Posted by: preacherjean | February 14, 2010

In Honor of Valentine’s Day…

The Final Reflection*

So I just got back from the weekly Glee viewing and bull session with some of my beloved classmates and I feel the need to reflect on them.  I also need to write one last TSP paper.  The concatenation of the two efforts seemed obvious.

In my first paper, I wrote about my thoughts that no one liked me.  There was a lot contained in that statement, so let me unpack it.  Mainly there was fear.  Fear of not fitting in, fear of failing, fear of letting everyone down, fear that this was somehow all just a horrible mistake, fear of loneliness.  A whole lot of fear.  1st John tells us that perfect love casts out fear, so let me tell you about perfect love as realized at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in Chelsea, New York City, New York.

First of all, it’s not perfect – far from it.  With the exception of Jesus, we humans are too flawed to perfectly love one another.  No, the love on this campus is big and messy and complicated.  But because of it, I know a lot of things I didn’t know twelve weeks ago.  I know I fit in.  I know that if I fail for some reason, there will be dozens of hands to catch me when I fall.  I know that my hands will be held out and strong for my brothers and sisters if they fall.  I know that we all have doubts, and that we’re stronger for our questioning.  I know I’m not alone.

We have, against all odds (but certainly the following mandate of the TSP course description) become a community, a family.  We are not competitive, except with ourselves.  We’re not spiteful, or if we are, we repent.  We’re fanatically interested in each other and we tell each other our secrets.  We cheer for each others’ victories and commiserate in setbacks.  How could this have happened in so short of a time?  I think it is, in great part, thanks to the Tutorial Seminar, and especially to our small groups.  It is also due to this extraordinary group of people who have been thrown together in this extraordinary situation.  And, last, but not least, it is due to the love of God that just cannot be contained and has to spill out all over the place in big, messy, and complicated ways.

So, inspired by Keith Voet’s facebook post, Top Twenty Things I’ve Learned My First Semester at Seminary, I, too, have put together a list.

Top Twenty Places Love Can Be Found at GTS

Love is found…

1.  …in rallying around a classmate in crisis, whether the crisis be deadly serious or just a serious nosebleed.

2.  …in joking with someone and knowing you’re safe because they get you.

3.  …in never having to eat alone.

4.  …in spontaneous hugs.

5.  …in laughter and in tears.

6.  …in a deeply serious theological discussion, that is nonetheless punctuated by raucous laughter and the occasional Holy F***! (I’m not mentioning any names!)

7.  …in shoulders to whine on, with no guilt.

8.  …in having a set of those shoulders yourself.

9.  …in our similarities, but more importantly, in our differences.

10.  …in someone saying, “I missed you, where were you?” when you miss class.

11.  …in a classmate walking up behind you after chapel or on the way to class and putting her arm around you or taking your hand.

12.  …in noticing flaws in each other and wanting to help rather than to dismiss.

13.  …in shouting “Love you, Joanne” in the mailroom and hearing “Love you back!” through your mail slot.

14.  …in your classmates (and their partners) standing by you singing the Matriculation hymn as you sign the book because you weren’t able to be there for the ceremony.

15.  …in being invited into people’s homes and into their lives.

16.  …in messing up on the chimes or acolyting and being told “good job” anyway.

17.  …in the spontaneous helping of each other (music theory, anyone?).

18.  …in knowing that these use-to-be strangers are my family, and family is forever.

19.  …in all the places I haven’t had a chance to look yet.  But hey, I’ve got a couple of years.

20. …in seeing the face of Christ shining in each of my brothers’ and sisters’ faces every single day.

My solemn pledge for these next two and a half years and beyond is, with God’s help, to keep the love alive because the more we give, the more we have to give.  I think it’s appropriate to end this reflection with lyrics from the final song from a musical that I wrote with a wonderful composer friend of mine.  (it should be mentioned that  Gayla wrote the music and the lyrics, so this is ALL hers.)  The song is called, “Love is Alive.”

