loved ones in his room. His bed was up, letting him sit upright-ish, but his eyes kept closing and his head easing back, despite his obvious efforts to resist. My Mom was in her wheelchair next to his bed, holding his hand, and trying to wake him so she could visit with him.
But she was sleepy too- it had been an absolutely exhausting week- and they kept missing each other's awake moments. She'd stare into his face, willing him to wake up, and then she'd close her eyes for a minute and he'd wrest his eyelids open and try to talk to her.
As I watched, Mom closed her eyes and Dad opened his. They were still holding hands, and he turned to look at her. He tried to will her to look back, but couldn't muster a word, couldn't catch her attention. He kissed her through the air, two kisses, and then surrendered to sleep. She didn't catch those kisses, opened her eyes too late to see them, only in time to see his head fall back on his pillow.
But I saw them.
Their love for each other is deep and strong, romantic and care-ful, thoughtful and sweet. My siblings and I have been raised through a marriage of love that is patient, is kind. Their love does not seem to envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Their love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
I'm thankful to have been, and to still be, a life-long witness to that kind of love. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I just quit my volunteer job

...well, not exactly. But I am continuing to learn a lot about volunteering and supporting volunteers, by being a volunteer. I've written here about some of that learning, but here's the latest lesson: if they come, you'd better build it.
I imagine the old saw is true, too, in volunteering: if you build it (opportunities to serve- really serve- people will come and get to work) but in my case, the opposite has happened. Over a year and a half ago I felt a burning call to volunteer with people who dying. Actively dying. Now I'm here in volunteering purgatory, doing something I don't feel called to, to try and get to the point where I can finally be trained (!) to do that thing that I do feel called to. That is, in order to be trained to do vigil work, I had to do 9 weeks of training, followed by 6 months of another kind of volunteering, and after that they'd train me to do vigils. But, at our last volunteer support meeting, the coordinator mentioned that she was pretty sure a training for vigils would be coming up, but that they'd actually never done that before, and she wasn't at all sure how the whole vigil-ing thing would work, but they were working on it, and to hang in there.
I was willing to do the training, and it was good, and worth my time, and I was willing to do the time volunteering dying (but not actively dying) people. Visiting dying people, as it turns out, is the same thing as visiting living people. I'm not bad at it, but it is not something I feel very suited to. My introvert-self kind of dreads trying to make conversation for an hour, or two, and then is exhausted afterward. I've met some lovely people and it's all been nice, but it's not for me.
And when the coordinator confessed that what I had signed on for, well, didn't exist, I felt a little used. It's the old bait-and-switch. I understand her wanting to sign on volunteers whenever they come forward, and I understand the point of visiting people in preparation for vigiling, except, I've been visiting people for years. I've got it down, I think... I don't need 6 months more of it to get me ready for doing something very different.
I'm not sure how I wish it had all been handled. Should the coordinator, after I contacted her initially, said "well, we don't do that yet, but I will get started and call you when we've got it up and running"? Well, yeah! I might have waited just as long as I am now, but not filling the time with busywork to fulfill their requirements. Or, I might have contacted a hospital nearby and offered to start a vigiling ministry with them. Maybe we'd be doing vigils by now, as a church.
Anyway, I wrote to the coordinator, explained that it's been a really long time and I'm not doing what I felt called to, and that I wouldn't like to take on another (relatively) long-term patient. She asked me to stay tuned, but granted my request to step out of ongoing visits. We'll see where this goes. But in the meantime, I want to remember as a volunteer coordinator that if they come, I'd better get to work building.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Faith By Association

  Where was I? Oh my, what is up with September?? It seems like the last several Septembers have held family and friend health crises and serious work stress. This year's September was no different, and all in all, however nicely things seem to have turned out, I'm glad it's October!
  This week was a doozy- not just because of my elevator-sized bottom lip (a pox on whoever invented cold sores!) but my Dad's bypass surgery, and a big week at work. Last Sunday was our volunteer luncheon and workshop and this weekend we kicked off our Generations of Faith events.
  I come away from the parish events feeling encouraged and proud. At the luncheon we had almost a hundred volunteers present, and looking over that room I could see so many people that I know well (a testament to the connectedness of this parish) and so many people who care so deeply about their faith and their parish. They jumped in to the conversation about the mission of the parish and had wonderful answers, and all their answers folded so neatly into Jesus' mandatum (Matthew 28). As a staff we've worked so hard to teach that mandatum and empower the parish to follow it, and it was just so lovely to hear it echoed in their words, these faithful leaders on the ground in the parish.
   This weekend's GOF sessions were full and full of happy people. Again, there were so many familiar faces and a lot of new ones, too. We worked so darn hard to do something for them that would make them glad to be there, to bring them closer to God, to remind them of how important each member of the community- each generation- is in the learning process. We got great feedback.
   Every day I'm learning about how people perceive the Church and the parish, how families work, how deep the faith is of people who we might think are not dedicated. I'm more and more convinced that inter-generational, whole-community total catechesis is the way to go. I feel hope for the lowerarchy and the survival of parish life. My faith is strengthened by association, and I think there's a lot to that.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Read My Lips (braille)

