Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ahhh, Small Town Living

Last night we went to our favorite Mexican restaurant. As we arrived and were seated, another patron kept squinting at us in a kind of unfriendly way. At first I thought she was just being rude, but I quickly figured out she was trying to figure out who we were. How sad, I thought, she's all alone at the restaurant.

Then the staff of the restaurant began to try to gently escort her out the door. She was shuffling her feet and very unsteady. How really sad, I thought - she's obviously got a vision problem and maybe some other health concerns. And how nice that they are helping her get to her car. At about this point I began to worry about how she had GOTTEN to the restaurant with these medical conditions. Something was not adding up.

Then, the staff of the restaurant went to a neighboring table, where two couples, acquaintances of ours, were eating, and asked the men something in a quiet voice. The men got up, and one cheerfully went to the woman to offer her a ride home in her car while the other guy followed in his car. How nice, I thought. These guys are bailing out this poor, blind, shuffling (young) woman so she can get home.

As soon as it was appropriate to do so ("appropriate" in small-town lingo being approximately four seconds after the door is shut behind the woman and the two men), I asked the wives what the story was. And here it is:

Apparently the woman got so drunk from the one Long Island iced tea she ordered while waiting for her to-do order that she was unsafe to drive home, and the staff at the Mexican restaurant would not let her drive herself home. (I suspect either an underlying medical condition, a contraindication with prescription drugs, or that the woman had been drinking before she got to the restaurant, but that's really beside the point.)
It turns out that one of the guys, C, was celebrating his birthday when he got conscripted to this duty! What a nice guy! Also, because he's Hispanic, the woman he drove home assumed he was the owner of the restaurant - but at least she said nice things. *sigh* C was very gracious at all the appalling, vaguely racist things she said during the drive home. *double sigh* He also told us that she had trouble a) getting to the street she lived on, and b) identifying her house once they were on the correct street.

This tells me a number of things: 1. Have a designated driver if you are going to drink anything at Casa de Oro (or anywhere, really). 2. The staff at Casa de Oro will not let you drive home if you are drunk. They may ask other patrons to help, but they will make sure that you and your car get home safely. 3. Good people will help out drunk people in this small town - even if they are perfect strangers to one another. 4. Racism, benign though it might have been in this case, is still alive and well (not that we didn't know that already). 5. When you do good deeds, they become funny stories.
Happy birthday, C!!! Hope it got better and better as the night went on!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Good News for California Equality

There is probably nothing worse than coming down with the flu while having dinner with good friends less than a week before Christmas. I hate throwing up more than just about anything else in the world. And I really hated leaving J & T's house - it's becoming a tradition to share a meal with them and our mutual friends M & J around the holidays.

The good news is that I am on the mend - this bout of the flu appears to be brutal but quick. That's even better because I have church tomorrow, and it's the children's Christmas pageant. I really do not want to miss our children's hard work. It is the first year I am not teaching Sunday school, and this was going to be a treat for me as well as for the church as a whole. This is one of the great blessings of church growth - there are more people who are excited to take on leadership at all levels, and I get the pleasure of letting go of being "in charge" of some things.

But I am well enough to peruse the internet today, and I came across this. Apparently, California will recognize same-sex marriages from other states as "marriage" if they were performed before November 5, 2008.....and those who've been married since then in other states will receive the benefits of civil marriage, even though it won't be called "marriage" in terms of the law.

It is less than ideal, to be sure. But it is a step towards equality. Thank you for the Christmas present, Governator.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Putting the Christ Back in Christmas...

.....Because he says it so well, just go read Russell's words here. Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukah, Blessed Solstice, and Happy Festivus. (If I've missed your holiday, may it be blessed, holy and happy, too!)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Yet Another Friend of the Blog

And one whose name I get to use! I call her Pope Laura the Beneficent, because while she was a member of the congregation I serve, she had the distinction of being one of the central figures of the church. Though the UCC does not have popes, if we did, she would be the pope of our little church, at least. As a child of the church, she became a leader of the church, and her credibility spanned the generations of the church's membership. As a progressive UCCer, she helped lead this family-size congregation towards its Open and Affirming stance and gave members the courage to act on their beliefs. She also invited them to live and love graciously in the midst of difference.

