Friday, March 23, 2007

Some Good News to Share!

I am truly thrilled to share some very exciting news with you. As of Wednesday afternoon I accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in my field at By the Bay Seminary. (Trying to announce this exciting news while not revealing exact details!) :)

This has developed quite quickly over the past month and a half or so. And although we all thought we would be heading back home this summer, we are really very, very happy.

I have been on a long journey since I started seminary in the fall of 2000. I have tried to follow a sense of where I was being led, but it honestly never made any practical sense. My denomination historically has downplayed the importance of studying worship on the seminary level (though we've certainly emphasized preaching!) And it was truly a leap of faith to go ahead with my oddball degree in Liturgical Studies, despite every sign that it would only leave me unemployed at the end of all these difficult years.

Now I am in awe of how quickly this position came about. And that my destination has finally become clear. I am so thankful.

A really wonderful benefit of these past couple days has been getting to share this news with loved ones who have been such an important part of my journey all these years. As notes have poured back, I've been more aware than ever of how many mentors I've had along the way. What a joy to hear back from quite a few people who feel at least in part responsible for this success--and rightly so! I'm more aware than ever of the reality that I did not accomplish any of this alone, but only together with family, friends, teachers, spiritual guides, and loved ones.

Today D and I "celebrated" by taking the day off from work and overhauling our apartment! After years of being prejudiced against renting storage space (it's always felt like a uniquely North American "problem" of excess), we decided that our teensy tiny apartment just could not be comfortably home with every nook and cranny filled with boxes. We realized that our frustration was going to ultimately resolve itself by having us decide it was impossible to live in such a small place (and thereby increasing our rent by several hundred dollars a month) or by renting a little extra space for a fraction of that cost.

After doing some online research, we headed over to a place that's only a couple blocks from here, and rented a small unit immediately. We proceeded to take over three loads (in our little Nissan). Then spent the rest of the day really cleaning and re-organizing the space.

The decision felt great. It was a sense of settling in on a deeper level than I think we'd allowed ourselves to do before.

Now I'm a good, bone-weary tired. The cat has curled up across my legs. (It's warm enough this evening that we have all our windows and the front door wide open and I'm still wearing shorts!) The coffee table in front of me is completely cleared off (for the first time in over a month) except for a lovely candle with a sturdy flame. I can hear a soccer game being vigorously played in the park across the street. It is a good night.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Preparing for Baptism

Last evening we had a long conversation with Monk about his desire to be baptized. We're still trying to get a sense of his desire, wanting to make sure that he is not asking to be baptized simply because he senses it would please us or make us proud. Monk is going to be turning nine years old in just a couple weeks. So he's really at about the youngest I would think he ought to be baptized. That is, speaking from my Baptist perspective. If I switch theological hats, back to my Lutheran one (where I went to seminary), I'm perfectly fine with infant baptism. But we are Baptists--so I feel it's important to be respectful of that tradition in this case.

Several of Monk's thoughtful responses were very beautiful to me and I decided I wanted to share them here. As much to have some friends and family aware of how he's feeling about things these days as to have me remember these "thick" days myself someday.

When D asked why he was feeling he wanted to be baptized, Monk responded: "I feel as though Jesus was a really important person who made very good decisions in life. And I want to live my life in a way that follows Jesus' example. And I figure baptism is the place to begin."

Monk also said that he wanted to be able to tell kids that he was a Christian and not to be embarrassed about that, but to simply be able to tell them that that was a part of who he is.

When we asked what he thought it meant to follow Jesus' example, he answered: "To live in a way that is kind to other people, to be thoughtful, and generous, and loving. To help people. And if I get signed someday as a hockey player for millions of dollars that I would give away half of it to help other people. Because it's not right that I would have so much when other people don't have enough food to eat every day."

Then D asked Monk: "A lot of people talk about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. What do you think that means? Is that something you believe?"

"Not really," Monk answered. "I think Jesus was killed because the Roman government thought he was a real threat to their power. And that worried them a lot. When he wouldn't back down, then they killed him to set an example for all the other people in case they were thinking of resisting the government, too. The Romans thought they had won, but then God proved to them that love is stronger than death."