So maybe I'm a little stressed, so what?
As we move in time toward Dad's bypass surgery, we count down the days while trying to think ahead, imagine every possible need and outcome, and plan for any and every sequence of events. We can't change anything in my Dad's heart but we can think about what meals to prepare for them, what visits to schedule, what snacks to bring for eating in the waiting room, etc. etc... lots of Facebook messages and phone calls.
Overall, I've felt pretty good about the whole thing- no nagging anxiety, no sleepless nights, I really feel pretty positive about it and am looking forward to having it behind us all. I am sure the recovery will be hard and uncomfortable for Dad (and for all of us) but it'll be better than the suspense, waiting for the day to come and hoping he doesn't have a heart attack before then.
So, in sum: feeling good, not stressed. But yesterday my face erupted!! I have a massive cold store on the corner of my lower lip. Judging by how it feels, I'd say it's about the size of a small oven-stuffer roaster. But it's probably smaller than that, to the casual observer.
I haven't had a cold sore in... I can't even remember! So it makes me think... maybe I'm a little anxious after all. The surgery happens 4 days before our first big event at work, which is a pretty major undertaking, with lots of details that I  am (or Scott is) in charge of. It's a good thing, and I'm excited for it, but... lots of details and hard work. Two days before the surgery is another big event (volunteer luncheon/workshop) that I'm in charge of. Lots of details. I mean, hey, that's my job, and all these events will be great, and maybe it'll be good for me to be distracted and busy during this time. But at the same time, it's a lot.
So while I feel pretty calm, I guess my lips say otherwise!

Saturday, September 08, 2012

7 Quick Takes, random as you please

1) Let's just get this out of the way. My Dad is scheduled for bypass surgery in a couple of weeks. There are lots of us- a base group of 10 people (11 counting Mom) on Team Dad. It's good- very good. And believe me when I tell you that communication is copious. Over the past several months, Dad has not been able to drive, so we've been taking turns getting him and my Mom where they need to go. The bulk of the burden has sat on the shoulders of my sister and brother, who live in the same town as Mom and Dad, but we've been trying to help out some, from here in MA- which, after all, isn't that far away. Now that we have a date, we're battening down the hatches, and getting ready to support Mom through Dad's days in the hospital and maybe rehab. We are mobilizing the troops. It's good not to be an only child. Anyhoo, keep him in your prayers, would ya?
2) I have been reading up a storm! I guess I'm finally fully recovered from grad school... this summer I've read some great fiction- just today I finished Code Name Verity, which incredibly is called a teen book (Amazon at least says it's for age 14+, which I guess sounds about right). It's full of intrigue and suspense and dear characters that I couldn't help but root for, and some surprises too.
3) I am the daughter of a World War II buff, and learned a lot about the war through him (the aforementioned Dad). Lots of WWII movies, lots of documentaries, lots of books. I have a pretty vivid imagined image of war, at least the version of war that happened back in the day before drones and when everything was analog and low-tech. When I have nightmares, which is rare, they usually feature a WWII kind of scene, bombed out or under air attack. One early morning as I was leaving my apartment, a WWII-model plane buzzed over my head, low and loud. It was nothing like the little planes that usually fly over (we live near a little municipal airport- turned out there was an air show going on that I hadn't heard about...) and I had this weird flashback to something I'd never actually experienced. It was all I could do not to hit the deck.
4) I think it's my vicarious war experience (which is to say, Dad didn't exactly "experience" the War himself- he was a kid- he experienced it from the home front) that helps me be satisfied with just enough. I have a plan for evacuation, if it ever comes to that, and I think about food sources and emergency supplies, for the day that maybe we don't have access to the things we have now. I appreciate our abundance, and feel unbelievably fortunate. Vicariously-vicarious experience of war, I reckon, is the best way to experience it.
5) On yet another completely un-related topic, I am realizing that something needs to change for me, footwear-wise. Every summer for the last few years, I've bought a new pair of teva flip-flops, which have been lovely. They have "mush" bottoms, and I could stay on my feet for a long time. But this summer, one day while I was working in the garden, I heard and felt my big toe SNAP, and OOOEEEY did it hurt! For a long time! I don't know if it was broken, or sprained? Or if you can sprain your toe? But all I could do was limp and tape my foot on big walking days.
This summer, though, I discovered espadrilles. They're heaven!! They smell pretty bad, and are NOT good in the rain, but they feel wonderful and are closed-toe, comfortable but just dressy enough to wear to Mass.
6) In other beauty news, this summer I ordered the wrong thing on Amazon when I was trying to buy face lotion (I use Nutritioniste lotion, but it's hard to find in stores, so I order it online). What I got instead was Nutritioniste serum, whatever that is. I mean it, I don't know what it is, and can't really figure it out from any online descriptions. Is it a medicine?Is it a moisturizer? I know one thing- my face is smooth now!! So smooth!!! So, there you go. Hurray for serum.
7) as a closing kiss, here's my favorite pic of the new kitten, Charley:
Lookit that face!!!! I'm smitten with this kitten.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bait-and-Wait... and Wait...

