Church Life, Family, Whimsy

BuildIt

A corner of my city.

My older children would be horrified to hear that the 13-year-old and I are both playing SimCity BuildIt on our iPads. Back in the day when Super NES became part of our household, I took on the seemingly innocent city planning game to show that I was a good sport, and to learn how to use the controller so I could also play MarioKart with my little guys. I loved creating neighborhoods, as long as I could avoid the disasters that were part of the game, fire and earthquake and Bowser rampaging through your city like Godzilla. All was fine until I stayed up most of one night; the next morning, my oldest, then 9, said, “Mom, I don’t think this game is good for you.”

In this generation of the game, which is much more sophisticated and complex, you have the choice of which areas of city life to develop, and unless you pay for extra SimCash and coins, those choices have to be made based on the budget you can raise yourself by creating and trading resources. I’ve been focused on ground transportation and education, versus entertainment and gambling.

Some of the in-game challenges involve choosing disasters and wars that will allow you to earn more. I’ve read that you can always rebuild. In fact, that’s the point. You achieve more by allowing the disasters and rebuilding after them, or fighting the wars and reconstructing your city. But I cannot bring myself to do it. The real world is hard enough.

We do something similar in the life of the church when we dream about what we might build, but we also consider the limits for what is possible. What can a particular congregation do well? What is needed in the community? Where can we put our limited resources to make the world we are building a little better, on behalf of Jesus Christ?

Playing the game my way, I don’t think I will ever save up enough to build the airport or the Parisian quarter my residents keep asking for in pop-up bubbles. But I am planning to stick with it at least until Level 40, when the game unlocks Worship. And I promise not to stay up all night to do it.


This post was written for the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

Children, Church Life, Family, Reflectionary

Why would anyone go to church now?

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

The Boy wondered this, watching the news about the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He has reached the age where he hears about the news at school, so we have become more open to having him hear and see things on TV, rather than trying to shield him from the hard things that happen. We need to be able to answer his questions ourselves. I don’t know if you have heard the common talk of 7th grade boys lately, but it definitely requires some counter-influences.

“Why would anyone go to church now?” He asked us again. “The doors are unlocked! Anyone could come in.”

It’s true that in church we are a special flock of sitting ducks, focused in one direction, both physically and spiritually. I rarely look around in church, when I am sitting in the pews, other than when we pass the peace. I estimate how large a crowd is behind me by the sounds they make. I’m trying not to seem overly interested in who is late, or whose children are making noise; I’m trying to be a good pastor’s wife.

Up front, as the pastor and preacher, it’s different. I’m counting heads, noting who is missing. But even then, I am not worrying about disaster, or I haven’t been, even though I know Kathryn has a plan in case someone dangerous comes into the sanctuary.

Experts offering their two cents worth on cable news recommended that churches review their emergency plans and look into security systems of staffing appropriate to their size and situation. Maybe, they suggested, someone in the congregation is already wearing a weapon to worship.

I know this is true in some of my colleague’s congregations.

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

It’s not clear yet what the shooter’s relationship to religion was. His social media accounts were quickly archived, but not so fast that some bad actors didn’t have a chance to create alternative “likes” and loyalties for him. What does seem to be clear is that a man with a history of domestic violence threatened his mother-in-law, and then he shot up the church she attended. This morning the President suggested that had a neighbor not fired at the shooter, there might have been hundreds of deaths. A better guess is had he not been given chase, his next stop would have been his mother-in-law’s house.

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

We did our best to reassure The Boy, pointing out that the shooter did not choose a church at random. I’m not sure how comforting that is, really. How was a guy who cracked his infant stepson’s skull out on the street to do this? He choked his wife; he punched his dog. Why don’t we take these clusters of behavior seriously? We don’t because we undervalue harm done to women/children, overvalue white men and their chance of a future. This is magnified when we add race, sexual orientation, gender identity to the victim side of the equation.

The permission given to this man to keep assaulting other people, the pattern of abuse he inflicted on others before Sunday, the ready availability of a weapon that can kill, terribly, so many people, so quickly – all these factors remain for other abusers, other men who cannot manage their anger or their disappointment or their frustration, who cannot resist the temptation of power and have the means available to deal out death.

Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)

It might not be fair for me to make suggestions about what churches should do about their security when I am not serving one right now. Our own history as people of faith is problematic. Joshua and his house pledged to serve the Lord, but in the Promised Land, they used all their available weapons and powers to kill the people they saw as enemies, and to gain the land they wanted. They saw being the chosen ones as permission to deal out death. We should not be surprised that righteousness and power have been confused and conflated throughout human history.

Why would anyone go to church now? Our boy doesn’t drop his questions until he gets a satisfying answer, and he usually asks them again, just to be sure. We will go because it’s what we do, just like we ride on a bike path, or go to the movies, or attend a concert. We will go because most of us cannot maintain the kind of hyper-vigilance required to be on watch at all times. We will go because we want to be with the people we know and love. We will go for solace, and solidarity.

