Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

 “I'm not going to do to your wife what your father's mother did to me!” She said.

“But can't you just do the laundry for me? I'll learn when I move out.”

My mom said, “Oh, this isn't just about laundry. Before you leave this house you will be able to do laundry, cook, sew, and clean.” That was when I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that no matter how much I protested I would learn to do laundry, cook, sew, and clean. Thanks a lot, mom.

I grew up on James Bond movies, the A-Team, and Remington Steele. My mother and I would watch Bond movies together. I remember whenever Dr. No, Goldfinger, or The Man with the Golden Gun came on television mom would let me stay up late to watch it, even on a school night. Even to this day I hold a fondness for James Bond that I cannot explain especially considering my nonviolent tendencies.

What concerns me as I think back to how this affected the way I looked at women. James Bond didn't exactly treat women with the utmost of respect and equality. However, it was never Bond's womanizing that attracted either my mother (a thought that is laughable and kind of creepy as I think about it after writing it) or for me. It was the intrigue, the mystery, that which is shrouded just beyond the surface. It doesn't always come out in the movies, but Ian Fleming's books are riddled with this darkness. I cannot explain it directly. It can only be spoken of negatively, by what it is not. Mystery is that which is hidden. If it is revealed it is no longer mystery. Its revelation causes it to cease to exist. The same is true of intrigue. My mother taught me to love mystery and intrigue and to maintain its existence by my love. That is the only thing I can think of that explains how I feel about James Bond.

I learned to do the laundry. I learned to separate colors and fibers. I learned to wash certain articles of clothing in hot and others in cold. I learned when to use bleach, how much fabric softener to use and just how to cut the softener so that it lasted longer. It was ritualistic the way she explained it to me. It was a ritualistic cleansing for the clothes and I became the high priest. My mother was teaching me the value of ritual and I was learning a deep lesson.

Once, she told me a story of when her cousin came to visit. She said that when she was little she had paper dolls she would dress up. When she played with her cousin sometimes her paper dolls would fall ill and die. Her cousin would preside over the funeral for the fallen paper dolls. He would pray for them, their families, and then my mother would bury them. It was an interment to remember, I'm sure. Her cousin grew up and became a priest. I grew up to love ritual, high church liturgy, and this story of my mother's paper doll funerals. I also learned to treat laundry as a sort of rite in and of itself. Now, I won't let my wife do the laundry. I'm always afraid my whites will come out pink.

I was listening to NPR recently and heard that Americans sleep more than many other peoples of the world. The researcher said we were the most obese people and at the same time we spend the least amount of time sitting at the table to eat by almost an hour a day. This also feed directly into our happiness or lack thereof. What I hear from that is that we eat quickly and sleep too long. Because of that we're huge. This only gives me more intellectual fodder for why we shouldn't nap. My wife is a napper. She loves to come home and saw a few logs over lunch or after work. I've never understood it. When I was a kid my mom would make me take a nap every Sunday afternoon between church services. We would eat lunch, or Sunday dinner (I never understood why she called it dinner, I mean wasn't it lunch?), and then mom would make me take a nap. To ensure that I did, she would climb into her bed and have me lay next to her while she read to me until she fell asleep. Dad, of course, was already asleep in the chair downstairs, sleep-watching the baseball game, or the golf open, or the (insert expletive here) football game. Mom would read me Calvin Miller or C. S. Lewis, but mostly C. S. Lewis. We started with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and we ended with The Space Trilogy. I remember that I fell in love with good literature and sneaking out. Mom would fall asleep and I would slip quietly out of bed and go outside to shoot squirrels with the pellet gun my brother bought me for my birthday.

I've never been particularly observant when it didn't have to do with people. As a married man I have had to focus hard to be a good gift buyer for my wife. Growing up I didn't buy gifts well for for my loved ones, even my mother. Once, on a trip to Chicago's Water Tower Place I bought her a book at whatever overpriced bookstore was there. My mother was a voracious mystery reader, but in my non-observant way I mistook the sensual covers of filthy romance novels for the pulpy, risque covers of noir mystery novels. I bought my mother (write it!) a filthy romance novel for Christmas. This half confession of guilt, half pronouncement of insanity was met with gracious delight from my mother. Though I know she must have been disappointed, more that my mother's son thought she liked romance novels than in the actual gift, my mother was delighted at the book I gave her.