Because we're reading the Bridge to Terebithia right now, we had just the night before encountered the scene where May Belle is worried that if Leslie doesn't believe in Jesus that "God would damn her to hell." Monk giggled every time I'd read the line, because all he heard in it were the curse words. But last night I explained to him more about why May Belle would say that. "Some people are taught a theology that if someone doesn't believe in Jesus then God will send them to Hell."

"Do you have that theology?" he asked.

I told him I did not. D admitted that when he was baptized, he did believe that. But that he didn't believe it anymore.

"Well, I think that's a pretty dumb theology," Monk said. "I mean, God created different genders, right? And God created different species. And different continents. And different vegetables. And different kinds of people. Why wouldn't God also create different faiths? Doesn't that just make sense?"

So that's where our boy is right now.

Watcha Doin'?

It's been ages since I've participated in a RevGal Friday Five! But I'm delighted to take on this easy assignment of listing five things on my To Do List for today! :) How 'bout you?

1. Go watch Monk play recorder with The City Symphony at his school! :)
The kids (K-5) have been practicing on their instruments for months now for this special concert. Now how cool is that?

2. Finish planning Sunday's worship service and put together the bulletin.

3. Read for pleasure not for work!
I'm in the midst of Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church. An enjoyable read, especially as one who straddles the church v. academic world.

4. Go buy a sack of sand!
I think I want to do a "station" at church on Sunday where people can come forward and place long taper candles in a big box of sand--in prayer for those at war in the desert regions of our world. (Gifts in the Wilderness and Rivers in the Desert is our theme for Lent this year. Given that this weekend we commemorate the start of the war, it seems important to be especially aware of not over-romanticizing the desert experience. I've got the candles. Now I just need the sand...

5. Go to a Sake Tasting session at our sake museum right down the street from us!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Random Entry

1. We are loving our new Mac computers! The latest hit in our house has been creating songs on Mac's Garageband--a program that comes already installed which allows you to compose songs using either original creations or by putting together a series of loops in fun and interesting ways. Monk has lately been composing a song a day--starting out with some moody, new-agey sounding songs, moving to the genre of Techno (calling his first creation in that genre "TechnoMonk"), then to world music with my current favorite of his "World Fusion" where he combines Congo beats, Nordic flutes, Indian tablas, orchestra strings, tambourines and more into a truly fun song. He's also written one song called "Stick It (to the Man)" which cracks me up, coming from our dear, almost-nine-year-old, boy. Yesterday we burned our first cd with all his creations and listened to them on our way to church. Now, how cool is that?

2. I preached on Sunday. I had gone into my weekend thinking it would be no problem to churn out a sermon given that I've been preparing weekly lectures for the class I'm teaching this semester. Well, I came to find out the Holy Spirit does not appreciate such arrogance when it comes to sermon preparation. Preparing last Sunday's sermon just kicked my butt! Eventually, the words and focus came, but not after hours and hours of struggle. My favorite part of Sunday's service was when we invited folks to come forward and receive figs! (One of the texts was from Luke 13, where a gardener manages to buy another year for an as yet unproductive fig tree to put forth its fruit.) We had both dried figs (couldn't find fresh ones at this time of year) and fig newtons. Four of the kids in our congregation stood up front and said, "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord" as people took one of the treats to eat. It was cool. A couple weeks ago we did something similar, with the people receiving apples and dipping them in honey. (That was the week we read about the promised land flowing with milk and honey.) I'm trying now to think of a way to end this week's service. Food again? The Prodigal Son story certainly ends on a big feast--though I'm not planning on roasting a calf for church this week!

3. Our son continues to want to be baptized this Easter. I'm so happy about this. But I'm also concerned that we do it "right"--whatever that means. How do we prepare him for the day in an adequate way? And I also feel very sad that he won't be baptized with his extended family there as well as his church being present. When he was dedicated as an infant, Monk filled two very long pews with friends and family members! I wish that could be the case for this big moment, too--the 'first fruits' of the catachesis he has received since he was dedicated at 8 months old.

4. Last night I led the second of a four-week class called "Beginning to Pray" in which I am introducing folks to the practice of contemplative prayer. I start folks out with a brief time of instruction, then we practice the prayer together. Last week's class focused on praying in silence. Last night I used a more guided method based on Ignatian spirituality-following the form of Sacred Space. As a result, I wasn't really able to participate in the prayer time as much as I had the previous week when we all kept silence together. The meeting time isn't ideal--as lots is going on at the church on Wednesday nights. That's when we have our weekly kids program, as well as a parents' group that meets off the sanctuary. So lots of sounds and distractions. I think I'll try the group again when things quiet down again on the church campus. It feels like such a privilege to lead this experience for folks. Contemplative prayer has a large role in where I am in my life today. It's a joy to see people opening themselves up to trying this out themselves.

