Design Your Own Preacher Camp — A Re-reprise

Photo: Meg Peery McLaughlin

Photo: Meg Peery McLaughlinIt’s become a tradition now, to re-post this piece as I prepare to head to preacher camp. Some of the details are different now [see brackets] but the basic idea is the same.

Are you a preacher? Get yourself a preacher camp:

~

I leave on Sunday for my yearly meeting with a group of clergy that calls itself “The Well.” (The story of how we ended up with that name is a post in itself. Suffice to say that the Hebrew word, ha-beer, had something to do with it.)

We patterned ourselves after a group of hoity-toity pastors that have been meeting together for something like 25 years. I think there are other groups like ours too. This is our [sixth] year to meet, and here’s how it works:

We are each assigned two Sundays in the upcoming lectionary year, and for each of those Sundays, we are responsible for writing and presenting an exegetical paper. These papers analyze the text and typically provide 2-3 sermon “trajectories.” There are currently [18] people in our group, which means we leave with a head start on 36 weeks of preaching.

People have said to me, “Aww, I wish I had a group like that.” I always tell them, “Just do it!” It’s really not that complicated to put a group together. I would love to see these groups propagate. So to encourage people to give this a try, I thought I would write down a few things we did to get started or keep going. I think most of this is taken from the hoity-toity group, so no claims at originality.

1. Start with a core and invite. Our group began with a few seminary friends kicking around the idea of a yearly lectionary study group. Once this core group was locked in, each of us invited another person. If you still need more, have the invitee invite someone else. That casts the net wider. Decide what kind of denominational/regional/theological/seminary diversity you want, or don’t want.

2. Have a covenant. We were advised to set the expectation: if you don’t have your papers done, you don’t come. That sounds harsh, but the integrity of the group depends on everyone doing the work. We have granted exceptions for truly dire situations—in those cases, the folks brought one paper instead of two.

3. Have a “dues guy.” We charge dues for basic operations of The Well—this is collected ahead of time by one of our members and kept in an account through the church he serves. Dues might pay for a few lunches, a dinner or two, evening snacks and drinks, etc. We use a sliding scale based on how big people’s continuing education budgets are, but it’s somewhere between $100-$200. Then each person is responsible for their travel expenses plus accommodations.

4. Divide the jobs and respect the royalty. We start with a short worship every morning, and someone new handles that each year. Another person draws names out of a hat to figure out who’s assigned to which date in the lectionary year. We make these determinations about 9 months ahead of time so people have time to write the papers (though I assure you, there is plenty of cramming going on as we speak). We also take turns “hosting” the event. That doesn’t mean it necessarily takes place in that person’s city, but one person is in charge of securing lodging (we like B&Bs), a place to meet (a local church, perhaps) and also moderates any discussion that needs to take place in between meetings (via e-mail). We’ve taken to calling that person the King or Queen, because they are “the decider” for that year. We have a lot of type A people in our group (if I ever write a book about our group it will be called “Too Many Alphas”) so it’s good to have someone in charge.

5. Use Dropbox. We’ve tried a number of things in terms of paper collection and distribution. We used to bring copies of our own papers for everyone, but lots of us preferred electronic copies for various technical and environmental reasons. Now we upload our papers to Dropbox so people can download them onto their laptop and/or print them, if they’re a scribbling type. We make them due two days, and if you miss the deadline, you are responsible for bringing copies of your own paper for everyone.

6. Schedule for the week: We do [35] minutes per paper. The person reads the text, reads the paper, and then the discussion begins. Someone watches the time so we stay on schedule. In the past, we’ve had a block of time with a scholar or pastor to talk shop, and we even try to schedule a free afternoon. Heaven.

7. Leave evenings free. I’ve heard that the hoity-toities do papers into the evening, and honestly, I don’t know how they do it—by the time we finish for the day, I’m fried. Guess that’s why they’re hoity-toity. [I have since learned that’s not correct—they are mortal like the rest of us!] Our group likes to have a leisurely dinner, then hang out late into the night. We also started a yearly competition, with a trophy awarded to the person with the most outrageous ministry story. And yes, there’s an actual trophy.

So, there it is. The Well is one of the best things I do as a clergy person and one of my happiest weeks of the year. And I say that despite the fact that I preach the lectionary less than half the time. The scripture study is awesome and stimulating, and of course, spending time with other people who “get it” and with whom you can be real is HUGE. I think I laugh more that week than I do the rest of the year.

Note: Friday Link Love will be back in two weeks.