I've received gifts since in which I've been disappointed, but I would never let on. The grace of a welcomed gift received by my mother has left an indelible mark on me that I will never forget. Every gift I receive is a gift from someone's heart. Kids come to me all the time with crayon scribbled construction paper with my name on it and the word “luv” or “awsum” or “Pstr Evun iz cul.” Every scrap of paper or paper mache is a priceless treasure that I carefully place on my refrigerator door. Even if my whites turn pink, I don't show disappointment.

Once mom picked me up from school. I climbed into the Ford Escort station wagon. It was gray with two pin-stripes (maybe maroon) running down the side, just underneath the windows. Mom was always had a lead-foot and was driving a bit faster than the law would've allowed. When she turned the corner time literally stopped. I remember my birth, a sort of wetness and then a lot of pressure followed by noise and light until the darkness of sleep settled over me. I also remember every other little event of my life, until I realized the door was only half closed. That fact, of course, was only obscured by the realization that the door was not locked and my seatbelt was resting firmly against the car interior and was not strapping me in. It was a good thing that I was leaning against the door when Mom took the corner, otherwise I would never have realized the value of the seatbelt.

When I flew out of the car and landed, rolling down the road, I watched the Ford Escort's wheels nearly roll over my legs. I remember thinking, “Wow! That car is really close . . . and this concrete road really hurts.” I cried my eyes out and I wasn't even faking. But my mom, she was white. When we walked, well, actually I was limping, into my dad's office, my dad asked, “What happened?” Mom was a ghost. Not even melanin challenged albinos could claim the whiteness that was my mother. She was almost translucent. I stopped crying and I remember thinking, “She's more hurt than I am.”

Nevertheless, my mother taught me many things, such as how to do laundry, sew, clean, and cook. I also learned to read, love intrigue and ritual, and to always take my martinis shaken and not stirred. And no matter how much guilt I feel about the way James Bond treats women or about how I once gave my mother a romance novel instead of a mystery novel I have to give my mother credit for the most important thing: my whites will never be pink as long as I wear my seatbelt. Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

On this eve, sincere thanks, Dr. Drury.

Since this is my last Sunday at Parkview . . . I guess it's appropriate that Keith Drury just recently posted on the "Roles for 'The Preacher's Wife,'" on his blog. I find it rather amusing in a scarily-so-true kind of way -- especially the Ordained staff member and Parallel pastors types.
Hello. My name is Julia Roat-Abla. I am a Parallel Pastor.

His writing was in response to this . . . as gratingly frustrating as this is . . . at least they're honest about it. I absolutely love how honest they are, clearly stating, ". . .registration for the conference, housing, and meals are available only to men." (emphasis added) Apparently the ladies may not even room with their husbands during the conference. However, Moody does not leave the pastor's wives entirely out in the cold, as, "Pastors' wives may attend the general sessions (not breakout sessions). . . ." Um . . . thanks? I'm just wondering exactly these breakout sessions include. A Finnish steam bath, perhaps?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

An Open Letter: Fencing in the Playground

I thought this edited version of a response I've written to a Parkview parent may put some of this transition in perspective. As you may already know, I've accepted the position of Pastor of Discipleship for Children and Adults at Belmont United Methodist Church here in Dayton. Changing churches is always a bittersweet time, saying goodbye and then saying hello in the very next breath. It can be fraught with misunderstanding and disappointment as well as excitement and anticipation.

That said, optimistically I believe, I have been a victim of unintended consequences. The fact is, the Church of the Nazarene directly connects monetary compensation with pastoral status from district licensing on. That may not make a whole lot of sense, but what it means is, if I'm not paid, technically the experience side shouldn't count. So, for instance, if Evan were to go back to being volunteer at a church, even after almost 6 years (or more) in full time ministry, he would have to start over on his years of experience in order to be ordained. And technically, according to general church policy, it wouldn't matter how much I worked, without some sort of acknowledged compensation that experience doesn't count for ministry time. I don't know that those consequences of that policy are intended, but I've been enjoying the good will of church leadership ever since I offered to forego my salary way back in Kansas City. Because I have been willing to continue to forego any kind of compensation or salary (granted, so that I could continue to serve in some capacity alongside Evan, and not pushing the issue from the beginning), I have had to have 'special status' as an ordination candidate and eventually elder so that any of my experience would count. I've been burned by this already.

