Not that I'm whining, but. . . I returned to work last Wednesday, and literally the first phone call was from a family whose father had died the night before. My week went like this: Wednesday night, confirmation class followed by a confirmation interivew. Thursday: a hospital visit to the widow of the deceased, funeral planning, and, oh, a council meeting. Friday night: a wedding in which the Best Man was the father of the groom, who is suffering from brain cancer. Saturday: preaching at said funeral, a large one. Sunday: Reformation, confirmation, and a farewell to our Minister of Music, who lost her 2-year-old son last December. And overshadowing it all the news that a fellow pastor's 24-year-old daughter (as well as a student of and babysitter for a member of our congregation) was murdered on Friday. On the one hand, the pain of the world is precisely why I am in ministry. Trying to speak the gospel into these situations is draining but somehow life-giving too, for me. On the other hand, switching gears to the mundane management of the church, which just keeps on going in the midst of all these life events, wears me out.
I've been fortunate, in my ministry, to be at churches where the worship wars have rarely been more than scuffles. Yes, there is the usual amount of muttering, griping and fretting when people feel that a particular service did not meet their expectations, hopes, or musical tastes, and yes, there have been small but vocal minorities that regularly let me know that they do not like the general direction of worship and music leadership (and, sometimes, I have agreed with them), but "war" is never the word I would use.
But the worship wars will always find you, and now they have found us at our family table.
My oldest has always resisted bedtime prayers, for no reason I've ever been able to discern, but table prayers have been part of our life from early on. It started with "Hands, Hands, Hands," the sung grace we adopted from our Montana cousins. Katie would insist on it even if Will or I wanted a spoken prayer or another song as well. When Johann came along, he developed a liking for "Day" (This is the Day the Lord has Made), and so we became a two-grace family, every meal.
Now, however, things have gotten contentious in almost all matters of sibling life, and in this one as well. Now Johann insists on a "payer" -- meaning a spoken prayer. Katie still wants a song, and if we do one song, then one child will insist on the other song. We tried the "you each get to pick one grace" method, but now the order in which we do them leads to yelling. All of this during the witching hour when everyone is hungry and tired anyway. Grace has led to time-outs twice in the past week, which seems particularly contrary to the point. The family that prays together. . .
Someone is praying hard during these worship wars, and it isn't the kids.
I'm taking 10 days off of work for a family wedding, some medical stuff, and some family vacation just being away. But we're also spending part of it at home to get a normal night's sleep or two, laundry, etc.
We've always said we want to take vacation at home, which with small children makes a ton of sense: familiar beds and routines, a big supply of clean clothes, and no need to have EVERY meal in a public place where you worry about disturbing everyone in the restaurant/ house you're staying in. I won't say which days we are home, but here's what I've learned so far:
1. Cancel the mail for the whole time 2. Tell no one you may be home even part of the time. 3. Leave open the option of sending the kids to child care/ school, for your own peace of mind. 4. Skip the extracurriculars. 5. Put on the "out of office" assistant. 6. Don't look at work related email, period. If you can't stand to see a header and not read it, don't check it. 7. Bring out an early birthday present or two for the kids just to keep things fun and interesting. 8. Cancel the newspaper. 9. Avert your eyes from the piles of laundry, correspondence, recycling, work-related reading, etc. etc. etc.
And finally, if you cannot do #9 without setting to "work" at home, get the heck out of town.
If you're not in the habit of reading comments, you may have missed the link below to my friend Susan's article on forgiveness and our culture's reaction to the Amish school shooting. But do read it. It's a challenge to me and my liberal congregation that is so so good at "admiring" the Amish and others who actually live out Christ's command to forgive our enemies. Thanks Susan!
Thanks to Dan Clenendin at Journey with Jesus for the tip about Sara Miles' Take This Bread: a Radical Conversion. It's a really fabulous memoir from a member of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal parish in San Francisco. I've long admired the church's liturgy, but Miles' memoir tells both a compelling personal story and an insightful view of the underside of this parish (and, by extension, of every church made up of real people). My favorite quote so far:
You can't be a Christian by yourself was a lesson I thought I'd grapsed when I first started serving communion at St. Gregory's. . . Offering groceries to all comers around the altar, I would idscover how painfully like church the food pantry really was: how it asked me to leave the certainties of the past behind, tangled me up with people I didn't particularly want to know, and frightened me with its demand for more than I was ready to give.
My dear husband, whose other addiction (besides West Wing) is a handful of wonky blogs, pointed me to this lovely commentary on the subprime loan crisis, as seen in the gospel of Luke's Parable of the Unjust Steward.
Sometimes we expect Jesus to be all about the foolishness of the gospel, but at least in this parable, as the commentator points out, he seems to be displaying some good old-fashioned wisdom of the worldly kind -- namely that sometimes you only get a good bottom line by putting people before the bottom line.
I wonder what Robert Reich would do with this. His recent book Supercapitalism is making a point that preahcers have been saying for some time now: that when economic factors become the only way a society measures what is good, and when people are encouraged only to behave as consumers, we get a pretty wretched society as a result.