Presby-Agitation: A List of Links and Resources for the Board of Pensions

If you’re connected with me on Facebook, you’ve gotten updates from me about the proposed change to the Presbyterian Board of Pensions medical plan. We currently have a communally-based plan, in which the burdens and costs are shared in an equitable way, but this could change, and change quickly. In fact, the proposal means that in many cases the costs will be borne by those who are least able to manage them. This change will be very difficult for many young pastors, pastors with families, and small churches.

I’ve felt very discombobulated with all of the stuff floating around out there, and worry that any advocacy efforts will be blunted as a result. So here is my attempt to put a bunch of stuff together in one place. Please let me know what key items I am missing.

Here’s your kit for your own presby-agitation around this issue:

Understand What is Being Proposed:

  1. Here is the original news article that describes the proposed change. Read the comments for a sampling of responses. In a nutshell, the Board will decide next month whether to reduce dues across the board from 21% to 19% and cover dependents at 65%, leaving the rest of the cost for churches and/or pastors to cover. They claim if they do not do this, dues will have to go up to 25% across the board. Which they say could be crippling for churches. So instead, their plan would severely cripple a subset of plan members, in many cases people who are least able to bear the brunt. This flies in the face of call neutrality and the communal nature of the plan, both of which are long-held and cherished values.
  2. And here is an Excel spreadsheet which allows you to calculate what the proposed change might mean for you or your pastor. UPDATE: Here is another from the same source that purports to be more complete and accurate.

Get Organized:

  1. Cynthia Holder Rich writes about how we need to approach our advocacy on this issue. See her footnote for many other articles on this issue.
  2. Join the Facebook Group that’s been organizing and conversing on this issue. There may be a group coming together to attend the BOP meeting in Philadelphia on March 8-9.

Make Your Voice Heard:

  1. Here is the change.org petition. Petitions have limited value in such cases; on the other hand, they’re easy to sign, so no harm in adding your name. We know that the Board is aware of this petition.
  2. Here is the address list of Board members. These are the people you want to contact with letters. Include both stories of how this will impact real families and churches, as well as counter-proposals. We have heard from allies and other knowledgeable parties that they want and need to hear both.
  3. Write a letter to Andrew Browne, corporate secretary of the Board of Pensions, at abrowne@pensions.org. In the words of my friend Ken Sikes, “The quantity of letters they receive as much as the content will indicate the power of our protest.  Ten letters would be a whisper, 100 moderately audible, but imagine how loud 1000 letters would shout.” Andrew’s snail mail address is The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Attn: Andrew Browne, Corporate Secretary, 2000 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-3298

Some Examples:

I believe the Board when they say that something needs to change in order to respond to rising health care costs. With the caveat that I am no insurance expert, here is my modest counter-proposal:

Our current dues are set at 21% of salary. The proposal is to go to 19% across the board and set dependent coverage at 65%. The board committee who studied this warned that if they did not act, dues would go up for everyone, to 25%. It makes no sense to bemoan a fiscal crisis in one breath and lower rates in the next. So how about we raise rates from 21% to 23% across the board, and if dependent coverage is what’s bankrupting us*,  then cover dependents at 80%. Call neutrality takes a hit, but it’s much easier to come up with 20% of dependent coverage than 35%.

*By the way, I don’t think it is dependents. Or at least, not completely. It’s aging boomers, who are living longer, and I celebrate that. We made a commitment to care for them; they have served the church faithfully. So let’s do that—all of us. Shared burden, shared sacrifice.

I have no idea whether this would get the job done. This is a back-of-the-napkin proposal, but it has the benefit of preserving the communal nature of the plan.

(Another friend proposed that if 25% is what it takes to cover people, then raise rates to 25%, for heaven’s sake!)

Here is another counter-proposal, actually three, written by my friend Ken Sikes. It’s within a letter that he wrote, and I think it’s a good example of the kind of letters we should be writing, so I quote it in its entirety below.

Again, please let me know what critical links I’ve missed.

~

~

January 18, 2012

The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Attn: Andrew Browne, Corporate Secretary

2000 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-3298

Dear Mr. Browne,

My name is Ken Sikes and I am the pastor of Manitou Park Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WA.  For several months, my wife and I have been a bit anxious about the recommended changes to the medical plan.  I am writing to request that the board adopt a different and more equitable plan.   If the board chooses to adopt the current plan, the consequences will be dire for my family, our church and our community.

According to the estimates I heard on the Webinar and personally from my regional representative, Mark Frey, covering myself, my wife and my three children will cost an additional $475 per month.   There is no way we can meet this bill. I know the church will get charged only 19% instead of 21% but this is only about a $75/month savings still leaving us with $400 left to pay.  This is no where close to feasible for us or the congregation.  I implore you to choose a different option.