That's not to excuse it, but just give a little bigger picture. And honestly, the fact that I am a woman seems to complicate the issue even further (but that's a whole 'nother can of worms). So, with that being said, I did not decide to leave Parkview simply because I'm not being paid. Obviously, that has contributed to the difficulty of navigating the situation, but it definitely is not THE reason. I want to be clear about that. I'm not bitter or angry. I think the opportunity for us to come to Parkview opened up exactly when we needed it. I still believe that was a huge answer to prayer, considering the (literal) desert we were in. And I think when this opportunity at Belmont opened up, I had to at least see what the possibilities might be. When the door opened for service that proactively sought out a person with my gifts, experience and passions, I chose to step through it.

The last thing is that almost everyone (at least those that have talked directly to me) has been extremely positive and supportive. I have not sensed a mean or ungracious or even ignorant spirit that could have been. Of course, most of those that we've talked to know us and know our hearts, but I don't want to give that impression of the people at Parkview. I doubt most have any inkling of the issues at play.

I know that me not being at the same church with Evan will present some challenges, but that's the difficulty of two people who are married having the same call to full-time ministry. This deserves conversation, not condemnation.

I have likened it already to the assumptions people would make about married professionals such as doctors or lawyers. It would not be uncommon for two physicians or two attorneys to be married. But is there any requirement by law or within culture that maintains these couples must practice their profession together and in one office? Is one's ability or effectiveness to heal or practice law dependent upon the other's presence? Perhaps the situation is different, by nuances, but I believe the basic assumption that co-pastoring or team-ministry should be our only option has no basis.

I think Evan is quite capable at being a children's pastor. :) And I can, perhaps, actually function as the supportive pastor's wife that I'm supposed to be. And he for me (pastor's husband, that is).

I'm thinking that this new arrangement is kind of like putting a fence around the playground. Perhaps boundaries need to be clarified for ministry and for marriage to expand and live in the freedom it's supposed to enjoy. Perhaps what our expectations for our ministry have been and what others assumptions for our ministry would be have just not lined up. This has been an unspoken fear that has in some ways held us back from the radical obedience God calls us to, and maybe we've not had the courage to address it until now. And we just are at a point where both expectations and assumptions are going to need to be reevaluated.

But I don't think that's a bad thing because I think the issues at work here are far bigger than just me and this particular situation. It's good though, however hard it may be going through it, to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Any thoughts?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book Meme

I have been tagged with a "book meme" and I'm just now getting around to responding to it.  Here's the way it works.  Apparently, I grab the closest book to me, which happens to be Vol. X of the Jackson edition of Wesley's Works (Letters, Essays, Dialogs, and Addresses).  I then turn to page 123 and find the fifth sentence.  After that I post the three following sentences.  Here goes"

"Then the Priest, with the Minister, say the psalm, Judaica me, with Gloria Patri, at which he is to bow his head to the cross.  Then he repeats the Introibo, making with his right hand the sign of the cross from the forehead to the breast.  Then he bows his head and body to the altar and there he stands bowing till the Minister saith, Misereatur. When he saith, Mea culpa, he smites thrice upon his breast with the right hand; and thus the Missal proceeds in its ceremonies in all the remaining parts of service."

Now, I'm tagging My sister, Marsha.

Friday, September 12, 2008

At the Wall Declaration

There's been a lot going on, about which I really can't go into detail, but I think it's important that Evan and I share this as a first step towards accountability with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What I can say is that we like where we are -- Ohio. The Midwest suits me fine, and Evan's ok with it, except for allergies. We LOVE our house, which I think is rare in pastoral ministry. It's not extravagant, but it is an absolutely beautiful old house that has pretty much everything we want, little that we don't want, and just enough room for the future. Evan has also benefited immensely from his time at UTS. It has been the medicine he has needed at several critical points.
That said, the suburban lifestyle that we have had to adapt to here has been a struggle. I don't think this is particular to Ohio, but it is very different from the urbanized or the rural cultures of our previous churches. It is subversive and deceptive, particularly when it comes to living a Christian life, and I think both Evan and I have been at some loss in how to live the way we feel we have been called and continue to minister to people with such different values and priorities.
I don't say that demeaning or arrogantly. But this has been our growing observation, even as we continue to deepen our relationships with the people we've met here.
However, we've hit a wall. And we've both needed a new measure of grace to know whether to climb over, dig under or build a door. Thankfully, God has placed a few people in our lives that have given us encouragement to keep going, even if they have not told us what we need to do. They have also challenged us.
And to that end, we have made a decision to begin truly living by the priorities and convictions of our calling. And we will live with the consequences of them. We have concluded that if we do not reclaim some of these things, we will not survive.

