Sunday, March 28, 2010

Constructive Play, or Why I Like Holy Week

This is my first Holy Week as a pastor and, to be honest, I'm probably inappropriately excited about it. Holy Week is something to be "observed", not really "celebrated", at least not until Easter Sunday. It's about penitence and suffering and being aware of Christ's actions for us. For pastors, it's probably the busiest week of the year. For, while Advent and the Christmas services are big and involved, it doesn't involve the sheer number of services that Holy Week does. And yet, despite the stress and the general tenor of the season, I'm excited.

You see, Holy Week gives an opportunity for creating lots of creative liturgy. While most other major observances in the church calendar have a relatively set structure, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services can be done in lots of different ways. In fact, it's very much encouraged to look for creative ways of bringing the meaning of the passion narrative to life for people living two thousand years later. We can do powerful things that engage multiple senses, we can write prayers and litanies that capture the season in fascinating ways... the possibilities are nearly endless. It gives me a chance to be creative.

When I was growing up, I thought that I was the most uncreative child ever. I was always the kid who couldn't really draw or create anything new in art class, who would simply re-create the teacher's example or the ideas of the people sitting around me. I could never come up with brilliant ideas for class presentations or writing prompts. Instead, I was the kid who would think about the practical ways of carrying out other people's brilliant, original ideas.

But when in college and seminary I started putting things together to plan worship, something clicked. All of a sudden, I had ideas; I was no longer utterly bereft of creativity! When the professor teaching my Writing Liturgical Texts class invited us to write collects, I fell in love with shaping words for prayer. I had always loved writing, but had struggled with subject matter and structure--liturgy provided both. And when my worship class and practicum class gave me the opportunity to design worship services, I fell in love. Getting to weave themes through the parts of worship and selecting elements of worship to further the themes and help people find meaning in the stories and ideas became a beloved challenge.

For me, it's like Spirit-guided playtime. I love to think about and play with words and images. I really enjoy trying to find new ways to help people engage with the sacred stories that make the ancient come to life for us living today. It's drama and poetry and tradition and theology, all blended together. I adore it.

Holy Week, and the preparations for it, allow even more of this playtime than usual. We get to wade into these rich texts and the wealth of the theological tradition that surrounds them. We get to tell the stories in powerful ways. We used drama and participating for our Palm Sunday worship services today. On Thursday we're bringing in the contemplative tradition of Taize. On Friday we're combining technology and the Catholic tradition of the veneration of the cross to bring the passion narrative into stark relief. Our Easter Vigil on Friday will involve some drama, some participation, and a lot of elements from Catholic tradition, woven together with the hope of making high church traditions more approachable. And I'm excited for this. I feel honored to get to be a part of this, and I have loved getting to work in the creative, collaborative process with the other members of our worship teams.

When I started as a pastor and began working on worship planning, I knew it would be a lot of work. But I didn't realize how much fun it would be. I hope that this planning will continue to remind me that this is what I'm called to do.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Self-Care with Charlie

Six weeks ago, I got a puppy. There were lots of reasons for this decision, but one of the many motivations for getting this new roommate was to help with self-care. I figured it would force me to come home on time, to get more exercise as I walked the dog multiple times per day, and give me a good reason to enforce better time boundaries in my life. So far, all of those things have been true. I've been able to spend more time at home and I've actually lost weight from eating more home-cooked meals and getting more regular exercise. But there have been some unexpected self-care lessons, too.

Charlie reminds me of the importance of stopping to sniff things. Charlie doesn't just stop to smell good things, he stops to smell grass, pine branches, and even other dogs' poop. His sniffing is an investigation: he's gathering data about the world and those who have gone before him. It often helps me, too, to stop and investigate things further before acting. Charlie reminds me that it helps if I stop for a few minutes and investigate people's motivations and the potential consequences before moving on.

