Thursday, September 30, 2010

What if -this- was what churches were doing?

Original blog post here:  The Disease Called Perfection.  I'd suggest reading it all, because it's amazing, but here's an excerpt:
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Here's your wake-up call:

You aren't the only one who feels worthless sometimes.

You aren't the only one who took your frustrations out on your children today.

You aren't the only one who isn't making enough money to support your lifestyle.

You aren't the only one who has questions and doubts about your religion.

You aren't the only one who sometimes says things that really hurt other people.

You aren't the only one who feels trapped in your marriage.

You aren't the only one who gets down and hates yourself and you can't figure out why.

You aren't the only one that questions your sexual orientation.

You aren't the only one who hates your body.

You aren't the only one that can't control yourself around food.

Your husband is not the only husband who's addiction sends him online for his sexual fulfillment instead of to you.

Your wife is not the only wife that is mean and vindictive and makes you hate yourself.

Why didn't somebody, anybody, put their arm around that 12-year old boy and let him know that they loved him and would always love him? What was he being told and taught that he would end his own life over something that almost no teenager can control? Maybe that beautiful and wonderful boy would still be alive if even one person had broken down the "Perfection" that completely controlled all those in his life from whom he desperately craved validation.

Why didn't somebody, anybody, tell a beautiful pregnant girl that there was nothing so big in life that it couldn't be made right. Maybe that incredible young woman would still be alive. Maybe her now one-year-old child would be learning to walk or say "Mommy" right now. Maybe.

Maybe.

The cure is so simple.

Be real.

Be bold about your weaknesses and you will change people's lives. Be honest about who you actually are, and others will begin to be their actual selves around you. Once you cure yourself of the disease, others will come to you, asking if they can just "talk". People are desperate to talk. Some of the most "perfect" people around you will tell you of some of the greatest struggles going on. Some of the most "perfect" people around you will break down in tears as they tell you how difficult life is for them. Turns out some of the most "perfect" people around us are human beings after all, and are dying to talk to another human being about it.

You'll love them for it. And you'll love yourself even more.
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And I thought:

What if churches had the boldness to do this?  What if pastors did?  What if we stepped down from the pulpit, sat on the steps to the altar, faced the congregation, and came clean about all the things that make us weep about ourselves?

There are 1,677 comments on that post.  It's been up for nine days.  People are hungry for this.  There is need.  There is a need to be imperfect and to be okay.

I feel it myself.  How many people follow this blog?  Maybe three or four?  Emily and Val have both commented; I have a couple fellow Tumblrs; Anne's got it in her RSS feed, I think.  So there's a few, but not many.  Many of you reading this know me intimately, and the rest of the world won't read this, and yet I can't find the courage to write what makes me weep.

I will - if forced - privately and intimately confess to tested friends about a "sickness unto death" which plagued me in high school.  I will confess to this only in metaphor, and only because it is "cured."

In non-metaphoric terms:  I fought deep depression.  It was so consuming that I could not function socially, to the point of skipping school once a week; so paralyzing that I spent an entire summer on the couch watching the same three Bogart and Bacall movies every day, because I could not find the inner strength to move; so crippling that I, an honors math & science student, nearly flunked calculus and physics because math suddenly eluded me.  The darkness manifested in food binges, self-mutilation, and trichotillomania.  I ended my junior year of high school with a trip to the ER after an overdose of painkillers.

The reasons for the darkness are varied, and too much to discuss here.  The road to recovery was much more complicated than psychiatric treatment, but not so long as I had expected; and life is far too good now to ever look back.

I am healthy now, but I am only healthy because I have learned to be.  The social terror and anxiety walks beside me every day, questioning my friendships, critiquing my appearance, whispering self-loathing in my ear.  I keep it at bay only by the hand of God.

This is all over, and yet I cannot bear to bare these scars.

