Sunday, March 26, 2006

Not always wound this tight

Today my partner in ministry and I both gave sermons on the movie "School of Rock." No, I'm not kidding. We raffled a sermon topic and the youth group won. We were counting our blessings that we didn't have to do the TV show "Family Guy" or Kanye West. He delivered a message on cooperation, and I worked in something on risk. Considering all we both wanted to talk about what a putz Jack Black's character was, we considered the morning a success.

One of the lines from "School of Rock" that stuck with me was delivered by Joan Cusack who played the principal: "I wasn't always wound this tight!" she sputters when defending her lack of cool cred. I am with you, sister.

For me the spindle started a-spinnin' when I ministered my first church at 27. There are people who could ease right into that. I am not one of those people. I wound even tighter as a hospice chaplain. Death is not soothing on a daily basis. When I became a parent, look out. And now that I am a parent of two, a minister, a member of a state regulatory board... sometimes I don't even want to be in the same room with myself for fear that at any minute I'm going to rupture something.

I shared a bit of this "wound too tight" sensation in the sermon. I was amazed at the people who confided afterward that they were wound too tight for their own good, as well. They were mostly the cool cucumber crowd in my book.

This, of course, leads me to some troubling questions: 1. If those who appear calm are feeling wound up, is anyone calm?
2. If people I admire for their calm are all also wound up, does that mean my goals are at odds with my natural affinities?
and most troubling of all... 3. Should a person who spends a week pondering the personal implications of a movie like "School of Rock" be allowed in a pulpit, on a blog, or in any public sphere other than a poorly attended karaoke night?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Magic Etch A Sketch

My partner in ministry, Morris, and I were playing with my son's Etch A Sketch yesterday when...
What? What did you think we did all day? Pray? Write letters to the editor? Gamble?

Anyway, we were playing with the Etch A Sketch when I tried to rope him into a little friendly competition. I said, "Map of the United States" and passed him my squiggles.

He looked without comment, erased, and drew something of his own. My son erased it before I could check it out. (My son attends all high level clergy summits such as this.) I tried again with "Mount Rushmore" and passed it back.

Morris despaired, "Why is it that your lines are all curvy and mine are all straight?" We both laughed and he said, "Hey, is this thing some kind of personality test?!"

Morris and I get a lot of mileage out of pretending that we're opposites. It works for humor purposes. Whether Laurel and Hardy, Lucy and Ricky, or Seinfeld and Kramer, we've found that memorable duos are opposites. The Etch A Sketch confirms the appearance of our differences.

The deeper truth is that we are incredibly compatible on a variety of levels. We like a lot of the same foods, laugh at the same jokes, are puzzled by the same conundrums, and we often find ourselves responding to each other with,"I was thinking the same thing."

For humor's sake and for the sake of shared sermons Morris and I will continue to play up our differences, but as the Hardy/Lucy/Kramer half of this duo I want it on record: we BOTH play with the Etch A Sketch.

Flashbacks for Peace

Is there such thing as a Peace Rally flashback? I hope so, because I had one today. I was at a rally for peace on the third anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. There were many reasons for flashbacks at this event. (My husband served in the first Iraq war. I spoke at last year's event, as well. I've been to more than my share of pubic gatherings in the last few months.) I wasn't having any, though, until I bent over to straighten my sock. In that awkward position my eye level was just about right for a five year old. And that's when I flashed back.

When I was a child, my mother was a student at VCU and she frequently took me along to events. I remember the look of the Commonwealth Times' office in 1975. (I even had my own desk.) I've been hanging out in the VCU main library since before I could talk. And I've been protesting, celebrating, consciousness raising, and dancing in Monroe Park since the last time bellbottoms were in. Hence the flashback. Today's rally was in Monroe Park and when I changed my perspective to straighten my sock, I was back in the mid-seventies.

Unfortunately for me, the flashback was better than the present. I remembered more people, more music, brighter colors, and good food. Today was bleak in comparison. Nevertheless, I wish I'd brought my son. At 3 and 1/2, now is prime memory making for him. Maybe thirty years from now, when celebrating a generation of peace, he would lean down to scratch his toe and remember a younger version of me praying for peace. At the very least, his commentary is always a pleasure. ("Mama, how did he get that hoop through his lip?" "Mama, is there candy at this party?" "Mama, can I pick my nose here?") Now I know why my mama brought me along.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Ode to Tending Bar

Sometimes I miss being a bartender. I spent more years waitressing than tending bar, but it's the glass stacking, last call chiming, weird concoction brewing, story listening and telling life of the bartender that I miss. When I worked the bar in seminary I used to quip that my work hours should count as a pastoral internship. Bartender, minister, there are many obvious similarities, but there are so many benefits to tending bar that you don't know until you've done it, and missed it once you retire the shaker and winekey.

I recently read The Tender Bar by J.R. Mohringer which is one of the reasons I've been missing my apron and second hand smoke. The characters of that memoir's bar, Publicans, exist in recognizable form in the bars I worked in, and most of the restaurants, too. Mohringer is so talented at evoking the bar feel that I woke up one morning after an extended read and thought I had a hangover. (Turned out to be a sinus headache from my mold allergy, but he had me going there for a good five minutes.)

I've seen, known, been related to, and served enough alcoholics in my time to not feel completely romantic in my barroom memories. Most of the clientele have morally questionable reasons for being in attendance on any given night. So what do I miss about it? The family-type relationships that develop, without the family responsibility; the amazing uncensored stories of patrons' lives (people edit heavily when talking to the preacher, but not the bartender); and, most of all, I miss the laughter. If you take yourself too seriously in a bar, you're likely to get bounced (another job I had that I don't miss.) A good bar, a tender bar brings out the absurdity in life, calms you down, and sends you back into the world a little lighter, even when you've had nothing to drink but seltzer all night. We could use a lot more of that feel in all our gathering houses.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Cheese Souffle Epiphanies

Observation of Lent was not a ritual of my childhood. I was fully aware of it, but not from friends who gave up chocolate or from formal religious instruction. I knew about Lent from Elizabeth, a theosophist cum Unitarian lady my mama drove to church for years. Elizabeth didn't observe Lent either. Elizabeth was a vegetarian since the 1920's and she celebrated anyone or anywhere that she could get vegetarian fare. In 1980's Richmond, Virginia during Lent that meant St. Paul's Lenten lectures and luncheons on cheese souffle day. Elizabeth at some point expressed positive feelings for that cheese souffle and, since it was rare for Elizabeth to voice positive feelings about much of anything, my mama took note.

In honor of Elizabeth, my loving and thoughtful mother would make cheese souffle for special occasions. Mama shudders at those homemade versions of the St. Paul's classic, but I have only the fondest of memories of the warm and gooey comfort food. When I began seminary, I started attending St. Paul's Lenten series myself. I'd like to say I had purely theological and spiritual reasons, but I always found ways to be there on cheese souffle Wednesday. Like Hanukkah and latkes, or Christmas and wassail, in my mind Lent is forever flavored with milk fat.

This year is my eleventh Lent with St. Paul's. Some years I am only able to make two or three lectures. One year I made it to eleven, four of which were on cheese souffle day. Sometimes the St. Paul's sermons are the only ones I hear all year. (Other than the sound of my own voice.)

Every Lent I think about Elizabeth: theosophist, vegetarian, curmudgeon, and one of the Richmonders least likely to be found in St. Paul's any other time of the year. I also salute my mother who gave so much of her time and energy in an effort to make Elizabeth's life more comfortable, with very little thanks. I'm not sure that is the intended message of Lent, but it comes to me year after year as my Lenten tradition. Here's to the power of cheese souffle.