LOVE IS ALIVE

LOVE IS ALIVE

LOOK INTO EACH OTHER’S EYES

AND SEE! LOVE IS WITH YOU.

LOVE IS ALIVE

LOVE IS ALIVE

TOGETHER, WE WILL SHOW THE WORLD THAT

LOVE IS ALIVE!

LOVE IS ALIVE

LOVE IS ALIVE

LOVE CANNOT BE BOUND BY DEATH

YES! LOVE IS WITH US.

LOVE IS ALIVE

LOVE IS ALIVE

TOGETHER WE WILL SHOW THE WORLD THAT

LOVE IS ALIVE!

IN EVERY FACE, WE SEE LOVE.

IN YOU, IN THEM, IN ME, LOVE.

LOVE IS ALIVE

LOVE IS ALIVE

WE FACE OUR FUTURE FILLED WITH JOY,

FOR LOVE IS ALIVE

IN US!

Love,

Jean


* With fond memories of John M. Ford, author, raconteur, and good friend, gone far too soon.

Posted by: preacherjean | March 3, 2009

Just for the heck of it…

This is an old post, but I liked it so I’m putting it here, too.

Gramma’s House

Monday, November 5, 2007

As I was driving up Lexington Avenue on Friday, I noticed that there was a For Sale sign in front of my Gramma’s old house.  I stopped and got a flyer ($299,000–Oh. My. Gosh!) and decided to go to an open house if there was one on Sunday (which there was).  Though I have long fantasized about buying that house, it’s now far out of my price range, so I wanted to go to the open house mostly out of curiosity and not a little nostalgia.

My grandfather was a builder in the Como Park neighborhood in the 50’s and he built this house himself.  When I was little – from age 7 to age 15 when Gramma died – I spent nearly every Sunday over there.   I knew that house like the back of my hand, every nook and cranny, every squeak, every smell, every hiding place.  And all of my memories of that house were happy, unlike my own house.  Gramma provided hugs, cookies, gum, cooking instructions, art supplies, art display galleries (her stove was adorned with Creepy Crawlers that she had GLUED on!), clove smelling glue that she made herself, stories both out of books and out of her memory, a lap.  The house was full of interesting things, from the ragbag in the basement to the dusty trunks in the attic.  It was a magic house.

The pictures on the Edina Realty website showed that the dusty attic and the cold basement had been transformed into warm, carpeted, modern spaces.  The three-season porch, which had contained my Gramma’s rocker with the wide arms that my cousin and I could sit on, had been opened up and was now the formal dining room.  I didn’t have great expectations of finding much left of the house I remembered.

The first thing I noticed when I got there was that the front door hadn’t been changed.  Back in the 50’s they built things solidly, and this was a solid oak door with a fan light.  Upon entering, I noticed that the only things that had changed in the living room (besides the bland rental furniture) were the carpeting and the fireplace.  I think the original fireplace had been wood-burning, but Gramma hated the mess of a fire so she had bought an electric fire with plastic logs.  I loved turning that thing on and listening to the hum of the lights turning around and around inside the plastic logs.  Gramma would have loved the gas insert that now resides under the beautiful (and unchanged) oak mantel that I remembered so well.

The kitchen had undergone only minor changes as well.  I was surprised to see the old cabinets and counters, though the countertop was new.  The former porch hadn’t lost too much of it’s initial character and I admired the ability to use that space year-round.

The basement was a typical finished family room.  There was a nook containing a treadmill that had once been the pantry where I went every Sunday to pick out what I wanted for dinner among such delicacies as Vienna sausages, creamed corn, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.  This was also where the storied rag bag was stored.  But behind the new wallboard and paint lay the old basement, with its concrete floor, it’s cinderblock walls painted my Gramma’s beloved green, and the double utility sink still containing evidence of the oil-based paint with which Gramma covered anything that wouldn’t move.  If those green walls could talk, they would tell tales of hide & seek, of mixing concoctions of bleach, blueing (anybody remember blueing?), and laundry soap (who knows why now?), of Creepy Crawler marathons, of dress up sessions (from the rag bag, of course), and of Gramma walking for an hour round and round the basement on rainy days to get her exercise.