Terror strikes me as I write:  how can I dare to post this?  What if my candidacy committee sees it, or a possible CPE supervisor, or any of my barely-minted friends?  Or anyone?  The sickness unto death hovers near me, whispering:  They will know.  They will find you unfit to be a candidate for ministry.  How can you lead when you are so unimaginably unfit?  How can you dare to love and be loved when you are so wholly unlovable?

What else can I do?  Should I cover these scars, pretend that all is well - pretend that my entire daily existence is not wholly dependent on the saving love of Christ who stood over me for years, calling "Talitha cum, talitha cum, talitha cum!"

I cannot.

Whatever I may fear from baring these scars, the truth remains that Christ covers them.  Where I bled, He bled more.  Where I wept, He was.

And I survive each and every day purely and only by the grace of God who has grabbed my hands and dragged me through to love.

This is most certainly true.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It is often said that God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform, but I find it much more common that God works in incredibly annoying ways Her child to keep from losing her mind.

Today there is a speaker, instead of chapel, from the Institute for American Values.  I am not interested in going, for two somewhat obvious reasons:  I am annoyed that there is no chapel, and I am not keen on the IAV.

When I realized yesterday that our speaker was from the IAV, I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach.  I have felt nothing but love and support from friends and the larger seminary community thus far, but I am keenly aware that half of the ELCA does not care to have me serve as their pastor, and the idea of the IAV brought that virulently to mind.

It did not matter (to my tired and stressed out mind) that she would be speaking on the effects of divorce on children.  I was tired, and stressed out, and growing weary of hearing always and only "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," and this hit my heart hard.
I should have taken off and cooled myself down, but unfortunately (as I am wont to do when I am stressed out, tired, weary, and heart-heavy), I opened my big whiny mouth and said:

"I don't know why I'm here.  I should have gone to PLTS."

And my dear friend Jamie said:

"No.  You're exactly where you're supposed to be."

And this is true.

Annoyingly so.

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Compartmentalizing.

Just sent five emails to five people who've been holding me up in prayer this week.

Partly to thank them for their prayers and compassion (as Hall noted:  "suffering-with")...partly to update them on the situation...and partly because I'm trying to compartmentalize my life, and finding it difficult to focus on my Hebrew vocab or my Greek translations or sloshing my brain through Rudolph Otto when people keep popping up and asking, "Are you OK?  Do you want to talk about it?"

Hint:  No.  No I do not.  Not right now.  Right now, I would like some lunch, and I would like to finish researching the warfare tactics of 8th century Jerusalem so that the hymn "Come You Faithful, Raise the Strain" is properly contextualized.  I promise that if I feel the need to talk, I will come get you, but right now, thinking about it is just making my brain switch into worry mode which is already its natural state and there's no need to encourage it further.

May God make me worthy of the kindness I've been shown by the amazing people around me.
May She grant us a quiet night, and peace at the last.
May He slip me an extra hour or two when I find I am most in need.
May we all feel the love that we have.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Plugging in.

Part of my journey in these coming years is learning how to effectively tap into my source - that strength of self that sustains me when I am weak.  Obviously, the source is Jesus, but tapping into that effectively is tricky.  (At least for me, since I overthink EVERYTHING.)  So I've been trying to keep track of what plugs me in, what drains me, and what is just a waste of time.

Plug-ins:
- Worship - specifically congregational song.
- Time with friends (either spontaneous or planned).
- Morning yoga & strength training (once I get past the 6am part).
- Time with Kristi.
- Finishing a project (that rush of adrenaline is awesome).

Drains:
- Driving.  I HATE DRIVING in rush hour traffic.  I blame every negative feeling I've had this past week on the fact that I drove to school every day.
- Scheduled time that turns into wasted time (like a meeting that goes off track, a minor crisis that nevertheless DEMANDS immediate attention, etc.)

Time wasters:
- Facebook.  'Nuff said.
- Movie / TV marathons (much as I hate to admit it...they are nice, but they aren't a plug-in).

And there are more to find, I'm sure.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

i don't know about all of us, but I know there's a God-shaped hole in me.


