Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Mental Health Break

This is a great YouTube video starring a kid from our church and his dad. As his mom puts it, this "is classic Harris." I have to agree. He is goofy almost beyond compare, in a completely unique way. Also, I like to think this reflects well on me, because, um, I know such a cool nine-year-old? Seriously, you will love it - I can almost guarantee it. And if not, it's just two-and-a-half minutes.

Merry Christmas, may there be no unintentional fires at your Christmas Eve (or Day) services, and if you are in Red Oak around 5pm, join us! 608 E. Reed Street. If you are not Christian, I hope your December holidays (if you celebrate any) are or were meaningful and full of the Holy Presence.

More stuff coming after the Christmas holidays - I've been rather busy of late, which I hope is understandable.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sir, Your Fifteen Minutes Were Up Some Time Ago

Please, Kenneth Starr, slip back into obscurity.  Don't be a footnote in TWO shameful events in U.S. history.

A great many things about this whole situation put me into fits.  First of all, I find it maddening and a little sickening that a majority of Californians saw fit to eliminate the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry.  Marriage equality ("gay marriage" to some of y'all) is not popular, I get that.  Extending equal civil rights to people in the minority seldom is (see Loving v. Virginia, Brown v. Board of Education, etc.) - but just because it is unpopular does not make it okay to discriminate.  The Bill of Rights and state constitutions enumerate the legitimate powers of government, and they also ensure the rights of individuals against the tyranny of government and the tyranny of the majority.  (entering sidebar rant) Look, I don't like guns.  I really, really don't like guns.  I've never fired one - in fact, I've never even held one and hope never to hold one - and yet, it is clear that the Constitution protects the legal rights of individuals to keep and bear arms, and so I support that right.  I find many uses of this right to be odious and unChristian, and I do not plan to ever make use of this right, and I wish there were fewer guns out there (especially those bought "for protection") and fewer people who used them....yet, it is a fundamental civil right that should be available to all citizens.  (not unlike marriage....)

Second of all, this lawsuit reveals the disingenuousness of the supporters of Prop 8, who, before Nov. 4, swore up and down that this change to the CA state constitution would not in any way affect the marriages already performed.  Cold comfort indeed, but now they are reneging on even that.  (I realize that supporters of Prop 8 are no more monolithic in nature than are its opponents, and that not all members of the "Yes on 8" coalition have to agree to everything that every other coalition member says, but still.)  Furthermore, the state AG, Jerry Brown (yep, former Governor Moonbeam) has already expressed his opinion that marriages performed in California during from June to November were and shall remain valid, and he's said repeatedly that would be his position before the courts.  

Third of all, and most personally, this raises up the same specters of fear that my moms lived with for nearly twenty years before I married them this summer.  (I posted my experience here.)  You know, they really were not that into getting married when it was not an option for them, and obviously their relationship isn't any more valid with that piece of paper than it was without it.  And yet, their marriage was a profoundly moving event for all of us, and it was only in the experience of being able to be legally married that they realized just how important it was for them, personally, politically, and spiritually.  

And now Ken Starr wants to take away all of this, for my family and for thousands of other families throughout California.  Thanks a lot.  

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pimpin' My Man

Check out his blog: If you don't know what a backbencher is, he'll probably explain it in a future post. Or, you could start watching a lot of Prime Minister's Questions on C-SPAN, and you'd probably learn for yourself.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


This is making the rounds on the blogosphere: Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church will be giving the invocation at the Inauguration of Barack Obama. Urgh.

He's the man who spoke out in support of Prop 8, who said that "stopping evil" was the legitimate function of government, and who wrote the truly atrocious Purpose-Driven Life, of which theologian Fleming Rutledge once said (and I paraphrase), "It's a book that starts out by saying, 'It's not about you. It's about God,' then proceeds for the next 250 pages to talk about you."

This is not a good choice. I would be much better. I've even had some practice - in 2008 I gave the invocation at the Iowa Statehouse (and I am pretty sure I'll be invited back in 2009).

Even better than me, though, would be my friend MML or my beloved Mr. LiturgyGeek, because both of them are great ministers and have excellent sensitivities on the diversities of religious experience in the United States of America. I can think of lots of others. Why don't you nominate a few people you think would make a good inauguration-giver in the comments, and I'll forward them to the Obama peeps. Because surely they'll be interested in what I have to say...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mental Health Break

So...about a week or so ago my friend Matt posted on his blog about his preaching anxiety dreams. (Yeah, this is going to be another Mardis-related derivative post, not nearly as good as the original) I've been having a lot more of them lately, which I do not understand at all. I used to get them sometimes on Saturday nights, perhaps if the bulletin hadn't yet been folded or the sermon given that last tweak.