If you are one of my (6) loyal readers, then you probably know I've started volunteering for Hospice. It started over a year ago, when I heard this story about vigil volunteering, which is sitting with people who are actively dying (yes, that's a real term) and thought, "I could do that."
I spoke to a Hospice nurse in my parish, and she connected me with the volunteer coordinator at the local Hospice organization. I dragged some parishioners in with me, and a few of us did the initial training for volunteers there this past spring.
I have learned a lot from being on the volunteer-end of things, where I usually am the coordinator of the volunteers- mostly that when someone like me feels called to volunteer in a particular way, we'll be willing to work for it, give time, and fulfill expectations- that how rewarding that is.
Another part of me, though, is feeling a little like a victim of the ol' bait-and-switch. At the information meeting the Hosp. coordinator gave at my parish for those of us who wanted to do vigil work, they told us that we'd need to participate in a 9 week training. Okay. Then, we found out we'd have to do 6 months of direct care volunteering, before doing a vigil volunteer training. Ah... fine. Now I'm 4 months through the 6 months of DC volunteering, and it's nice enough- as it turns out, visiting dying people is pretty much exactly the same thing as visiting living people- and that, I could do through work-  I am not doing what I want to do.
Tonight at the volunteer support group, our (lovely, really) coordinator said that pretty soon, they'd be starting to plan vigil volunteer training, which is something she's never done before, and didn't exactly know how to do.
I'm wondering if (despite the worthwhile training and good experience so far) I should have just called a hospital to begin with, almost 2 years ago, and offered to start a NODA list there. Toot-sweet. At this point, I've come awfully far to turn back, but I'm frustrated.
Another valuable lesson in volunteer coordination!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back At It

I just want to say: if you can ever, possibly, take two weeks of vacation in a row, DO IT.
I'm back to work after my first-ever two-weeker, and I feel excited to be here and anxious to get going on things. Of course, it's the end of August so these feelings are a mix of excitement and panic that I've wasted the summer and now I have to catch up and get ready at the same time. But this is going to be a good year at the parish, I can feel it... as long as nothing catastrophic happens in the Archdiocese and everyone on the team stays healthy, we're poised to do great work.
I had taken a mere week off at the beginning of the summer and at the end of it, I felt like I'd wasted it. All week I felt a little guilty whenever I sat still, hearing the time tick away, and then feeling like an idiot for worrying about relaxing too much on my vacation. This time we had a camping trip in the middle, and the rest of the days just fell out as they came, and I did lots of fun things, lots of productive things, lots of nothing. It felt great and I still feel great.
Now I'm gung-ho to get going again at work and loving all of humanity mostly, and full of ideas. Yes, two weeks is the way to go.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Scars: A Response to A Response

I took FrChip's dare and posted his response, and have waited some days to respond, so I could do so respecfully. As soon as I read his comment, I went back to re-read my post and thought that really, if he'd written his first, my post would have been a great response to his charges. So I won't say much, but there are two things that I think I might as well respond to, and they are these:

1) I chose the word organization purposely in my post, because it is with the organization side of the Church that I struggle. I'm flat-out, head over heels in love with the Mystical Body of Christ- in fact the existence of the MBOC is the reason I still have hope for the organization. I don't think we can just deny that the Church is an organization, and in fact I think it's really dangerous to do so.

2) I know FrChip's "BC boys" jab is just a lame attempt at a personal dig, but here's the thing. I'm not a cheerleader for BC, just went there because opportunity knocked. For the record, I didn't find it to be the bastion of liberality that everyone warned me it would be. But here's the important thing- I didn't get my theology from BC, not from the "boys" or the "girls" there. What I did get from BC, and for which I'll be eternally grateful, was encouragement not to live in fear of people like FrChip, who just want me (and people like me) to shut up and not make waves, who want me to leave well enough alone so that everyone can pretend the emperor's clothes are fine.

Thanks to everyone who sent me great encouragement off the blog. I hope my writing here is always as kind and thoughtful as it is honest, and I appreciate the opportunity to let my thoughts and feelings bleed out through my fingertips and onto your screen. Always, feel free to comment.