5. I am grateful this week for the ways in which my discernment about my life and ministry are coming to great clarity. I hope that by this time next week I will be able to share publicly some very good news that will be an affirmation of all these years of stepping along a dark path-- where there has been no clear destination in view--only a sense that I was supposed to be on the path itself, wherever it was leading.

6. A couple days ago I received an invitation to a twentieth high school reunion! It shocked me to discover that this year I mark twenty years since I graduated high school! Funny thing was, though, that the invitation was from a high school I didn't, in fact, attend! This got D and I to thinking that we ought to attend it anyway. Now, wouldn't that be a hoot?!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sabbath Stirrings

Last night I had an evening event which wore me out a bit. I came home feeling tired and cranky--the second night in a row where I was out past 9:30, which means not being home to tuck Monk in at bedtime. (I teach on Tuesday evenings until 9:00 and can sometimes make it home in time to kiss the boy on his head before he's drifted off to sleep.) My day always feels unresolved when I'm not here for Monk's bedtime.

When I got home last night, full of grousing and grumbling, I discovered D looking awfully worn out himself. Turns out the Boy (Monk) had had a pretty hard night, too. He'd broken down into tears several times while at his usual Wednesday night church program (our church has a Wednesday night Logos program for kids). As I heard the report of what all had happened--little things, but with a wallop of a cumulative effect)--I understood how he could have lost it by the end of the night. But I also noticed that woven through the evening, for Monk, was a recurring theme of his growing anxiety that he hadn't yet gotten his homework done (or even started) for the week.

D and I blinked at each other, once we both got done sharing about our evening's stress, both of us a little too worn out to be much help to one another. It was just one of those nights that was better dealt with by ending it--worn out, it was time to turn in for the night and try to get some rest.

This morning I woke up thinking about that need for rest. A friend of mine is leading a Lenten series on Sabbath this year. And this morning it occurred to me that my experience last night points to my own need for sabbath. I've discovered this past year, as I've cobbled together my two "part-time" (in pay, not in hours!) jobs teaching at the seminary and serving in a church, that the week's schedule never allows for natural downtime. Once the academic work slows (on Wednesday morning), then the church work kicks into high gear. When the church work slows (on Sunday evening), then the academic work kicks into high gear.

I think my forbearance was low last night because I was supposed to be taking the day off yesterday, but instead found myself out until 10:30 at night. When we're spread too thin, we lose a generosity of spirit.

I think that was partly, even, what was going on with Monk yesterday. I'm a little ashamed to say that I think we've fallen into the trap of overprogramming him: aiki-jujutsu two to three times a week; Logos at church on Wednesdays; Chess on Fridays; Hockey on Saturdays; Church on Sunday. I've gotten into a habit of letting him put off his homework until the last minute because I can never bear to make him do it during the week in his downtime moments. But his anxiety goes higher and higher, it turns out, as the week goes on. Letting him put off his work is not a favor to him.

I marvel at how easy it is to overprogram our kids. I honestly never thought I'd be the kind of parent to do that--I don't think of myself as the SoccerMom type. But little by little, interest by interest, we've added to his daily schedule enough to keep him going most of the time. Right now it feels like something's gotta give.

This morning all of our spirits were in much better places. Monk and his Dad woke up at 6 and Monk diligently and determinedly knocked out nine of his fourteen pages of homework. He headed off to school feeling much more in control of things, not overwhelmed by them. I was able to laugh at the things that had peeved me last night. And feel restored at least enough to have written this entry here (which is no small thing, to have energy enough to write).

But I want to keep turning over this notion of sabbath--for me, my son, my family. The press and the push to accomplish, perform at our best, stay busy all the time can be a demonic push that keeps us distracted, distressed, and dispersed. To stop, in such a way that we can become open to God's presence in our midst, now that takes a leap of faith.

Edited to Add: Monk came across this blog entry on my computer this afternoon. After reading it he said solemnly: "Mom, something's gotta give." -beat- "And I think it should be school."