The Future (specifically mine)

I have once again fallen in love with my students (or, at least a good number of them... ;) ). They are in turns (and often simultaneously) beautiful, hilarious, quirky, vulnerable, sneaky, loving, weird, kind, stubborn, fickle, and very gifted. I love being around them, and I really look forward to seeing them when the weekend is over. It's a great place to be, because as one of my friends has told me, it's who I really am and it's a way I'm really alive. I do love hanging out with people with disabilities. They are my people--whether one specific L'Arche community felt I was a good fit to join them or not. I think I began to doubt myself after that rejection, but my students have reminded me of who God has made me to be. It was hard to get back into this place where I could enjoy where I am, especially after getting my MDiv and watching most of my classmates go and put the degree to (more obviously direct) use in various ministry jobs (ordained and non-ordained). But as time passes, I am becoming really convinced that this is where I needed to be right now, for a number of reasons.

It's always nice to have these moments, especially after enduring a lot of loss and suffering. It makes that whole "trust God" thing a little more doable (for the moment, anyway).

Another good piece of news: I also feel a renewed passion for the kind of work I want to do for my PhD. I was going back and forth, but after reading this post by Chris (aka RegularGoy), I was again empassioned about an academic life discovering and uplifting the gifts people with disabilities bring to our world (and probably also some other people deemed weaker or not given voice in this world), and speaking out on how much our society needs all kinds of people, as well as their right to live a life and to find joy in their own way (i.e., please don't selectively abort people based on what you consider to be a difficult imperfection in their genes). And other related stuff, but you'll have to buy the book to find out. It should be released in about 2012.

I feel happy. And I think this post needs to end with a fun photo of one of my teachers (i.e., one of my students, Jose). How appropriate that he's the one in my imposing glasses. :)

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Suffering, Joy, and Connection

As mentioned in my previous post, my good friend Michelle and I had been talking about what makes us feel more connected to people--sharing in their joys or sharing in their sufferings. Certainly both are really important in getting to know someone, and building an honest relationship with them; but it seems to me like there's a special way that sharing suffering connects people.

I realized how much I believed this when Michelle mentioned that someone she knew connects to people better through their happiness than through suffering. This struck me as very odd. I mean, I can see how you can be happy for someone when they're happy, and enjoy their company and the overall good vibe they're sending out...but to really feel more connected to them by virtue of them sharing their happiness...even more connected than sharing pain...I'll admit it, I'm somewhat skeptical. At the moment, I have two main thoughts about this, that kind of go in different directions.

1) There is this girl I have a really hard time liking. Part of the reason is that she always talks about how utterly happy and content she is. Now, that in itself would not be over-the-top annoying (though, seriously, if someone talked about that all the time, it might be something I'd need a break from). The annoying thing is that I always pick up on a strong undercurrent of sadness from her, whenever I interact with her. So it's like, who are you trying to convince, lady? I mean, maybe that's her coping mechanism or something--we all have them, a mix of some healthy and some unhealthy ones. But the thing with her is, I can't connect to her when she's in her "I'm the most content I've ever been in my life" facade, because it's just not true. I feel so distant from her. But it's not the fact that she says she's happy that keeps us distant, it's that she's lying about how she's doing. And that's the thing, people are (on the whole) much more willing to share their moments of joy, success, happiness, and contentment with others. And that is certainly a good thing--and I think it can forge real closeness and intimacy in relationships...as long as it's true. With her, she recently had something frustrating happen, and then all the suffering that had been just under the surface started spilling out. And I felt so much love and compassion for her--not only because she was suffering, but because she was just being honest, finally, about what was really going on with her. So...one thought is that it's possible to connect with someone deeply through any feeling--as long as that feeling is actually present and what the person is really experiencing.

2) Another thought is that connecting through suffering just is a deeper level of connection. Part of that comes from the reality that it's typically harder to share real wounds, failures, and areas of pain than to share joys and successes. You're putting yourself in a vulnerable position with the person, while at the same time you are in a more vulnerable position more generally because you are in pain. When you're on top of the world, and content about everything...you're less vulnerable, right? I mean, there is nothing you really need that you're not getting, you're doing ok, and you probably feel hopeful. That is a position of strength. But real suffering is a position of weakness (at least, perceived weakness); and I think there's something about the neediness that really opens a person up for greater levels of connection and intimacy.