Monday, August 13, 2012

ahhh relaxation

Holy shmoley my back is out. I think it knows I'm on vacation, did a hard relax, and now it's a mess. Two spots; one up just under my shoulder and one down at the bottom of my back, which feels mostly okay until I turn or bend a particular, slight way, and then POW it spazzes out. Feels like I imagine being stabbed might feel. When it happens, I bleat out "OH!" or something like it, automatically. Poor Scott.
I'm doing everything I can think to do outside of involving people who could actually help me. What is that?? I've never been to a chiropractor, and I don't call because... I don't know. My beloved massage therapist moved and now I don't have one, and it's so expensive... and the doctor, well, I dunno. Would the Minute Clinic take me in, and give me medicine? Hmmm...
While I muddle around not doing anything actually helpful, I'm icing, and taking Aleve (kidneys be damned) and trying to keep moving, or stay still. I have a lot to do, plenty of ways to keep moving.
Maybe I'll lay on the hard floor for a bit. OH!

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I spoke to an old friend recently about what I do for a living, that is, working for the Catholic Church.87 I am always ready to talk about what that means, even about the cognitive dissonance involved in working for this organization. But when I mentioned a well-known bone of theological contention, my friend rolled her eyes, hard, and said something about pedophile priests. Now, I understand that this is a natural reaction for people who only know the Church by what they hear in the news, or by people who have left in disgust over this very issue. I so understand that this is the baseline that we, as a Church, have created for ourselves. But I can't help wincing when I hear it from people, especially  people I care about. It's all at once freshly raw and something I wish we could pretend never to have happened.
It's an issue close to my heart- not because I was abused (I wasn't), but because it has been such an earth-shattering experience to live through, in a religion that holds not only my belief system but my family, my marriage, my career, my identity. It has been a struggle of how to stay in an organization such as this, how to justify teaching Her ways to others while feeling deep hurt. and if you've been reading here for very long, you know how hard that struggle is for me, as well as how genuinely risky it is to admit that I struggle at all. We live in a time of fidelity oaths for catechists... it's not okay to struggle with with the faith and it's not okay to struggle with the leadership.
On the other side of the reactive spectrum, I know parish workers and diocesan workers who have clung to their faith in this church. Maybe it's their way of surviving through the state of things, to turn harder around and work harder at seeing only the good. I totally get the appeal of that response- I'd do that, too, if any fiber of my being would allow me to. But I watch my "company man" friends and fear for the day when they are bitten by the very snake they are trying to bandage. Maybe it never will happen, and I'll envy their lifetime un-scathed. But because I've been there (because I am there) I know that if it happens, in whatever form it happens, when people who are devoted and trusting of their Mother Church find themselves receiving the wrong side of Her hand, it's going to hurt and it's going to hurt BAD. I watch these people with a combination of envy and worry.
I love this Church, this Church that has made me question everything about my faith, my beliefs, my place in the world. On the whole I think it's healthier to be the kind of (suspicious, pained, grounded in recent history) Catholic that I am, than to be the Company Man kind of Catholic. I'm on the backside of the (inevitable?) fall from grace, for sure, but I'm not curled in a ball. I'm up, I'm walking, I'm shaking it off and healing my wounds. I'm still here and still in the game. I know stuff I never dreamed and would never hope to know. I'm part of the recovery.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Like, woah.

Check this out.

Remember Dick Tracy's radio watch? When the writers of that time thought about futuristic inventions, they knew that communications would be so important that everyone would need to do it, from any location. Especially people like Dick, out fighting crime and hunting down bad guys. And what did people always have with them? Their watches.
It never occurred to them (I mean, how could it?) that people would ever stop wearing watches. Everyone, they must have assumed, would always need to know what time it is.
Now, of course, in the actual future, we look at our phones to find out the time. How crazy is that?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Immersion Learning

I am an admitted Olympics geek. I love watching Olympic sports that I would never watch, in their non-olympic forms. At work this week I've even been streaming some games to keep an eye and ear on while I work, and I've been fascinated to find that some of them are being streamed without commentary.
There is something to be said about immersion in this. I just tuned in to badminton and it's impressive to see, but also sooooo quiet. I can hear the birdie hitting the racquets (or, vice-versa, I guess) with little clicks, and sometimes the squeak of a sneaker on the court. And when something good happens I can hear the crowd cheer. When something thrilling happens (a dive from one of the players, or a near-miss) I can hear the spectators say "ooooh!!!" I am learning a little bit about the game by experiencing it with my senses, even though no one is telling me outright what's going on.
I've learned a few things about a few sports already so far this Olympics, some of them through the commentary. I heard someone the other day talking about how fast that birdie flies, and that was pretty fascinating. But it was definitely a different kind of learning- facts, vs. experience. It was transactional, not communal. It's still good learning, but different.
It reminds me of the power of the community to teach. It makes me think of the catechetical power of attending Mass with a community, vs. sitting in front of a teacher, or textbook. And here's another thought: no one at the badminton game knows that I'm learning from them, but they're still teaching. They're teaching by being present, by caring about the game, by participating in their way. At Mass on any given Sunday, someone is learning from us as a community, even when we don't know that we're teaching.
We're teaching about how to behave at Mass. We're teaching someone that a lot of people care enough about the Eucharist to come to Mass every week. We're teaching that this Eucharist is good stuff, worth showing up for, and we're teaching that a community of believers exists and gathers.
What if we keep teaching, but no one comes to learn? What if someone comes to learn, and there are no teachers there? Just being Mass makes a difference- forms the next generations of Mass "fans". If we do it right, they'll catch on, and teach the generations after them.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Broken Watches