Then there was the attic.  I had taken my shoes off at the door and, being optimistic that it would be warm enough for sandals, was barefoot.  It was so strange!  If I hadn’t been barefoot I might not have noticed, but the minute I stepped on the first stair, my feet remembered!  Every step had a different sound and a different bounce and I remembered them all.  I knew that what I would find at the top of those memories wouldn’t be the dark, musty, echoing space with wide pine boards and filled with mysterious boxes and trunks, but for just a heart stopping second, I was 8 years old again and Gramma was right behind me.

When we left and I knew that this was probably the last time I’d ever visit that house, I felt strangely peaceful and oddly happy.  I hope everyone has a Gramma’s House from their childhood and if the chance comes by to visit it again, don’t pass it up.

I love you, Gramma!

J

Posted by: preacherjean | March 3, 2009

Scholarship Essay #3

How My Work as a Director Has Helped to
Prepare Me for My Life as a Priest

In my years in theater and music I have been a performer, a stage manager, a writer, and a director. Of all of these theatrical hats I’ve worn, I love directing the most and I think the same things that have drawn me to directing draw me now to the priesthood.

There are plenty of directors out there who look on directing as a power trip and the ultimate controlling experience. I’ve personally been directed by some of these people. To me, however, directing is much more of a collaborative, shared experience. Ultimately, the performers are the ones taking the risks and getting the applause. I have always felt that the director’s job is to share a vision of the play as a starting point, guide them in that shared vision, nurture the gifts that each actor brings to the boards and help shape those gifts into a form that best serves the common goal (the play), give them the framework to work in, and finally, let them go and get out of their way.

Along with pastoral care, spiritual guidance, and sacramental service, of course, I believe that a priest should be a director to his or her congregation. Many times, people will come to church wanting to “do something” but have no idea where to start. Being able to help someone discern his or her gifts, find a place to usefully and joyfully apply them, and getting out of their way so they can pursue their ministry is essential to the work of a minister. A priest can’t (nor should) do everything that needs doing in the life and work of a church, just as a stage director can’t play all of the roles in a play.

Along the way as a director, I have worked with some very challenging people. Sometimes, they have needed extra direction because they were fearful and lacked confidence. Sometimes, they felt too constrained by my direction and were acting out to get my attention. Sometimes, they were just challenging people – very talented people often can be hard to deal with. On occasion I have had to confront someone because their behavior was disruptive, but it’s very important to find out why someone is being challenging so you can meet their needs appropriately and move forward. Mainly, it’s important to recognize that you are pushing people out of their comfort zones, and to be flexible.

I know that a parish community presents the same kinds of people challenges, along with the additional problems that can be summed up in the phrase, “the way it’s always been done.” As in directing, preparation, flexibility, humor, good listening skills, the occasional firm word, and the ability to guide people to focusing on the goal at hand – serving God and each other – can do a lot to channel the challenging energies of a lot of diverse people.

I should put in a word here about collaborating. A lot of what I’ve directed was musical theater. In a musical, the creative team consists of the director, the music director, and the choreographer, along with the production designer, stage manager, and costumer you find in any play. However, the music director and choreographer work directly with the actors, and it’s important to make sure that they (the actors) aren’t getting mixed signals. As a singer, I can recall many times when the music director has said, “I know that’s what the director wants, but I want it to sound good so do it my way.” Or a choreographer has created a dance that makes it impossible to sing while dancing. And always the poor actor is in the middle. This is NOT conducive to a happy set!

There are many more leaders than just the priest in a parish – there are vestry members, lay leaders, deacons, assisting priests, etc. I can envision a similar dynamic to the dysfunctional creative theatrical team happening, with similar results, unless care is taken to prevent it. That care includes praying together, keeping lines of communications open, laughing together, and forgiving one another.

