Over the snark

snark_definitionI think I am done with the snark.

It occurred to me the other day as I read the thread of comments in a friend’s Facebook post, with a bit of voyeuristic abandon, that the snide remarks weren’t contributing to the common good or the common understanding and were maybe, just maybe, adding a little more ugliness to the world.

Let me be clear: I have LOVED a good snarky conversation.  I have participated in many, at presbytery meetings, watching tv, over coffee and wine.

Let me be clear:  There’s a talent in being able to make good snark, not unrelated to the talent of making a good pun, which is, of course, the lowest form of humor.

Let me be clear: My tearing someone else down – no matter how clever, witty, or insightful I am – does nothing to build up that person or to build up me.  And I think we are at a point in the world when we should all be doing something to build others up.

Then there’s this: if you want to make a cutting remark or observation, be witty.  Be satirical.  Be ironic.  Better yet, be self-deprecating even while deprecating someone else.  Better yet still, be direct.  If I am not willing to say something to someone’s face, does it really need to be said?  If I did say it, to what purpose?  To make myself feel good?  To be funny?  To show off in front of my friends?  To make the object of my comment change, or feel bad, or feel hurt?

When I was in sixth grade, there was a particular denim purse that was all the rage.  Denim, wood handles, and embroidered with the girl’s name or initials.  Well, I didn’t own such a purse.  It’s not that we couldn’t afford it, but my mom probably thought that this purse would be used for about three months and then lost in the closet.  And really, what does an eleven-year-old need with a purse?

But I had transfered to a new school in sixth grade, and I wanted to fit in, so I decided to make my own purse.  I took an old pair of blue jeans and cut them and hand sewed them.  I had sense enough not to attempt a monogram.  I took the purse to school.

Oh, the looks I got.  Oh, the whispers that suddenly stopped when I walked by.  One of the bolder girls said, in a voice dripping with daggers, “Oh, Beth, did you make that yourself?”

I never wore that purse again, and I never hand-made anything cool again.

It’s a good thing that most of us leave our junior-high selves behind. We grow up.  We hurt and get hurt and in the course of all that we mature.  But for me nowadays, every time I hear or read a snarky comment, I go back to junior high.

What if all the cleverness behind all those snide remarks was channeled differently?  What if we stopped showing off, and starting showing up with some kindness or compassion or grace?

A friend of mine died this week.  Another friend is getting married this weekend.  Some grandparents at church are anxiously awaiting the birth of their third grandchild.  And then there’s ISIS and Ebola and Ferguson and Ray Rice and everything else.

So I’m done with the snark.  Comment as you will.

Sunday afternoon: Breathing out stars

stars_1230_600x450This morning in Sunday School, we were talking about In the Beginning.  Mark, who knows the Bible better than any of us, said that he loves that beginning of John; it reminds him of Genesis, and it reminds him of Isaiah 40:25, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.”  And then Mark said something along the lines of “It’s like God was breathing out stars.”

Breathing out stars, Mark said.

We were all delighted-

imagine

the ominipotent ominscient Creator blowing out stars the way kids blow out bubbles, giggling, trying to pop them, trying to go so slow and steady to make a really, really BIG one

And then it pops.

Breathing out stars and then calling them together to sing; that would be cool.

Or it’s like God took a huge mouthful of Pop Rocks and spit them out and the Ruah turned them into stars.

Or God took a sparkler, swallowed it, and belched out the stars.

Or fireworks coming out instead of words.

The best I can manage is a little steam when I exhale on a cold day.  Nothing much shimmers, but then God is a lot shimmerier than I am.

Last week I said in Sunday School that I think of God as a loving mystery, loosely bound somewhere between the Milky Way and a breath.  And then Mark said that he thinks of God breathing out stars.

I don’t know what this God thing is all about, but I think it’s a mix of light and fire and gas and laughter.  At least I hope it is, the God thing.

 

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How do we remember?.

To remember something is to put words and actions to the thought “this was important; this mattered; this changed things, for better or worse.”  Remembering can honor, but can also rehash.  Remembering can heal and can re-open the wound.

I don’t think that there’s a formula in remembering that will make it a healing thing rather than a hurting thing.  It may be more about the state of one’s heart, or the freshness of the event.  It may be about the individual’s experience.  It may just be what happens that day.

Today I remember having lunch with a minister colleague, trying to make sense of horrific images on the news.  I remember I was between pastoral calls, and making a plan about where I would go to church the next Sunday.  I remember reaching out to my loved ones, to make sure they were ok, as if any of us could be ok after those planes crashed into those buildings.

But most of the time, I don’t think about September 11, 2001.  Most of the time I go about my life, and occasionally say prayers for first responders, and occasionally grieve with those who grieve.  A friend of mine works at the 9-11 museum in New York.  Because of her work (and, I would say, her calling) she remembers every single day.