3) The last thought is just that for real connection to be established, there has to be sharing of both joys and sufferings. I don't know about you, but I always have a good deal of both within me, at any given time. There is never overflowing joy without (at least background) awareness of areas of sorrow. And, there is never overwhelming sorrow without (at least minimal) awareness of areas of joy. Though, of course, there is usually a predominant feeling at the time too, and I guess that's what gets expressed in the typical conversation. It's so much like the cross, you know? It's been coming up a lot in conversation lately (maybe since we're in Lent...), especially the travesty and horror of the cross. It is such a great paradox that the most ugly, horrible, hideous, hateful, senseless, heinous act of brutal violence, is also one of the most beautiful, loving, amazing, compassionate acts of selfless grace. Suffering and joy do exist simultaneously.

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Great Good Newses

I. The sermon went well. I felt comfortable and relaxed, and also felt like the message got across clearly; also that I could be kind of humorous (but not making jokes, just in a way that's natural for my personality) and casual and preach as myself. So, all's well. Of course, it's hard for me to really trust all those people that come up after you preach to tell you how fabulous you are and what a good preacher and how fabulous your sermon was. I just don't really know whether to trust it, because it seems like people say that to all newish preachers just to be encouraging. So, for all I know maybe the content was really awful and the tone of my voice grated on people's ears. But I felt good about it, for all that's worth.

II. A great healing has occurred for my step-father, and it's looking like he doesn't need open-heart surgery at this point. So, he might get to go home in the next couple of days! It's really wonderful news; especially since he's had 2 open heart surgeries already in his life (he was a premie, and has had heart problems since he was a kid).

III. Related to II....that means I'm not going to be traveling to be with my family (until this weekend), and I get to go to Patty Griffin tomorrow night! Soooooooooo excited. I am prepared for my internal world to be rocked.

IV. There are two topics I'm going to mention here, just so I can remember that I want to blog about them in the future. a) My friend Michelle and I were talking about whether we connect more to people through their happiness or through their sadness. I want to explore this, and see the diversity of viewpoints. b) I have a friend (not the aformentioned Michelle, I love you darling) who in the past few times we've hung out has taken every opportunity possible to scrutinize the moral dimensions of every comment I make (even the totally unserious jokey comments)--and then proceeds to try to "challenge" me and teach me all these lessons so I can have a better way of seeing/feeling/viewing things. His moral arrogance and superiority angers me to no end. So, I just want to explore the role for these kinds of moral challenges within a friendship--and how it can be good, and when it can be very very very bad.

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when a preacher becomes a caterer.

Tonight I met with a very kind man who has retired from a lifelong occupation of being a pastor. We were meeting to go over the sermon I'd be delivering at the Lenten service at my church this Sunday evening, and for him to give some feedback. It was a good meeting overall, and I felt like I got a lot of feedback that will be really helpful in making my homily more effective and more well-received. But a few things really struck a chord in me that made me remember why it is I have such strong negative feelings against the insitutional church (on the whole), and especially against how most people in authority within the church view what church should be like and what pastors/preachers should be like.

1. I tell a story in the sermon that took place when one of my best friends (Jose) and I were driving back to California last summer after I graduated from seminary. He mentioned that for some people of his generation, saying that I went on a cross-country road trip with a person of the opposite gender might raise some concerns. And honestly, I think he's right about that. And part of me feels like I should take out the name just to avoid that--because there is no reason to keep them from hearing the message of the sermon based on a minor, insignificant detail. BUT...the other part of me thinks, screw that! Partly, I think, because just this morning I read an (unfortunately protected) post by someone I won't name (since it's protected)--but the gist of it was that the way the church is on issues of sexuality and sexual sin promotes deception and lack of honesty within the community. So I'm like, why don't I go ahead and raise concerns then? If people want to get bogged down in some stupid thing like that, well, then too bad for them. Damn those prudes, anyway! I hate that I have to hide something about myself (especially since Jose and I are just friends). But at the same time, I want to have grace for people in a different generation, and to understand limitations, and not to keep them from hearing the good news I hope to bring. Because I'm preaching for other people, not for myself.

2. My interpretation of the text is not the way people have interpreted it in the past. So, it was suggested to me that I make sure to include the usual interpretation also in the sermon, just so I can tell people what the text is really about. But it's hard, because I honestly don't see that traditional, widely-held interpretation actually IN THE TEXT. In fact, I see evidence against the traditional interpretation in this specific text. But again, if people are going to be put off by that, and get distracted by me not presenting the usual interpretation, I don't want that to happen. It just is hard to me that I can't just be honest about what I see. I know I have to take my listeners into account, and I try to. So I'm going to go look at some commentaries and see if I might be able to be at least open to seeing how the traditional interpretation might work. I want the message to be heard, and I want people to hear whatever God is going to say to them, and I don't want to get in the way. But at the same time I want to be able to honestly be myself. It's a hard balance, and truthfully, I mostly don't want to do it. But I will, because I think it's kind of selfish just to be like "I have to be authentic and true to myself. Who gives a damn if you can receive the message or not!" At the same time, though, I think that the more authentic people can be, the more it frees other people to also be honest and authentic. Argh.

