Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dating Nightmare

I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop today, and I heard the people in the next booth have the following dialogue:

1: "So, is she attractive?"
2: "Yeah."
1: "So what's the problem?"
2: "Well... she goes to seminary school."
1: "Oh. Enough said. Seriously?"
2: "Yeah. I mean, she seems really sweet and really cool. But I don't buy that Christianity thing. I mean, I'm really interested in it."
1: "But you can't date her just because you're interested in Christianity. I mean, I'm interested in disco, but that doesn't mean I'm going to date my disco dancing instructor. I mean, is she going to be a preacher?"
2: "No, she's just studying Christianity, she's not going to be a pastor."
1: "Oh. But still!"
2: "Right. Well, I mean, she's really sweet and I like her."
1: "But clearly it won't work."
2: "Obviously. So, I'll just break her heart and break her faith. (laughs)"

It was at this point that person #2 stood up and started getting ready to leave. Despite my attempts to demonstrate restraint, I just couldn't resist this one. So, I spoke up:

L: "Out of curiosity, which seminary does she go to?"
1: "Oh, watch, this is her friend, and now you're really in trouble."
L: "No, no. I'm just curious because I'm in seminary."
2: "That one in Decatur. I don't remember the name."
L: "Columbia?"
2: "Yeah, that's it. It's not that I don't respect Christianity. I do. I just don't buy it..." And he proceeded to explain that, based on the grammar of Elohim, he thinks that Christianity is misreading its own sacred texts to embrace monotheism when, in reality, the texts imply multiple divinities. Then he beat a hasty retreat.

In all reality, this is the sort of conversation and reaction that I usually get when I tell people that I'm in seminary. The usual responses are:
a) Oh, so you're going to be a pastor? Right. *silence* Well, I've got to go...
b) I go to church sometimes... *guilty look* I was raised Presbyterian/Catholic/Methodist/Episcopal. *awkward silence* Oh, I think that my friends just walked in...
c) How can you believe that stuff? I think... (Insert theological treatise here)
It's a real conversation killer. And I'm a little nervous that introducing myself as a pastor might actually get worse responses. I may never date again.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sniffing Springtime

As I was walking to the library this afternoon, I caught a whiff of a scent that immediately took me back to childhood. I have no idea where it came from, but suddenly I smelled Lily of the Valley. I remembered the way the little plot of rounded stones in front of my house would suddenly erupt each spring with green leafiness. I would check in the leaves every afternoon to look for the tiny, spindly stalks beginning to appear, then wait with excitement as first small green orbs formed, then as they turned white and opened into tiny, silent bells. I would tiptoe so carefully, trying to find open spaces in the carpet of foliage, and pluck the tiny carillon stems one by one until I had handfuls of spindly, fragrant flowers. Then I would take them inside, put them in a glass in the dining room, and spend the next week finding every excuse to walk through that room, just so I could catch their scent in the still air. As lovely as the spring flowers are here, today I didn't see them. I saw only bouquets of Lily of the Valley in my imagination.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


In just over six months, I'm going to become an aunt. Peanut will arrive on the scene and I will have the responsibility of loving, and perhaps slightly spoiling, the newest and smallest member of our family. I'm excited, and a little worried. Being an aunt, after all, is a big responsibility. After all, I have wonderful aunts, and I want to live up to their example.

When I was little, I thought my aunts were just about the coolest people in the world. My parents seemed a bit stodgy (as the ones with disciplinary responsibility for me, they sort of had to be) but my aunts were COOL.

Aunt L lived in a city far away, so I seldom got to see her. But when I did, it was always a blast. She knew fun games and always seemed to be laughing and joking. My first solo plane trip was to see her side of the family, and she made me feel quite grown up. She taught me to play Confusion and took me to get my first make-up. She would take me shopping in the big city and I would get to pick out clothes that were bright and trendy. She worked for the Girls Scouts, and always had fun projects and neat bits of trivia to share. She was one of the first people to help me see that I could be smart, creative, strong, and feminine at the same time.