Finally, most of the time the play that the audience experiences on opening night is very different from a director’s initial vision, and, almost without exception, better. That’s the beauty of this shared effort and experience. The same is true in a church community. When parishioners discover their true ministries, the miracles they accomplish are far more wonderful than any single priest could envision or design on her own.

Posted by: preacherjean | March 3, 2009

Scholarship Essay #2

As promised, here are two more essays from my scholarship applications.

God is calling me to…

…be a priest in his Church. That’s the simple answer, of course, but I do believe with all my heart that God is calling on me to use my unique skills and experience to serve his people as a pastor, a leader, a reconciler, and an instrument through which God shows his love in the sacraments.

I feel that my place is in a parish, and I know that being a parish priest is not just standing at the Red Sea, staff in hand, and pointing the way. I will have to be anything from a strategic planner to a plumber (okay, we’ll probably hire a plumber, but I’m willing to help) and I must recognize the unique talents and abilities of my parishioners and find ways to nurture and encourage them. One of principles I always come back to is that we are called be obedient to God and follow in Jesus’ footsteps of service and sacrifice. For me, even more than being of service to others personally, I have felt the imperative to tell others about following that path and to lead by my life’s example.

Another role that I feel God is calling me to take on, both inside and outside of a parish, is that of a reconciler. God reconciled us to him through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, and I feel strongly that we are called to live out that example in the world. This is not an easy path. We live in a broken world and every human being on the planet has experienced pain and sadness and loss, and not everyone wants to be reconciled. But it’s imperative to try.

Finally, a parish community is built and sustained through the sacraments. All of the talents and interests of a church are focused through the sacraments. Through Baptism, a parish grows, both physically by adding new members and spiritually by reminding that we are all children of God and we are all made new and whole by His grace. Through the Eucharist, the parish is fed and renewed, and, shoulder to shoulder at the altar rail, we are reminded that we are one Body. The Eucharist is community at its best. As a priest, it would be my sublime duty and honor to administer the sacraments and to give God’s blessing and absolution to His people. The blessing of being able to do that on a daily basis would only be exceeded by knowing that God found me worthy of it in the first place.

This is my sense, so far, of what God is calling me to do and be as an ordained priest. I suspect that it’s only a partial list that will continue to expand as I grow in faith and understanding of what God’s mission is for me. I’m looking forward to it.

Posted by: preacherjean | February 2, 2009

Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Sins

A thought for the pickle we find ourselves in just now:

Mohandas Karamachand Gandhi, one of the most influential figures in modern social and political activism, considered these traits to be the most spiritually perilous to humanity.

* Wealth without Work
* Pleasure without Conscience
* Science without Humanity
* Knowledge without Character
* Politics without Principle
* Commerce without Morality
* Worship without Sacrifice

We seem to have lost our way from these basic principles.  A lot of my thoughts and prayers are taken up with considering how to address these issues when I’m in the position to do so.  They seem so fundamental to me…

Posted by: preacherjean | February 2, 2009

Scholarship Essay #1

As I get nearer to the Big Move, I’m going to be applying for scholarships and grants and many of them will ask for essays. So I thought it would be a good use of this space to capture them here. Here’s the first one:

Personal Statements

1. The role of religion in today’s living.

With as many distractions and negative forces as there are in our world today, I believe that religion must continue to play a major role in two ways. First of all, people need it. They need the comfort and strength that faith provides and they need community and support and mutual purpose that belonging to a church affords. Secondly, the world needs the church. The church can shine the spotlight on the dark places in our country and in our world – poverty, homelessness, racism, loneliness and alienation, war – and offer both spiritual and practical solutions to those problems.

