We never intended to do a "grand tour" as part of this sabbatical. I mean, we have two small children and we are not insane. In the planning process, we kept saying, "next time, without the kids." Nevetheless, in the latter part of our time abroad, the numbers speak for themselves:
Eight countries (if you coun the 10 minutes on the train through Austria)
Since we left Freiburg, we have bee on
Eighteen streetcars or subways
Eight private car rides (mostly from our relatives)
Eight boats (water taxis, ferries, and one big cruise ship)
Three bike rentals
One bicycle taxi
and two airplanes
We are tired, grimy, a little tired of each other, and in desperate need of haircuts. Our house is cluttered, the mail will take weeks to read, and the weeds have applied for permanent residency.
I'm still reflecting on the orgy of words and thoughts from the Festival of Faith and Writing. I always come away from this event determined to read more and to write more, but it was wonderful to hear Katherine Paterson's closing charge on Saturday night: go play. Good advice for sabbatical, though illness this week -- our child's and our babysitter's -- has made some of those plans a little harder to carry out.
It's always fascinating how the in-person voices and egos of these writers compare with their writing. Generally speaking, it seems that the best writers (not necessarily the most successful) are the most likable and consistent with what you read on the page. I'm also drawn to the older ones, like Katherin Paterson, because in general they seem to have gotten over themselves. There's also, I have to say, a preponderance of Anglicans and Roman Catholics among these writers. Not so many Lutherans.
Yann Martel was the most memorable in speaking about claiming faith in a secular world -- humble, smart and activist in his own way. He has started a "book club of two" with the Conservative Prime Minister of Canada. Every two weeks he sends the PM a classic work with an explanation of why it is important. His argument: if we have the right to ask our leaders about their taxes and finances, we have the right to know what is informing their imaginations. Check it out here. (That's Stephen Harper in the photo, not Yann Martel).
I'm having a lovely time in Grand Rapids at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Great talks from Mary Gordon, Michael Chabon, Mary Karr, Franz Wright, Jon Muth. . .oh, my goodness, so much. It's like trying to get a drink from a fire hydrant.
One odd thing, perhaps a sign of how I should approach the sabbatical. . .
My cell phone -- newly replaced after Johann's attempted swim last week -- was working fine at home. Here, I can call, the call goes through, and I can hear my friends and loved ones on the other line just fine. But they can't hear me. Will just gives the report from home, and I have to hang up. My friends here at the conference tell me where to go to meet them. But I can't reply.
So maybe that's the point, for these first few days, at least: shut up. Just receive.
There has been much rich conversation today about upcoming sabbaticals, sabbath, and pastoral ministry. My favorite definition so far, from David Wood, one of our co-facilitators: " A sabbatical is a time when all that has been 'background' to your ministry -- your own spiritual life, your family, the origins of your call, your passions -- is given time to be foreground, while the foreground of ministry -- the tasks of preaching and pastoral care and administration -- drop away for a time." Exactly.
On another, crankier note, I was reminded again how little we know about doing ministry in the era of co-parenting and new gender roles. Eugene Peterson is often held up as a model for how one can be in parish ministry while still doing serious reading and writing. Here's a man who served a congregation for 28 years, with only one sabbatical in the midst of it, and still wrote countless books. His secrets? Well, he clearly had a strong vision of the ministry of the laity and handed over many tasks to his members. But there's another thing -- he has a wife, one who clearly was happy to take the traditional role of pastor's wife and see that as a calling.
Well, I don't have a wife. I have an active father to my children, but definitely no wife, and not one eager to be an upfront pastor's spouse either (not that anyone at my congregation expects that of him). It's really hard for me not to be resentful of the many men in generations past -- and quite a few still today -- whose careers benefit from the fact that their spouses have willingly picked up the slack.
I have to constantly remind myself that our mission is together as a family, even though our work worlds tend to pit our careers against one another. Fortunately for Will and me, our passions and commitments are blessedly compatible, even when the reality of modern life makes us feel like we're competing for time.
Great news! I just got word that the Louisville Institute will award me a sabbatical grant for 2008!! My intent is to spend three months 1) away from the parish 2)with my family 3)out of the country and 4) thinking and writing about sustainability. Lots of logistics still to be worked out, but it's so exciting to have the options that some funding provides!!
In the wake of car accident chaos this weekend, I attended a nice little writers' conference at Luther College called Called to Create. It was wonderful primarily because I didn't have to feed, clothe, buckle, or carry anyone else for 24 hours, and I got to spend some time with another pastor-mother-friend.