Aunt M lived closer, so I got to see her every Christmas. She, too, lived in a big city, and seemed to me to be extremely sophisticated. As I got older, many of my tastes coincided with hers. We shared a love for travel, jazz, good food, mystery novels, and great old movies. She introduced me to Miles Davis, Thai food, France, and Katherine Hepburn. When I visited her, she took me to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which is still one of the coolest sporting events I've ever seen live. When I discovered politics, she was the one person in the family who saw the world like I did, and she helped me to navigate the difficult waters of being a political minority in a very opinionated family. When I moved to go to seminary in the city where she lives, we became even closer. She taught me to enjoy cooking while we watched movies and sporting events together. We cheered our respective teams (Florida and Mizzou) to victory on the football field and basketball court while sauteing, boiling, and baking delicious meals. She even took me to amazing art exhibits and lent me novels to keep me sane during tough parts of the semester. I'm going to miss her terribly when, in a few months, we're no longer in the same city and I only get to see her a few times a year.

In light of these fantastic women who have been so important to me, I know that being an aunt is a very important role. I might be the one to introduce Peanut to Thai food, teach him to cook, or explain to her about the West Coast offense. I might take her for her first makeover or advise him before his first date. Maybe I'll just be a loving, applauding presence at a graduation, performance, or sporting event. I hope I'm up to the responsibility; I want to be like my aunts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Con Ed I

On my first day of seminary orientation, I gathered in a classroom with ten other first-year students and a new professor for a brief discussion of the expectations for "contextual education", a program that combines practical ministry experience with group reflection. I didn't know any of the other students there, and I was more than a little nervous. I had heard that Con Ed was often unpleasant and unpopular, fillwed with difficult work, personality clashes, and useless "reflection". My experience, however, was the opposite.

The point of the program was to give us preparation for ministry through practical experience. It did, I guess, but the main purpose it served for me was to introduce me to the people in the class, people I now treasure. Over the course of that first year, our group met once a week for two hours. We discussed our classes, our lives, our work at the hospital, and our other ministry experiences. We spent time together outside that class, celebrating weekends and studying for exams in other classes. We commiserated about tough experiences at the hospital, from discussions about theodicy to sexual harassment by patients. We shared snacks, Capri-Sun, and ourselves. Many of the people in that Con Ed class became my friends. We've supported each other through weddings, break-ups, job searches, and other classes. I looked forward to seeing them on campus and I learned from their insights. I've loved watching them grow theologically and personally through three years of study and ministry.

Last night we met again for supper to reflect on our three years of seminary and to talk about moving on after graduation. Over pizza, we told stories about how we'd been scared, frustrated, and fulfilled by our work at the hospital. We shared complaints and joys about the school we attend. But most of all, we laughed and shared again in the community we had built together in that group. Several students mentioned that they now use gender-inclusive language because of the influence the professor and I had on them. (I'm so pleased!) Others mentioned that it was the skills learned in that group and in other classes taught by that professor that had helped them in their ministry since that time.

As I looked around the table, I marveled at how much we have all grown over these three years. Through challenging each other, we have all gained new theological insights and perspectives on understanding the world around us. In a few weeks, we'll all finish school and go in our separate directions. Even our professor, one of the best professors I've encountered in seven years of higher education, is going on to new and different things. But we will be different, and better, for having known each other.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Study Gimmick

I am writing a thesis, it is due in 20 days, and I have 42 pages to go, plus editing. This is putting a bit of a crunch on things, and I'm struggling to find new ways to get focused on writing.

This dire situation has forced me to give in and break out the thinking cap:

For the record, yes, I have worn the hat in public. I wore it to my favorite coffee shop and no one commented on it. I guess I'm not the only one who refrains from saying things about my observations...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Canine Coping Mechanism

I have never lived alone. I lived with my parents growing up, then moved to the dorms in college. From there I lived in a house with ten students in South Africa and in an apartment with a friend. When I came to seminary, I was paired with another first year who ended up becoming one of my best friends here, and we have shared an apartment for three years. But when I move to Virginia this summer, I'll face a prospect I've never had to deal with before: living alone.

In many ways, the idea of living alone is saddening. I won't have anyone to talk about my day with when I get home. I won't have someone else to help me remember to buy milk, bread, or toilet paper when I'm running low. I won't have someone to worry about me when I don't get home from studying until 1 a.m. But there are a few perks to look forward to: painting my bedroom yellow, having uncontested control of the remote, and, above all, getting a dog.

For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of having a dog. As a kid, I played with my friends' dogs and wished desperately that I could have one, too. Unfortunately, my family members were allergic to basically any animal with fur or feathers, so my dream was, for many years, an impossibility. I cared for other people's pets while they were out of town and played with my friends' pets whenever I could, just to get my canine fix. Finally, when I was whining about not being able to have a dog for the nine-hundred fifty-first time, my mom found the perfect way to get me to stop complaining. She promised me that one day, when I was living on my own and could have one, she would buy me a dog.