A hurdle for me in thinking about doing ministry is that I (like some other seminarians, I'm sure) was the dorky kid in youth group.

The one who wanted to be confirmed at twelve and was told she was too young.

The one who hated her confirmation class at fourteen but still wanted to be confirmed so she did a private year with Father Joe.

The one who actually wanted to read the Bible (in contrast to a certain youth rector, who once said:  "I read the Bible all the way through when I was sixteen, but I was a dork then.").

The one who kept showing up even after she was confirmed.

The one who, when she stopped going to St. John's, started going to Abundant Life and then Woodland Hills and then St. Odelia's.

The one who, on her first Sunday away from home, woke early for breakfast and then worship in Boe, with Liz, the roommate who became the first of the team of righteoussinners that made me the joyful Lutheran I am today.

Something about young me, even in the midst of teenage craziness and my sickness, was inherently drawn to church.  I didn't always get the community life I longed for.  I was often disappointed by the leadership or theology or lack thereof.  And I was unable to say what I was looking for - only that I was looking for something, and not finding it, but needing to find it, and continually searching.

How will I preach to those who wake on a Sunday morning and dread dragging themselves to church?  How can I explain the God-shaped hole in me when so many others seem to have none?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Varieties of singing, but the same song.

I spent the past 24 hours in retreat at Camp Wapo with fifty other Children Youth & Family Ministry concentratees.  There are some really amazing people in this program, so many who share my dreams and hopes for the church, and who have incredible passion for ministry.

Something odd stuck with me:  All the music used for worship was praise music.

My worship music background is thus:

I grew up Episcopalian, and sang every hymn for a hymnal.  I had no idea what praise music was until I went to Teens Encounter Christ as a fourteen year old.  There we sang what I understood to be "camp songs" - "Thy Word," "Radical God," "Humble Thyself," etc.  We used an overhead projector and transparencies to show the words.  I accepted this as a functionality of "camp music" - hymnals would have been clunky and prohibited the cheesy actions that accompanied half the songs.

At sixteen, I began attending an Assemblies of God youth group, while still attending Episcopal church on Sunday mornings.  At the AoG worship, they used a praise band and Powerpoint.  I'd never seen this before, but I accepted it, and became used to the "praise and worship" style - although I never adjusted to seeing fifty-year-old men with their hands raised in praise, their beer guts showing underneath their tee shirts.

At St. Olaf, we always used a hymnal in worship - first the green LBW, then the cranberry ELW in my senior year.  I danced as David danced when I walked into the renovated chapel senior year, on the day of Reformation, and brand new red hymnals graced the shining wood of the new pews.  If we sang without a hymnal, we sang from a bulletin with printed hymns, or from well-worn copies of Holden Evening Prayer.  As a newly minted Lutheran, I accepted this as the Lutheran norm.

In contrast, Selah Worship on Sunday nights was always done with Powerpoint and always done with a praise band.  I accepted this, and assumed that the theology behind Selah was similar to Assemblies of God.  Since there was no preaching, I was unconcerned about the theology.

I loved Selah as much as I loved Boe.  I had no desire to integrate them, and did not think that they should be:  Lutheran music was hymnal music, and non-denomination music was praise music.

This dichotomy went unchallenged as Kristi and I searched for a church after college, when we visited several Lutheran churches in the area.  We sang from hymnals, almost always the new ELW.  We do so at LCCR, where we finally found our home.

In chapel at Luther these past two weeks, we have sung from the hymnal.  They have a projector, but we have never used it.  Why should I question this?  It's Lutheran, isn't it?
But this weekend, we sang without a hymnal.  We were led by guitarists, and either by Powerpoint or by lining.

But we sang praise songs.

And it seemed that all those around me knew them.

This puzzles me, and I wish that I had grown up Lutheran so that I could parse it against the background of a Lutheran childhood.  I am no longer sure of "normal" Lutheran music.  Kim (another CYFer) explained that her church has two services, contemporary and traditional, and that praise music is used at the contemporary and hymnal-based at the traditional.  This I do not understand fully either.