A lot of news has been made about the role of religion in politics. I don’t believe that a politician’s religious beliefs should be a determining factor in his getting elected; however, I would hope to see more and more politicians who are people of deep faith, or at least deep conscience, because those are the men and women who will put the needs of the people above their own political ambitions and personal gain. It’s clear that our country’s founders intended us to have freedom of religion, but I don’t think that has to mean absence of religion; rather, it should mean that every one of us is free to choose how we experience and demonstrate our faith, if at all.

2. How can churches become more effective?

In order to become more effective today, churches must change a number of things. First, they need to broaden their welcome and become places of inclusion rather than exclusion. Oftentimes, people coming to church for the first time, don’t feel welcome. In other cases, people have been turned off by the message of exclusivity a church projects, whether intentional or unintentional. Churches need to take a good, hard look at how they welcome the stranger. Second, there is a lot of division in the church today, within and between denominations, and to be effective, there needs to be a major effort at reconciling those differences and working together. Third, churches need to get the word out that they are there and providing services. There are a lot of ways in this modern world to effectively reach many people, both to provide and to receive services. We can’t assume that just getting together on Sunday is enough. Finally, the leadership in the church needs to help every member explore his or her call ministry, ordained or not, to be a fully functioning Body of Christ.

3. In what ways do you feel you can make a difference in people’s lives.

As a pastor, I hope to help people discern their own ministries and to experience the satisfaction and joy that that can bring. A minister can’t, and shouldn’t, do everything in a church. We are called to work in community, with everyone contributing what they best can. The pastor is like a pilot of a ship or the director of a play, whose charge is to lead and encourage and cheer on the members of his or her congregation in doing the work God has given us to do.

Being a pastor also means being present in many capacities for parishioners during the ups and downs in their lives – comforting during sad times, rejoicing during happy occasions, listening and counseling during challenging life changes. I have done some lay pastoral visiting and I know what an impact a sympathetic ear can have. Often people don’t want their problems solved; they just want to know that they’ve been heard and that they’re not alone.

Finally, as a person of faith and a child of God, I hope that I influence people by the way I live my life. That people can look at me and think, I want to have whatever she has. It isn’t enough to tell people what to do. You have to show them, every day what it means to live a life of prayer, of service, of joy.

4. Your personal religious philosophy.

I believe in religious tolerance and inclusion. Every person on this planet has been made in the image of God and is precious to Him; therefore, who am I to judge how another person finds God or experiences the Holy? That having been said, I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus. I strive (and some days it’s harder than others) to live my life following in His footsteps. This means, for me, a life of service to God through service to others. I also want my life to be one of joyful and willing sacrifice – following Jesus all the way to the cross – but I’m still trying to figure out, with God’s help, what that means for me.

Posted by: preacherjean | November 11, 2008

Death and Life

I’m writing this on the 19th anniversary of the death of my mother.  At 12:15am, November 11th, 1989, she left this earth, with my dad and me by her side as witnesses to her escape.  My mom wasn’t a military person, but I like the thought of her passing on a national holiday (makes it easier to remember, for one thing).  Also, Armistice Day seems appropriate.  She was at peace with this world and ready to move on.  I’m not sad on the anniversary anymore, not really.  Some years it passes by almost unnoticed and some years, like this one, I experience a lot of memories–mostly good and a just a few bad.  But I miss her, and my dad, who died seven years later, on the anniversary of D-Day.

This year, I’m getting a fresh look at death and life.  Two good friends have died, one on October 13th and one on November 5th.  They didn’t know each other, but I loved and greatly admired each of them.  It’s funny how two very different people, separated by geography (Minnesota and Washington, DC) and somewhat by ideology (Christian and secular humanist), are still very connected – as human beings who had been on this planet for over 80 years each, and as my friends.  Godspeed Janet and Cris!  The world is a better place for your having lived in it, and I’m a better person for having known you.  See you in heaven (yes, you will SO be there, Cris!).  Say hi to Mom and Dad.

