Sunday, January 28, 2007

Yikes, I've been switched...

To New Blogger. Nervous. But no smoke has come out of the keyboard yet. There are no odd smells, strange drops in room temperature, or other harbingers of disaster. So I am choosing to be optimistic.

Did lots of housework yesterday morning instead of studying. All 3 dogs were very helpful. After we'd finished the vacuuming, floor scrubbing, rug shaking, and light bulb changing, they were exhausted.

Today I took Wilson Wolfhound for a long walk in the snow and ice and cold, with people to meet and snowbanks to sniff. He is very happy indeed.

Church discernment continues. More conversation coming up this week. Hard, hard stuff. I find that I am just not as optimistic as many others are. Maybe because I've seen things go further south... Most seminary students in mainline denominations seem to yearn for a bit more of a "congregational" approach, seeing the very real advantage of freedom to be more responsive to the local demographics. However, the corresponding disadvantage is that, when you're on your own, you're on your own when it's going south as much as when it's rosy. I know there's no perfect situation. But I'd vote for some degree of shared understanding so that, when something goes south, you don't have to first fight about whether it's REALLY south before deciding what to do.

In theology lingo, my anthropology is much lower than many people's--that is to say, I don't think humanity is just getting better and better eventually to merge with perfection. I tend to think we are born in a condition of radical brokenness, and that if left to ourselves we aren't very good at being loving neighbors to anyone. Somehow we need the help of one another, the help of God, and a healthy dose of willingness to examine and learn from our own behavior to help us live in ways that are not totally dominated by brokenness. And, no, I don't think we all have to wander around feeling awful about ourselves. I think it's not a matter for personal guilt and shame, it's just life.

Will try to be more faithful in posting. I have good motivation: I have papers to work on, so won't I be tempted to blog instead? Of course I will!

Friday, January 19, 2007


A tough week. Some sort of sinus crud, but I have, I believe, held it at bay by drinking fluids non-stop (to my classmates' amusement, I would show up with a big cup of coffee and a can of soda or bottle of water and sip away). Excellent classes; I think this will be the quarter I hate to finish, because I would love to have time to just keep studying.

Have learned in theology lecture that Karl Barth had a mistress whom he took everywhere. Not unlike Carl Jung and some of his followers, even up until now. What is it with these Swiss men and their wives and their mistresses??? Entitlement everywhere it seems.

In deep discernment struggle. Re-evaluating denominational affiliation. While a "congregational" polity, which allows for each local church in a denomination or fellowship to be quite different in character, can be immensely liberating, it can also allow for real problems at the local level--conflicts or patterns of behavior that are damaging to clergy, congregation, or both. I have seen some examples recently that have troubled me deeply. I have also seen some direct communications from the denomination that have expressed one message, while indirect communications express something quite different, in ways that make it tough to impossible to comprehend what the denomination actually stands for. Also, I find that as my own standpoints become more clear, I am in opposition in some key ways to some positions, at least at the local level.

So it is a tough time. There is so much that is so good about this church, but there are some areas of unclarity. How to weigh all of that and come out with an overall picture--my professors have suggested some questions to ask, but ultimate decisions are mine. Prayers appreciated.

It remains cold. Wilson Wolfhound adores the cold; for him, nothing is a better than a long walk with a lot of good smells AND new people to meet, in the cold. This, he says, is how it should always be!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Moments of grace

So often we use the term "grace" to mean a state of pleasure or peace or abundance or any number of other desirable attributes. But sometimes "grace" means a clear view of what my Jungian analyst, years ago, used to call the "as-isness" of a particular situation. And such a view is always useful, even liberating, but not always pleasant. I had a moment of grace in a staff meeting a week or so ago at church. One of the senior staff said, "If you are a staff member at this church and you are actually DOING ministry you are not doing your job correctly." I saw, clearly and at a depth I have not previously reached, that this IS the pastoral model and staffing model at the church. And this model is "not me." The church operates on what my spiritual director describes as a "large-church" model where staff's role is solely the management and some of the training of volunteer staff who actually interact with the members of the congregation to provide direct service. So, I now know: I am not a large church pastor, not even a large church staff member. I need--and am trained--to provide direct service.