And I find praise music difficult sometimes.  I do not like the lack of notation; if I have never heard the song before (which was often the case this weekend) I struggle to sing.  I do not like the keys:  some songs are incomprehensibly unsingable.  I do not always like the inherent theology.  And I love hymns that have stood the test of time.  Yet I long sometimes for the Selah of my youth, when the songs ran through me like cool water, and visions of the saints in glory touched the room.

I wonder if there are students at Luther who do not go to chapel because we use the hymnal, and they want "contemporary" music.  And I wonder if there are students who do not like congregational singing in general. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In the singing, in the silence

In the singing, in the silence,
In the hands expectant, open,
In the blessing, in the breaking,
In your presence at this table:
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, be the wine of grace
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, be the bread of peace.


Today was the first day of classes.  There's far too much going on to even begin to discuss what today was like - but I ended the day in choir, and some thoughts stuck with me as I drove home.

I've joined a few choirs since graduating, and in every choir, as I'm meeting someone new, we get around to:  "Where did you sing before now?"

And I say:  "St. Olaf."

"St. Olaf" is a magic password in choirs in Minnesota.  It seems like everyone knows of the choir, and most have heard them, and many many many think that everyone who sang in an Olaf choir is going to be a. maz. ing. 

I do not contest this.  Olaf produces fantastic singers.  The trouble for me is that, as a graduate of St Olaf and the member of a choir, I am expected to be  a. maz. ing.  And I am... okay.

I have a good voice, but it's nowhere near the quality it was in college.  I can't sightread - I've always struggled, and I managed to get by in choir by listening to everyone around me until I could get to a piano and pound it out.  And my tone is...well...it was a bit better when I was rehearsing eight hours a week.  I know exactly how good I could be, and I know that I'm not.
In addition, my ear is trained well enough to catch the mistakes around me - the missed notes, the dragged sss, the gasping breaths, the glottal starts, the untamed vibratos, the harsh tones, the triplet that isn't...and on and on.

So I hate singing in choir, because
a) I can hear everything that's going wrong with everyone around me, but also
b) I can hear everything that's going right, and
c) I feel that I sing more with the (a) side than the (b) side of things, and
d) I feel like everyone who's singing correctly is staring daggers at me, prepared to write a strongly worded letter to Dr. Armstrong stating that my name should be stricken from the annals of St. Olaf Choir alums because THIS GIRL IS NOT ACTIVELY DEMONSTRATING THAT SHE KNOWS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PERFECT AND AUGMENTED FOURTH.

(And I do!  I just can't sightread it!)

The difficulty is that I love choir.  I always have.  So I am continually drawn to an activity where I feel continually and simultaneously judgmental and judged.  I don't want to sing, because I can hear all the other notes and tonalities going wrong - but I love to sing.  I don't want to sing, because the "better" singers will hear all my mistakes - but I love to sing.

As I meditated (read:  grumbled & worried) over this on my drive home, I started thinking about choir in the larger context of my calling and of the next four years of my life.

I love the church.  I love the stories of God and God's people, and I love to tell them.  I love God's people, and I love to be with them.  I love liturgy, and Scripture, and sacrament.  I love Bible study, and theology, and food shelves.

And I love all of these things even though they often cause stress or make me feel judged or devour more of my time and energy than I can truly spare.

For the next four years, I will be trained to sing the stories of God's people.  Sometimes I will sing them alone, with no choir to guide my wavering voice.  Sometimes I will sing them with others, and we will struggle to bring our songs together in harmony.  Sometimes others will sing, and I will find their songs so beautiful that I am afraid to ever sing again and taint the song.  Sometimes I will sing, and sing very badly, and those who hear will cover their ears.
But - I pray - most of the time, we will sing, and it will be a joyful noise unto the Lord.

May God make me worthy of the singing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

God created the world out of nothing,
and so long as we are nothing,
God can make something out of us.


- Martin Luther, via twitter.com/sarcasticluther