Now I'm finding I'm having them during the week, even in weeks I'm not scheduled to preach, which is deeply unsettling for me (still, thank you, church, and thank you, Intern, for these little respites!). Generally the dream goes like this: there are not enough bulletins to go around, we have every visitor imaginable - the Jewish dad who used to sit behind me in the church where I did my field ed (hi, Larry, if you're reading!), whole biker gangs (seriously), all my friends from everywhere, BISHOPS (from other denominations, naturally), etc. Also, I've forgotten everyone's name, the musician isn't here, it is five minutes to church, I have no sermon and no ideas for a sermon, and I am not wearing shoes.

It is nice, however, to wake up from that dream and realize it is only Tuesday, and that there is still plenty of time to make bulletins, find shoes, and remember names. And make sure the biker gangs feel welcome - though in my dreams, they are always well-behaved. (It's usually the bishops you have to worry about.)

Wiki Madness!

For those of you snowed in, or wishing you could be snowed in, I offer to you: Last Thursdayism.

The lengths of crazy that people will go to never ceases to astound me. Then again, as a philosophical argument, it's kind of intriguing.....

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I hate wind chill.

I am a California girl, raised in the Mediterranean clime of Sonoma County.  I, therefore, had no idea what the term "wind chill factor" meant until my first year of college in NYC.  For those of you who've never left the temperate regions of the world, it's when the weather is not only insanely cold out, but there is also a strong wind that makes it feel even colder than it is.

Tonight in Red Oak, if you listen to our local station, the wind chill could get as cold as -25.  Yes, NEGATIVE twenty-five.  If you listen to our local NPR affiliate, it could go as low as -28.  I am just so very grateful that I don't live any farther north.  In some places, I hear it gets even colder, though I am not sure how that is even possible.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

UCC Primer: Introduction

Starting us out, I have two points to make.  Really, the first point is just for any Catholics out there in Liturgy-Geek land, or former Catholics who've left the RCC but haven't made their way to a new church home.  Or, if your only experience of "church" comes from what you see on television, you might want to read that first one.  If you're a Protestant or have experience among the Proddies, you can skip right ahead to #2:

1.  When I was getting ready to start seminary, I used to get so sick of answering the question of if ministers can have sex (living in NYC, it seems I knew a lot of Catholics). The answer is YES.  (This alone should be a reason for you to consider making the switch.)  The larger point is: Have you heard of a little thing called the "Reformation"?  It's kind of a bump in the road of your church's history, but it rather important for us Protestants.

Yeah, it has to do with your church, and people breaking away from Rome. I'd love to say some folk broke away out of solidarity with the poor, or in protest of the church hiearchy's protection (sometimes for decades) of priests who sexually abused children, or important things like that. But no, the Reformation came about because of the church selling indulgences to the rich, and annulling a king's marriage so he could marry a new hottie, and other stuff like that.  Some people - mostly men, sometimes priests - got mad and threw little fits or nailed stuff to church doors trying to get the church hierarchy to pay attention. They were trying to REFORM the church from within (hence the name "Reformation," get it?).  When that didn't work, then they left. Sometimes reluctantly.  Sometimes they got kicked out ("excommunicated").  Some of the names you need to know regarding the Protestant Reformation are: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli. Do you need to know more about them? Probably. But I'm not the one to ask. Wiki them if you want.

As a result of the Reformation, yes, priests (or "ministers" as we're more commonly called in Protestant churches) can now have sex. We can marry. In some traditions, we can even marry someone of the same gender. And, yep, women can be priests. Try not to let all that blow your mind.

2. Now that that's out of the way....let's move on to the UCC.  If there's really one thing to know about the UCC, it's that any question you ask about us can be answered in two words: "It depends." (This should really be our motto: The United Church of Christ - it depends! Hey, that has a nice double meaning....) EVERY UCC congregation is different and does things differently. Sometimes those differences are small, but often they are very significant for that congregation. So even the stuff that I write is going to be true of my experience in the UCC, but you can bet that others will have different experiences. That doesn't make me a liar or their church bad, it just makes us the UCC.  There is no "UCC consensus" about anything....other than Jesus Christ being the sole head of the church.  (And I'm pretty sure there's no consensus among all UCC members about what "Jesus Christ being the sole head of the church" means.  You can see now what I mean about, "It depends.")

This is because, according to our polity (the rules governing our life together as a denomination), "the basic unit of the church is the local congregation." Each church has autonomy and gets to make its own rules. We don't have bishops. We don't have a pope. We do have a General Minister and President, but he doesn't technically have any more authority to speak for the UCC than does my parishioner K, who drives me nuts most weeks (though I do love L very much).  