When I asked Mark what I could do to stop the board from affirming the recent recommendations of the Healthcare Committee he said the best thing to do is to share my story with the board.  He gave me your contact information and said you would ensure my story, and others, were shared with the board before their vote in March.  I thank you in advance for passing along my story.

Through a series of experiences to long to share in this letter I felt God’s call to pastor a small, struggling, urban congregation.   Aware of the financial constraints of redevelopment congregations, my wife and I prepared for this call while in seminary by making sure all of our school, car and credit card loans were paid off before I searched for a call.  This allowed a fair amount of freedom in our search which God blessed with a call to Manitou Park in 2003 at the presbytery minimum salary.   Since arriving we have been blessed with three children who have made Manitou their home as well.  Despite the single income, we have been able to stretch this salary to cover the cost of our modest expenses.  Through simplicity, the kindness of family and God’s grace we have been able to end each year with no more money in the bank, but no less.  With the Lord’s help, we are making it.  And this is why it hurts so bad to hear that the straw that might break our back comes from the very organization pledged to support us.  If the current plan passes I fear we will not be able to remain at Manitou.  For the sake of our call to this ministry I implore you to choose a different plan. 

Manitou is a small struggling congregation in a low-income neighborhood of Tacoma.  From its formation in 1912, it has been committed to the people of this community.  Though that commitment has never been met with financial wealth it has resulted in the sharing and nurture of faith in Jesus Christ to thousands of people over its ten decades of life.  Our food bank serves over 3,500 a year. Our building serves as meeting space for two Narcotics Anonymous groups, a summer tutoring program and a Latino congregation.  For the last five summers several dozen neighborhood kids have participated in our Arts Camp which shares God’s love through drama, pottery, music and the other arts.  All of this, and more, has been done on a budget of less than $90,000.  Everyone from pre-schoolers to the homebound have shared not only with financial gifts but with their time in volunteering to keep this budget so low.   Such efforts have led to a reduction in our deficit from over $40,000 five years ago to less than $12,000 last year.  Every year has led us a little closer to the goal of a balanced budget.  That will all change if you vote to approve the recommendations of your Healthcare committee.  If Manitou were to attempt to continue to cover my wife and three children, it would cost the church approximately $4800 more per year.  Manitou, very simply will not be able to pay this.  If this change takes place, there is a good chance that Manitou will soon move the full-time position to part-time making it impossible for me to remain their pastor.  For the sake of the Manitou congregation and community I implore you to choose a more equitable plan.

I, and my colleagues, recognize health care costs are rising and the board must do something about it.  Some one must carry the burden.  Unfortunately, the current recommendation unfairly distributes this burden.  As one who preaches each week, I can’t help but steal a tactic from Jesus and offer this parable.

The plan of the health care committee is like ten hikers ascending a mountain, each of them carrying 21 pounds on their backs.  Half-way up the mountain they come across an additional 40 pounds that must be carried.  Instead of distributing the weight evenly by giving 4 pounds to each hiker, the leader only divided the weight amongst 4 hikers by adding 10 pounds to each of their packs.  Oddly, the leader then proceeded to remove 2 pounds from 6 of the hikers and put 3 more pounds in the packs of the 4 hikers bringing their total load to 33 pounds while the other six carried only 19. Where is the kingdom of heaven in this parable?  For the sake of our commitment to share one another’s burdens I implore you to choose a plan that shares the load more equitably 

I was encouraged by a mentor never to critique a problem without offering a potential solution.   Here are three.

Option 1. Keep the 21% rate for all congregations yet require members to pay an affordable flat rate for spouse and dependents.  We recognize there is a need for change and we are willing to incur some additional cost to cover dependents.  My hope is that this flat rate can be brought to a more reasonable amount.

Option 2. If 21% leaves the flat rate too high, then raise the rate one percentage point to 22% for everyone.

Option 3. Phase the change over time to give ministers and congregations time to adjust.  Keep the rate at 21% in 2014, but begin to require members to cover spouses but not dependents at an affordable rate.  In 2015, keep the rate at 21% but begin to require members to cover children at an affordable rate.  Make another adjustment in 2016 if necessary.

