Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Guest poet

This is a poem Boo wrote and posted on her own blog that I have wanted to share with all of you.  I think it will bless you . . .
Thanks, Boo!

“The Way I See It”-a poem by myself
The way I see it
We are all broken
With a heart full of dreams
And a pocket full of rocks
The way I see it
God Know best
He gives us a new look on life,
A new direction,
A beautiful lesson,
We are satisfied by love.
The way I see it
We are moving forward,
Because of Him,
Even when it rains.
The way I see it
The brightest Light
Is a beauty that lasts.
The way I see it
A tap from God
Is a Father pouring out love and forgiveness,
And we are changed forever.
The way I see it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

When someone else says it better

Leave it to the Huffington Post to say it better than I did!  If you're interested in the sanitizing of the Christian experience, this article is worth a quick read.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When what you're eating is what's eating you

You may have seen the articles trending on different ministry blogs about the physical health of pastors and other ministers, reporting a study by Duke University that they are more likely to be obese than the general population and are more likely to have all kinds of other health issues related to lifestyle and fitness.  As a minister who works with ministers and is married to a minister, this is really interesting to me.

It's also not news.

We've known at least since I was in seminary that ministry is one of the least physically healthy professions out there and we've known most of the reasons for that.  It tends to be a sedentary job; the community part of ministry is often organized around food; the schedule is often unpredictable and erratic, making food planning and exercise difficult; ministers tend to focus on the needs of others and may feel guilty about prioritizing their own needs.

All this made me think of two stories.  One is a really short story:  I was visiting with two colleagues last week, when one asked the other one if he had lost weight.  The reply:  "Oh, yes, when I left the pastorate, I lost a lot of weight!"  He made it sound like those two things were directly related and they probably were.

The other one took place years ago, when C and I were participants in a series of retreats for pastors and their spouses (okay, wives).  One of the retreats focused on self-care and so there was a session on nutrition and healthy eating.  A pastor on the front row was clearly agitated, sighing and turning in his seat, until finally he exploded.  He whacked his retreat notebook on the desk in front of him and said loudly, "Look, I take care of other people all the time.  I don't have any vices.  I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't go to movies, I don't go on vacation, I don't cuss, I don't do anything for myself.  I EAT.  And no one is going to take that away from me."  Arms folded, eyes downcast, he seemed to realize that he had revealed too much.

I understood everything he was saying though.  (I do go on vacation, but what do I do on vacation?  Eat!)  For so many in ministry, food is the only acceptable vice, the only "selfish" indulgence that is allowed, and we do indulge.  I think that more and more younger ministers seem to be coming out of seminary with a better understanding of healthy boundaries and a deeper commitment to self-care and I think that's a great thing.

I don't think there is a foolproof connection between physical health and emotional health and I think it's impossible to gauge emotional maturity by looking at someone's appearance or by looking at their medical chart.  Having said that, though, I've always appreciated the authenticity that pastor showed at the retreat and I've often thought about all the ways I understand what he revealed.

Monday, July 9, 2012

In the interest of fairness

Yesterday, I was (as my Nana would say) "on a tear" about Lifeway, which is my denomination's publishing and marketing arm.  (Actually, the reference to Lifeway was secondary, but yes, I was on a tear.)  I almost completely forgot an experience I had with Lifeway last week that made me smile.

For some completely inexplicable reason, I picked up the Lifeway magazine that comes to our house by virtue of my husband being a pastor and started flipping through it.  There was an article about "Ministering to the Minister's Family" and since ministry families are a key interest of mine, I checked it out.  There was the list of ways to minister to the minister, all "he" and "him" and "his" and I just sighed.

Then there was the list of ways to bless the minister's wife that reminded us that during ministry appreciation times, we should do something special for the wives like "pamper time," with manicures and facials.  (It also had the mystifying suggestion that we should "let her serve," which completely confused me, since every minister's wife I know is exhausted with serving and certainly doesn't feel left out of being able to "lead your next Bible study."  Not sure where that one came from.)

Okay, okay, the part that "made me smile" . . . hold your horses, I'm getting to it!

So then I turned the page and there it was . . . a list of ways to bless the minister's husband.  It was actually a very helpful list, written by the husband of a children's minister from Alabama.  It wasn't gender-specific or patronizing and included suggestions like "Don't complain to me about my wife's ministry" and "Keep conversations confidential."  

I was really pleasantly surprised and pleased to see an acknowledgment that not all ministers are male, even in the bastion of traditional Baptist life that Lifeway represents.  We haven't come a long way, baby--not even close--but this is a nice step in the right direction and it made me happy.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Brain damage

I'm positive that technology is changing my brain.  I don't just mean that I agree with all the studies that say that technology and the way we use it is changing us as a culture.  I mean me.  My brain.  It's different.

I have said more than once that I love my iPhone almost as much as I love my children and that's not far from true.  Right now, I'm plodding along with my old iPhone, 3 or 4 iterations old, waiting for the iPhone 5, just because I really love technology and want to have the latest.  (I wish I understood it better, but that's another subject entirely.)  I also love my MacBook Pro and my Kindle and I don't have an iPad but I'm sure I would love it too, if I had one, just like parents love all their children.