We do have this every-two-years gathering called General Synod, where we come out with various statements and pronouncements (you may remember this one about marriage equality, it was big in the news in 2005) that is supposed to guide the national setting in its work between Synods, but this is where it gets tricky. General Synods speak TO the church - to its members and congregations and associations and conferences.  It does not speak FOR the church - to the world, to the media, etc. No one gets that.  (Even within the UCC, people don't get that.)

This basically means that at General Synod, the gathered assembly could vote to encourage every congregation to become a tithing congregation within the next five years, and that would mean that our stewardship and evangelism teams would be working hard at producing materials aimed toward this, our General Minister and President would start talking about tithing a lot more, etc. etc. etc., and ninety percent of our churches could still ignore the pronouncement. And nothing would happen to them. No votes removed, no penalties, no ministers pulled from pulpits.  

But now that I think about it, wouldn't that be a cool pronouncement?

Getting back to the UCC and may legitimately ask, "Why bother with denominational ties at all, if you don't have to agree with anything other settings of the church do?"  That will bring us to the next topic, "Covenant."  I'll post in a couple of days, God willing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Coming Soon: UCC Primer!

A colleague of mine at Planned Parenthood is considering converting from Catholicism (I bet you can figure out why), and she recently attended a UCC congregation in her new hometown. She had a great experience, but also had some questions about us that I was only too happy to answer. It got me thinking that some of y'all out there might also be interested in learning more about the UCC. Maybe, like my friend, you're a refugee from Catholicism, or from a fundamentalist tradition, and want to know why we do what we do the way we do. Maybe you're just curious about religion, and about the faith practices of Protestants. Maybe you are just curious about why I love liturgy. Maybe you're just avoiding work.

Whatever the reason, in the next few days/weeks/whatever, I'll be posting some "stuff" about the UCC as I understand it. This isn't going to be some sort of graduate-level dissertation on the faith and practice of the UCC - others have done that far better than I ever could. (also, see this.) This is meant for ordinary folk who just want to have some general, practical information about the UCC and what we do and believe. I'll talk about Communion, baptism, hierarchy, and covenant, and maybe some other stuff, too. Some history will be sprinkled in, but I'm not a name-and-date kind of gal, so if you want that info, check out this resource. Or this one.

First up will be a mini-introduction to what we are and aren't, with a teaser on the Reformation in general, especially for all you Catholics!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Marriage Equality Comes to Iowa?

The Iowa Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments this morning. (EDITED TO UPDATE LINK)You can listen live here. (FWIW, the justices are hitting both sides hard, and one side was clearly ready for it. The one defending marriage discrimination was not compelling at all.) A decision is expected sometime in March, according to a totally unofficial source I saw this weekend at Gov. Culver's Holiday Party.

I can scarely say how much this would mean to me personally. I've always had mixed feelings about signing state marriage licenses when the state participates in discrimination against my family. I've done so, for a variety of reasons I won't go into here, but it is not without discussion with each couple I've married about my feelings.

When marriage equality came to my home state, California, this past spring, I seriously considered packing my robe, stole, and book of worship, getting a plane ticket home, and showing up at state courthouses asking who wanted to be married on the first day gay and lesbian couples could. Instead, I waited until August, and flew home to marry my moms, who have been together for nearly 20 years. (I blogged about that experience
here.) And good thing they did, too, given the result of Prop 8 last month.

Now that I'm living here in Iowa, I am positively giddy at the possibility of marriage equality here. I joked with some friends that if this does pass, I'll go to Des Moines in my robe, stole, and BOW on the first day it's legal to marry gay couples there. They said, "Please don't. We may want you to marry us that day." For them, and for all my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who long to know what my beloved and I get to take for granted, let's hope the Iowa SC does the right thing.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Flu

Home sick with the flu today. Stupid stomach. Also, it's the day that The Intern comes to church, so I had to cancel our time together. I really hate doing that. In the meantime, if you haven't seen this already, enjoy this little gem - Prop 8: The Musical.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Women's Fellowship and the Minnisingers

One of the most steadfast institutions in the small church I serve is the Women's Fellowship. When I arrived, they met monthly on Wednesdays for at least two hours, with treats, a guest speaker, and a (rather tedious) business meeting, including the verbal reading of the previous month's minutes (which are published in the newsletter). I knew early on not to fight any of this. The group is mostly aging women, from the generation when many (let's face it, white) women did not have to work outside the home. They fretted that the younger women didn't come, but seldom changed the meeting times to accommodate the women who did work. And the topics were generally not interesting to many of the younger women. Alas - because I found this group to be engaging and obviously attentive to each other's needs, and interested in how they could serve the church.