Let me close by thanking you for your service on the board of pensions, I believe this is your way of serving God by serving others.  As you meet and discern God’s will in this plan I strongly encourage you to listen for God’s voice so that what Paul wrote to the Corinthians might be true for Presbyterians, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 1:26)

Thank you,

Rev. Kenneth W. Sikes

Pastor, Manitou Park Presbyterian Church

My Interview with PBS

photoI’m back from Chicago, where I led a group of lovely Presbyterian pastors in a Sabbath retreat on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I learned while I was there that next year’s speaker will be Phyllis Tickle. Boy howdy! As I told the participants, I do not have anything close to Phyllis’s depth of historical knowledge and insight. Rather, I am a generalist. With me you get a weird synthesis of Bible, art, theology, folk music, brain chemistry research, low-impact crafts, and clips from The Office.

We had a good time.

The retreat had a strange dimension to it. A couple of our sessions were filmed by a camera crew for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, a public television show. (Check local listings.) I’m very grateful to Judith Valente, a correspondent for the show, whom I met at the Festival of Faith and Writing and who saw the potential for a story about Sabbath-keeping in our 24-7 world. I’ll let you know when the segment airs—it’ll be a while, since they also plan to come to our house and film our family on one of our Sabbaths. I find this ridiculously fun, although I’m worried about Caroline—apparently it is one of her life’s goals to appear on television, and I don’t know what it does to a kid to achieve a life goal at the age of 10. Anyway.

In addition to filming parts of the retreat, I was also interviewed about Sabbath: how our family does it and how others might take it on. It was, frankly, harrowing. The inner critic was on the prowl, taunting me with a voice that sounded suspiciously like the mean girls in my fourth grade class. Oh my God… who cares what YOU have to say?

Ah well. I did it, and during my run 30 minutes later I was SO much more brilliant, but at least I didn’t die, so there’s that.

After we finished the interview the audio guy said, “Time for room tone. Everyone be still for 30 seconds.” They explained later that room tone is a recording of the room, which they use when they need to edit dialogue together.  They record the quiet room using the same mic configuration so that the sound has the same quality to it.

After talking for almost 40 minutes non-stop, it felt downright contemplative to sit, and be quiet, and listen to the silence that was not really silent. I began to wonder about room tone as a spiritual practice.

In fact, I looked up room tone later that day and learned that it goes by another name:

Presence.

Friday Link Love: Science Videos, Memoir Writing, and Gratitude

First links first: Presby-peeps, have you registered for the NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte? It’s going to be a fun, creative, hope-filled gathering.

Go register now, because early bird rates end next week. I’ll be here when you get back.

OK. Away we go:

~

Is Atheism a Religion? — New York Times

A variety of perspectives from lots of smart folks, including Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass.

He’s not quoted here, but I am a fan of Alain de Botton and his School of Life for Atheists. (I linked to him yesterday in my post about why atheists need holidays.)

~

Salon’s Guide to Writing a Memoir — Salon.com

H/t to Katherine Willis Pershey for linking to this wisdom recently.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Accept the limitations and boredom of your life as the challenge of writing. Accept your profound lameness as the wages of your craft. The problem is never that your life isn’t interesting enough, it’s that you aren’t looking (or writing) hard enough.

Sabbath in the Suburbs is memoir-ish, and I gotta say, I’m pretty sick of myself. My next book will not be a memoir.  But I still love reading good ones. Good ones.

Avi Steinberg:

If you’re not sure about the difference between publishing a story and therapy, you especially should find a good shrink.

~

50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World — Twisted Sifter

The most useful list I’ve seen. OK, posts like this don’t solve world hunger, but they give me a weird sense of hope. Human beings are so resourceful:

life-hacks-how-to-make-your-life-easier-29

~

Why Is There a Gap Between What We Feel and What We Express When It Comes to Gratitude? — Science and Religion Today

A recent study sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation found a dramatic gap between the gratitude people say they feel and what they express. In the large and demographically balanced survey, fully 90 percent of respondents said they were grateful for their immediate family, and 87 percent were grateful for their close friends. But when it came to expressing it, the numbers dropped almost in half. Only 52 percent of women and 44 percent of men said they express gratitude on a regular basis.

So why the big gap? Several factors come into play. Many people assume that those close to them already know how they feel, so they don’t need to state their appreciation. They are, of course, quite wrong.

More at the link.

~

Australia Banned Assault Weapons. American Can Too — New York Times

I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.

Six weeks later, on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

~

How to Write a Muffin Recipe — Deb Perelman, Slate

I’m a big Smitten Kitchen fan and a HUGE muffin fan. Muffins are the perfect food. They are easy to make, bake up quickly, come in infinite varieties, and have built-in portion control. The recipe for Plum Poppy-Seed Muffins looks wonderful, but just as delightful is Deb’s description of her trial and error and her basic formula for create-your-own muffin flavors. This is kitchen improv at its finest.