What to say about it?:
It was, unfortunately, little. The auditorium felt pretty empty, and I met with two students from my congregation for lunch, and they had no idea this event was happening on campus. This would never happen at Calvin's Festival of Faith and Writing.
Gracia Grindal, quoting "a colleague" (she didn't say who), about the
Lutheran tendency to preach "justification by coma." Ouch. But so true.
Gracia commented that perhaps Lutherans have few famous authors in English because, well, as a group we haven't been speaking English that long. It takes a few generations for a mastery of the language to take hold. This seems counterintuitive when you consider how English is the ONLY language for many Lutheran Americans now, but I think she may be on to something. It reminds me of a Stanford professor who likes to poll her English classes about how far back the language has been spoken in the family. Generally speaking, the African-Americans in the class have the longest history of native speakers.
I picked up a lovely collection by Jill Palez-Baugartner, which includes a series of poems based on the Lutheran funeral liturgy. It's found in My Father's Bones.
I had the very odd experience of hearing someone whom I don't know say my name, and Minneapolis, and church, and something else. . . I didn't know the person, they weren't talking to me, and, well, maybe they weren't talking about me, so I wasn't going to interrupt or eavesdrop at length. Needless to say, my ears were burning. If someone reading this blog happens to be that woman, hey, say hello! Who are you?
I'm having a wonderful week with poets, fiction writers and other nonfiction folk in Collegeville. The workshops have been enriching and the writing time mostly productive. An introvert's dream.
I was mining past blogs for some essay ideas and discovered I've had a blogaversary!! Two years at this odd practice of journaling online! Thanks for reading! I'll be back to more unedited drivel on a regular basis when I return to normal life.
Sorry for the long silence. I've been busy managing the house while Will has been traveling and the church while my colleague is in Tanzania. I'll get my turn away next week at the Collegeville Institute's writing workshop "Writing is Believing."
I've also been enjoying our wonderful CSA produce and reading about the bounties of the earth in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Kingsolver's depiction of how her family decided to eat wholly local for a year is seductive.I'm jealous not only of their gardens but of the cooperative nature of the family project that led to the book. I would love for our family to be able to experiment together in such a way. . .maybe once they're all potty-trained.
I also love her mini-rant about the culture of manners in our society: it's of course unacceptable to steal or to chew with your mouth open, but if you suggest out loud that someone's choices might be stealing from future generations, that say, your neighbor's Hummer might be a vulgar use of energy that others will pay for later in carbon emissions, you're being horribly PC. Will and I struggle mightily with instilling our children with our values without having them catch the not-so-Christian disdain we have for those who live -- in our oh-so-perfect judgment -- wastefully.
Alban Institute just published an article -- OK, a rant -- I wrote about PowerPoint and its abuses. It's in the latest issue of Congregations, which you can't find on the newsstand and is not (at least my article is not) online either. But you can read it if you come to ECLC and look at the bulletin board some time in the next week. (I know, really helpful).
I probably can't quote myself without running into copyright issues, but the gist of it is that I hate it when pastors try to be hip by using PowerPoint, badly. I witnessed a wonderful PowerPoint presentation on Friday night at a benefit dinner, but it was wonderful because of the speaker's enthusiasm, his comfort with the medium, AND the fact that his material really demanded visual display of data. The picture was worth a lot of words, but they did not replace his words, which were inspiring on their own. Given the learning curve of really overhauling your speaking style (not to mention your congregation's expectations), however, I don't think that adding PowerPoint to a sermon is an effort worth most preachers' time.
A few weeks ago I wrote in Journey with Jesus about "the Dial and the Switch," and there certainly has been a "switch" in the amount of media attention to climate change in recent months. This is either
a. Good, because it is finally a mainstream issue
b. Bad, because more evidence of climate change means it really is happening, and faster than we expected
I'm going for c, but I am VERY encouraged by the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday which affirms the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases. YES!! It was a 5-4 split, so I'm praying for Ruth Bader Ginsberg's health a lot these days.
What continues to baffle me are those who say, "yes, there is climate change, but it's not human-caused." If you accept the science that we have a warming globe -- and only the fringe does not --, regardless of the cause, would you not want to ameliorate its affects anyway? Or are the naysayers so fatalist that they are content to let whoever suffers suffer, no questions asked? Here is where the role of the U.S. Christian community becomes vital, I think, because as Americans we both contribute more carbon to the environment than most, AND we are in the best position to save ourselves. It will take a firm commitment from those who believe we should serve the "least of these" to turn this around so that the global impact of climate change is addressed.