The premise of the novel The Giver is that after a cataclysmic, unnamed event, a society endows one person to hold the communal memory.  Only one person remembers the sorrows and horrors and joys of that people.  It’s a dystopian world, as you might expect.  But I remember that day and we  remember that day. For some that is healing, a testament to an ideal of American fortitude and resourcefulness.  For some, that memory is excruciating, and gives birth to reawakened fears and to sorrows that will never end.

I won’t bake cookies for the local fire station today, although if you do, that’s a kind thing.  I also won’t watch the news, because I never watch the news and because I don’t find a recitation of bad things good for my soul.  But I will be intentional about some things today.  I will work to be kind and gentle.  I will not make great pronouncements about things I know nothing about.  I will say prayers.  That’s how I will remember today.

“That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.”          Ecclesiastes 3:15

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Always the  minister, never the bride

Always the minister, never the bride

bouquetThat was going to be the opening line of my stand-up routine, but I got married and never actually tried doing stand-up comedy, so now this great line is reduced to a blog title.

When I was in my first year of professional ordained ministry, I was visiting a parishioner in the hospital.  He was an irascible guy, and he was dying of lung cancer. Once when I went to see him, he was on his balcony smoking.  In those days at that hospital, if your room had a balcony you were allowed to go have a smoke.  I was appalled, but because I was still so wet behind the ears ministerially speaking, I pretended like that was normal and I saw it all the time.

Anyway, during one of our visits I mentioned that I was meeting with a couple to do premarital counseling with them.  He asked how I could be qualified to do that since I had never been married.  I replied, with no paucity of pastoral insensitivity and a general lack of human compassion, that I had never died but I was still qualified to do funerals.  He was taken aback, as I should have been.

Truth be told, when I was single, I hated conducting weddings.  Hated it.  Once in a while I would find the groom attractive and I would convince myself that the bride wasn’t nearly good enough for him.  Sometimes I was so jealous that these people had found love; why hadn’t I?  And then there was the huge klieg light that shone on me at rehearsal dinners, where I was usually seated with the grandparents and the weird bachelor uncle, and receptions, when I would excuse myself to the ladies’ room when it was time for all the single ladies to fight over the lousy bridal bouquet.

I imagine conducting weddings is also difficult for pastors who have been widowed or divorced.  Baptisms are painful for pastors who struggle with fertility issues or who have lost a child.  I dread my first funeral after my parents die.   The intention of the happy couple, or the joyful parents, or the bereaved family is not to rub salt in a wound they likely know nothing about.  Because we are professionals, we set our own feelings aside and appreciate the joy that others are having.  Sometimes.

Of course, pastors are not the only ones who are required to do things that rub salt in a wound; I don’t mean to imply that we are.  But for all of us in whatever walk of life we walk: how do we manage to “put on our big girls pants” (as a friend would say), fall into professional mode, get through it – whatever that ‘it’ is –  without bursting into tears, or get through ‘it’ with grace or aplomb?

Some would say their faith gets them through; others would say it’s a strong sense of self.  Still others would shrug and say they didn’t know.  But I do wonder the toll it takes if we’re not careful or aware of what’s going on in our own broken hearts while we engage with the breaking and healing hearts of others.  Did I go home from more than one wedding reception to greet my friends Ben  & Jerry?  Yes I did.  Sugar is my drug of choice, but I know others who cope with their hidden heartbreak with booze or porn or really mean behavior to strangers or beloveds.

I never cried “uncle”.  I always steeled myself through the wedding or the baptism or the Mother’s Day litany, for better or worse.  Most of my pastor friends do.  We do because it’s part of our calling.  Most of my pastor friends join me in detesting that phrase “God never gives you more than you can handle”.  We don’t steel ourselves through it with neat little memes. While I can’t speak for all of my pastor friends, getting through those things almost always gave me a reminder of grace and of hope.  Grace to get through that ceremony or that reception to then go home, put on my jammies, and watch Pride and Prejudice again.  And hope that maybe someday I would be up there facing the pastor and not the congregation; I would be in white and not black; I would be taking a ring instead of handing them out.

There’s a great clip out there right now from an episode of Louis CK when Joan Rivers was on.  (http://youtu.be/BnAIX7fWsdU)   Joan and Louis are talking, and she says something along these lines.  “Listen. I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t get better.  You get better.”  Maybe that’s it.  We don’t all get married.  We don’t all have kids.  We don’t all stay married.  The people we love don’t live forever.  That stuff doesn’t get better.  But maybe, by the grace of God or by sheer will, we get better.  Our hearts heal a little, and the scar tissue is a little bit thicker than what was there before.  Maybe that’s the hope – we get better.

