Cross Cultural Ministerium?

Usually we (or at least I) think that cross cultural experiences require a trip.  You know a destination different from your hometown.  Doesn’t have to be international.  But usually necessitates some lengthy travel experience where you leave your comfort zone and enter into another way of seeing, doing, and being.

For the last couple of months I’ve been thinking about how often I feel this way within ministry.  Specifically, within ministeriums, pastor groups, and such.  I assume those I’m with also see me as an outsider as it is regularly assumed that I am either

a. a seminarian b. an active lay person or c. a lay pastor.  or d. all of the above

Option E–Ordained Clergy–is the circle always left empty.  This experience is not unique to young women clergy.  And I for one have started to ask:  Do I really need to sport a collar at pastor meetings to show that I’m a pastor?

If you couldn’t guess, I had one of these encounters today…in the midst of an ecumenical ministerium meeting talking about young people.  Specifically, a conversation that revolved around young people’s ability to learn and share in leadership within the life of the church.  Ironic, isn’t it?  It went something like this…

One pastor:  M, is it true that young adults aren’t able to lead in the church?

some conversation

Same pastor:  So perhaps Rev. Man here and Ms. M can offer us some resources at…

Rev. Man:  Ms. M is also an ordained person

Ms. M.:  If I may, I want to point out that this conversation right here shows the problem of young people being able to lead within the church.

(I could go on with all I said but I won’t.)

And here’s the thing. I come from a denomination that prizes covenant, mutuality, relationship.  BUT that takes two people–two sides–two committed to being in dialogue.  And yes it is my responsibility to speak out and up when I see these moments of tension.  And yet I wonder–when you so regularly have to have these conversations–how much do these folks really want to be in relationship?

Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer

It always amazes me how quickly summer passes.  The days are noticeably shorter.  The marching band accompanies my yard work in the evenings.  The cicadas keep time for my morning journaling.  It’s mid-August.  And for the first summer in my remembered life I have embraced the “lazy hazy days.”  Usually a whirling-dervish of summer creation, this season’s been different.  I haven’t gotten the house projects accomplished.  My ministry didn’t take its overseas cross-cultural.  I haven’t been overly attentive to the garden or exercise or much of anything.  It’s been a season of fallowness.  Or frolic and frivolity.  I’ve jumped the waves, rolled in the sand, and developed a love for streaming Netflix…currently I’m hooked on Grey’s Anatomy  (I know I’m about 5 years behind.)

What could be more decadent than streaming a sudsy show on Netflix while curling up on the sofa with my kitties?  Maybe not much.  Over the weeks, I’ve started to wonder what is it that hooks me with this show.  Of course there’s McDreamy and McSteamy.   And there’s the love triangles, pentagons, octagons.  I think the other part is how I’m reminded of how harmful my penchant to help, fix, and save can be.  I see the soon-to-be surgeons bent on saving people.  From what?  For what?  Often these heroics lead them to make less than fantastic choices.  A false sense of security, ruthless competition, and the belief that we are islands.  Boy, do I relate.

One of songs on replay through my high school years was Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock.”  Convinced that I not only should do it alone but that I could, this was an anthem.  A mantra to sturdy myself in my quest to be strong and independent.  And I wondered why I repeatedly got pedastooled and fell down.    It took a lot of falls to finally decide it’s not always best to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back at it.  It took a lot of falls to finally grasp that perhaps I needed to stay on the ground and actually be in community with others.  And as I see Yang, Grey, Shepherd, Bailey, and the rest, I remind myself by watching them fall.  And I remind myself that we all need fallow, frolic, and frivious.

Quotations for the Week

Four hundred years ago, another well-known English guy had an opinion about being alone. John Donne. He thought we were never alone. Of course, it was fancier when he said it. “No man is an island entire unto himself.” Boil down that island talk, and he just meant that all anyone needs is someone to step in and let us know we’re not alone. And who’s to say that someone can’t have four legs. Someone to play with or run around with, or just hang out. ~Dr. Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy

I am a rock/I am an Island./A rock feels no pain/And an island never cries.