Therefore, we declare:

1. Sabbath will be observed in our household.
2. Further simplification of our necessities and our luxuries so that we may give more to others in the local and global community.
3. The Christian calendar will be our mark for time.
4. Greater focus on our educational and professional goals as they support our call serve the Church.
5. Our practice of specific behaviors (ie. detachment, lectio divina, OSL, etc.) that will allow us to continue in our vocational ministry.

These are five broad declarations that have many specifics already attached to them. Those are things that probably don't require posting on a blog site. But I just wanted to let you know, that we may be saying "No," to somethings now, and "Yes," to some other things that we would not have not too long ago.
I hope that you will pray for us as we begin to reorient our life toward this recovered vision our life in Christ.

God Is Not Just Interested In Your Soul

"The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being.  Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial."
--Martin Luther King, Jr.   from A Testament of Hope, ed. by James M. Washington

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Your Mama's Nuts!

OK, I know I'm going to make some people mad, but I've got to just get it out there and if you don't understand then fine, whatever. This is also going to ramble a bit . . .
First an example:
Some of you may know that as I've gotten older I've actually become more "liberal." I use that term very loosely because I am not liberal theologically. Neither am I fundamentalist. But I tend to approach politics the way I approach church. As much as it pains me sometimes, I tend to honor the faith or political persuasions of my fathers. I think there is something to be said about blessing being passed down through generations honoring God. When I'm fencewalking I tend to go conservative politically as well.
All that to say, I was kind of excited about Sarah Palin as McCain's VP pick. To this point, McCain kind of creeped me out. I'm not big into military service being the sole character qualification for President, even if it's an amazing story. I perceive McCain as an opportunist and barely conservative.
But, I like Sarah Palin.
First, she's a reformer. It is possible for those with a conservative bent to expect reform within an institution. Does "conservative" mean anti-change? I don't think it has to.
Even better, she's a reformer of her own party. It seems pretty easy for Dems to hold Pubs "accountable," and vice versa, but how many are willing to look internally, admit wrong and clean house?
Of course, it helps that she's a woman. And not just a man in rainbow's array of women's pantsuits. She actually wears dresses and her hair long. That cracks me up. Plus she's like a baby machine, which is very disconcerting. She's been criticized and picked apart endlessly for this fact. Which is quite funny (not funny ha ha, of course, but your know, funny queer) considering our uterine abilities are what make us women uniquely useful to society.
Unlike Hillary, who displayed her frigid femininity in a very over-population-conscious token Chelsea, Sarah just can't stop producing these babies!
That admiration might seem strange coming from me -- childless -- with only passing desires to bear children. I mean, how many times have I heard or heard implied the wisdom that is apparently immediately bestowed on a woman who has born a child? Give me a break.
But more than this child-bearing ability, is Palin's ability to be a GOVERNOR of a state and the mother of a five-month old SPECIAL NEEDS child at the same time. Unlike so many women in my age group, Palin has not abdicated her responsibility or role within the community because she bore a child 5 months ago or has four others following behind.
Admittedly, one factor that has kept Evan and I from having children is that we have an inkling that we would not be able to serve the Church with the same depth or bredth that we currently do. Children are a commitment of money, time and love that we would, at this point, rather offer the Church than anything else. Furthermore, the sad fact is, men do not have to answer for their families in the way women do - whether it's in professional, academic or ecclesial worlds. But Palin has challenged that notion for me. Must I sacrifice my potential intellectual and societal contributions for my potential children? Palin suggests I do not.
So Mothers, tell me I don't understand. No, you don't understand. Tell that to Sarah Palin.