On being married co-pastors

IMG_4087This is a focused post about being a married couple who serves as co-pastors.  It’s pretty specific, and specifically Presbyterian in its language, so feel free to skip!  That being said…

For the third time this summer, my husband and I have been contacted by church people about being married co-pastors who share one clergy position*.  In no particular order of importance, here are some thoughts.

Background

We have been serving this congregation for three years as co-pastors and co-heads of staff.  Prior to this call, my husband had served in executive work in the church, as an executive presbyter, and as an interim synod co-executive.  Prior to that, he was a lay member of a church staff and before that, a special education teacher.  Before taking this call, I had served in a variety of pastoral roles: associate pastor, interim pastor/head of staff, part-time interim co-pastor of a four-point parish, temporary supply solo pastor, part-time interim associate pastor.  All of which is to say that we had both served in a variety of roles in church work.

But then our child was going to be in school full-time, and I was itching for something more permanent, and my husband was ready for a different direction of ministry.  We agreed that we wanted to be pastors of a congregation.  We agreed that we did not want to serve two different churches.  We decided (and yes, discerned it as a call) to be co-pastors serving the same congregation.

We applied to twenty congregations, none of which was looking for co-pastors.  We heard back positively from two, one of which is the congregation we now serve.  We did file with the denomination’s matching system, which matched us twice, once with a three-point parish and once with a two-point parish.  Not what we were looking for.

Suggestions for couples looking to serve as co-pastors

1.  Do not rely on the denomination’s matching system.

2.  Be creative in your cover letter.  We used that as a way to extol our virtues without bragging – I wrote about my husband’s gifts for ministry and he about mine.  The cover letter is KEY.  Use it to (briefly) lay out how you would be co-pastors.

3.  Be clear about whether you would share one position and each be part-time or if you want more than that.

4.  Once you get your foot in the door, look at the church MIF and using the job description they provide, explain who would do what, and what you would both share.

5.  Be realistic about the hours you will work.  When we began serving, we were each half-time, and that meant for us each working about 30 hours per week, because some of those are overlap hours.  When we are both at a session meeting or leading worship or conducting a wedding or funeral, those are overlap hours.  It was our choice to share a position, and the church was not looking for two people.

6.  Be honest with each other about the state of your marriage.  If you are in a rocky place, serving as co-pastors is no way to strengthen your relationship.

7.  Be clear with the search committee about office space.  Most churches don’t have a spare office hanging around.  We shared one office for two years, which had its pluses and minuses.  Let the committee know if you are willing to share an office or if that’s a deal breaker – but wait until you’re into the process.

8.  Be clear with each other from the beginning about accountability and critique.  When is this person a spouse and when is this person a colleague?

9.  Leave domestic things in the domicile. Do not fight with each other at staff meetings, committee meetings, or for God’s sake, in worship.  Also, be aware that public displays of affection might make folks uncomfortable.  Never kiss each other at a staff meeting.  Trust me on that one.

10. Engage the services of a coach, counselor, or therapist to work with you both.  If this is the first time you’ve worked together, it will be really helpful to have a neutral third party who is not a part of the church to talk things over with.

Suggestions for committees considering clergy-couple co-pastors 

1.  Be open to the possibility; a blanket “we won’t consider a clergy couple” might keep you from looking at some great folks.

2.  Talk with congregations that have a clergy couple as their co-pastors, and ask good questions about how that’s working.

3.  If the couple has served together before, ask about that.  If they have not served together before, ask them how they envision dividing the work.

4.  While you cannot ask them direct questions about the state of their marriage, look for signs of the health.  Our PNC was impressed because we never interrupted each other.

5.  On the plus side:  when you call a clergy couple, you get a wider diversity of gifts.  You get two for one, even if each one is only part-time.  There are benefit benefits, too technical to explain here.  You get two personalities and working styles.  If the couple is heterosexual, you get a woman and a man.

6.  On the minus side, when you call a clergy couple you take some risks.  The marriage could end.  Family crises affect both pastors.  They usually take vacations together.  If it’s a staff situation, there are now two people in the authority position rather than just one; it could feel overwhelming for other staff members.  You might have to find a second  office.  You might like one better than the other but you’re stuck with both.

7.  If you do consider a couple, be clear with them about the time of the position.  Is it one position for two half-time people?  Is there room to expand – each become three-quarters time or full-time?

8.  If you do consider a couple, and if there is/are another pastor/pastors on staff, be clear from the beginning about things like the preaching schedule.  If there are two co-pastors and one associate, does the associate then preach less often?  Do the co-pastors share equally in preaching?  Who superivses whom on staff?

9.  Understand that this is a couple who will take vacations together and who may go on study leave together.  That’s fine and good.

10.  Generally speaking, be as clear as you can as you go deeper into the conversation and ultimately into a call about things.  The more clarity there is from the beginning -about time, roles, expectations, job descriptions, office, benefits, other staff members – the better.