3. In terms of my style, I was told that my level of intensity is too high throughout; that I need to space out my moments of intensity and use them for when I really want them. Also, that people can't handle that level of intensity for too long, so I need to give them a break. Again, back to the question of catering to the people. Certainly some amount of taking into account listeners' limitations is totally valid (for example, when I speak too quickly, it is hard for older people and/or people with hearing impairments to catch what i'm saying. point taken, and needed.); however, sometimes I just want to be like--hey, if they can't handle the intensity, maybe they need to learn to. Maybe it's not me that has to turn it down all the time, but them that have to be willing to rough it out. Because honestly, and maybe it's just because of the types of people I gravitate to and who gravitate to me, I hear way more about how soft and fluffy and devoid of real message sermons are these days, than that they are too intense. I don't know if I've ever heard someone say they wanted the sermon to have LESS intensity. It's like--hey a story! hey, a joke! hey, something from the text! hey, a mostly unrelated anecdote! hey, a loosely related Christiany life lesson! hey, a nice, gentle closer! and it's another sermon that helps people feel satisfied with themselves and their own individualistic, consumeristic faith and relationship with God. That, to me, is not church.

Okay, I'm done with the rant. I just really struggle with this issue--because I realize a lot of people love those sermons with fluffy bunnies and nice morality tales. But does that make it right to preach like that? Yes, the ability of the people to hear a certain message or a certain delivery should play into deciding how to give a sermon. But it should not promote dishonesty or holding back something that needs to be said. So the question about catering to the listeners is...how much should you do it?

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XM, Brightness, Need, and Want

1. I just got XM radio a few days ago. My dad bought it for me in some kind of family deal (since he already has it) and had it shipped up to me. I love it! I do love my iPod, but with that, I always know all the music I'm going to be listening to. But this way, I get to learn new artists and hear new music and be exposed and grow and expand and all of that good stuff. So far I haven't fallen desperately in love with any of the new artists I have heard, but I know that will come soon enough. It is so great!!! And they don't censor any of the bad language, which is nice. I figure, if the artist put it in there, and it's part of the song, I want to hear it! Thank you XM, for letting me hear profanity.

2. My oppressive loneliness (see previous post) has lifted. It's not like anything external really changed, but somehow life has just begun to look bright again, and I feel connected to the people I love and who love me back. It also helps that I had a great weekend hanging out with friends I love and who really know me, and that my feelings for the boy I liked and was painfully obsessing over for the past couple of months have faded away (I knew after just a little while that we were completely incompatible, but I just couldn't let it go, until now. Freedom!). Plus, I got some good exercise in this week. Thank you God for seratonin.

3. I've been working on a sermon this weekend. I'm preaching at a Lenten service at my church this coming Sunday evening. I love love love exegesis, and pouring over a biblical text with markers and highlighters and pencils and making notes and connections and underlining and coming to new revelations through the text about God and life and humanity and myself. There really are few things I love more in the whole world. And the greatest part is that it was this kind of ambiguous text (Luke 4:14-30) that after reading a couple times I was like, what the hell is Jesus talking about here? And that's the best kind--because then I can go in and explore and find and discover and question and realize. It's so so fun. And I feel like I have seen some really cool things in the text, and feel like what that text is saying really matters. And if I'm going to be preaching on it, I guess that's a good place to be. I'm excited!

4. Feel free to send some prayers in the direction of my family. My step-father has been really struggling healthwise lately, and tonight he had a big stroke and was taken by ambulance to the ER. He will likely have open heart surgery (for the 3rd time in his life) this week, and it's risky and I think he's scared (who wouldn't be?). And as an only child, it's a lot of emotional burden on me, which is not shared, so it's kind of rough.

5. In other news...the countdown to Patty Griffin is ON! Next Tuesday night is the concert. Uh oh, I just had a thought. I'm a little anxious that maybe the surgery would be next Tuesday and I'd have to skip the concert. Yes, I know, what a selfish thought...but still, I really hope I don't have to miss the show.

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