That is not enough.

I’m not saying this is easy. In the United States, we worship our guns like no other nation in the world, and some will say more guns are the answer. I do not believe this. We need to be direct in saying the god of guns is a false god. As much as I believe Jesus is among the grieving, I believe he is also pressing on his church to engage with the powers and principalities and say “No more!” Our culture privileges the powerful; often our church culture does the same. Yet we know Jesus proclaimed a preferential option for people who are marginalized and oppressed. We need the church to be a place where we talk about why mass shootings happen. We need to have those conversations and let God be part of them. We need to decide whether the church will be not just a voice speaking but a body acting to bring change in human priorities and understanding. If we have any power left as an institution, we must work together for good, in Jesus’s name.

I could stay screened here across the street, watching for unfamiliar vehicles and people, but I want more than the safe view from my window.

As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

cropped-cropped-view-from-my-window.jpg

 

Family, Mothering, Reflectionary

Jesus, Be a Shelter!

I would be having a better evening if not worrying about North Korea, and our President, and my daughter, LP, who is in Japan. At these times, I remind myself how many other moms are also worrying, sending their kids to school in Japan, where it is tomorrow morning. LP is there teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. It is a dream come true for her. But should she be there?

“When does it become too dangerous for US citizens?” is not the right question; it’s too dangerous for everyone, everywhere.

I guess this means we keep doing our work, living our lives, and whether that’s hopeful or foolish I do not know. I do know she loves it there. Today she might be teaching vocabulary to the elementary children who giggle and ask if she is popular “with the boys,” or coaching middle schoolers as they prepare to make speeches in English. She will work with the other teachers to protect the students in any emergency, because that is what teachers do.

She is far from Hokkaido, which is in the flight path for these missiles. Last time we talked about it, she had no idea where she would shelter if an alert went out for her region. She lives on the edge of town, near a rice field.

We are none of us safe. Violence won’t prevent violence. And you can’t fix crazy. I know some think God has worked a divine purpose through wars and human leaders, yet we are warned not to put our faith in mortals and princes. I’ve never admired the ones who threaten, who brag about their strength and power. Real courage lives in the ones who spread their wings over the chicks.

Cover us, Lord. Jesus, be a shelter! Not only for my child, but for all God’s children.

Family, LGBTQ

Safe, not safe, never safe

My wife and I are in Maine for a memorial service celebrating the life of the grandfather of my children, my beloved father-in-law from the first go-around. The collection of his children and grandchildren, and his wife’s clan of three generations, includes a handful of other LGBTQ people. It’s been a wonderful experience, living into the way we’ve all worked so hard to make our two household-family work for 20 years now. We’ve visited favorite outdoor spaces and eaten favorite local foods. We’ve cried and laughed and worshipped God and said goodbye to Papa.

And in the midst of all this, my wife and I have had the odd experience of feeling both safe with the family and safe in the Portland area, safe enough to touch each other in public, even to exchange a restrained kiss or two.

This morning it sounds crazy to claim safety anywhere. On MSNBC, they are reporting that the alleged shooter’s father* tells a story about his son taking offense when he recently saw two men kissing in Miami.

Two of my sweethearts, skipping stones
Two of my sweethearts, skipping stones

I’ll confess, the first moment in which we relaxed our guard this weekend, I thought, “I wonder who is looking?” We watch ourselves at home in Pennsylvania, where we always watch how we interact with each other, where we both work in churches where some people disapprove of our “lifestyle,” where we know we are not safe, not really.

Here, though, I felt safe. Sort of.

What I failed to wonder about is the impact of our actions on other people. When you feel moved to kiss the person you love, to act out your affection in a quick motion, do you think about who you may be setting off?

Maybe we are never safe.

But don’t we want that to be different?

*purported, news can always change at this point

 

#amwriting, Family, Interim Ministry, Ministry, NaBloPoMo, NaNoWriMo, The Minister's Wife, Writing

Life is full

Victorian House floor plan I'm adapting for the family in my novel.
Victorian House floor plan I’m adapting for the family in my novel, from this book. Because you can’t describe a life without knowing where the sunlight comes through the windows and how far the bathroom is from the bedroom.

It turns out I am more of a promoter of NaBloPoMo than a participant in it. I have, however, been working on my novel, which is fun, although I do not have enough time for it, not really. Today I plan to spend some time on the novel, some time on a sermon and some time on overdue essays for Lectionary Homiletics, a sermon publication. That’s a full day of writing.

