Change of Life, Ministry, Sports, The Inner Landscape

Rewriting the Rules

On NBC Sunday afternoon, I heard an interview that included this exchange.

Jim Lampley: "Do you think you rewrote the rules for all swimmers, or did you only rewrite the rules for Dara Torres."

Dara Torres: "I'm hoping I rewrote the rules for anyone who wants to do something and thinks they're too old to do it."

Ever hear something you really needed to hear and then immediately wish you hadn't heard it?

It's been almost 11 months since the Conference Minister approached me about being a new church planter, beginning a period of discernment we knew would be fairly long, since it hinged on last week's New Church Leadership Institute. I went into the meeting hoping this all might work out somehow, and I left it feeling sure of God's call in this direction and spent the last day and the trip home doodling logos and contemplating branding, because we need branding in the 21st century.

And then I got home and looked at my house and thought about its upkeep. I looked at my children and contemplated the costs of launching one and educating the other two. And I came directly to the question posed by Rev. Dr. Donna Allen last Tuesday that bit me, hard.

She related her story of avoiding a clear call to start a new church, and asked us to consider, "What stifles me?"

In her case, a vision of radical inclusivity terrified her. But my fear is different. My fear is material, first chakra, losing everything terror. Can I really pull together the funds to keep the roof over my family's heads and start a new church at the same time?

Now, considering that some people get rich and sleek and even fat on the profits of a church start or a church resurrection, this may seem a funny question. Could anyone look happier than the Osteens or more prosperous than Rick Warren (who I swear looked like he could open his mouth wide and swallow both Obama and McCain whole)? Not that I want what they have, in terms of financial success. But I am afraid of losing what I have, and while I realize that some of my fears are irrational, this stifles me.

And, I guess there is something they have that I want, after all. I guess I wish that something I have to say could reach a lot of people, more than the 100 or so hits a day at this blog. I've dreamed of some sort of minor fame, what I like to think of as "safe" fame, since I was a kid. I dreamed of sitting on Johnny Carson's right, speaking amusingly about something, though I did not know what. My ideas of what makes a person successful may be a little different now, but the desire for success also stifles me. A voice in my head says, "Better to move everyone to a place where employment might be secure than to roll the dice on a new church plant."

Because at 47, while I don't feel too old in terms of creative energy, while I have a fount of ideas and a love for the work and a commitment to God (that part matters, too!), I wonder if I'm at the right place in my family's life for this? And then I wonder, will I ever be?

What stifles me?

Ten years ago, a year out from a divorce, struggling to manage three children and school, and only able to register for one class at a time, I decide to pull out of seminary. I feared a lot of things, but mostly this: I feared that I would always be alone, that I would never be loved again in an intimate way. My In Care Advisor told me my congregants would love me, and that would be amazing, and he was right, that kind of love is, but I craved a partner, and the fear of living without one for the rest of my life stifled me. I withdrew from school and made a stab at doing other work. My extended family felt good about it. They thought seminary was a waste of time and resources and I ought to be earning money selling real estate.

I didn't meet Pure Luck until I went back to seminary, until every other door closed in my face, until I woke up from a dream so powerful I could not deny its meaning and embraced my call to ministry, mostly, at least enough to get back to school.

I rewrote the rules the world had for me, rose beyond the limits my extended family wanted to set for me yet still managed to keep things together for my children. Yes, and to find love and partnership, too.

A few years ago I preached a sermon in the form of a letter to #1 Son as he entered his third year at Wesleyan (excerpted here). It included these words:

If I'm not for me, who will be?
If I'm only for me, what am I?
If not now, when?

(Words adapted from
Hebrew Pirkei Avot)

Today I am asking myself not only what stifles me, but if not now, when?

Perhaps it's time to rewrite the rules, again. Except this time they are the limiting rules I seem to have for myself.


Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny

It's Saturday night, and since I have the day off tomorrow, I am left with time to ponder athletic-wear. You know what I'm talking about. Why, oh why, are women athletes compelled to wear those bikini bottoms?