I wear a watch pretty much every day. I have a lovely watch that Scott gifted me for some holy day, which replaced the one he gave me on our wedding day. I have worn watches forever, I think- I remember I got  my first watch when I was just in kindergarten, it had a red alligator strap and gave me a rash, so my Mom painted the back of the watch (not the strap part...) with clear nail polish so I could wear it.
My current watch has a near-dead battery, and that means I've not been able to wear it for a week. I miss it! I can't tell you how many times I have looked at my naked wrist throughout the day. The other day while I was on my drive to work I thought about how weird I feel without a watch on and thought "I guess I could still wear it..." 
And I was struck by the silliness of that thought and thought "there's no point in wearing a broken watch." Of course there's no point! But it's tempting to wear it, useless as it is, because it's comfortable, it's what I'm used to. Even if it can't tell me the time, it at least would give me something to look at every time I hold my wrist up in front of my face... 
Really, it made me think of ministry (what doesn't?) and how we hang on to things that have become useless in our ministries. We know these things have long since lost their charm, relevance, ability to do what we want them to do, but we are comfortable with them. They fill space in our programs so that we can say "see, we're busy! We're doing something!"  Sure, we may say, hardly anyone continues with the Church after they're confirmed, but we have a busy program and they come to that consistently... until they are done.  They don't like it... but if it's there, it must be doing something-  no need to change it. 
I think it's a necessary skill for a minister to stop wearing broken watches. But not just a skill, it's... bravery. We need to step away from our comfortable, busy-looking, unproductive programs and try something new. If/when the new watch breaks, we change again. There's really no point in wearing a broken watch. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

God is Love, and Love is...

It's interesting (and completely understandable) to me how people start asking questions about God's whereabouts when tragedy strikes. It's then that our images of God so often turn out to be incomplete and unhelpful. If my idea of a God, of THE God, is one who keeps everyone safe and alive and comfortable, then what happens when the poop hits the fan?
What I'm suggesting is this: what if it's not God that fails in the hard times, but our understanding of God that falls short? A quick look around shows that God is clearly not a God who keeps us comfortable or safe or even alive. God is not like that, and believing in God that way does not keep anyone alive, safe, or comfortable.
But what if that's okay? What if God can be a God who doesn't make everything okay but still be a God who loves us? Would it be enough for God to be a God who walks with us, who weeps with us, who laughs and celebrates with us? Is the only God worth believing in a God who saves us from all harm and sadness?
If you're like me, then the more you think along these lines, the less comfortable you become with the kind of God that makes everything ok all the time. You start to notice how bad a job that God does, and how unfair the criteria seem to be. Why does this person get a "miracle" and that one doesn't? Why didn't God stop that man from shooting up the theater? Why did he "save" this girl once but not again?
The more I try to understand God, the more complex and simpler it becomes: God is love. Love doesn't fix things, love doesn't save us from harm, love doesn't make everything okay, love doesn't erase suffering. Love loves. God is love, and Love...
...is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In My Own Horrifying Words

