Church

Plans

June is my month to go crazy with calendars and schedules for next program year. In the early summer sun, no event conflicts with any other and every lesson idea is fully-formed. Retreats are well attended. Everything that didn’t work this year works next year–no, gets replaced by a brilliant new idea that does.

This kind of advance planning is important and helpful. It creates a feeling of sturdy scaffolding for the work you want to do. With each passing year, though, I admit into my consideration of the metaphor some new things holding the structure up that have nothing to do with my dates and lessons. The vagaries of life in a human community and my limited attention for complexity have to be accounted for in that they can’t be accounted for.

Back-up plans are just as important as the ones on paper.

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Church

Telephone

It is more convenient to communicate today than it ever has been before, and therefore the less convenient communication media are more valuable. Calling instead of emailing means something. Calling instead of texting or messaging means something.

There’s more here than meaning, though. The telephone is auditory, and thus a whole range of expression, emphasis, emotion, and meaning are experienced that simply cannot come across in text-based media. If you need to have a precise record of a specific communication, send it in writing (don’t text it). If you need to make an ephemeral human connection, get the phone out of your pocket.

Our work needs more ephemeral human connection. It’s being lost.

The telephone feels more critical to my work as a pastor than it did when I started 15 years ago.

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Church

Benchwarmer

Daughter left cheer practice injured by something, and she wasn’t telling me what. Her manner was short and clipped. Inquiries as to her well-being were all met with, “Uh huh.” The whole ride home she said nothing, and I stopped trying to make her.

Climbing the stairs to our apartment I could hear her sniffling and taking deep breaths. I knew she would head straight for her mother as soon as we were through the door, and of course she did. I could listen to the tearful account from the hallway, but, as with most of her displays of emotion, mom was the sole authorized confessor. I was not welcome.

It’s all to do with competition and the awareness that some of your teammates are better than you and thus get more attention from coaches and more first team reps. As a seasoned benchwarmer from my Little League days, I get this. It hurts, and the way an 11 year-old’s mind deals with it is as grievance: it’s not fair.

I still remember the name of the kid who took my rightful spot on the 11 year-old All Star team: Jaime Masters. For 32 years his name and face have been associated in my mind with injustice. That’s done nothing for me.

Daughter will grow through this, and I hope I will too. She went to bed still in tears and we let her. It feels important that we be her allies and supporters, but not her co-conspirators. It feels important that we accompany her through encounters with her own limits, encouraging her to do her best for the sake of it, and not to win a coach’s nod or a roster spot.

That will be as hard for us as it is for her.

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Church

More

Daughter and I have established a Monday post-school ritual: we go to the little bookstore in our neighborhood and sit in the cafe, where she does homework and I have a coffee and peruse the shelves. We’ve been doing it all year.

Two things about yesterday agitated for a change, though. Daughter’s homework was already done by the time I picked her up, and the weather was that kind of early summer Chicago gorgeous that makes you want to be outside, not burrowed in among books. She proposed the frozen yogurt shop a few storefronts down from the bookstore and I easily yielded.

It’s on a corner, and its west-and-south facing windows look out onto a busy intersection of pedestrian and auto traffic, overhung by an elevated train track. It was the perfect view for a perfect afternoon with the perfect companion, who chatted eagerly about her diverse yogurt toppings and roller coasters she wants to ride.

More afternoons like that, please.

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Church

Yard Sale

Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl” is a memorable song released in 2016 on her album, Puberty 2. I played it a ton, and I devoured the Song Exploder episode about it. So I recognized the vinyl of Puberty 2 as someone carried it past our yard during Saturday’s community yard sale.

“I love that album,” I called out from my folding camp chair, almost involuntarily. The woman carrying it stopped and looked amused. I pressed ahead. “‘Your Best American Girl’ is amazing.” She nodded assent. “Do you know the Song Exploder podcast? They did one about that song.”

She cocked her head to the side and looked upward like she was trying to remember something. “Yeah,” she concluded. “I think my friend had a song on that podcast.”

This just got interesting.

“Really?” I chuckled. “Who’s your friend?” When she answered, she elevated her pitch, like to ask if I recognized the name: “Jeff Tweedy.”

This just got really interesting.

I’m not a Jeff Tweedy superfan, but I’m music fan enough to know he’s a big deal. He was in Wilco, and he’s released two solo albums, including one earlier this year. Jeff and I have three songs from that album on our collaborative playlist.

My chuckling now sounds nervous as I ask, “How are you friends with Jeff Tweedy?” It’s such a stupid sounding question, like, “How is a famous musician friends with the likes of you?” She’s kind, though, and she doesn’t take offense.

