Thursday, January 31, 2013

Getting Causey

"You just sound cute when you get causey." - Adam's Rib

From time to time, I get a bee in my bonnet about a political issue. I have been known to sign petitions, write to my congressional representatives, and even call my state representatives. Often, my feelings on these issues arise from my faith.

This morning my fiance called to remind me that the vote about Uranium mining is coming up in a committee in the Virginia Senate. So I looked up my Senator's contact information and dialed his phone number. I was ready to give him a piece of my mind. I planned to say something like this:

I am a clergyperson from your district, and I ardently oppose lifting the ban on Uranium mining. I believe that God created the world and gave us the responsibility of caring for it. Mining uranium would be exploiting the gift of creation in a destructive and dangerous way. It would harm God's creation irreparably. In addition, Uranium mining cannot be done safely in an area with the sort of humidity we have in Virginia. It would be dangerous not only to those who work in the mining industry, but also for nearby residents. It could harm innocent people. We already have enough uranium for this nation's use for many years to come, so lifting the ban is not about balancing needs versus risks, it is about profit, pure and simple. No amount of money is worth endangering this number of people or risking this sort of catastrophic damage to God's creation.

Moreover, United Methodists from across the Commonwealth oppose Uranium mining. We passed a resolution at our Annual Conference in June to continue our opposition of this hazardous practice. So, as a citizen, as a representative of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, and as a person of faith, I ask you to oppose this bill.

After just one ring, an aid answered my call. She took down my contact information, then asked what I wished to say to the Senator. I said, "I want to tell him to oppose the Senate Bill on Uranium mining."

She replied, "You know that's his bill. Senator Watkins wrote and sponsored the bill."

Suddenly the synapses fired the connection in my brain: the Watkins Bill. Senator John Watkins. Oops.

I replied, "I still think it's a terrible idea."

The aid said, "I'll let him know. Thanks for calling."

I didn't get into my big speech. Frankly, I don't think it would have done much good. A Senator can't very well go around sponsoring bills and then opposing them. I suspect that the aid I spoke with will have a lovely time laughing about my call with her coworkers. I suspect my actions will have no impact on the vote at all.

Still, I feel good about calling. I am pleased that I could put together a theological and political argument on an issue. I'm proud that my Annual Conference has taken a stand on the issue. And I'm hoping that today, the committee will, as expected, vote down the bill, continuing the ban and protecting our region and its people.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Growling at my NewsFeed

My dog is a chicken. He's scared of loud noises and engines. Even though he's huge, he allows uppity Jack Russell Terriers to boss him around. He's been smacked on the nose by cats on a number of occasions, and responded simply by looking surprised and whimpering. Big and ferocious he is not.

And yet, whenever he hears a noise outside the door of our home, he growls fiercely at it. If the noise startles him, or if it lasts longer than a few seconds, he'll bark at great length, as though to scare it away. My neighbors have been moving today, and all afternoon he's been growling at their voices and footsteps outside the door. This is all despite the fact that he really likes them and, when we encounter them on the sidewalk, he goes straight up to them to have his ears scratched. But when he's inside his own home, he gets all grumpy.

I realized today that I do the same thing.

As a twenty-something person who was in college when Facebook was first created, I'm an avid social media user. I'm on Facebook every day, both for work and to maintain connections with personal friends. I am "friends" (in the loosest possible definition of the term--Facebook friends) with people from high school, college, grad school, different places I've worked...probably every chapter of my life. And usually I enjoy being able to keep up with folks I've known. I like to note the big occurrences in their lives, send a note to them or a prayer up about them every now and then.

But I also spend a lot of time growling at them. Facebook is the home of cute animal pictures, interesting articles, and personal posts, but it's also a place where political vitriol and religious rants flow unchecked. Memes come through my newsfeed that make my blood boil. And then I growl at my laptop, muttering, "How could they believe something that STUPID?! Have they been brainwashed? That's so OFFENSIVE!" Occasionally I will rant about these things to my fiance or my friends, but mostly I just let them simmer; they nag at the edge of my consciousness and cause me to lose faith in humanity. After all, these are mostly people I respect, people I've engaged with, people I can't dismiss that easily.

I usually type out a response, then delete it without posting; I don't want to get into a fight on Facebook. It isn't worth it. So, like Charlie, I growl from behind the doors of my home, but I don't engage.

In the interest of restoring my sanity, though, I'm rethinking that strategy. There's no point to letting my blood pressure tick up because someone I used to talk to ten years ago made an offensive statement or said something with which I vehemently disagree. So, I'm instituting some measures of control.

If someone says something on Facebook that drives me crazy, I think about who the person is and how important they are to my current life. If it's someone I haven't talked to in a while, someone I wasn't all that close to in the first place, I've started unfriending them. Frankly, I haven't been talking to them, and their comments are persuading me that I don't want to start now. Goodbye, person I used to know.

If it's someone I talk to regularly, I try to think about how best to manage. If it's a close friend, I'll send a private message asking about it. If it's a church member or an acquaintance I see regularly, I go into the "friend" settings and make sure that I'm getting only the most important of their posts, in hopes that the offensive posts won't fall into the "most important" category.

But more importantly, I'm trying to think about how I live, and what that communicates to the people around me. Do the people posting the offensive items know where I stand? Have I posted things that might offend them? What example am I setting in my online and offline behavior? And how can I teach, by example, that saying such offensive things is NOT OK, whether it's in face-to-face interactions or in a Facebook post?

