Summer Vacation: Instagramming the Gates of Hell

Beneath the wild beauty of Yellowstone National Park lives a supervolcano,  a cauldron of hellish gasses and liquid rock formed, in part, by the struggle between massive tectonic plates that vie for space under what we call Wyoming.  If that volcano were ever to blow – and it could – it would be the end of the world.  The volume of ash that would enter the atmosphere would cause climate change that would be catastrophic.

Now the odds of that supervolcano blowing in my lifetime or my child’s lifetime are pretty slim, but that gave little comfort to my daughter as we visited the park on our summer vacation.

“Mom, if the volcano blows, where is the safest place to be?”

“Well, honey, I think you’d want to be right in the middle, at the center of it, so you’d die quickly and not have to go through the onslaught of another ice age, panic, mayhem, and all of that.”

So there we were, on a beautiful August day, blithely taking pictures with our phones of the gorgeous canyon that belies the hell beneath it.  Later that day as I posted pictures on Instagram, I wondered about that – is it hubris to do something as mundance as taking a picture of a place that could cause the end of the world?  Do we realize how fleeting life is, and how powerless we are?

On this same vacation, we’ve been watching the Olympics at night.  Every one of those athletes is amazing, and the irony of snacking in a comfy chair while watching feats of strength, speed, and agility has not been lost on me.  It was last night as the women gymnasts competed on the vault and uneven bars, throwing their tiny, solid bodies into the air in crazy moves, that I thought of Instagramming the gates of hell.

Perhaps it is both hubris and courage that allows us to pull out our phones and take pictures of a volcano, and to train and work and compete as we push the limits of what the human body can do.  My family watched those gymnasts in awe – how can they do that?  Beyond the physicality of it, how do they summon the courage to bounce backward up onto a platform?

Vacation has been a time to marvel at the world in its creative, violent beauty; a time to marvel at those people who push the boundaries of human possibility.  So maybe, those two things will merge some day before the volcano blows: courage will meet catastrophe.  Who knows what will happen?




Eleven Things, or There About

elevenI’m readying myself and the household to be on vacation for two blissful, or differently stressful, weeks, and so I’m musing about the pastor/congregation relationship.  Here are eleven things (or there about) that I would want my parishioners, past and present, to know.

1.  I love you.  Sometimes it might appear that I don’t like you for a moment or two, or that I am exasperated by you, but I love you.  As my more evangelical friends would say, Jesus has put it on my heart to love you.  A pastor loving her parishioners is a non-negotiable in Jesus’ book.  So know that.

2.  The hand-shaking line after worship is not the best time to catch up or receive pastoral care.  I might try to gently move you along and say we can talk at coffee hour.  But if you really need pastoral care right then and there, I will listen and ignore the growing line or have the deacon wave everyone else along, because of #1.

3.  I have to have a “come to Jesus” conversation with Jesus every time one of you gets cancer, or loses a job, or loses a loved one suddenly, or gets a big ol’ pile of crap thrown into your particular fan.  Jesus never says much back, but I feel slightly better afterwards, until I think about you and my heart breaks a little.

4.  I really, really, really appreciate how you give my PK (preacher’s kid) room to be herself, and how you don’t have any expectations that she will be Good and Perfect and Completely Spiritually Formed because both of her parents happen to be pastors.  Thank you, too, for delighting in her as much as we do.  When she is a teenager, can she sometimes live with you when she hates me?

5.  I am spectacularly uninterested in being the Best Church in Town, or having the Best Choir, or Sunday School, or Youth Program, or Service Opportunities, or whatever.  Other churches are our partners in bringing God’s realm to earth, not our competitors for people or money or good Yelp scores.

6.  It hurts my heart when you say, “I wanted to call you about xyz, but I know how busy you are.”  I apologize if I appear too busy sometimes, or let my to-do list be a higher priority than you.

7.  I do not know everything and I do not have all the answers and if I start acting as though I do, please call me on it.  After all, God chose what is foolish in the world to confound the wise!

8.  It is a privilege to be invited into the sacred moments of your life – your baptisms and your weddings and your hospital stays and your hospice time and your funerals and memorial services.  I am honored to receive your trust, and I will do my best to channel a holy presence in that moment.

9.  Pay attention to how often you comment on a clergywoman’s appearance and how often you comment on a clergyman’s appearance.  There’s a reason we all wear robes on Sunday morning, and it’s not because black is slimming. (Well, maybe just a little bit because black is slimming.)

10.  Some of you think that four weeks of paid vacation and two weeks of study leave is excessive. Please remember that clergy  (like many others in the world) work weekends.  And we treasure our Saturdays when our kid is not in school and we might not have to work and we get to have family time.

11.  Thank you for four weeks of vacation and two weeks of study leave.  I am grateful for time away to relax and play and reflect.  I might swear a little more than usual, too.  (I recently read that people who swear a lot tend to be honest and trustworthy, so you want me to do this, I know.)

That’s it for now.  Really, it’s all about #1, so maybe I should have stopped there.beach