Well, the group has continued to age, the times and situations of many have changed, and among the changes in the group has been that they now meet only 3-4 times a year. Today we are having lunch at the Hysham House and listening to the Minnisingers, one of our local high school's choirs. We've done this every year I've been here, but somehow, it's always a delight to listen to the students. Lunch, no doubt, will be some sort of casserole.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ivy League Snark

So, my friend Matt at The Pocket Mardis always has something interesting to say. Mostly I just want to link to his stuff and offer extended replies. That, however, seems cheap and derivative. But today I'm going to, because he linked to an absolutely ridiculous article about some Yale grad who, when confronted by the plumber, could not think of anything to say to the man.

Matt's response was a very quiet, graceful post about how grateful he was for his Christian College education, even though his theology is really different now than what he learned at Messiah College. My God, the graduates got TOWELS along with their diplomas to remind them of their call to SERVANTHOOD!!!! Here's his blog post:

I, however, could not get over the stupidity of an Ivy League grad who apparently was so elitist he couldn't make chit-chat with the plumber. Seriously? Yeah, I had to respond. You can check me out in the responses to the blog, but I'm going to post my response here, because it's funny:

Matt may be too tired to open up a can of whup-a&% on WD, but I'm not. Now, granted, I *only* attended the largest private university in the world, not an Ivy, and I did so "on scholarship," which means my family was too poor to afford $30K/year for college.

But I think my advice is still valid. After all, I did grow up in a very working-class family, from my mom I learned how to talk to just about anyone. My spouse will attest that I can (and do) talk to anyone and everyone - kids waiting in line at Customs, people walking their dogs, security guards, etc.

So believe me that I am sincere when I say, SERIOUSLY? This man didn't know what to say to the PLUMBER? Jesus H. Christ, plumbers aren't idiots. They do inhabit the same planet - nay, the same CITY - that you and I with our schmancy degrees inhabit. They get the same TV channels we do - and while they might not watch snooty public television like us Ivies and Ivy-wannabees, surely you have heard of SOME well-regarded and popular tv show to talk about intelligently for 2 minutes. CSI? The Biggest Loser? The Sopranos? Hell, Dancing with the Stars?

Anyway, for all those Ivy grads who, like WD, cannot think of even one polite chit-chatty thing to say to a plumber WEARING OBVIOUS SPORTS APPAREL, here is my gift to you: a list of topics on which you can easily chit-chat for a minute or two when "the help" comes.

1. Any trouble finding this place? Of course, if your mansion is the only place on the block, you may want to ask, "Any trouble finding the servant's entrance?" But in that case, be prepared to be punched in the face.
2. How do you like the Red Sox's chances this season?/Bummer about this year [snicker, snicker]; What are their chances next year? (Whatever, I'd never do this with a Red Sox fan because I hate them with every fiber of my being, but you get the idea. Oh, and NEVER EVER snicker at the sad, sad fate of the Red Sox in front of their fans. Unless those fans are named TJ and Tracey. Or you are in New York City.)
3. What do you make of this crazy weather? If the weather isn't crazy, mention how nice it is, and ask if you think it will last.
4. Did you have a nice 4th of July/Thanksgiving/President's Day/etc.? (if one has just passed) You can also ask if one has plans for an upcoming holiday. Beware - since not everyone is as WASPY as you, don't assume they are Christian, even nominally so. (Also, don't assume they AREN'T....)
5. Thank you for coming on such short notice.
6. OMG can you believe what happened on Lost last night? (omit OMG if you don't want to sound like a teenage girl)
7. I see you've got Tom Clancy's new novel in your toolbox. How do you like it?
8. What a cool tattoo!
9. Sorry about the mess. (don't mention that the maid has the day off.)
10. Sorry about my dog peeing on your shoe. (then, make a mental note to fire your dog-trainer.)

Oh, and I daresay that plumbers in college towns probably make more money than even tenured Ivy League faculty. So, if $$ = success, who's the sucka now? (Yeah, I said "daresay," what are you going to do about it?)

His sad, sad, elitist article made me happy that I grew up poor. Thank you for linking to it, and for letting me vent for a while. You are a good, good man.

I get that William Deresiewicz is lamenting the shortfalls of his Ivy League education, and I appreciate that he understands that CLASS is an important element of diversity often missing on university campuses. At least there's that. I further get that, as a Christian minister, I ought to be more sympathetic to people's failures and shortcomings. (Generally, I am. Honest.) But class stuff really gets under my skin. Does he not think that plumbers might be interested in politics? Or literature? Or that plumbers cannot speak intelligently about these sorts of topics?

Maybe, Professor D, plumbers will sound to you like blowhards as they offer what seem to you to be uneducated or ridiculous beliefs or attitudes. Maybe ... maybe you sound like that to your students. So if you want them to listen to you, maybe you should spend some more time listening to plumbers.

But please, God, not Joe the Plumber.