But I have to be honest:  reading blogs is not the same as reading an essay in a magazine which is also not the same as reading a chapter in a book.  Receiving an email doesn't feel the same as receiving a letter in the mailbox and writing an email doesn't elicit the same thoughtfulness that a blank piece of stationery does.

Mainly, though, I'm thinking about what technology has done to my attention span:  it has decimated it.  I have diagnosed myself with TIADD--Technology Induced Attention Deficit Disorder.  As far as I'm concerned, it's a thing.  Even as I write this blog post, my email inbox is letting me know that it has a new occupant.  A blog that I left half-read is reminding me to come back to it.  My Facebook is being constantly updated whether I'm paying attention to it or not, which makes me want to pay attention to it.

When I was a teenager, I could sit in my room for hours, copying things into notebooks or writing my feelings out in journals.  In seminary, I could study at the library in one chair at one table for hours, losing track of the time.  As a young woman, I could sit on the sofa and read without moving, as long as my children would let me.  I rarely turned on the tv and of course, it never occurred to me to look at my phone or check my messages or put the book down to see if my favorite blogger had posted anything recently.  I could sit in one place and read or write or think and never felt the urgency to do anything else.  After all, if anyone needed me, they would call me and if there was anything I needed to read, I could do it when I was finished with whatever was in my hand.

No more.  My brain is always twitchy, never at rest, always ready for the next thing.  Likewise, my mind is always cycling through the to-do list, the email inbox, the Facebook updates, the texts and the rest.  Like many people, I  check my phone before I get out of bed in the morning and when I go to bed at the end of the day.  I work broadly, getting a lot done, but not deeply, since I am constantly distracted.

I've decided to fight back.  One thing at a time, even when--especially when--I'm working on the computer.  Hard boundaries around when to read and answer emails and a new system about how to do that.  No fooling around on the computer when talking on the phone.  No messing with the phone when with people in person.  Dedicated time in the schedule for technology-free thinking, reading, thinking, working.  Renewed commitment to not texting or talking and driving  (Boo, if you're reading this--I don't text and drive ever.  I've kept that promise 100%.  I think about it though!)  I have to keep the phone by my bed at night because I don't have an answering service for work but I don't have to check it unless it rings.

This means confronting the reality that I am not indispensable.  The world does not need me in order to function.  I don't have to have the latest information or respond immediately to almost anything.  It's not all about me.

Maybe my brain will heal itself.  Maybe it will regain its God-given ability to ponder, to single-task, to plumb the depths and the heights of . . . well, just about anything.  If not, at least I'll be more present and less scattered.  That's something.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Real life

Last week, I read in the Baptist Standard that Lifeway would no longer carry the DVD of the film "The Blind Side" because it contains some mild profanity and is therefore, apparently, inappropriate for Christians.  Apparently, the Holy Spirit told a Florida pastor about His preferences on this matter and the pastor communicated them to my denomination's publishing and merchandising retailer.  I would like props for not throwing the paper across the room, please, or using some "mild profanity" of my own.  This happened about the same time that I started reading A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby and about the same time that I decided to do a few mid-year book reviews here on the blog.  Can you see where this is going?

Hornby's other book, How to Be Good, is a cynical and challenging look at what it means to live an ethical life and is also a poignant picture of what can happen to a marriage and a family when things go subtly wrong.  A Long Way Down, however, has the same bleak outlook on life but turns out to be a funny and on-target look at the inner lives of four troubled people who find authentic community and in that, find some warped redemption.  

The characters in this book are people you know.  At least, they're people I know--I recognized each one intimately--and I felt like I was invading their privacy by reading their thoughts and listening in on their reasoning.  Nick Hornby is that good. Some of them use pretty foul language (let's just say that it goes beyond "mild profanity"), they have sex even, and they don't find their answers at church.  In fact, only one of them goes to church and it's not working out real well for her so far.  But what they do find is the power of community to heal and to restore and I found myself smiling all the way through the last improbably chapter.

I think it goes without saying that Lifeway wouldn't carry this book.  They also don't carry works by Mother Teresa and Walter Brueggeman and they put special warning labels on popular (read:  bestselling)  evangelical works that dare to be controversial. And you know, that's fine.  They need to figure out who their customer base is and cater to that audience, like any business.

What isn't fine is the idea that Christians can only be uplifted by a sanitized, cleaned-up version of reality. The gospel shines brightest against the backdrop of brokenness and is sometimes found most beautifully in the context of ugliness.  The gospel is neither an anesthetic nor an antiseptic and, thank God, it isn't found most powerfully in a Christian gift shop.  Christians who create art are a credit to a creative God; "Christian art" is too often an abomination of banality and mediocrity.  

So, two things:  I read both of these books in the last year and I really appreciated both of them.  If you find yourself with the occasional existential angst but don't have the energy for literary fiction and if you have a strong stomach for unanswerable questions and bleak pessimism and almost-but not-unlikable people, I recommend them.  And if not, that's really fine.  Just don't tell me that the Holy Spirit can't show up for me even in the work of Nick Hornby.  Or Wendell Berry.  Or Anne Lamott.  Or even Sandra Bullock.