Posted by: preacherjean | July 14, 2008

Crosby, Stills, & Nash

This may be a bit off topic, but Michael and I went to see Crosby, Stills, & Nash last Friday and they were FABULOUS!  Pretty darn good for a bunch of old guys!  I loved the fact that they played lots of their old faves for the fans, along with some new things (including a beautiful song written by David Crosby’s son, James Raymond, who is the band’s keyboard player).  They did a lot of hot improv, too, so it didn’t sound like a tired old-guy redux of their greatest hits.  They ended the first half with a bring-em-to-their-feet rendition of Southern Cross (one of my all-time favorite songs)

I know from voices.  I’m a singer.  And I have to say, these three guys were in spendid voice!  You would expect Graham Nash’s voice to have held up, because he was the least rocky of the three, but Stills’ and especially Crosby’s voices were incredible.  The harmonies were all one could hope for (well, there was a slight train wreck during an acoustic version of You Don’t Have to Cry, but they fixed it the next time the chorus came around).

They did one encore, a CSN version of Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, then appeared to be done for the night (though the crowd wasn’t).  I don’t know if that was just a foolie, but as Stills and Nash walked off stage with the rest of the band, Crosby stood in the middle of the stage demanding that they come back and do one more.  Finally they relented and did Teach Your Children (which inclines me to think it was just a foolie or they would have done TYC earlier).  From time to time during the whole concert, and for all of TYC, they lit up the audience and encouraged them to sing along.  Normally I don’t approve of that, but since they did it on songs that I wanted to sing on anyway, I didn’t mind so much.  And they didn’t overdo it.

All in all, it was a great night.  They seemed to be having a blast, and I DID have a blast!  AND we had free parking!

Posted by: preacherjean | July 14, 2008

Help! I need someone…

No I don’t.  Wait, yes I do.  Well?  Which is it.

A good friend was ordained last Tuesday and of course I went.  I’m an ordination groupie.  I love the seriousness and the joy.  They’re like weddings, but without the bad bridesmaids’ dresses.  I love the mystical moment, caught out of time, when the Bishop puts his hands on the ordinand’s head and asks God to make him/her a priest in His church.

Four years and counting…

But that isn’t really the purpose of this post.  After the service there was a reception (no sherry–I was SHOCKED!) in the Fireplace Room of the church.  Everyone was there, including the Bishop (natch!) and the Director of Vocations for the Diocese.  My last two communications with these two lovely people were to a) have a long chat with the Bishop about my deferring entering seminary for a year, and b) a rather hysterical e-mail to the D of V about a problem I was having and it’s impact on my future as a priest.  So it was with some trepidation that I approached them.  I needn’t have been concerned.  Almost the first thing the Bishop asked me was how was I feeling about my decision to defer, and was I all right.  NOT what I expected, but I assured him that I’m just fine with my decision and very happy to wait. I also assured him that, held in tension with this, I’m positively champing at the bit to get started.  Then, later, I had a chance to talk with the D of V.  She hadn’t gotten my e-mail, so I took the chance to lay out the problem for her right then.  She put her arm around my shoulder and said that once you are a postulant in the Diocese, the Diocese has pledged to support you through the entire process.

In other words, I’m not doing this alone, in a vacuum.  I’m just not USED to that!  I’m used to trying to figure out everything myself, and not having community support as a matter of course.  Is this right?  Is this LEGAL?  It’s going to take some getting used to, this network of people who want to help me.  But I think I’m going to like it!

Posted by: preacherjean | June 25, 2008

Here if You Need Me

As a kickoff to my year of discovery, I read a wonderful little book which came out a year ago and I have somehow missed until now.  It’s called “Here if You Need Me” and it’s written by Kate Braestrup, a Unitarian minister who serves as chaplain to the Maine Warden Service.  It’s a wonderfully uplifting story of rising out of tragedy and of love and of service.  I heartily recommend it!

Peace,

Jean

P.S.  I haven’t yet figured out how to create a link in this blog, but I’ll keep trying.

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/results.asp?ATH=Kate+Braestrup

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Categories