“Well, you know [famous music producer]?” ( Famous music producer has worked with the likes of Nirvana. When I told Jeff some months ago that he lived in my neighborhood Jeff kind of lost his mind.)

“Yeah, I’ve been told he lives in this neighborhood.”

“I live with him,” she explains. “We live right behind you.”

Now this is a fanboy conversation, and I’m really uncomfortable. I’m desperate to change the subject and transition to a neighborly “have a nice day.” So I offer the other rumor I’ve heard about famous music producer: “I hear you guys have really amazing Halloween decorations.”

She confirms the rumor and then mercifully says goodbye and moves up the block to the neighbors’ yard. As soon as she is out of sight I seize my phone and text an account of the conversation to Jeff. His reply is brief:

“I’m dead. You just killed me.”

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Church

Fast

Three times now I’ve made the seven mile trip downtown and back by bike, not nearly enough to answer my colleague’s accusatory question–“Are you one of those bike people?”–in the affirmative, but enough to have learned something.

Faster is actually safer in some contexts. More daring and presumably more experienced cyclists than I pass me in the Lincoln Avenue bike lane all day long. The come to intersections where I hesitate or stop, and they zip right through them. They are decisive and quick, and they do not hesitate. I am exceedingly cautious, and yet, watching them, I get the impression they are the safer riders.

Sometimes waiting is dangerous.

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Church

Have Fun

Daughter prepared a bottle of cucumber water and placed it in the refrigerator overnight. She taped a torn fragment of spiral notebook paper to it on which she wrote “have fun.”

It was for her mother, who, motivated by the warm weather and a recent visit to the doctor, signed up for a kickboxing class, starting today, at 5:15 in the morning. It was a total surprise.

Maturation sneaks up on you. You push and push for kids to grow and develop in particular directions, and they sneak up behind your pushing, straining, parenting frame and present themselves mature in ways you weren’t even thinking about.

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Church

Refusal

Every day we use online services that don’t charge us any money but that package all our activity into units for sale to their customers, advertisers. Facebook, Google, and Amazon, to name just the biggest three, have established a relationship with us in which we permit surveillance of every YouTube search, every Alexa query, every viewed meme, in exchange for the utility those services provide. Our activity is their raw material.

We all know this, and most of us don’t really like it. But we lack alternatives. I have weird-out spells where I resist one or the other of these ubiquitous digital helpmates by giving it up for awhile, but that gesture of refusal feels less virtuous than the first time I did it and more, I don’t know, morally superior. Laura Portwood finds

It may be that refusal is only available as a tactic to people who already possess a great deal of social capital, people whose social standing will endure without Facebook and people whose livelihoods don’t require them to be constantly plugged in and reachable . . . These are people who have what [Kathleen] Noonan calls ‘the power to switch off.'”

Yesterday somebody put all of this to me as a moral question: does the church care about what this business model is doing? I could only answer that it doesn’t seem to me that we’ve got our ecclesial head around that part of it yet. Lots of church folk have been agitating for awhile now about the effect of unchecked phone and social media use on individuals, but none of us (I don’t think) are addressing yet the morality of the whole model. What does it do, for example, to our understanding of humanity to see it reduced by giant corporations to bits of extractable and marketable data?

Morally quitting Facebook is annoying, but morally resisting the economic model the tech economy is building may be important.

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Church

Fraught

Church is a commitment among several. Important, for sure. Even the most important, the commitment that infuses all the others with purpose and sustains them. Yet how one’s church commitment affects and is affected by one’s other commitments–work, family, self-care–is often a fraught subject. Does Timmy miss a soccer tournament for the Confirmation retreat? Does Bonnie skip the Property Committee meeting after a long day at the office? It’s equally fraught for people for whom church is their work as for people who worship and serve as “volunteers.”

Bill Smutz and Sarah Bereza are two church professionals, a pastor and a musician, respectively, who have started a podcast to talk through all of that. I recommend it (full disclosure: they said nice things about one of my blog posts).

This is never solved. “Balance” will never be achieved, and it’s the wrong thing to aim for anyway. We get to invest in things we care about, which makes us lucky. Working out how is part of the calling.

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Church

Reminder

Church is a community of memory–of hope, primarily, but also largely of memory (the one enables the other). We remind one another constantly of our central stories and their meanings, our values and our symbols.

“This is the bread of life and the cup of salvation.”

“Remember your baptism and be at peace.”

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

We remind each other not because we think our knowledge of these assertions is deficient but because we understand ourselves well enough (that is, theologically enough) to know we need constant reminding.

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