I mean, I enjoy a cute animal meme or a theology joke as much as anyone, but some of these posts are getting ridiculous. They require some sort of action. I either need to engage them directly, which I will with some, or I need to ignore them completely, which is the plan for the rest.

Now if only I could teach my dog to do the same...

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Big Announcement

In my last post, I told you to stay tuned, so here's the update: I'm engaged! After more than a year of dating, my wonderful boyfriend proposed on New Year's Eve. When I announced this news to my congregation, I heard repeatedly, "Engaged? I didn't even know you were dating anyone!" I admit, I rather intended that outcome; I have kept my romantic life largely quiet. But, now that the word is out, I can share the story with you:

We had our first introduction online. I was impressed that he made a reference to Pinky and the Brain. He was intrigued by my sarcasm. I never really expected it to go anywhere.

We decided to meet up at a local restaurant. It was a typically awkward first date. We started with drinks and, once I made up my mind that this wasn't the sort of disastrous first date that requires an "emergency" call from a friend to get away, we stayed for dinner and conversation. The first date became a second date, then a third. I learned, to my great joy, that he can cook. He discovered, to his chagrin, that I love football. He took my vocation in stride. I didn't panic when we accidentally bumped into his parents on our third date.    Things were going along swimmingly, so sometime in December 2011 we decided to be an official couple. (In retrospect, I probably should have recorded that date somewhere...)

We went through the usual dance of meeting one another's parents and friends. He introduced me to his grandmother. I took him to visit my home town. We danced in my kitchen and laughed over terrible jokes. We went on road trips and got lost. We discussed politics and religion. His cat tolerated my presence. My dog wagged and pawed his way into his heart.

As weeks and months passed, I came to appreciate his integrity, loyalty, and patience. I fell not only for his adorable curls and quick smile but also for his gentleness and wisdom. I found that he could challenge me one day and support me through a difficulty the next. And I started to think that I could spend my life with this man. Apparently, he felt the same way about me.

He came to pick me up for a New Year's Eve Party. When I answered his knock at the door, I found him on one knee, with a ring box in his hand and a question on his lips. I said yes. We celebrated first with a surprise dinner with my friends, then with a party with his friends. We've been giddy for weeks, sharing this news with friends and family.

In September, we will make vows and celebrate with our loved ones. And then we will start a new journey side by side. For, as Antoine St. Exupery wisely said, "Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction." 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Arrows 2012

In 2006, I began a tradition of reviewing the year with arrow ratings, based on the old Newsweek format for their commentary on current events. In late December or early January, I would go through the events of my year and give commentary on different categories. While I skipped last year in the post-ordination-papers-haze, I've decided to pick up the tradition again this year. So, here goes:

↑  Ministry - This year was filled with joy in my life as a pastor. In January, we moved our emergent service from the evening to the morning. The move was a little bumpy, but it helped the service to grow. We've seen new faces in worship and there's been a new energy in the Chapel. Then in June, after years of writing papers, going to mentoring meetings, interviewing, and reflecting theologically on all of my practice of ministry, I finally completed the provisional process. I was ordained as an elder in full connection in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was a really powerful experience, as I felt the Bishop's hands on my head as she said, "Take thou authority." I also got to celebrate the event with some of my favorite people: My family came to the service, many of my friends and church members were in attendance, a family-friend from home came to celebrate, and the pastor and his wife who first mentored me in my call to ministry were there to participate in the service. July brought an opportunity to go back to Appalachia Service Project, this time as a Group Leader for our youth group. It was so much fun to be back in my steel-toed boots, handling power tools, and working with youth. I even had the opportunity to preach a Christmas Eve worship service for the first time in my ministry! 

Travel - I didn't get to do any oversees travel this year, which is always a little disappointing. But I did get to take some marvelous trips within the U.S. I got to go to Denver for my cousin's wedding in February, and it was lovely to see family while I was there. I had a blast at the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta, enjoying the excellent preaching and having a great time with my friends. In the summer I spent a week in Colorado with my parents and some extended family members. We rode the Durango to Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad, hiked a bit in the mountains, and enjoyed time together. In the fall I got to go home for to help baptize my friend's infant son. It became difficult to get home, though, when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast and a blizzard ripped through West Virginia the same weekend. I ended up cancelling my third rescheduled flight, renting a car, and driving back to Virginia a day later than I had planned. 

↑ Friends and Family - I have been so blessed with the relationships I get to have. This year I gained three new family members: Reid, who married my cousin Angie, Matt, who married my cousin Emily, and Elisha, my first nephew. I grew even closer to my friends in Richmond through deep coffee shop conversations, lunches filled with laughter, and late nights of trivia and celebrating.

↓  Sports - The college sports world is totally in flux, with teams changing conferences in ways that make no geographical sense. Mizzou got trounced in the SEC, which was thoroughly disappointing. The Cubs were terrible, as usual, and the strike in the NHL will probably cancel the season. The only bright spot is my Denver Broncos who, under the leadership of Peyton Manning, have finished the season in the middle of a win streak and are headed for the playoffs. Still, overall, between my college and professional teams, this has not been a great year for my athletic affiliations.

Romance - Things are very, very good. Stay tuned for details!

?? 2013 - There's no way to know what this new year will bring, but I'm excited to see what will happen. I suspect that it will be a year filled with laughter and a few tears. I will get to officiate weddings for some pretty great folks, and I might even have the opportunity for some really exciting travel. I am certain that God has some exciting, powerful ministry in store for me and for the church I serve. All in all, I'm exciting to see what will happen in the next 12 months, and I hope you'll be part of the fun!