Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It Wasn't Me

I preached for the first time at my new church a few weeks ago. I received a lot of positive feedback, and even today someone told me how much they enjoyed the sermon, and how I didn't seem nervous at all. So, I'm having trouble finding a way to tell all these people that IT WASN'T ME.

I don't really preach. I can't. I dropped classes in college to avoid public speaking. I HATE public speaking. I got so nervous just giving the toast at my friends' wedding a few weeks ago that my hand and the glass it held were visibly shaking. If it were up to me, I could never, ever do it. But something happens when I lead worship. The Spirit overtakes my nerves; my hands steady and my voice becomes clear. That's not to say that I'm not nervous. I'm really, really nervous. But I stand up there anyway, and God shows up.

I preached for the first time when I was in college. I did a planned dialogue with a friend from the Wesley foundation during our Wesley on Wheels worship at a church we were visiting. As I walked to the church that morning, I threw up in the bushes because the nerves had my stomach so upset. But when I started speaking in the sanctuary, I was OK. And it happens every time. I'm nervous. My hands sometimes shake. I still occasionally get nauseous as I sit waiting for the service to start. But as the hymns and prayers begin, someone else takes over.

I'm sure that the physiological explanation has something to do with adrenaline overcoming anxiety or some such thing, but I'm pretty sure it's bigger than that. Without God, I couldn't and wouldn't do this. I'd have a nice cubicle or copy desk job where I'd never have to stand in front of more than eight people at once. But God dreamed something bigger and equipped me to do it. So each week I stand in front of a congregation and trust that the Spirit will show up again this week and speak through me. And I am in awe because God keeps showing up.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Spontaneous Sabbath

I got up this morning to the sound of my phone ringing. I know that the idiom I should have used there is "I woke up this morning," but that wouldn't be strictly true, since I was doing my weekly Saturday-morning-snooze-button-marathon when the phone rang. My sister replied to my groggy greeting with an offer to spend the day with her. Until recently, this wouldn't have been possible, but my recent move put us within 3 hours of one another. So I put off my to-do list of errands and Sunday preparations, packed my cooler, and hopped in my car.

We spent the afternoon picnicking, wandering around a state park, and talking. As we chatted, I was reminded of the amazing thing about my relationship with my sister: despite being polar opposites in political belief, disagreeing about theology, and having very different lives, we've managed to remain really close. While we sat on a bench watching the water, I was more relaxed than I've been in months, even with Sunday responsibilities hanging over my head.

But, as always, the sabbath didn't last. Between a minor fender-bender on the way there, and the never-ending game of Red Light/Green Light that is interstate driving on the east coast, I was reminded that such respites are Kairos within Chronos, holy times woven into the everyday insanity. At least sabbath returns us rested to our ordinary busyness.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wedding Liturgy

Last weekend I had the opportunity to be witness to the marriage of two of my close friends. Both the bride and the groom were my seminary classmates, people with whom I had shared late night theological discussions, study sessions, and celebrations. They are both intelligent, wise, funny, and dedicated to serving God. They had specially designed their wedding service with hymns about the love of God, Old Testament and New Testament readings, and communion. I have watched their relationship from the beginning, and I really believe that being together strengthens and builds up both of them, so that they are not only more in love with each other, but also more able to love God. And their first act after saying their wedding vows was to take the bread and the cup, serve one another communion, and then serve the body and blood of Christ to their closest family and friends. Standing there in the midst of that love, observing the beauty of a covenant made in love, even my tough heart almost succumbed to tears of joy.

It wasn't the only time of the weekend when I nearly cried, but the other times had less to do with beauty and more to do with the absolute hilarity that ensues when my friends get together. The wedding brought together almost all of my closest friends from seminary, and we lived up every minute together. We talked, joked, and laughed until our abdominal muscles were sore and tears streamed down our faces. It reminded me, yet again, that I have been incredibly blessed to have been brought together with these people. Who else could give a toast that was so laden with double-entendres that the groom laughed himself to tears? Who else could make spending six hours in an airport into a thoroughly enjoyable experience? Who else could make someplace as strange as the "Heart of Texas Motel" seem like home? I love these people.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Prepared for Class

When I was in high school, the teachers made a big deal about being "prepared for class." They insisted that this was a life skill that we needed to work on, something that, if we didn't do it, would have fatal consequences. Today, I proved them wrong. I forgot both my cell phone and my calendar when leaving for the office. But, even without my to do list, my phone numbers, and my GPS, I managed to have a productive day. Of course, it was incredibly inconvenient. But I proved my teachers' dire warnings wrong. That brings me to a new challenge: disproving all of those very serious warnings my teachers insisted upon. Which of my teachers' dire warnings should I try to disprove next?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

First Sunday

Today was my first Sunday as a provisional elder. I arrived at the church early and, with the help of my lead pastor and the sound guy, got all wired and robed up in time for our early service. During the service, the congregation welcomed me through the liturgy for the celebration of an appointment, and I had the opportunity to lead the people in prayer and help preside over communion. I even got to do the epiclesis and fraction during the communion liturgy, which was both powerful and humbling. After the first service I met what felt like hundreds of people and talked with them over a reception. Then, with fewer nerves the second time around, I served in the 11:00 service as well.

My new church gives a very good first impression. So far, they seem very friendly and kind. Nearly everyone I met greeted me with a smile, a kind word, or an offer of help, should I need it. And most of them seemed to realize that, as hard as I might try, there was no way I would be able to remember all of their names.

A few observations:

I never know quite what to do with handshakes. There are people who hang onto your hand for a full minute or two, throughout the time you're talking with them. There are those who, after grasping your hand for barely a second, drop it immediately, as though you have cooties. You seem creepy if you hang onto the hand of a grab-and-drop person longer than they hold onto yours, but you also seem cold and antisocial if you try to let go of the hands of the hang-on-forever people. But at least at my new church, no one gave me the dead fish handshake!

The church also has the sort of headset mikes that remind me of Britney Spears. The problem with this, though, is that I have small and slightly misshapen ears, so the headset doesn't stay on quite right. I've bent the earpiece in a very strange manner, and it still wobbles in a disconcerting way. I was nervous the whole morning that my headset would fall off and make loud screeching noises out of all of the speakers.

I need to get my robe hemmed. Soon. I stepped on the edge of my robe twice today, and I was just lucky that it didn't happen while I was carrying the elements up and down the stairs from the altar table. I'd had nightmares all yesterday that I might trip on the hem of my robe and fall down, or knock the communion elements off the table accidentally. On the upside, with those alternatives in mind, the worship seemed much better by comparison!