So I waited impatiently through years of dorm life and apartments with pet prohibitions. Now there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel: this summer I'll move somewhere else where maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to have a pet. When I start freaking out about living alone, I take a deep breath and start thinking about dogs. I weigh the options about sizes, breeds, personalities, degrees of drooliness, and dander. I consider what breeds are less allergenic, thereby making it easier for my family to visit me without horrible consequences to their sinuses. I think about who I might get to look after my dog when I go to visit family and friends out of town.

That's right, folks, I combat anxiety about the future by daydreaming about canines. I like to think it's being hopeful, but I have a hunch that the correct word for this reaction is "sad"...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


I keep seeing strange things around the city and not having anyone to share them with. So, I'll share them with you.

A few days ago, I saw a woman wearing boots, black tights, and a T-shirt that ended at her waist. The tights were sheer-ish all the way up to the control top part. I don't approve of spandex as pants, but wearing hose as pants is wildly inappropriate. I wanted to shout "THAT'S NO PANTS!" at the top of my lungs, but given the neighborhood, people probably would have thought I was weirder than she was.

Last night as I was driving along snow-lined streets on my way to the coffee shop, I saw a man driving a convertible with the top down. It was less than 30 degrees outside, and he wasn't even wearing a hat or gloves. Was it an act of midlife crisis? Was the car broken and his hat lost? Is pneumonia the new pink? I can think of no acceptable reason for this behavior.

Today I was studying in my favorite coffee shop when a man entered who looked like Jack Sparrow. He had the Johnny Depp facial shape, Jack Sparrow haircut and facial hair, and he was even wearing a reddish bandanna. I really wanted to go ask him, "But why is the rum gone?" I refrained.

I am demonstrating great restraint.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


My school is hosting finalists for its biggest scholarships this week, so chapel was full of strange faces today. As I looked at the potential students in their suits and heels, with traces of nervousness in their eyes, I felt a pang of jealousy. Not, obviously, jealous for their interviews, but because they have so much to look forward to! They have three years of community, deep conversations, engaging lectures, and moving worship services ahead of them. They will be absorbing wisdom from complex texts and brilliant professors. They'll be laughing and joking in the Commons and debating theology over drinks late into the night. They'll have transformative, existential crises in the wee hours of the morning and share semi-coherent online chats with fellow procrastinators. They'll have Halloween parties, bowling parties, girls' or guys' nights out, and Spring Banquets.

Of course, they don't know that yet. Right now they're struggling with difficult decisions and anxiety-inducing interviews. But great things are coming. And I won't be here to share that with them.

They're our replacements. They'll take our places in classrooms and chapel, in the courtyard and in the commons. Their energy and enthusiasm will replace our weary senioritis. I hope that we've prepared a place for them, and made the school even better for their experience. But mostly, I hope they enjoy it and find their time here as fulfilling as mine has been.

And, selfishly, I hope that somewhere in my conference, someone is thinking the same thing about my commissioning class as we prepare to take our place as the next generation in the conference.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

News and Weather Reports

It is March 1. I live in the south. In spite of those two facts, I'm looking out my window at SNOW. It isn't just a few flakes, it's big complex flakes, falling on the ground, and forming soft white blankets on the grass, and slushy messes on the roads. The snow began falling during church, and by the end of the service, the outside surfaces were all covered with white. When the service ended and the choir trekked across to the other building to put our robes and music away, several of the women in the choir stopped to make snowballs and throw them at each other. I found myself caught in the crossfire between two women in their sixties, wearing choir robes, hurling snowballs at each other and laughing uproariously.

They are the reason that I am excited to be a pastor. I am looking forward to being a part of the lives of congregations like this one, being present with them in joys and sorrows, struggles and celebrations, all the while pointing toward the places where we see God in our lives together. And, starting in July, I will get to do just that.

I interviewed for commissioning on Monday, and on Wednesday I got a call informing me that I had passed and would be recommended for commissioning at Annual Conference in June. I am really going to be a pastor. I am finally stepping from potentiality into reality. I probably will not find out where I will be serving until April, but for the time being I am excited just to know that I will get to serve.

Snow in March. Predictions of thunder snow. Finding out that I am getting recommended for commissioning. Possibilities of serving a church. Sometimes God simply leaves me in awe.