Sunday, November 08, 2009

Another Theologian Who (Finally) Gets It

The good gentleman at Southern Fried Faith pointed me toward this article on how one prominent conservative Presbyterian theologian has come to the side of the angels when it comes to the full inclusion of GLBT persons in the church. My very first inclination is to say, "Duh. Yeah." It is frustrating to hear it said so baldly that many of our conservative brothers and sisters in faith think we progressives play fast and loose with the Scriptures or that we don't see it as authoritative.

But that inclination quickly passes and yields to gratitude that another sheep has come home to Christ's fold. Brother Mark, thank you for your journey and for your faithful witness. We have been waiting a long time for you.

Happy Running, Kids

Mostly, I'm too mad about the Stupak amendment to write anything coherent about the health reform bill that passed the house last night. So instead you get a post about my running progress.

This spring I wrote about how I've been starting to run again after nearly a decade of practically no running whatsoever. It has been a hard slog to get back into running, but I've kept at it. Last month, when Backbencher and I went home to visit my family and friends, we did a little run at Maxwell Park, the site of most of our home XC meets in high school. While the trails have changed, the smell and the feel had not, and it felt good. Really good, in fact.

Most of you who know us in the real world know that since our return from that trip, we've been trying to get pregnant. This has had some great benefits, not least of which that I'm able to resist most fast food places, have given up caffeine and alcohol, and am highly motivated to get in better shape. This past week I managed six workouts, with at least 5 runs worked in.

Now, mind you, I am still jogging at a snail's pace and only for a maximum of 2 miles. But every lap I run is one lap I wasn't running a month ago, so it's progress. And when I go in the morning, a dear older friend Bill cheers me on as he walks his laps. Some of the other retired folk I know also give me good support.

But the Sunday afternoon crowd has a totally different vibe. Today there were a ton of high school students working out/goofing off. When I started, a young girl was running very quickly. Now, to one getting started running again, getting lapped by a kid half your age is discouraging. But I remembered my training to run my own race, my own pace, and my own laps, and got started. I quickly noticed that this girl would go very fast for about a lap and a half, then stop to chat with her friends, or look down at the kids on the basketball court, or get some water.

I suppose I could have been annoyed, but mostly I was really grateful that she never actually lapped me. She would pass me, but before she could pass me again, inevitably she would stop. I kept "running my race" and soon realized that, in terms of sheer number of laps run, I was actually ahead of her. Tortoise and hare, indeed.

She reminded me of me as a high school (and to some extent, college) runner: loving to run but not really motivated, trying to get out of as much of a workout as I could while still getting something out of the workout, looking for any excuse to delay running those laps, and frankly kind of lazy. Being between seasons, the fact that she's there running laps at all is a step above whatever I did, so I'm not criticizing her. In fact, it was very encouraging, because I realized today that I really do love running, and that today, I am running for myself and with myself. That's a big change from when I ran primarily because I loved being on a team and loved my teammates.

And, when I'm struggling in my run, it's not wrong that I always imagine Shemar Moore (from Criminal Minds) calling me "Baby Girl" and cheering me on, right?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

New Member Reception Liturgy

This Sunday we baptized several individuals and held a new member reception for three families who have made their way to our community and have jumped in like bandits! It was a joyous occasion and a very long service, though I did not hear one word of complaint about the time. In fact, I heard several times how great a service it was - and not only because of the baptisms.
Our baptismal liturgy is fairly boilerplate UCC Book of Worship stuff. The only real adaptation I make is that I baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God who is Mother of us all." This is something that I understand began at Riverside Church in NYC and which I've heard used in several contexts. I believe the church should honor Jesus' commandment in Matthew 28 regarding our baptismal language, but I also believe that we should honor expansive images for God. This is a very neat, clear and placid way to do so.
But I am especially proud of our revamped liturgy for welcoming new members, or at least the questions we ask. The ones in the UCC BOW really do not speak to our experience of church, so I'm incredibly grateful to my friend Rob L., who came up with the questions and which I have only slightly tweaked. Enjoy - and if it works for your context, feel free to use!
November 1, 2009 ~ All Saints Day

We invite to come forward those who wish to affirm their baptism by uniting with us in this household of faith.
Friends in Christ, we are all received into the church through the sacrament of baptism. These people have found nurture and support in the midst of the family of Christ. Through prayer and study they have been led by the Holy Spirit to affirm their baptism and to claim in our presence their covenantal relationship with Christ and the members of the church. They are here for service to Jesus Christ, using the gifts which the Holy Spirit bestows.

You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are equally citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus along being the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy Temple in Christ. In him you also are built into that structure to be a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Do you profess Jesus as the center of your faith?
I do.
Will you be faithful to this community?
We promise our faithfulness to this new community.
Will you challenge this community to be the best version of itself and to live up to the things we say we believe?
We will lovingly challenge this community to be the best version of itself and to live up to the things you say you believe.
Will you allow yourself to be changed, shaped and transformed by this community, living into your called identity as a beloved child of God?
We will allow ourselves to be changed, shaped and transformed by this community as we live into our called identity as a beloved child of God.
By your baptism you were made one with us in the Body of Christ, the church. Today we rejoice in the pilgrimage of faith which has brought you to this time and place. We give thanks for every community of faith that has been your spiritual home, and we celebrate your presence in this household of faith.