Every New beginning Comes from Some Other Beginnings End

So I borrowed the title for this post from a late 90’s hit by Semisonic.  For those who didn’t listen to 90’s pop music or who may not remember, it’s the song “Closing Time.”  Seems like an appropriate theme for this week.  And I’m not just talking about the race.  It’s true, the race is over.  And I finished in a record 34 minutes and 40 seconds.  This my friends is between a 10-11 minute mile.  And that’s including allergies and walking over the finish line.  Yep.  I had about a tenth of a mile to go.  I could see the finish line.  I could feel the phelgm in my nose and thoat.  What I couldn’t do was breath.  So I stopped running.  I walked.  The closer I got to the finish the line the more people raced passed me.  The crowd cheered and my inner demons tried to taunt me, tantilize me, and torment me.  I said, “No!”  A twofold success…training and running the race….and listening to my body at the end while telling my shoulda, woulda, coulda voice to sit down and shut up.  Truly every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.

That was Saturday.  Today is Tuesday.  And it continues to be a week of endings and beginnings.  Of course there’s the obvious ending.  Or at least closing of a chapter with world events (I’m not even going to dig into that one here)  There’s the ending of another semester, another academic year, another season.  And personaly there is another ending and beginning.  Part of it is recognizing the ending of the ordination process and the beginning of life as a Reverend.  Sounds so strange in some respects.  Me?  Me!  Me?!?  I try my best to live one day at time, put one foot in front of the other.  Some days I do this very well, most days I’m ok, and some days…not so good.  I guess what I mean by that is this whole seeing myself as a “Rev” has been an adjustment to my own preconceptions of myself and ministry.  It’s been a long road, and like the race, has taken a bit of training.  So, this new beginning comes with the end of a long journey.

Then there’s the end of a year of challenge.  That ending started a couple of months ago.  And today I’m not so much interested in going into the pain and suffering of the last year but rather acknowledging the spiritual work it takes to get to resurrection.  Like no other year I truly lived the liturgical calendar from Easter 2010 to Easter 2011.  And life events–both personal and professional–always invited me to engage.  Actively waiting, epiphanies, wilderness journeys, and yes, even resurrection.  And what I’ve realized through it all is that it is all blessing.  Now, I’m not saying I like it all.  I want to relive it all.  I would choose it all.  Or there weren’t moments of pain, injustice, and hurt.  No.  Those are all true.  What is also true is that I faced these challenges in new ways.  I allowed myself the dignity of my own feelings.  I allowed others the dignity of seeing and hearing them.  I’ve talked back and talked up in situations where I would have been silent and sat with some ideas that I would have blurted out in the past.  And in all of this something has shifted.  Something in me.  Something miraculous.  And that is the blessing.

Quotations for the Week

“Closing time…Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.”  (Semisonic)

“We were blessed by the minister  / Who practiced what he preached  / We were blessed by the poor man / Who said heaven is within reach  / We were blessed by the girl selling roses /Who Showed us how to live  /We were blessed by the neglected child /
Who knew how to forgive  / We were blessed by the battered woman / Who didn’t seek revenge / We were blessed by the warrior
Who didn’t need to win / Yes we were blessed” (Lucinda Williams)

Ophelia Resurrected

I had all intentions of blogging Tuesday on my four day trip to North Carolina, the land of sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, and Cookout milkshakes.  I even took some photos of my meals along the way and was prepared to confess that it started well (by well I mean written down and “counted” and ended in a biscuit sandwich with egg, cheese, and bologna with a side of fries and who cares.  And then my week happend.

Monday night my hard drive crashed, so Tuesday when I took my baby to the doctor, they told me, it’s gone.  Everything.  And I need to order a new hard drive.  I’m trying not to think too much about how much was on the hard drive that hasn’t been backed up on the server due to a.  my laziness, off-site work, and frustration at the complexity of getting things to the actual server and b. the fact that our back up hasn’t been backing up for quite awhile, and I haven’t pursued it.  So, needless to say, my post was delayed.  And now I can no longer write about the journey into the land of Carbohydrate Temptation.  I have to write about stuff I don’t want to look at or think about.  I need to come clean about some of my struggle with other challenges…namely disability, abuse, and death.  Talk about a serious turn for a blog that usually focuses on my weekly weigh-ins.  So, look at this as a long two paragraph disclaimer and warning.  If you don’t want to read about the previous three things–DON”T GO HERE!  Look away and come back next week.