~

100 Best YouTube Videos for Science Teachers — Boogie Man Journal

Science teachers, and parents:

16.) Earth-Building Wounds
Scientists are studying the unique geological properties of Iceland in order to better understand how tectonic plates form and shift to permanently change the shape of the planet.
17.) The Wright Brothers Discover Aspect Ratio
John D. Anderson at the National Air and Space Museum provides an interesting talk on the Wright Brothers and their indispensible contributions to the history of human flight.
18.) Through the Wormhole: DNA
Morgan Freeman(!!!!!!) narrates a brief clip on the structure and importance of DNA. Short, but soothing. Also educational. Also Morgan Freeman.

Much, much more at the link.

~

Have a great weekend, everyone. I’m off to Windy City tomorrow, where I’ll be leading a pastors’ retreat on Sabbath-keeping. Once I get back I’ll be preparing for Preacher Camp. So blogging will be light next week. Peace!

Penn Jillette: Atheists Need Holidays Too (Bonus Link Love)

festivus-yes-bagels-noTomorrow’s Friday Link Love will feature a discussion on the New York Times about whether atheism is a religion. As a setup to that, Penn Jillette has a book out called Every Day is An Atheist Holiday! Here’s an excerpt, posted on Brain Pickings:

In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll invents the idea of the un-birthday. If we celebrated those we’d have 364 more (in a leap year) un-birthdays than birthdays. Atheists have always had the corner on un-holidays. Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, the day Tom Cruise had sex with a woman are all holidays in some religion but they’re never a celebration of life. The joy is the exception that proves the rules. It’s the celebration of a joy that we don’t have.

The word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and holy means ‘exalted and worthy of complete devotion.’ By that definition, all days are holy. Life is holy. Atheists have joy every day of the year, every holy day. We have the wonder and glory of life. We have joy in the world before the lord is come. We’re not going for the promise of life after death; we’re celebrating life before death. The smiles of children. The screaming, the bitching, the horrific whining of one’s own children. … Sunsets, rock and roll, bebop, Jell-O, stinky cheese, and offensive jokes.

For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy. Every day is an atheist holiday. It’s a day that we’re alive.

Once again Jillette lumps religion into the same tired heap of deferred-gratification, sweet by-and-by that bears little resemblance to religion as it’s lived by many, many, many people. Even Christians for whom praying the sinners’ prayer gets you a ticket to heaven are working to fight poverty, human trafficking, and even climate change. But that’s not my point.

Further, the idea that atheists are people who are full of joy and mirth is so over the top as to not warrant much comment. I find them to be just as dour and road-ragey as the rest of us. Except Buddhists. You get the feeling those folks don’t ever drive angry.

Instead, I want to highlight the importance of holidays, for atheists and for everyone.

Of course every day is a gift to be celebrated, whether you are a Christian, a Baha’i, a Pastafarian, or a member of the Church of Christopher Hitchens of Latter-Day Drunks. No less than Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out that in the Jewish/Christian creation tale, God creates the stuff of the universe and calls it all good, but when he creates the Sabbath he calls it holy.

Things are good. Time is holy. Jillette is absolutely right. We have the wonder and glory of life, right now. We need not wait until Christmas or Easter to revel in it.

But the problem is, that kind of wide-eyed wonder is simply not sustainable 365 days of the year. I’m not even sure it would be desirable. Human beings need seasons. We need rhythms and days and times set apart. OK, maybe need is a little strong. But psychologically speaking, holidays are healthy. They serve a worthy purpose.

I respect the heck out of Alain de Botton, atheist philosopher, partly because he approaches both his atheism and the religious life with humility and curiosity. He understands the utility of many aspects of the religious life, including days and seasons for specific purposes. Take it away:

Ms. Tippett: And, I mean, it’s interesting, a couple of other things that you — features of — very religious features of traditions that you also say that atheists and secular society could learn from, like the Day of Atonement in Judaism or the tradition of saints in Roman Catholicism.

Mr. de Botton: Yes. I mean, taking those two, the Day of Atonement, a fascinating moment in the calendar in Judaism where people essentially say sorry to each other and they say sorry against the backdrop of a God who doesn’t make mistakes, but humans who do. You are given license, encouragement, structure to do something which would be mightily hard if you were left to do it on your own like, as I say, saying sorry. It’s much easier to say sorry if everybody is doing it on a particular day because then there’s a sort of cycle of mutual apology and forgiveness which makes the whole thing much more normal. We’re very suspicious of ritual in the nonbelieving world. You know, we think that there shouldn’t really be rituals, that the private life should have its own rhythms and that no one should come in from the outside and say, you know, today we’re going to say sorry and next week we’re going to worship spring and the day after we’re going to think about the qualities of humility in a saint or something. The idea is you should do all this on your own in private. I’m coming around to the view that that’s nice in theory, but the problem is we’ll never get ’round to it.

