Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cassette Tapes, Part 2

So I just wrote the blog below about cassette tapes and was thinking there's a lesson in there for churches. What's nostalgic to some is completely arcane to others, and new-fangled to still others. For some, a blog is a new technology to even consider and for some, it may not ever be a comfortable way to get information. A pastor can have the best blog in the world, there's still nothing like the column in the monthly church newsletter.

To others, a blog is already outdated communication - especially mine, which is fairly tech simple.

I blog, but I don't tweet. And frankly, even though I know it's the wave of communication future, I don't want to.

Same goes for the website, the liturgy, the music - for some the classic hymns hold a place in their heart that no new hymn can ever match. The new stuff sounds awful. Irreverent. Badly written. For others the old hymns just sound, well, old. Boring. Outdated. There are these huge cultural and generational gaps that we have to learn how to bridge. I realize this is an old old problem (the song from Fiddler on the Roof just popped into my head. "Tradition! Tradition....tradition!). It's certainly alive in our church.

Do I sound like Andy Rooney?

I'm working with a couple of dancers from our church on a liturgical dance at our big Synod-wide worship on May 8th. So we could choreograph, the organist gave us tapes of the music. That's right. Tapes.

I wanted to give the dancers their own copies so they get the music in their heads. I went to Best Buy to buy cassette tapes only to discover that they no longer carry them. The guy in yellow at the door actually laughed at me. "Do you mean CDs?"

I was advised to find tapes for sale online (ahh the irony!)

I'm not that far behind new technology that this comes as a surprise. But it made me feel, well, a bit old. I work with the Senior High Youth and the phrase "When I was your age" slips out of my mouth every once in a while. I try to shove it back in.
I realize it's a slippery slope to becoming Andy Rooney-esque, complaining about every new thing. Certainly mp3 dowloads are handier than bulky tapes. But I can't let them go completely. I have a stack of particularly sentimental ones squirreled away. I could become that person who forces her bored children to listen as she recounts tales of her youth. Oh, that time we skipped school to go see Trip Shakespeare (I've still got that tape, signed by the band) and oh, how much I loved driving listening to Purple Rain (I think I still have that one too, not signed by Prince). The thing is, I also have these in CD form and can download them in a second. But there's something about those tapes.
Don't even get me started on the mixes. A friend's "Sweet and Sour Bob," introduced me to the best of Bob Dylan. "I'll Always Look Up to You" got me through many long nights in the Peace Corps (thanks Freya). I can't get rid of these things. I can replicate the music, but it's more than the music. It's the homemade covers. The cracked cases. I love these tapes.
I guess I'd better hang onto my tape player. Bet you can't find one of those at Best Buy either.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A garden: "gift and accomplishment"

"Gardening is not only making the world around us beautiful once more but letting beauty transform us. Gardening grows from our deep longing for salvation, so that beauty fills our lives." - Guroian

Sunday I was almost late for church (not good for a pastor on Easter) because I was so captivated by Armenian Orthodox priest Vigen Guroian talking about Easter and gardening on the radio program Speaking of Faith. I could relate to his statement,
"The garden has taught me that beauty is both gift and accomplishment."
Our garden is an accomplishment. It took hard work and long hours to get to this point. The tilled soil is rich and dark; the beds are built; the compost bin is up; and the kids' seedlings are watered and growing. That all took effort.

So much about this garden, however, has been gift.

For instance, we were troubling over wood for the raised beds. Didn't want it to be chemically treated but also didn't have the budget for nice new cedar boards. Tim found a mill that gave us beautiful pieces of wood for free. Because they're the first cuts of trees they're not straight, useful boards. But they're useful to us! When those start to decay in a few years (adding nutrients to our soil), they'll give us more. Free.

We were concerned about soil conditions. I happened to call someone who happened to tell me about leaf mold, free from Takoma Park. They suck up leaves from the streets in the fall and mulch them to give away in the spring. We got a truckful and the soil is beautifully rich and dark. Ready for planting. Gift.

Easter morning, I'd only been in church for a few minutes when I was handed a bagful of seed potatoes to give to Another member who'd offered to take them home to plant because our garden isn't big enough. Thanks to both of them, we'll have rows of potatoes to give away. Gift, gift.