Why these three things?  Well, I suppose the death of my hard drive, the fact that it’s Disabities Awareness Week at the school I work at, and the reality that next week is Holy Week might play into it.  And much as I like to avoid the reality of the end of Holy Week, and let me tell you, I do, this year I can’t.  Though I love Lent, the contemplation, the introspection, the journey,  I always seem to want to skip over Good Friday.  (Why we call it good still baffles me.)  Spending a whole week preparing for a day of death–and not a pretty, die in your sleep at age 80 mind you, we’re talking painful, crushing, soul-killing death–there have been years where this was too much.  I couldn’t go there because I lived there.  And that’s why I needed to write about this.  You see, there are people sitting in the pews, walking on the street, standing in the pulpit who have lived a year or a lifetime on the cross .  What are you talking about?  Year on the cross–surely no one has experienced the kind of pain of Jesus. Some might be thinking.  That’s true.  No one can experience another person’s pain exactly.  But I think the thing that makes the story of Christ so very powerful is the fact that human life is filled not only with joy, not  only with laughter, not only with mistakes, not only with betrayal, but also with suffering.  Sometimes so much so, it’s hard to bear witness.

This week has been a week of bearing witness to this kind of suffering.  Tuesday night I had long phone conversations with both my parents.  Both lamented about my niece (We’ll call her Ophelia.)  You see, we knew before Ophelia was born this past June that it wasn’t going to be easy.  She had a heart condition that was going to necessitate open heart surgey at birth, six months, and two years.  So, we prayed for a miracle, and when Ophelia arrived, she had more complications than the doctors thought.  And my sister and brother-in-law made the courageous decision to take Ophelia home and forego surgery, and we were all told Ophelia would not live past a month.  And we prayed for a miracle.  Well, we got our miracle.  Ophelia lives.  No heart surgery and no heart change, she lives.  Like Lazarus, Ophelia continues to live.  Like the Lazarus in Carrie Newcomer’s song,  the life isn’t exactly the miracle I thought.  You see, touch no longer comforts her, eating appears to give her tremendous pain and provokes horrific cries, and her body, fists, and face contort in what looks like rage.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there are also many moments of grace with Ophelia, and she is loved beyond measure by us all.  But to watch a 10 month old cry in agony day after day and be able to offer no more than a crib, well that’s hard for an auntie.  I can only imagine how hard it is for her mom and her dad.  To have spent 10 sleepless months.  That’s rough.  To have spent 1o sleepless months with no real sense of what’s next, how to proceed, or how to alleviate the situation, that my friends is suffering.  And so as we approach Good Friday, it seems it’s been a year of the cross for them.  In a house holding what many have named the miracle baby lives a family who may not see it that way.  And I can’t help but wonder what really witnessing this suffering would mean rather than trying to move Ophelia to resurrection to ease a community’s (and my own) anxiety.

And it’s not just Ophelia’s suffering that’s been on my mind.  You see yesterday was one of those days.  I couldn’t escape it.  I was also asked to share a poem at F&M’s Take Back the Night.  An evening to bear witness to the crucifixtion of persons sexually assualted.  It had been several years since I’d been to a Take Back the Night, and honestly, yesterday I wasn’t really feeling like going much less reading a poem.  These nights are long.  Painful.  Exhausting.  Telling my story hurts.  Especially looking in faces of women and men who understand me without my saying a word.  But I said yes.  And in the finding of the poem, preparing for the night, listening to the stories, sharing mine, and sitting with a young woman afterward, I realized that something miraculous has indeed happened.  You see for many, many years I tried to ignore the pain and suffering of sexual abuse.  And then for many years, I lived with the feelings, in what I think of as “years of the cross” where I lived as if I was who I was inspite of what happened.  Over the last year, I’ve started to tell people I am who I am because of what happened.  For me this is the resurrection moment.  As I read my poem last night, I realized the poem  is a eulogy to myself.  To the death of a little girl.  It is a huge loss and one that needed to be grieved and mourned.  I needed to live through my own Good Friday experience before I could ever live in the joy of Easter.