As someone who practices, thinks about, and writes about Sabbath, let me humbly suggest to Jillette and other atheists that you not let go of holidays. I’ll leave it to you to discern what those might be—and you could have big fun with this by coming up with your own, or just co-opting the religious ones. (We did it first, and turnabout is fair play.)

But this wonderful life that we all live in different ways? Is also a life filled with commutes and grocery lists and sciatica. It gets away from us, all too easily, if we don’t take time to savor it. Holidays help us do that.

Thank You for Asking… A Response to Larissa Kwong Abazia

question-markLast week I wrote a guest post at Jan Edmiston’s blog. Today Jan shares her space again for a great post. Larissa Kwong Abazia writes about the sticky (and in some cases illegal) questions that search committees have asked her in interviews:

I’ve recently started interviewing for ministry positions and felt I was prepared for the onslaught of what I deem “inappropriate questions” from churches.  As a 30-something woman of color, I am familiar with comments that pose doubts about my age or experience, ability to minister to people older than me, slotting me right into youth ministry roles, assuming that hiring me will automatically grow the young adult population, or blatant misunderstandings surrounding race.  I’ve learned to take them as par for the course, as sad as it may seem in the life of the Church.  I was not ready, however, for questions surrounding my role as a mother.

Every single interview (Did you read that?  EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW) that I have had in the past several months has included some form of the question, “How do you feel about going back to work?” or “What will your son do once you start working?”

I started to comment on the post but it got long. I want to give Larissa’s post a hearty “Yes… and.”

Every person’s experience is different. I know many women who have experienced a level of sexism, paternalism, and intrusiveness that I simply have not. That said, I’ve been asked similar questions, though not in an interview setting. In almost every case, the person was asking out of curiosity, concern, and in good faith.

Curiosity: The idea of women serving as pastors is beyond a no-brainer for me, but it’s still new to many people. Many of them are not looking for a reason to weed you out, or a reason for you not to succeed. They are simply trying to picture how the life of the pastor works, what with night meetings and hospital emergencies. Our busiest times in ministry coincide with the school’s winter break and spring break. (Fairfax County schedules spring break during Holy Week every flippin’ year. Grrrr.) So… “how do you do that?” they want to know.

Concern: Many church people I meet are genuinely interested in the well-being of the pastor and her family. Many church folks get the stereotypes surrounding the minister’s family—how kids are put under the microscope and spouses are expected to be a de facto “second pastor”—and conscientious ones want to mitigate that through expressions of care and concern.

Yes, in some cases, “How do you feel about going back to work?” is a trap. But not necessarily. Remember, the church is a community, a place where people care about people. Many people sitting on search committees have felt ambivalence about going back to work—and joy at being there. The question is not necessarily a wall. It can be a bridge.

Good faith: Again, I know women who have been the victim of appalling examples of sexism. That has not been my story, for whatever reason. I wonder all the time why that is. It could be that I’m simply clueless, that there’s sexism going on and I’m not paying attention. Or I got lucky with the congregations I’ve served. Or I’ve decided to give people the benefit of the doubt, and when those potentially iffy questions and comments come my way I see it as someone trying to establish contact and relationship, albeit in a fumbling or even frustrating way. Probably it’s a combination of all three.

(This is an aside, but I was asked some time ago how I view my leadership style as a woman—how do I understand authority and assertiveness, especially with people who may not be keen on a woman pastor? My approach is twofold:

1. a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor

2. really knowing my… stuff.

Both are vital. The former is what disarms one’s detractors; the latter ensures that they can’t write you off.)  

Recently I highlighted a pair of articles that touched on issues of clergy health and clergy burnout. I suggested that the traditional understandings of authenticity, boundaries and pastor-parishioner friendship are changing as the demographics of pastors change. So how do questions like the ones Larissa writes about play into these changing boundaries?

Am I suggesting that religious communities should be allowed to ask illegal questions in interviews? Well, no. But I want search committees to care about work-life balance. And if I have children, their child-care arrangements are a part of that. That’s just a fact.

Larissa writes:

It seems as though the underlying concern in [intrusive] questions is a distrust that a woman can care for her congregation if she is also a mother (and therefore caring for her family).  Perhaps, then, congregations should consider if they are asking for too much time and energy from their leaders that won’t allow them to maintain healthy boundaries outside of the church.  We aren’t parents of, but partners in ministry with our congregations.  It’s long overdue that we begin thinking about the ways we support our clergy, male and female, in their calls in ways that allow them to be whole people both inside and outside of the church walls.