In my parents' move from their home to "The Home" (an apartment in a senior living community, really, not a HOME. But that's what they call it, affectionately). I was given boxes of my stuff that had languished in their basement for years.
We have no room in our house now for anything. Seriously, we are full-up. The process of claiming or reclaiming things from their home was fraught and difficult, with worries about hurting feelings, and actual hurting of feelings, and JUST TRYING TO GET THE DAMNED HOUSE CLEANED OUT FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, I'LL TAKE IT AND THROW IT AWAY AT A REST AREA ON THE WAY HOME IF WE CAN JUST KEEP MOVING... that kind of thing. Anyway, now it's done and everyone has a few (or, many many) extra boxes of things in their houses.
I was given a passel of my old diaries from high school and college, and this Summer I've read through them. Some of it is so fun to revisit, and some of it is so horrifying. It's a funny thing to see how dramatic I was, how typical-teen I was, how... (how to say this? I'll just say it) ...randy I was. I hope to God my mother and father never read these journals, for their sake. As for me, as an adult and as someone who has worked with kids for so long, some of it was horrifying to read, and it was about me! Ay.
I was telling a friend about how alarming my relationships back then were to me, reading them now. I want to go find my former self and give her a shake, tell her she can do better, tell her to play it COOL every once in a while for crying out loud. I want to tell her she's better than waiting for a boy to call, and that the boy is just messing with her head and probably could use a good therapist! (I'm not even being specific to a boy now, they all messed with my head and all could have used a good therapist, and I could have used that shake for letting them mess with my head.)
I told my friend that I wished someone had told me this stuff. My friend (who always asks me great questions!) asked, "who should have said that to you? Who would you have heard it from?" and that is a (see?) great question. It wouldn't have been my mother... in my reading I saw with 20/20 hindsight  some of the opportunities that my parents missed, to help me. I'm not sure my Mother could have done much right in my opinion by then, but I do think she blew some chances to be supportive and uplifting. 
I don't know if my siblings could have helped, either. The me writing those journals felt very much in control of the situation. The thing about being in a bad relationship (I remember well) is that you work so hard to make the world think you're doing just fine, and you convince yourself, in order to convince them. These relationships weren't abusive, I should clearly state here. They just weren't healthy, and didn't honor who I was. It was a pattern I lived over and over again, until I met my husband. By the time I met him, I was sick and tired of bad boyfriends, and was rewarded for my new strength with a prince. (cue: Awww.)
Anyway, I think that if I could have heard the advice, taken the shaking, it might have been from adult leaders in youth ministry. I had some great relationships with people through YM, and they really honored who I was. I think it was this genuine respect for me, in these wonderful God-loving people, that gave them the kind of credibility that I respected, that I might have listened to. 
We can't re-write our youth, and as it turned out I learned a whole heck of a lot from all those bad relationships and here I am alive and a-love to blog about it. I hope all those boys have found great therapists and mates who don't let them mess with their heads. I am at peace with the fact that my parents did the best they could, and I am so thankful to my YM leaders for showing me what was valuable in me, so long ago. All this makes me want to be a better minister to young women, and to be bold in reminding them that things can be different. They don't have to live like they've lived. And they are worthy of good boys.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer Peeves

I love Summer. I'm a Summer girl! I love it so much I always capitalize it! Heck, I'm a Leo, so, you know... Summer Summer Summer.
But I have some pet-peeves. I mean, no love is pure, right? Here are my pet peeves. Just two, really!
I hate the humming sound that is everywhere in the Summer. I don't particularly like silence- in fact, it has a similar affect on me. Both silence and a humming sound (like that of a fan or an air-conditioner, or our damned broken refrigerator, which has been humming like mad for over a year now, since the refrigerator repairman told our landlord that it would need to be replaced, and she said to let her know when it really does die, which it hasn't. It just hums, super-loud. But that is not a summ... Summer-related thing. Let's go back) drive me to distraction.
Air conditioners and fans and other humming things, and silence, they make me tense up. My neck and shoulder muscles cringe until I can't take it anymore, and I need a break. When the humming sound stops, I feel instant relief. So, there's a thing that I don't like about my otherwise beloved Summer.
Another thing is being COLD. I'm talking about how people crank up their Air Conditioners until the room is icy. I don't want to be cold in the Summer any more than I do in the winter. I am looking for a comfy medium! I want to be cool, is all! In the winter, do we turn the heat up to 90? No. Of course we don't! We don't want to sweat, we just want to be warm. Why doesn't the world get that concept, in the Summer? Come on, people. If it were 60 outside, you'd want a sweater. Your house should not be 60 degrees. And there's nothing worse than walking into a store in the Summer and wishing you had a sweatshirt. Because, and I mean this, COME ON.
Summer has other annoyances, I'm sure. OH mosquitos! Mosquito bites, ugh! Someday I'll blog about how much I loathe, hate and abominate itching. Stay tuned, friends!!
Otherwise, I LOVE SUMMER!!
PS: Earwigs. Bleah.

Friday, July 13, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday, on a Friday! I so have my life together!!

1) take a look at this summerchini!
Look how massive it is! It totally dwarfs that tomato!!
Okay that's a very small tomato. But it's still a really big... something. It came from a cucumber plant, and when it appeared I thought it was a zucchini, but it never turned green. My (actual gardener) neighbor said she's never seen anything like it, and that it might be a hybrid. But seriously, it's big. Here it is with an actual remote control! Cable, even!!
 I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it, but I am in the midst of a passionate love affair with zucchini, so I have lots of recipes cued up. I'll let you know how it tastes. 

