Monday, January 26, 2009

...Master of None (or "Alternative Spiritual Gifts Don't Get Jobs")

Next I'm scheduled to have a conversation with my DS about appointments. I will be expected to explain my particular gifts for ministry and name the areas of weakness that I would like to work on. This is going to be a challenge because, at least according to my experiences so far in life, I appear to be a jack(ie?) of all trades, but a master of none. There are very few areas in which I am a particular standout. I am decent at preaching, pastoral care, teaching, organizing, and administrative work. I have a little experience in ministering with youth, but I am in no way set apart as someone called to youth ministry. And if there's one thing I have discerned absolutely NO call to, it's children's ministry.

I like to mentally toy with the idea of telling my DS about what my friends refer to as "alternative spiritual gifts". While these aren't listed in the Scripture passages about the fruits of the Spirit and they don't qualify as "gifts and graces" in one's commissioning papers, I think they have value for existing in the world and might even contribute to my ministry. A few examples:

Sarcasm - Sarcasm often gets an undeservedly bad reputation. While it can be a hurtful defense mechanism (which is probably why it is located on the CPE feeling wheel under the categories of "hostile" and "angry") it can also be a means of disarming tense moments, demonstrating your humanity, and removing the lens of irrelevance with which people often view religious leaders. I've even heard it used effectively in a sermon to drive home a point about the need for social justice. I'm not going to try it in the pulpit for a while, but I still think it's an underappreciated spiritual gift.

Doodling - I cannot sit still in class. I also can't draw. Consequently, I have developed a way of doodling that is totally abstract, but which takes requires motion and very little attention. I use colored pencils to create intricate, abstract doodles during class. So far none of my professors have openly complained. I wonder if I can get away with doing this during council meetings?

Grammar - When I was little, my parents would correct my grammar whenever I spoke. The conversations would go something like this:
Mom: What did you do today?
Me: Well, Me and Rachel went...
Dad: Rachel and I.
Me: Rachel and I went to the park.
Between those corrections and the way my mother would diagram sentences with me when I wrote my first few papers, I learned to use proper grammar almost all the time. I get frustrated when people use "less" when they should say "fewer", and when they use unnecessary prepositions at the end of their sentences. (This is a Midwestern phenomenon, e.g. Where you going to?) While this gift enables me to work as an ESOL tutor, it also makes me obnoxious when I talk back to newscasters or correct my friends.

Relaxation - I have a gift for knowing how to help people unwind. I know when a friend needs a cup of coffee and when she needs a stiff drink. I know when it's time to talk and when it's time to pop Star Wars: A New Hope into the VCR. I can tell when we should blow bubbles, when we should run, and when we should sit and cry. This really doesn't qualify as pastoral care, since it's not about healing or spirituality. It's more about gauging mood and knowing my friends.

Somehow, though, I think my DS might find these tidbits to be less than helpful. Still, they'd be better than mentioning my alternative spiritual gifts of comfy clothes, feminism, and jazz hands...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where were you...?

Every so often there are events that strike the common consciousness of a generation; days that are so memorable for so many people that people take note of where they were when the event occurred. These conversations usually start with "Where were you when..." For my grandparents' generation, these conversations usually involve the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the end of WWII. For my parents' generation, the events are the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Challenger explosion. My own distinct memories are of the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Today marked another unifying milestone in my generation's memory. Today, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, the first African American to hold that office. I sat in a lecture hall filled with theology students, faculty, and staff as I watched President Obama take the oath of office. I stood and cheered alongside Black and White classmates of all ages, as well as international students from around the world. I heard the triumph in the hands that clapped and the voices that cheered as we watched this historic moment. I was amazed.

I cannot grasp the depth of emotion that my classmates who have struggled against racism felt as Obama spoke. I cannot even imagine how my professors who fought in the Civil Rights movement felt. On a day filled with incredible rhetoric and symbolism, my words cannot possibly convey the importance of this event. I can only express the hope and excitement and pride that flooded my heart as I watched a man I admire, a man whose election stands atop generations of people struggling against oppression, be installed in the highest position in my nation's government. Today, more than ever before in my life, I am proud to be an American.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I Think Because I Thought

Today is the first Saturday of 2009 that I have not spent attending a wedding. And, while the ceremonies were beautiful, and I'm happy for my friends, it's a relief to be able to sit in a coffee shop this evening and NOT worry about being one of few single women at the reception. Instead, I'm sipping a mocha and preparing to crack open Descartes' Meditations.

It's funny, I encountered Descartes for the first time during my very first week of college. I had never read philosophy before, and I was thrown into the deep end right away, reading Descartes, Kant, and Hume in back-to-back weeks. I remember being confused and frustrated by the language and the abstractness of his discussions. I couldn't understand why it mattered how we know things, thinking it was just silly for anyone to sit around all day trying to doubt everything around them. In short, I hated philosophical inquiry.

Now, seven years later, I see things slightly differently. I'm still not a huge fan of reading philosophy, but now I can see the connections to psychology and theology. But I have a more patience for it now, and I find it much easier to read.

When I started undergrad, I was amazed by the amount of reading and writing I was expected to do. I remember complaining to my parents that all I was going to do for the next four years was read and then write about what I read. That was a shockingly correct prediction, though it ended up stretching to seven years thanks to my masters program. But as I return to a text I haven't looked at since my first semester of college, I'm amazed at how much I've changed. I so frequently take what I've learned for granted, since I use the writing and reading skills every day. But when I have such an obvious comparison, I can't help but be thankful for the skills I've acquired. Unfortunately, I think I've finally developed these skills just in time to be done with school for a while. *Sigh*