 

I completely agree with the second part (we are partners in ministry), but am not at all sold on the first part (the questions show distrust). Of course, it depends. But if we are partners in ministry, don’t we have to hold one another accountable? Aren’t questions about self-care part of accountability?

I guess I’m arguing for more questions, not fewer. They need to be good ones, of course, Generative ones. But ask. Ask everyone. Congregations should be similarly concerned about male pastors, with or without children. They should care about single parents, and single folks without children.

I want churches to care about, and ask about, the self-care of their leaders.

Friday Link Love: Kids Today, An Elusive Dog, and A Good Gun Control Debate

It’s Friday!

What do you have planned for the weekend? I’m pinching myself because Robert and I came into some tickets to the biggest party in town. You know those people who respond to “how are you” with “better than I deserve”?

Yeah. That.

I have a great life. It would be poor stewardship not to enjoy the heck out of it.

Anyway… here we go:

~

When I Was Your Age… Or ‘What Is It with Kids These Days?’ — Scientific American

Same as it ever was:

In her most recent book, Twentysomething: Why do Young Adults Seem Stuck, co-authored with her twenty-something daughter Samantha, Robin Marantz Henig delves into the hard data… what—if anything—is it about kids these days? the mother-daughter team asks. And why is it that every generation seems to think that there’s something different going on with kids these days, as compared to any other?

In 2000, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett proposed the existence of a new stage of development: emerging adulthood. Whereas before, we’d go straight from adolescence to full-blown young adultdom, now, there was a step in between, an area where our adult selves were emerging but not-quite-emerged…

As Marantz Henig is quick to point out, Arnett isn’t the first to discuss this possibility. In a 1970 article in The American Scholar, the psychologist Kenneth Keniston also thought he discerned a new trend of unsettled wandering. He termed in simply, “youth.” And that youth “sounds a lot like Arnett’s description of emerging adulthood a generation later,” Marantz Henig writes, going on to say that, “despite Arnett’s claims to the contrary, we weren’t really all that different then from the way our own children are now. Keniston’s article seems a lovely demonstration of the eternal cycle of life, the perennial conflict between the generations, the gradual resolution of those conflicts. It’s reassuring….”

As a member of Generation X, who heard a lot of the same criticisms leveled at me and my generation that I am now hearing about the Millenials, it is reassuring indeed.

~

Can You Find the Dog in Each of These Photos? — Colossal

Meet Momo, the most elusive puppy on Instagram. He’s a border collie if that helps:

momo-5

Ontario-based graphic designer Andrew Knapp noticed that his 4.5 year old border collie, Momo, would always hide when fetching sticks instead of dutifully returning them.

Andrew’s site is GoFindMomo.com.

~

13 Must-See Stargazing Events in 2013 — Mother Nature Network

First up: the moon and Jupiter conjunction in just a few days:

Jan. 21: Very Close Moon/Jupiter Conjunction
For North Americans, this is a real head-turner, one easily visible even from brightly lit cities. A waxing gibbous moon, 78-percent illuminated, will pass within less than a degree to the south of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. (For reference, your closed fist held out at arm’s length covers 10 degrees of the sky.)
These two bright luminaries will make their closest approach high in the evening sky for all to see. What’s even more interesting is that this will be the closest moon-Jupiter conjunction until the year 2026! [Amazing Photos: Jupiter and the Moon]

~

My Faith: A Confession — Justin Erik Halldór Smith

My kind of confession. Long and equivocally unequivocal:

For some centuries now, no small confusion has arisen from the fact that we talk about belief in God, rather than love of God. The two amount to the same thing, but the first of these expressions, at least since the beginning of the modern period, pushes us willy-nilly into the field of evidence and argumentation, a field where the standards of commitment have nothing to do with the issue at hand, and so not surprisingly, though for poorly understood reasons, belief in God cannot but be a failing proposition.

As they told us at CREDO, “credo” means “believe,” but really it means “I give my heart.”

But start from love, start from joy, and the demand for further evidence vanishes. To continue to make it would be like demanding to see the hormones that cause an erection before accepting that there is such a thing as eros. It would be vulgar. It is vulgar, every time we hear it from the puffed-up fools who believe they are defending the honour and integrity of something, which they also do not understand, but which they call ‘science’. Science has more often than not been driven by what its practitioners have experienced as joy and wonder before God’s creation. This is a historical fact, and even if you are one of the puffed-up fools who thinks belief in God deserves nothing but mockery, you cannot change this fact.