Also, how do they keep them in place? Seriously!

I guess when it comes to beach volleyball, I get it. It's a beach sport, after all. But Light Princess and I can't help noticing that many of the marathon runners are wearing the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny running bottoms, and some of them don't fit, shall we say, "snugly" in or on the rear. I'm not a runner, but I can't imagine anything more miserable than running all those miles in a bikini bottom that leaves your bum hanging out for all the world, and in this case it really is all the world, to see.

On the one hand, I guess I like the idea of women being so confident and secure in their bodies that they can run or play games or whatever else in form-fitting gear that works for the particular sport. I've read that the beach volleyball players like the bikinis because they are snug enough to keep the sand out, and I can see where that might be beneficial.

Form follows function, I get it. But is this really case for long-distance runners? Their success is not simply about speed but about endurance.

The only reason the male beach volleyball players aren't topless? Sponsors didn't want to lose the advertising space on their tank tops.

It's enough to make a person cynical.

New Church, Sports

The Ice Cream of the Future


Here's Turner Field, which I really enjoyed visiting tonight.

In Atlanta for a workshop about planting new churches, I went to a ballgame with my friend and colleague, RevFun. We sat high, high, high, with a perfect view of the entire field. RevFun kept a box score, and I thought back to games I had listened to or seen with my dad, the last person to take me to a major league game, in the summer of 1976. On the first leg of a trip abroad, our family spent the night in New York City, where we took the subway to the Bronx to see the Yankees play.

This time I saw the Braves play the Chicago Cubs. Why do you suppose so many Cubs fans were at a game in Atlanta? I don't know much about the Cubs. They're from Chicago. They last won the World Series in 1908. Their fans are nuts for them, clearly, if they'll travel to see the team play.

They had the pleasure of seeing their team win, convincingly, their second win of the day. But even if the Cubbies had lost, the fans would still care about them, still watch and attend games, still compare statistics and share anecdotes born of a common culture developed around a beloved pastime.

I learned there are seven ways to get to first base. Do you know them? I named four, eventually. That kind of arcane knowledge has not been lost, is passed from one person to another, from generation to generation.

Baseball somehow remains interesting to people.

Turner Field has adequate restrooms, lots of places to eat or buy food, roving beer sellers, a big screen that keeps you informed and a pretty friendly attitude, right down to the parking lot staff. No wonder people like to go to ballgames!

I want to know, how can we get people as interested in attending church? Clearly people respond to ritual, to activities that vary from one event to another but have the same basic framework. Is there some method of attraction short of selling beer?

Other methods are working in some parts of the country, in cultures that aren't quite as post-Church or De-churched as New England. Some places you can suggest recruiting a school principal to your Launch Team. In Maine, a school principal inviting his or her teachers or student parents to church might well bring on an action by the ACLU, and I would probably support it!

Dippin' dots
Short of selling beer, what can I offer? Peanuts in the shell? Kettlecorn? Dippin' Dots? After all, it is the Ice Cream of the Future!

Can The Church of the Future reach people who flock to ball games, who bond over cheers and team colors instead of hymns and paraments appropriate to the liturgical season?

The Ice Cream of the Future melts quickly on a warm August night. You have to hurry to chase the rapidly melting dots around the dish with the spoon lest they become blobs or, worse, melted all together.

I hope I am not just chasing what's left of something ephemeral when I contemplate planting a new church. Surely the God I know means more, ultimately, than the gods of baseball I heard invoked tonight. Surely people could find some joy, some comfort or some relief in meeting that God of Love. Surely we can find a new way to form community that is not tied up in Colonial buildings or Victorian stained glass or 1950's family values.

The Ice Cream of the Future is so cold and so delicious, I don't care that a dish is expensive. I enjoy the extravagant moments, the cool balls of flavor on my tongue, the little bits of Oreo mixed in to my favorite flavor. I savor the moment.

If church felt just as immediate and elemental, who could resist it?