Do you profess Jesus as the center of your faith?
We do.
Will you be faithful to these new people as they join our congregation?
We promise our faithful companionship to these new members.
Will you challenge these new members to be the best versions of themselves, and to help them live up to the things they say they believe?
We will lovingly challenge these new members to be the best versions of themselves, and to help them live up to the things they say they believe.
Will you allow yourself to be changed, shaped and transformed by these new members, living into our called identity as a beloved community of God?
We will allow ourselves to be changed, shaped and transformed by these new members, living into our called identity as a beloved community of God.

O God, we praise you for calling us to faith and for gathering us into the church, the body of Christ. We thank you for your people gathered in this local church and rejoice that you have increased our community of faith. Together may we live in the Spirit, build one another up in love, sharing in the life and worship of the church, and serving the world for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

WELCOME AND RECEPTION (all who are able please stand)
Leader: Beloved, let us greet our brothers and sisters in this family of faith as we offer the hand of Christian love and welcome them into the company of this local congregation.
People: Thanks be to God!

Wednesday Morning Post-Mortem

Since I trust y'all to check out other sites for the political post-mortem as to how marriage equality lost in Maine, and about how it almost lost in Washington, I thought I would just offer my reflections from the morning walk.

This is a real disappointment and setback for those of us who support marriage equality. Mainers are pretty independent-minded folk, and it sounded like we were close to a victory. Which makes this a bitter pill to swallow. If Mainers haven't seen that same-sex marriage did not cause an utter moral collapse in their New England neighbors Vermont and Massachusetts, and if they were not touched by the stories of Maine couples and families whose very lives are affected by this law, then we have a lot longer and harder road than I expected. And if Washington - WASHINGTON!! - won this only by a 51-49% vote, then we have a lot more work to do.

And I must also register my disappointment with President Obama for his utter failure to speak one word of support in this struggle. I get that he personally does not support same-sex marriage - well, actually, I don't get his opposition to marriage equality, but whatever. And I continue to have the sense that he is trying to play the "long game," whereby he's looking at the big picture to shape a stronger and more secure victory for our community in the longer term. But if you only look at the big picture, you miss some important details - and that's what I think is going on with Obama. He's happy to miss the details of Maine and Washington, because that suits his own political sensitivities and unwillingness to rock too many boats. Yet he has a responsibility to support justice and equality for all Americans, even if it makes him a little uncomfortable.

And, of course, this makes it far less likely that DADT or DOMA will be repealed in the next few years, unless President Obama takes a stand in supporting their repeal. That, of course, seems very unlikely - I'm not sure how supporting this figures into his long game when supporting Maine equality is not. (Though, Mr. Obama, if you are reading this, I'd be thrilled if you proved me wrong! Seriously, if you are reading this, prove me wrong.) I guess this also means that Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa will have to continue to take the lead on this issue. Which is good for me and for Holy Knit!, because we serve congregations in these states....but it's not so great for the people of Maine or elsewhere.

All this happens in an utterly ridiculous context in which the majority gets to determine the rights of the minority. Since when did it become our civic duty to vote on people's basic civil and human rights? And since when is it a great moral victory to vote to DENY people those rights? Something is seriously skewed in our nation's understanding of what it means to be a democratic republic.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Book Review

I waited until Backbencher finished reading "Juliet, Naked" before posting my book review. I don't know when I first became a fan of Nick Hornby, but he's been one of my favorite authors for several years now. His writing on obsessive fans is tempered with a deep understanding of why fans obsess so, and deep affection for those fans. (One is tempted to wonder if he is quite so compassionate with what must surely be his legion of obsessive fans, but I will skate over that one for now.)

Backbencher's review, which you can read here, says that "the story is about the devotion that many men have to an obscure pop culture figure and how that devotion affects there relationships." And suddenly, all my intimate relationships with males up through college becomes startlingly clear.....Yet I thought the book was about something different. I saw Juliet, Naked as a story depicting the improbable ways that people try to connect with one another, whether through art, fandom, sex, or conversation. Though the characters are clearly connected through their relationship of one obscure album, the obsessive fandom is just a symptom. However, like Backbencher, I found the obsessive fan's character to be the least developed, though his interactions with his new girlfriend reveal some panic and depth I really enjoyed. The musician and the girlfriend were by far the most interesting.

Hornby seems to vacillate in many of his novels between "angriest man in Holloway" and an attempt to find meaning and hope in imperfection. I like him best when he's a little more ambiguously hopeful. There's plenty of that here. And there's usually one or two lines I just adore - but in this book, the best line gives away the entire plot, so I won't reveal it. Perhaps the second-best line is, "The inability to articulate what one feels in any satisfactory way is one of our enduring tragedies." Marvelous, right?

Not being a musician, I was curious about Tucker's epiphany at the end of the novel, about how good songwriters have to make the present the past, to fix the present in time, as it were, in order to create good art from it. The novel also implied that the most meaningful relationships in our lives do not necessarily translate into our best artistic endeavors, and that even a shallow relationship can inspire us to make great art. As one who is constantly spinning tales in my head, this is enormously liberating. In other words, one needn't be an important figure in my life to inspire important figure in a story I might write.

While this is not Hornby's best work (About a Boy wins for sheer melancholy and hope, though it is by necessity dated, fixed in time as it must be), it is a solid and enjoyable read. If you have to slog just the tiniest bit in the middle, keep going. I found the payoff to be entirely worth it!