This weekend we'll do more than celebrate our garden. We'll have a whole Creation Care Carnival with activities, special music and a blessing of the garden.
I'm looking forward to that, but not as much as I'm looking forward to the beauty of that first tomato off the vine. There's still lots of work to be done to get to that point, but that means there will also be plenty of gifts along the way.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A few photos from the Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil went off without a hitch (unless you call someone's paper candle wax protector lighting on fire during a reading a hitch). There were some unexpected moments and I don't think anyone could accuse us of being slick, but it was worshipful and fun.

Highlights: a whole room lit by tea lights in the shape of a cross, gathering at dusk in the Memorial Garden; the variety of readers, and the moment the lights came on to represent the resurrection. Also, I liked the wine and cheese party afterward.

The whole weekend was wonderful, but there's no time to be lost in nostalgia. This weekend is another big worship service. It's our creation care celebration this Sunday. More on that tomorrow...

Ndatelela at Easter - I am still expecting

As I wrote before, I was a bit nervous about leaving Lent. Wasn't sure I was ready for rejoicing and celebration. But I was surprised. Easter was great, from the sweep of church services (photos to come) to an afternoon feast with friends and family.

Easter is becoming a time to assess the progress in my life. Two years ago, I was in rural Namibia at my friend Liberty's grandma's house. She named me "Ndatelela" which means "I am expecting." I was full of expectation back then - about to leave Namibia and in doing so, laying to rest a dream of living overseas and working in international development. I was embracing a different dream, but I had no idea what awaited me. My biggest expectations didn't come to pass in any way I would have predicted.

Last year, I put this picture on my front door as I hosted an Easter feast in my townhouse for relatives, old and new friends. It represented such a change from the year before.

Last year during Easter I posed big questions to God and focused on them specifically at the beginning of this Lent. Now it's a new Easter and they don't exactly feel resolved. But I'm not frustrated, and that's new. I'm starting to learn that I am someone who is full of expectation - big hopes and dreams. The problem is that my hopes and dreams rarely come to pass in any way (or in the timing) I can predict. I get disappointed.
But disappointment is never the final word. I always get to peace. God always brings me there. And that's happening in this season too. Though some big questions remain open from Lent, I am surprised at how renewed I feel. Blessed. Beloved. There is more good in this life than I can possibly appreciate. I am still expecting, but my heart is open and it's a wonderful way to be. Happy Easter. Ndatelela.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Keeping worship real

It's Good Friday. Yesterday, Larry - one of our gardeners - and I were out in the garden when we decided to make a cross from some fallen trees in our woods. It was a perfect weather day and we enjoyed it. We wondered if we should be a bit more somber, given the task at hand, but we chatted and bonded as we worked. When Larry hammered the first nail, we talked about who may have made Jesus' cross. What was that person thinking? The cross is draped in black in the sanctuary now.

I'm busy working on the last minute details for our Easter Vigil - the Sat night before Easter. This is the first time we've done such a service at this church and I'm excited. It's the same thrill I got before acting in plays in high school. We even have a stage director, spot lights, special effects and a lighting artist. There's a definite performance aspect to worship, especially this week.

Last night some people at worship washed each other's feet. It's an awkward thing. No one quite knows how to do it and everyone feels a bit uncomfortable. Do my feet smell? Am I washing yours correctly? It's the awkwardness for both the washer and the washee that creates a great moment. This is real vulnerability on both sides.
I'm fighting the urge to make sure everything is slickly planned for tomorrow night. Yes, I want it to go well, but some awkwardness is inevitable and the awkwardness is actually good. Worship can be a lot like theatre, but if the only performers are the pastors, the congregation has no part but to watch.
That's not worship, it's entertainment. These awkward (beautiful? fun?) moments happen in worship because we're all taking part in something we don't usually do. We form ourselves into a community as we go.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lenten discipline and Living Biblically

Lent is almost over and Easter is coming. That means that next Monday, I can drink a whole pot of coffee, wash my clothes in very hot water, and dry 'em in the dryer all day long just for fun.

The Lenten disciplines will be done and I should be getting ready to shout Ha****jah. (Another part of Lent, we don't say that word until Easter).