And here’s the thing about Good Friday experiences.  They suck!  There’s no glory in it.  They are painful.  They mean living through the thoughts and feelings we’re not supposed to have–you know the “my God why have you foresaken me” thoughts the “I’m pissed these people can’t even stay awake with me” feelings, the “Please take this away from me” moments.  It’s got all of those.  And getting to resurrection means naming and claiming them.  Now folks, that is hard work.  It is not for the faint of heart.  But here’s the other piece.  It’s not only hard on the person suffering.  It is also hard work for the community.  It means pat answers, spiritual platitudes, and a desire to live Holy Week like someone else’s story won’t do.  No, bearing witness to the crucifixtions in your community means living Holy Week.  It is not about shame, blame, or calling someone else a name.  It’s about having courage. To bear witness.  To stand at the foot of one another’s crosses.  To annoint one another’s wounds.  To seek our place in the story.  It is what makes us pilgrims and not tourists on life’s journey.  How else can we hope to taste resurrection if we have not had the courage to hold one another’s cups of suffering or to take a sip of our own?

Quotations for the week;

I aught to be grateful to drink from the grail / But I don’t be belong on either side of this veil.–Carrie Newcomer

I mourn for her death / because no one else will / for he left an unmarked grave and no witnesses to tell.–Megan Malick


 

Impatiens Part Deux–post Church and Ministry

A mere week ago I discovered my dying impatiens
Provided sanctuary for 3 speckled eggs
Today as the flowers whither
The nest is empty
Somehow without my even noticing
The babies have flown away–
Only some downy feathers remain.
Yesterday I met with a small committee of the UCC:
The ordaining body of my denomination
The bench mark group
The buck stops here folks
The group that many of my peers refer to as holding the hoops
Hoops
–hoops for jumping through without being scratched, touched, or changed.
How these folks seem to bounce from place to place I can’t help but ponder
I’ve never been much of a hoop jumper
Can’t seem to stomach jumping through something merely to
Appease the other
Oh no.
I actually need to engage it.
And so the ordination process goes.
Paper written.
I find myself back in the same spot
needing to justify paradox.
Well that’s a paradox itself, isn’t it?
How does one justify this deep, intrinsic knowing of God—or what I call God—a presence I’ve known since before I can remember time?
(hush)
After all I was one of those strange children that walked out in the woods of her parents’ yard
and actually had butterflies land on her.
I talked to trees
And babbled at brooks
somehow I knewwhat presents would appear under the Christmas tree
Or could sense when death waited to capture someone that I loved.
These encounters I kept hidden
Locked away
In my treasure chest
Secret knowings
Knowing that I knew
But not knowing how
Or why.
You say I have a
Contradiction.
A tension
between
Seeker and sureness
Perhaps it’s rather
Contingency vs. Constant.
(Don’t we all?  Or don’t many?)
I wonder at how I know
But I do,
And yet I don’t.
Not the tangibles
The here
The now
The how.
It’s a deeper knowing.
A knowing of encountering the Mystery
Of feeling Its presence
this peace deep inside
Like Peter on the boat who forgets that Christ is there
I have been Peter
Forgetting the Presence is there the whole time
It is not the Presence that changes
Rather it is me.
And who am I to think that I could ever really capture
Describe or control It?
This power seems to flow toward healing
Wholeness
But to describe that experience as Romantic Love
Safety?
No.
Majestic
Powerful
Immeasurable
Unknowable
And yet I can’t help
Wanting to know
And be known
By this Mystery.

Lessons in Detachment

I can’t believe I’m approaching my one-year anniversary at Leadership Now.  Is it possible that a whole year passed?  Is it possible that only a year passed?  Similar to my first year of teaching, my first year in ministry felt at times like walking through a beautiful field.  A field filled with blooming flowers and tall grasses.  A field fraught with hidden divots and holes.  And true to me, I seem to be someone that not only steps in the hole but falls head first into it.  I only seem to learn from truly tumbling.  Making a complete mess of myself.  I must be a disciple of Christ, for like Jesus’ followers, I seem to learn not from listening and watching but from jumping in the middle of the mess and experiencing life myself.  Maybe that’s why I am so attracted to the idea of the Incarnation—God in the midst of life.  It seems to be the only way that I begin to grasp the lessons life and God attempt to teach.
And one of the lessons (repeated in a myriad of ways) of this first year has been a lesson in detachment.  Originally a scary concept for me—as I have been known to live in the world of my head—this is a different kind of detachment.  Not the kind of escapism, intellectualism, or dissociation.  Rather an incarnational detachment.  The recognition of my need to step back and get out of my own way.  The need to be still, so I could know God.  The need to truly see how fragile and flawed we human beings are—and most notably to realize that–though I seem to disparage this—I, too, am one of these human beings.
Whether recognizing my powerlessness with a boyfriend’s substance additions, with patients’ ailments and deaths, with the conflicts and struggles of the church, and with my own families chaos, this year challenged me to live what I claim to believe: Christ redeems and saves (not me).  Seeing all of this, feeling all of this, truly taking it in.  Now that has been the lesson of detachment.  And the part I find most amazing is that in this detaching, I feel a freedom to chose to speak or be silent, to sit or stand.  I start to release the pressure of perfection and instead seek God.