Watching Charlie also reminds me that it's not healthy to keep obsessively chewing things that are bad for you. On our walks, Charlie likes to pick up bits of mulch, dried worms, litter--anything that he can find and fit in his mouth, really--and chew on them obsessively until I take them away from him. I tend to do the same sort of thing with ugly situations in my life. If something has hurt or angered me, or if there's a challenge that I can't seem to overcome, I'll turn it over and over in my mind, mentally chewing on it. It never helps the situation, and it's bad for me, just like that chewing is bad for Charlie. Plus, if he eats too many of those things it makes him sick. Likewise, if I obsess about stuff like that too much, I just upset myself. Each time I pull Charlie away from a worm or dig a piece of mulch out of his mouth, I try to remember that I need to let things that aren't good for me go, too.

When he's tired, Charlie just flops on the floor and goes to sleep. He plays hard, runs around and has a great time, but when he's worn out, he lets himself rest. This is an example I should seek to follow, I think. I could definitely take a napping lesson from the puppy.

Friday, March 19, 2010

She's Out of Your League

This evening, instead of writing the two sermons I need to finish by Sunday, I went to the movies with a couple of friends. We didn't really know what to see, but we were looking for something funny and stumbled upon "She's Out of Your League." It's not great cinema by any stretch of the imagination. The acting is mediocre, the humor is shallow and sophomoric, and it's a predictable plotline. But I think that this movie, more than most I've seen lately, has an important message for guys of my generation: GO FOR IT.

The main character in the movie, Kirk, is a self-proclaimed loser. He's an average guy, not particularly attractive, lacking in education, and stuck in a dead-end job. He meets a beautiful, successful woman who is, apparently for no good reason, interested in him. He goes out with her several times and they both seem very interested in each other, but he keeps coming back to his friends and wondering why she'd ever like him. He has no confidence in himself.

I'm not sure if it's just the men I meet, or if this really is as widespread as it seems, but a lot of the guys I run into need some lessons in confidence and assertiveness. I see guys across crowded coffee shops and bars and I can tell by their eye contact, facial expressions, and body language that they're interested in me, but despite encouraging glances and signals, they don't have the guts to come over and strike up a conversation. I have male friends who don't have the guts to make moves on girls they really like. And it makes me wonder: is there something in the way these guys are socialized, in their upbringing or experience that makes them such chickens? Why is it that seemingly decent guys, men who are intelligent and reasonably attractive, are so convinced that they have nothing to offer that they refuse to even risk starting a conversation with a stranger? Is the fear of rejection so petrifying that their feet turn to stone and can't carry them across the room?

I have asked guys out before. I have made the first move. But the thing is, I'm tired of doing it. All day long I'm in charge of things. I have to be assertive and decisive, I have to face people and risk rejection, I have to be in charge. At the end of the day, I'm tired of it. I would like to meet a guy who doesn't force me to make all the moves and decisions. I would like to meet a guy who can start a conversation, express romantic interest, and even go in for a kiss without obvious prompting from me. Why, I ask, is that so hard to find?

Or is it that all of the guys who have confidence and assertiveness have already made their moves successfully and gotten married? Most of my male friends who are my age and married seem to have plenty of confidence and assertiveness. So, are all the guys who are still single in their late twenties either those who haven't had the guts to make moves earlier or those who made moves and are such jerks that their moves were rejected over time?

I wonder if young men struggle as much with confidence and body image as young women, but it's not talked about as much. There's lots of literature about adolescent girls and self-image issues. I wonder if guys have the same problems, but we don't have studies identifying it or language for articulating it. Is it that these issues go untreated because they are unknown, so twenty-something and thirty-something guys are still struggling with them? Or is assertiveness just a dying trait in the male species? There is a sociological study here, I think, but I don't have the time or resources to dig into it.

Since I can't do an official study, I'll try something else. Men: I challenge you. Go start a conversation with someone you don't know. If you're single, try asking out someone you just met. If the girl says yes, bully for you! If she says no, she'll probably have more respect for you because you at least had the courage to try. Either way, I don't think it will be as bad as you fear.