But I'm a bit sad to see Lent go. I am terrible at New Year's resolutions, but I'm surprisingly good at Lenten disciplines. There's wisdom in the 40 day timeframe - long enough to make you realize it is possible to function without a gallon of coffee every morning, but not so long you're afraid to try.

But it's deeper for me. I have a pious, desert father-esque spiritual side that enjoys fasting and a bit of spiritual extremism. I was that way even as a kid. One year I went from Good Friday to Easter Sunday without speaking, by choice.

I just read a hilarious and smart book called "The Year of Living Biblically." The author, AJ Jacobs, (pictured above) is a culturally Jewish New Yorker who decides to try to follow all the Biblical laws for a year. It was a great book to be reading during Lent.

I figured he would do it in order to poke fun of religious people who take things to an extreme. (It didn't occur to me - even as I was reading it on the bus because I'd declared a car fast - that I might just be an extremist he'd poke fun at.)

I was mistaken. Not about me being an extremist, but about him being irreverent. He was remarkably reverent, even as he pointed out the ridiculousness of a stance that says you can follow the Bible literally 100% of the time. This video is a bit long, but worth it to introduce him.
His biggest lesson was that practices influence disposition. That makes sense to me. I am disposed to prayer, but I also pray daily because once I took it on as a Lenten discipline and it stuck. I'm disposed to going to church, but now that my work puts me in worship 3 times a week, I find I love it more.
Religion has a very different role for AJ Jacobs than it does for me, but I agreed with him throughout his book and especially on that major point: Practices are important for cultivating faith.
Question to think about: what practice (religious or otherwise) has changed your life?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The end of the carfast.

Hi - I'm sorry I didn't write about the end of the car fast till now. Might have been the ride in the rain last week, but I got sacked with a sinus thing and haven't felt up to writing again till now.

I think I last wrote on Thursday. That evening I again had an offer of a ride home. I refused that time because I was on my bike and it was a pleasant night. But as requested, I called the people when I arrived just so they wouldn't worry. It's nice to think that people worry.

Friday, I bussed to church no problem. I planned to bus back home but the bus just didn't seem to come. I waited for what felt like hours (probably more like 35 mins) and was giving up hope when a beige mini-van pulled over. It was one of the church members taking her kid home from soccer practice. They gave me a ride. Thank you!

The fast ended on uneventfully on Saturday. I bussed to church, rode with a friend out to dinner and to a student musical afterward, and then walked the 20 mins home along a well-lit road lined with yellow forsythia on a cool night. It was a great walk to end the fast.

What lessons did I take from the car fast?

1) I can do better in my everyday life to drive less. Using a bike, bus or metro takes more planning and it doesn't work all the time, but it isn't hard to do.

2) People are generous. I got many offers for rides and apologies from people who didn't offer rides because they didn't know I was carless. Taking rides was, if you remember, originally against the rules of the car fast. But I changed it and am glad I did. It's nice to be able to take people up on offers of generosity. And I surely appreciated the rides. It's environmentally best not to drive at all and only use public transportation, but carpooling is still better than individual riders.

3) I didn't talk on the phone as much . I didn't realize until I did this car fast just how much I talk on the phone when I drive. When I'm at church or at home I'm usually busy with something and don't take the time just to talk. Think what you want about the safety of cell phone use while driving (I know, I know. I swear I'm safe - but everyone does, right?), but that time in my car is valuable for keeping up my friendships.

4) It's not cheap to go carless. The metro and bus systems cost me more than gas would have that week. Granted, the wear, tear and cost of upkeep on a car still makes the car more expensive, but public transportation isn't cheap. I spent almost exactly 20$ during the week and I would have spent more but for all those rides.
The car fast is over now, but I'm hoping I'll keep some of the habits. Biked on my trusty Red Raleigh this morning. Thanks to all who followed and who helped me by giving rides. I'll do it again next year - who wants to join me in Lent, 2010???

Ten for Ten. Ten reasons it's great to be a pastor, in celebration of my 10 year anniversary of ordination.

I'm in there somewhere. I was ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC on November 10, 2007, ten years ago today. ...