 

So if you would like to talk more or if you’d like to talk with a member of our PNC or the congregation, send me a message.  My husband or I would be happy to share with you about our experience, which we love!  And we’re grateful to our congregation for taking a chance with us. It’s been a great dance so far!

 

*Last December, one of the two part-time associate pastors moved on to another call, so now my husband and I are both serving 2/3 time.

Morning Coffee

photo (5)I’m at our family place with most of my FOO (family of origin).  The house is big enough to hold all of us, though the septic tank gets a little cranky if we flush too often or shower too long.  It’s great to see everyone, to come back to this place where we have gathered most summers of my life, to raise glasses and share reader glasses and tell our stories to the younger generations.  It’s all good and harmonious – until we get to the  morning coffee.

We have four different ways of making morning coffee here, because none of us can agree on our Morning Foglifter (which is actually a Stumptown label that none of us has brought.)  My sister has her wee french press for her “stick-a-spoon-in-it-and-it-will-stand-on-its-own” coffee.  My parents have their own french press with special grinder for their strong-ish (emphasis on the “ish”) brew.  My brother and niece grind their own in the morning and brew it, half-decaf.  Me?  Well, last month I bought a Cuisinart 4-cup drip like the one I have at home, along with ground Peet’s French Roast, because the last thing I want to do before I’ve had my morning coffee is listen to a coffee grinder.  Least Favorite Sound. Ever.  It’s like the Fran Drescher of kitchen machines.

I try not to read too much into the whole coffee thing.  I try not to overanalyze the situation, not think that this is endemic of our familial inability to come together, to let go of our preferences and share in the common good, or the common ground, or the common grounds.  At dinner we all manage to share the same bottles of wine; why not morning coffee?

Truth be told, although most of us in my family are morning people there’s a limit to our morning-ness. We are up with the sun, but we don’t really want to engage with each other until we’ve been a little dosed with caffeine.  Maybe there’s grace in allowing each other our individual brews.  After all, my husband foregoes the coffee and reaches for the Diet Coke, and my sister-in-law is a confirmed tea drinker, and we love them.

When we would come to this place when I was little, at the old house where we stayed before my parents built their own place, there was one percolater.  Grandpa was usually up first, and the percolator was going, bubbling up in the glass lid-thing at the top.  If you were a coffee drinker, that’s what you drank in the morning – no french presses, no coffee grinders, just a good waking up to Folgers.  My grandfather, who had a magnificent, wry sense of humor, would laugh to see us these mornings.  But he would be glad we’re all up here, whatever we might be drinking.

So I raise my mug to him this morning, with gratitude for the gift of this place, and for my morning cuppa joe.

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Dream/Reality

A-dreaming-person-008Last night I had a weird dream.  It wasn’t a nightmare, but it wasn’t a good dream either.  I dreamt that all the oxygen was running out, and soon everyone in the world would die.  Neither my husband nor my child was in the dream (thank goodness) but our dog was.  I remember wanting him to be near me when I died.  In the dream I was a little frantic and very, very sad, not only because I was going to die but because everyone was going to die.  And soon.

I woke up from the dream around 4am and was able to fall asleep again.  In that time between waking and falling back asleep, I started thinking about what I would do if the oxygen really was running out of the world.  Would I panic?  Would I break into a hospital or doctor’s office or scuba shop and steal oxygen?  Would I try to get on the good side of some conspiracy theorist who had a bunker stocked with oxygen just in case this scenario played out?  I went back to sleep and this time dreamt about being in NYC with college friends, so evidently my subconscious wasn’t too scarred by the oxygen deprivation.

The dream has stuck with me today.  Where did it come from?  We recently were watching some procedural crime show in which the victim died from asphyxiation, but that was over a week ago.  The dog was curled up at my feet, which is probably why he made it.  But someone once advised me to pay attention to the emotions that stay with me after a strong dream, so I’ve been thinking about low-level frantic-ness and deep sadness.  My best guess is that this dream was about the world running out of something.

Unless you’ve been off the grid with your head in the sand lately, it’s hard not to notice that there is a lot of bad stuff going on right now.  Those Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing, and since they’ve been gone, eleven of their parents have died.  Seven were killed in a Boko Haram attack; four died from health-related issues.  We lament the disappearance of these girls half way across the globe while we wring out hands over what to do with the refugee children flooding into Texas from Central America.  An airliner was shot down, killing hundreds of people, many of whom were involved in the vital work of AIDS research.  More planes have crashed.  ISIS is now requiring that all women and girls in Mosul undergo genital mutilation.

And I have no words about the violence in Israel and Palestine.

Maybe my dream was about the world’s loss of capacity to breathe in something – peace, maybe, or patience, or reason.  Or maybe I’m a little frantic and very, very sad because it feels right now, at both the conscious and subconscious level, as though we are running out of hope.  And we will all die without hope.

May we catch our breath soon.hopeless