When she moved several years ago, it was quite a blow to the church, and we have spent a fair amount of time learning how to reorient our leadership patterns. Yet the move was the right one for her and her family, and we are lucky enough to "get" all of them on many holidays. So it's with gratefulness and love that I call her "my pope" and celebrate the life she is living and the strength she brings to her living and to her faith. She's an inspiration. Go read her "religious blog" here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Snow Day Morning Post

Go read this. And thanks to my friend and colleague JN, from whose Facebook page I'm taking this.

Shane Claiborne co-wrote an incredible book called "Jesus for President" that I just adore. It's people like him who give me hope that evangelicalism can be more than James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and their ilk. And it's people like him that keep me hoping that Christian unity is possible.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Sabbath Rant - UPDATED

Oh, my dear colleagues! If I do not write this here, I am afraid I am soon to burst out and scream at you at a meeting, in perhaps most inappropriate language and tone - to say nothing of the screeching volume at which I would othewise deliver this screed. Unless, of course, I decide to give you passive-aggressive eye-rolling and excessive sighing.

Dear, dear colleagues, if you are at a meeting with other clergy and non-clergy - wait, scratch that.... Dear colleagues, if you are ever at a meeting with other people and the subject of days off comes up, please, please, please resist the urge to say (melodramatically or ironically), "What's a day off?" You may think that you are appearing long-suffering - and indeed, I know for a fact that some of you are extremely long-suffering - but instead you sound insufferable.

As if the work we do is SOOOOOOOOO important that we cannot possibly take a day off to rest and restore our spirits. Do you truly believe that your work is more important and pressing than God's work? And yet, in the very first chapter of Genesis we see that on the seventh day our Lord rested from all that God had made. Rest is meant to be a part of the rhythm of our lives, to balance us from workaday concerns.

I hear the response that if you do not get the work done, the work will not get done. And I say, "So?" Prioritize your work and do what you can. Let go of the rest. So what if there is no bulletin this week because you had two funerals and a wedding, plus several other crises? So what if you only get three pastoral visits in this week, and one of them was a hospital visit? So what if no one else signed up to pass out coffee after church today? Guess what. The church will survive for one week without a bulletin. The members will make do with not having to dust in advance of your visit. The coffee won't get served today.

Or - horrors - someone else will step up at the last minute! Maybe someone will offer to type, collate and fold the bulletin on Sunday before church. Maybe someone will smell the absence of coffee in the air and turn on the pot. And if they don't, they will learn to live without what is not truly necessary. If for your church it is truly necessary (and if by "your church" you mean more than the two cranks who complain about nearly everything), then make clear to your personnel team that you have too much on your plate and that together there needs to be a renegotiation of your priorities and duties. Those priorities must be communicated to the congregation as a whole by someone other than you, and your board must stand in support of those priorities.

And if you find that you're always up until Oh-God-thirty finishing the bulletin or whatever, perhaps this is a reflection of your poor time management, not how busy and important you are. Poor time management is not a source of pride and you shouldn't be going on about that as if it were. If my congregation catches me finishing collating the bulletin on Sunday, at least I'm properly ashamed of that.

Now, I know that there are times in our ministry in which we must work on Saturday, or on our other day off. Occasionally there are weeks when we must work both days. This is unavoidable sometimes, and part of the nature of ministry. We do not work a typical, 9-5, 40-hour work week. I get it. But do not make a habit of it, and then claim that this poor habit is the nature of our work. When those weeks tend to happen every week, the proper response is not to brag about how overworked you are. The appropriate response after more than 2 or 3 weeks running without a true, proper day off is to abashed that things have gotten away from you. If God can keep the Sabbath, so can we - even if we keep it imperfectly at times.

Make up for it as soon as you can, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. At the very least, take the next morning off. Sleep in late. Go home right after the funeral and assorted duties are complete. You need not balance it minute-for-minute - but you need to balance your pastoral work with your life away from the church. Do not mistake your self-imposed martyrdom for actual martyrdom - Jesus does not call you to die on the cross of church Christmas decorations that no one else put up.

Dear colleagues, you are not irreplaceable. Neither am I. And frankly, if I have packed my life so full of things to do that my ministry appears to be just another burden to bear, it is time to cut something out, not to complain about how impossibly busy I am.