The public discourse regarding pastoral models has become quite polarized, and it is common to find, in books detailing one model, real "pathologization" of those who function in other models. Thus, in a required reading from my supervisor, the notion that pastors who choose to spend a lot of time in direct interaction do so out of the "desire to be liked," and those who are able essentially to become managers are more emotionally complete. One could wish the discourse could simply be framed in an understanding that different people have different gifts and all are useful in different contexts.

Unless, of course, one believes in one's heart, as some of these writers clearly do, that small churches are dying churches, and that the church as a whole needs to reconsider its mission in ways that lead naturally into growth, and thus to pastors whose gifts are motivational and managerial in nature. And many people do believe that.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Very, very cold here

Getting a real Winter here this year; still lots of snow and now below-zero temperatures. No pseudo-winter, not this time!

Am taking church's training class by which pastoral caregivers are trained. Vast majority of pastoral care is provided by these volunteers. Found myself somewhat horrified at content; mainly based on a training handbook for crisis line volunteers from a secular organization. Some religious content added, but inconsistent theology, not surprising based on our theologically-diverse population. "How to offer prayer" took up about 30 minutes. I offered feedback on the feedback sheet stating that I was not comfortable with some of the theological assertions (God always answers prayer; God is in charge of everything; God has a plan--these can be immensely comforting to those who find such assertions seem to fit the pattern of their lives, but as the theology profs at school so aptly point out, every theological assertion has its downside). The instructor and director of ministries asked me about my feedback this afternoon and I tried to collect my thoughts and gave them and one other volunteer some ideas based on chaplaincy etc., and suggested some of the downsides to some of these assertions in certain situations. It was dicey because the instructor is very comfortable with "God always answers prayers" and the director of ministries has the "God has a plan" notion as a core of his own theology.

I hope I was able to make the points without seeming critical of THEM--I framed my comments as, each of us, when we speak of God and how God works, naturally speak of how we have experienced God in OUR lives, but of course the fact that God is greater than human comprehension means that our experiences are not the whole of God, and we have to be cautious about sending unintentional messages even with the kindest possible intent. Like, telling someone who has been praying for years that a beloved child could successfully get off drugs, that "God always answers prayers; you just have to ask for what you want." That may be true to us but may not be as helpful as staying with the anguished parent in the moment of anguish. Or, telling someone who has suffered a staggering loss that "God is in charge of everything that happens," which raises the question of why a loving God would have chosen to inflict the loss.

It is that pesky problem of evil that rises up at annoying times, and the temptation to offer a religious platitude -- especially if those are comforting in one's own life -- can be so strong. But so many people have been damaged by religious platitudes; even being told, in the wildness of grief for a loved one, that said loved one "is in a better place" can send the message that grief is selfish and wrong, rather than offer support. I do remember one couple in hospice during my CPE unit, who were reeling with the shock of a sudden diagnosis and only days left together. Perhaps the most connecting thing any of us did for them was validate their rage and devastation. I remember saying, with tears in my own eyes, "This sucks for you. It just does." We told them it was perfectly fine and even Biblical to be angry at God. I remember the surviving spouse, at the memorial service, catching me in a fierce hug, saying, "Thank you. Thank you." over and over, and I have to think it was because we all just stayed with them and gave them no talk about "God's plan" or "God's will." (I think they'd have chased us out of the room if we had tried that, anyhow.)

Anyhow I hope I was able to offer some constructive suggestions without giving personal offense.

Wait till we get to the topic of forgiveness. And my viewpoint that pushing people to forgive before injury has even been acknowledged is a power play, not a supportive gesture. They'll LOVE me then.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Back to school on Monday!!

Hooray, hooray! I have two classes plus internship which should be a more manageable situation than the 4 classes plus internship last quarter.

Since last post we have had TWO more snowstorms. My bum shoulder finally awoke to the fact that it was sick of shoveling and has been tricky.

Much of my mental energy has been consumed with an issue at church that, being personnel-related, cannot be discussed outside. There are some problems that arise from nowhere despite the best efforts of all and sundry. There are other problems that are as big and combustible as the Hindenburg (dirigible) and that float slowly toward an organization, casting a huge shadow, and hewing to a path that is utterly predictable. If your organization has one of these, when it arrives and catches flame as it inevitably will, do not tell me either directly or indirectly how shocked and surprised you are, and how you can't imagine what to do next. I'm just saying. Because I will have to stand on my tongue in order to remain appropriate, and my tongue has boot prints on it already.

Got to go write some stuff for a church committee and also for the dog club. Cheers!