Oh Megan, Just Get Out There and Fail

Failure is not something I do.  Or rather it’s not something I do well or gracefully.  I think I have taken the Scripture passage “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) a little too literally.  Or perhaps the perfectionist in me uses this quotation as justification for replaying the old tapes in my head that tell me I’m not good enough, smart enough, worthy enough…you can fill in the rest.  Of course this attempting to be perfect bit and weight loss.  This attempting to be perfect bit and ministry.  This attempting to be perfect bit and life don’t seem to work out so well.  Just today at my WW meeting, my leader talked about how she worries about folks who never gain a little during their weight loss.  How are they really living?  How will they maintain? She asks.  Intellectually I get this.  And thankfully this go-round I’ve had a couple ups and downs with my weekly weigh-ins and seem to be able to both be honest with myself and continue to make mostly healthy choices.  (There was a time when I would simply not write to avoid the truth.  I think I convinced myself that unless pen hit paper the calories wouldn’t count.  This is sort of like assuming that unless I confess it to God, God won’t know)  Anyway, what I perceive as failure is not something I seem to readily accept or gracefully manage.

In addition to complicating the weight loss journey, this trait also challenges my ministry.  On any given day it can produce frenzied thinking, speaking, acting or the complete opposite–paralysis.  I can get so caught up in the how can I do this perfectly that I simply don’t do.  I write and erase.  I create and destroy.  My email inbox is filled with drafts never finished.  My box of greeting cards is jammed with greeting cards written but not addressed or sent.  My journal is filled with ideas that I struggle to translate into projects, plans, or paper.  Or at least paper that anyone else will see.  Honestly, it took me two years to start a blog.  And when I did, I couldn’t do it under the ministry I practice.  Not because people wouldn’t read.  Not because it doesn’t speak to my community.  (Actually my community of youth and young adults is primed for a blog)  NO, I haven’t done that because I wanted to practice blogging before I put something out there.  I wasn’t sure how to write this way.  What was blogging technique?  Could I get comfortable with run-ons?  Fragments?  What about the tech piece?  I don’t know how to size a photo or add a link or put in a sound/video file?  So, there you have it.  What you’re reading is my attempt to “Get Out There and Fail.”  (I heard this at a workshop a couple weeks ago, and I liked it.)

More important is the ding-dang Scripture passage.  Do you know that perfect in Greek actually translates more accurately as the word whole. Well, why don’t they say that?  And why do translations from the King James to New Revised Standard to the New Living Translation all use the word perfect?  Now, I don’t mean I wouldn’t still struggle with the perfectionism thing (I mean, I am me after all.)  But what I’m saying is that if I read the passage as becoming whole like my father in heaven, well that’s different.  Failure is part of being whole.  At least when I look back at some of my “biggest failures” those have usually been where I’ve grown the most.  Sounds trite a I know.  Cliche maybe.  But there’s a reason it’s cliche…it’s TRUE!  And well, if that’s part of how I grow more authentic, more real, more of who God created me to be, more–dare I say–holy.  Now this gives me something powerful to help replace my old tapes.  This is Good News…life giving, paralysis breaking, perspective challenging.

Quotations for the Week:

Be whole, therefore, as your heavenly Father is whole. (Matthew 5:48)

It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.  (John Steinbeck)

Supposing you have tried and failed again and again.  You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.  (Mary Pickford)

Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better. (Samuel Beck)