2) we have two new kittens! When our oldest cat went to "kitty heaven" we tried to adjust to living in a catless house. It was a surprising hard thing to get used to. I didn't enjoy the freedom like I might have expected to. We started to hear from our scouts (Scott's family) that there were two adorable kittens in the lobby of a nearby cat hospital. On a whim and with nothing ready, we drove over to take a look adopt them. They're littermates, about 16 weeks old, gangly and silly. It's been so fun having them, so far, despite all the scratch marks on Scott's ankles and the broken items around the house. Scott is absolutely besotted. Well, here, have a look: 
We're still a little hard-pressed for good pics so far, they are awfully wiggly. Stay tuned. 

3) I'm a little bit trapped in my living room, as Scott and some of his youth group kids are out in our yard. Somehow he suckered invited them to come up and paint our deck for us. I love his kids but have kept my distance from the group today, because it's my day off and I'm home and in my garden clothes (unattractive!). But I've been listening in on their conversations and checking in on them. I do miss hanging out with a group of kids. 

4) My dream job is open in my home diocese. Oh, how awful! And what's worse, I'm qualified for it!! I moved out of Maine in 1992... good Lord can that be true? I've lived here longer than I lived there. I've forgotten where things are in Maine, and lost track of the situation up there...  but when I moved to Massachusetts, I never dreamed I'd stay. Now I'm without a country, in a way, not willing to claim Massachusettianism and not willing to give up my Mainer-ness, but really, I'm pretty settled in down here. I can't very well pick up and leave here now, I have a wonderful job and a big social life, and pretty much the best place to live that we could possibly hope for. But oooooh that job looks cool.

5) Maybe this is my alternate timeline, coming around even though I left that path. My plan was always to come here for a while, get some experience in parish youth ministry, then go back to my beloved Diocese of Portland and work in the Youth Ministry Office. This dream job is not in the YM office, but it's still a diocesan position and would be, as I imagine it, awesome. I'm teasing myself with it, thinking about this alternate universe of my potential life, and I'm 8% worried that I'll let it go by and then find myself without a job in the new reconfiguration plans here in Boston. Well. We'll see, I guess. 

6) I can't tell you how many times in the past few minutes I've had to remove a kitten from my keyboard and then delete "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeokj." Kittens are very different from old cats. Wow. 

7) I've got nothing for 7. So, you know, go read this instead! HOW ABOUT THAT??

Sunday, July 08, 2012

My Three Masses

I went to Mass in three different churches today. I'm not bragging. I only took Communion in one, and only really sat through one whole Mass. But the differences in the three were so fascinating to me.
At our own parish, I was there for the end of the 9. Maybe I'm too in love with this parish to be objective, but I could feel the joy at that Mass. People were nice, I was surprised to see how diverse the crowd was culturally, and the kids' choir was fun and happy and praise-y. The church is bright and wide open, and the feeling that I get there is overall joyful.
A friend and I then went to the 11 at another parish in town. Mass was in the lower (air-conditioned) church, and we were greeted by the staff (I knew them, and they recognized me, but we were by no means the only ones they greeted. The lower church is darker and smaller, but the feeling was friendly. The crowd was mostly late for Mass, and really very diverse. The priest saying Mass today was African, and we wondered if the crowd was mostly African too. But it didn't feel like an ethnic Mass. In fact, after the priest would start the prayers, the music minister would lead the response, and make it as white-sounding as humanly possible. I say this as one of the whitest people you'll ever meet. Anyway, my point is, if the people there were African, they weren't there because it would be an African-style Mass.
(Should I mention here that after Mass, the priest and the pastor were shaking people's hands, and my friend swore she saw him wipe his nose with his hand before shaking hers? Ew. We went directly to the car to douse ourselves in hand sanitizer.)
Finally, I met Scott (who is on vacation and so attending Mass in an exotic foreign location) for the last half of Mass. I just asked Scott how the homily was, now five hours later, and he said "it was fine." But he can't remember what the guy said. What was memorable was that there was no AC in this church, and that the priest was wearing a fiddle back. A frickin' fiddleback!! I've never seen one in real life. He told us after Mass that it was cooler. I don't know. Also, the altar was crowded with candles and a giant crucifix, gold and ostentatious. I can't help but wonder at a priest who is standing at table, with the honest-to-goodness body and blood of Christ in front of him,  but needs to look at a golden crucifix. Talk about missing the point. But hey, maybe that's just me.
All I do know is that I looked around that hot church and was amazed that so many people would come in there, on a hot Sunday evening, to sit through a less-than-memorable Mass. It gave me hope. People want to meet Christ, they want to worship, they want to pray. What if we made it just a little bit more pleasant, more meaningful, more inspiring? Just a little bit! Imagine!!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Let's Not Get Together