Every day this week has been a full day of living. Among the hats I have worn are Long Distance (College Student and other grown up people) Mama, cook, laundress, furniture duster, Pastor’s wife, Bible study leader, non-profit ministry Director (with it’s sub-categories of technical support, Social media minister, event planner and erstwhile visionary), book editor, novice novelist, floor plan researcher, freelance curriculum/sermon resource writer, colleague, friend, Facebook friend, Words with Friends player, step-mom, stationery supply shopper, cat owner at vet (twice, each with a different cat), leader, reader, pray-er, Stewardship letter writer, pastor myself and wife (minus Pastor’s for the times that isn’t the priority).

That leaves off a few descriptors for things I didn’t get around to doing.

Juggling multiple part-time jobs (Interim Pastor, Director of RevGalBlogPals, writing/editing) requires me to learn compartmentalization, a skill I have both envied and resented in others. This week I spent time on that task by setting up another email just for church and a connected Evernote account that works across devices. That’s my to do list just for church. And the truth is, I really only look at that Evernote in the blocks o time assigned to working at the church. It goes against my nature, but it has to be that way if I’m going to keep to the 20 hours a week for which I am contracted and also have time to do other work and be present to my family.

Oh, and God.

There are a lot of days in this season of life with its delicious if sometimes exhausting fullness when I count on God’s presence more than I invoke it. I think a lot about what God wants for and from me, from RevGalBlogPals, from the church I am serving, even from the church my wife is serving. There is not much downtime in which to regroup, much less to be contemplative, but I can feel the need for it. I made an appointment with my Spiritual Director — much-needed — but I can see the pace is going to continue this way for the foreseeable future.

So, I may not blog every day. But I am writing every day, at least a little, and I feel good about it.

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Children, Family

Thankful

It's pretty sad around here without Sam. 

(This is a ginormous understatement, you might even say a Bernese Mountain Dog-sized understatement.)

People have been very, very kind, in blog comments and Facebook and Twitter responses and via email and in person. The choir at church gave LP and me a copy of Cynthia Rylant's "Dog Heaven," inscribed with dear, loving thoughts. 

So in the midst of this grief, I want to name some things for which I'm thankful:

  • Community
  • Hugs
  • Friends in the neighborhood
  • Friends far away
  • Friends from far away who have gotten themselves into the neighborhood
  • Friends' Dogs
  • Dog Friends
  • Photos by people who know how to take them
  • Photos by us, even the ones taken with cell phones
  • Two 15-year-old cats who still need our attention
  • One 15-year-old girl 
  • Two young men whose love was palpable even from afar
  • Memories that make me smile

Yesterday I saw a friend's two dogs wrassling, as we used to call it, and I remembered Molly and Sam lying on the rug, showing each other their great big dog teeth, or spinning each other in a circle, their mouths on opposite ends of a big stick. I remember Sam getting between Molly and various attractive Chows, her favorite breed by far. He had a mission, to keep her out of trouble!

I'm thankful to have lived with these blessed dogs, to be blessed by them. 

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Family, Photos

Sam

After trying all the things that veterinary oncology had to offer for a histiocytic sarcoma, we had to admit this week that Sam's tumor was not only resistant but worsening, and yesterday our vet made the hardest kind of house call, freeing him from his increasing discomfort and illness. 

It's hard to write about this today, but I want to share some pictures. Here he is the day we picked him up from his breeder.

Sam and Martha

I also want to say that he lived up to his namesake, Sam Gamgee. The breeder asked us to put an L word in his fancy, pedigreed name, and on the way home from getting him, I mentioned this to the kids. It was #1 Son who said, "Oh, that's easy. Loyal."

And that was our Sam, Rosier's Loyal Samwise Gamgee, who lived March 31, 2003 to October 29, 2010. That sounds short, and it feels short, although we know in the scheme of things for Bernese Mountain Dogs, that's longer than the average life span for the breed. 

Although he was on the shy side, Sam was a Canine Good Citizen. After we lost Molly, he went to work with me in Freeport, and even went to Sunday School there. He had a lot of friends in that congregation, and I thank them for their hospitality to both our dogs.

I also want to thank the kind folk of North Yarmouth Congregational Church for their welcome to him and their patience with me as I have nursed him. We had a Blessing of the Animals two weeks ago, and I'm glad he was still able to participate. 

I'm grateful to our dog walker, Louise, who came to the house to be with Sam, LP and me at the end, and my friend, revhoney, who extended her visit an extra day to be with us, too. The boys had a great visit with Sam a couple of weeks ago, and Pure Luck was able to get here and see him before the end, too.

I'm very thankful for the offer from my choir director, Joanne Lee, who is also a photographer, to take some pictures of Sam and me, which we did last Monday. Here's one of them. 

Sam 2 (Joanne Lee)

Sam spent most of his life keeping Molly out of trouble. So I like to think of them together again now, her mischief balanced against his loyalty, exploring the snow-covered paths of Dog Heaven, where the Greyberries surely fall plump and juicy into a good dog's mouth.

Molly and Sam 2008