…Those who know me or have read me will probably know that I have often claimed that I am an atheist. I would like to stop doing this, but if I had to justify myself, I would say that it is for fear of being confused with that blowhard with the ‘John 3:16’ banner that I am unforthcoming about what I actually believe. I am infinitely closer, in the condition of my soul, to the people who feel God’s absence– the reasons for this feeling are a profound theological problem, and one might say that it is only smugness that enables people, atheists and dogmatists alike, to avoid grappling with this problem. I am with the people who detect God’s hand, perhaps without even realizing it, where the smug banner-holder sees only sin: in jungle music, dirty jokes, seduction, and swearing. I am with the preacher who puts out a gospel album, then goes to prison on fraud and drug charges for a while, then puts out a hip-grinding soul album, and then another gospel album. I am with the animals, who can’t even read, but can still talk to the saints of divine things. I am sooner an atheist, if what we understand by Christianity is a sort of supernatural monarchism; if we understand by it that God is love, though, then, I say, I am a Christian.

Along similar lines: God is Unknowable; Stop Looking for Him and You Will Find Faith — David Bryant (Guardian)

~

Sitting is the Smoking of Our Generation — Harvard Business Review

Four years ago, I made a simple change when I switched one meeting from a coffee meeting to a walking-meeting. I liked it so much it became a regular addition to my calendar; I now average four such meetings, and 20 to 30 miles each week. Today it’s life-changing, but it happened almost by accident.

~

10 Habits to Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Child — Aha! Parenting

Some of these I’m OK at:

12 hugs a day. Hug your child first thing in the morning, when you say goodbye, when you’re re-united, at bedtime, and often in between.  If your tween or teen rebuffs your advances when she first walks in the door, realize that with older kids you have to ease into the connection.  Get her settled with a cool drink, and chat as you give a foot rub. (Seem like going above and beyond?  It’s a foolproof way to hear what happened in her life today, which should be high on your priority list.)

Some of them I need to work on:

Welcome emotion. Sure, it’s inconvenient.  But your child needs to express his emotions or they’ll drive his behavior.  So accept the meltdowns, don’t let the anger trigger you, and welcome the tears and fears that always hide behind the anger. Remember that you’re the one he trusts enough to cry with, and breathe your way through it.  Afterwards, he’ll feel more relaxed, cooperative, and closer to you.

~

The Importance of a ‘Stop Day’ — Matthew Sleeth

Sabbath is a health issue too. Dr. Sleeth (a former ER physician) puts it well:

It’s interesting, when a doctor sits down and does a primary intake with a new patient, they ask about smoking, exercise and diet, but they don’t ask how much you’re working. They don’t get any sense of if you’re working seven days a week, or if you have time set aside — like people have always had — for rest.

I think the lack of rest is reflected in our saying, “We don’t have enough time.” I think it’s pretty much generally felt that we don’t have enough time to really get to the things we want to do in life.

~

A Gun Control Debate — Matt Springer and Mark Hoofnagle

The other day I heard radio show on gun control. It was frustrating because the so-called gun rights advocate had good points to make that the gun control advocate could not, or did not, hear. At the same time, I found myself wishing that the gun rights advocate had offered more constructive proposals rather than shrugging and saying “It’s all a matter of semantics.”

This debate, hosted at scienceblogs.com, is a good model. It’s not pithy. It’s long and wonky. So be it. Serious times demand no less. Mark starts off:

Mass violence is not just a problem in the United States. Similar incidents have occurred in other countries, even mass shootings in countries with significant restrictions similar to what I would advocate. However, the experience of other countries is less in frequency and severity. Yes, other countries have mass violence despite strict gun control, even countries like Norway. However, no other comparable industrialized country has gun violence similar to ours. No you can not compare the United States to Mexico. No, gun control is never perfect. No, we can not prevent all murder, all mass murder, or all violent crime, but we can decrease the death toll.

and Matt follows up:

Now any preventable cause of even a single death should be prevented, and while mass murder shocks the conscience in a way that the anonymous and impersonal forces of nature cannot, this ought to cause us to pause and consider whether what is being proposed will actually do any good. The choices we make in response to these tragedies will have consequences that we foresee and consequences we don’t. These consequences may well include the failure of new laws to save anyone in the future. This concern is not hypothetical – we’re well over a decade into our government’s frantic response to 9/11, and we may well be less safe than we were on 9/10.

Both men own and operate firearms. Both are reasonable, non-knee-jerk types. More of these, please. (I hope they will keep going.)