It's reunion time again. This year marks 25 years since I graduated from high school. I'm always a little iffy about reunioning, which would have come as such a shock to my 18 year old graduating self. I wailed at graduation, scanning the faces of my beloved friends, and swearing never to forget any of them.
Five years later, I went to our first reunion, and it was pretty fun, I guess. I saw people who I'd only just lost touch with, and they were pretty much the same as they'd been in high school. I got a little tipsy and went to a party at someone's house after the reunion. It was fun enough.
When the 10th year reunion came around, I didn't want to go at all. I was single and working at a job that I didn't like much (social work) and I remember thinking "I don't have a story to tell these people." I wasn't proud of my life, hadn't made anything impressive of myself, and didn't have a thing to brag about. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a derelict, and wasn't living a miserable or debauched life, I just wasn't living what I considered to be an impressive one.
At our 20th, things had changed. I was married, and pregnant, and so felt like I had an excuse for being as overweight as I was. The internet had come into play enough that I had been in touch with some of my old classmates, and had found pictures of most of the others online, so I knew that a lot of them had put on weight too, and lost hair, and started to sag, in spots. I was doing a job I loved (ministry) and had a husband I was proud to show off, so I went. I was nauseous the whole time from the pregnancy, and couldn't have a beer, either- there was a DJ who played music really loud, so we had to shout to each other. I saw some dear old friends and it was nice.
This year, 25, I'm not as overweight as I was 5 years ago, still in a wonderful job, still married to a wonderful husband, but... I just don't feel like I have much to talk about with my classmates. I don't want to go and dance or drink with them, and those whose stories I want to keep up on, I already do. I can see all their faces on Facebook anytime, and even chat with them. It suits my introverted self much better than dressing up and hollering at each other over the DJ's tunes. I'm going to skip it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

7 Quick Takes: Vacation Edition

1) I've got myself a new Ipad, and it's pretty awesome. My learning curve with it has been a little slow, but I'm figuring out why I wanted it, and why it will prob. become a big part of my everydays. I still have the rookie cover on it, and no keyboard, and I'm still figuring out which apps are helpful- but I'm coming to see that with it, I can do a whole heck of a lot of stuff that I love to do.
2) I downloaded my first book on the Ipad (I have the kindle app, but can't figure out how to get books into it... ) and it's Seven Storey Mountain, by Thos. Merton. It's one of those spiritual books that all the most holy people have read, and I never have. It's LONG! It's an autobiography, full of typos (is that an ipad books thing?) and I guess either Merton wrote it before honing his writing skills or it'll turn out to be awesome enough that the... (well, amateurish?) quality of his writing won't be a big deal, ultimately. He is a funny kind of guy, sort of curmudgeonly and at turns super-critical of anyone who disagrees with him philosophically, including his own younger self. And he includes weird tangential stories from his childhood that don't seem to have much to do with the greater narrative of the thing. But still, I'm hanging in there, despite the lovely and tempting books that keep popping up in my periphery.
3) Next, for instance, on my wish-list is... well, several books are tempting me. I still haven't read Bossypants, and want to- it seems like a much better suited-to-vacation kind of book than SSM. But also I'm wanting to read The Goal and Ideas. I think it's a new sense of liberation that my mind is feeling from being sprung from grad school. I love books and reading and hate being told what to do/read. Now that I can read whatever the heck I want, Amazon is my oyster.
4) But, shouldn't I be hiking? Or, walking, or something active? I've been thinking about the difference between being lazy and being sedentary. My Mom always called me lazy, and maybe I've had my lazy stretches, but I don't mind hard work or activity really. I work hard in my garden, and do my chores, and I used to love hiking when I lived by the woods and hills in my first apartment, and/or when I had a dog to hike with. But I also really love reading, I love watching tv, I love using the internet. My mind is, I reckon, much more active than my body is, by nature. I worry about time lost to sitting around, mostly because I see how my Mom's body seems to have withered from (in my estimation) lack of movement over the past several years. Like me, Mom prefers to sit. But I saw her struggle this weekend to get into a car, and worried about my own fate.
5) This week though, it's been raining and thundering every day, which means I'm stuck close to home, and as another convenient excuse, my foot hurts!  A few weeks back I was gardening and felt my big toe snap, and then a shooting stab of pain. I tried to take it easy on my right foot for the next couple of weeks, and was starting to feel good again, but now suddenly I feel like I have a bruise on the bottom of my foot- in the pad behind that big toe. What can you do but rest it, right? So maybe next week, I'll start that walking routine.
6) So here's the apps I have on my ipad, because I know you're dying to know: Slate, IMDB, Inkflow, NPR/WBUR/CBC apps, Pandora, Google Translate, a stunning Weather Channel app, Amazon, and Dropbox. Oh, and Bejeweled Blitz.
7) So in sum: I'm spending these few days off from work reading, sitting around, worrying about how much I'm sitting around, thinking about books I'd rather/should be reading, and trying not to eat carbs. I've got some other plans (something every day! I'm so active!)so my social skills won't completely whither away before I get back to work.