Monday, May 28, 2007

Groundedness vs. The Tyranny of the Urgent

This past weekend was the first weekend I flew "solo" so to speak - Pentecost Sunday, the birth of the church, the birth of new vision and ministry even though I often wonder along with scholars whether or not Jesus or the first disciples ever really planned on starting something outside of Judaism in the first place. If I were pressed for an answer at the moment, I would have to say that I line up in the camp that doubts an intentional departure, rather a new movement emerged over time due to culture and other influences that cropped up over time.

I've been fully emersed in Church History and Christology for the past week, partially trying to make up work for my Systematics 2 course online. The move and loss of computer for four weeks threw my GPA into a tailspin and I am grateful for my theology professor (Shout out to you Dr. K!) has been willing to let me make it up. In my experience at Fuller, that rarely happens and I think I exhausted all of my grace a couple of years ago when life got unduly hairy for me personally and I had too many balls juggling in the air. That has been a problem that I have had for too long and I am making it one of my primary areas of focus now.

In a way it seems that at the root of the situation was a lack of being grounded. I remember having a Spiritual Director who once had me step into a hula hoop and shared with me that "everything in the hoop is my stuff, everything outside of it is someone elses stuff." Boundaries 101 in a very tangible way. She then had me try to balance while trying to stand in two hula hoops located a distance away from the other. Needless to say it was challenging at best. The past two years have seemed that way for me up and down the board. One priest that I have mentioned in the past in this blog, Christopher, introduced me to the idea of mindfulness from a Christian perspective. Having been immersed in a religious culture that didn't subscribe to that idea, it was like a breath of fresh air had blown through my soul and spirit when I heard it. The challenge has been to really incorporate that idea into my daily life. I tried to make sure that I would have my "quiet time" in the morning, that I would have "Devos" (yep, I was a Campus Lifer can you tell?) at night, bible study group, Sunday School class, etc. but always felt more exhausted than I did grounded. When I became a part of the Episcopal Church, Christopher and others introduced me to the concept of a Rule of Life. I had let that Rule which I created get away from me when I moved to Oregon after realizing that what worked for me in LA wasn't going to work up there.

Funny thing is in this move, the Rule came with me. I found it easy to jump back into it from the start. At the moment, the Rule that I am incorporating into my life kinda looks like this:

Morning Devotional Prayer when I am walking Diva - I use prayer beads to help me focus - you know that "shiny object syndrome" problem I have. I pray one of the oldest and I think most beautiful prayers that I have learned called the Trisagion "Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us." Four times during the time I stop and I pray (praise for the created day and worship to the Creator God, reflection, confession and dedication of the day, prayers for family, friends and finally my immediate world, the nation and the world universal.) It takes me about a half an hour which means I am not only spending focused time in prayer but also getting a good walk in for both myself and Diva.

Praying the Office: I have to admit that I struggle with making time at night for Evening Prayer and Compline while I am temporarily housed at my Aunts because I don't have a space reserved for this but will soon.

Journaling I've found that this has been some of the most productive time that I've had to this point, until I can find a spiritual director here in the Bay Area, this has been a blessing in disguise. Richard Peace, one of my professors at Fuller demonstrated how to use journaling as a spiritual discipline in his "Pursuit of Wholeness" class and I've been using the time in that manner.

But by far the most important thing has been to take time for me. That means, making sure that I don't skip my Sabbath rest. I'm not a pro at this and I often find myself leaning towards giving that up for school, errands etc. But I am pressing on in keeping the day holy. Will let you know how it goes in the future.

Actually, now that I look at what I am doing, I'm realizing that much of what I am doing emerged out of my time at my parish in Beverly Hills and from the Pursuit of Wholeness class - never saw the connection before. The result so far is that I while life is busy, the demands still present - seminary, a new job, new environment and surroundings - there is a sense of stability...groundedness that is new. It's all new, and I have hopelessly been the type in the past to start something and then let it slide, my prayer is that this time I am willing to put my need(s) for groundedness first before all other things so that I can model what I share with others.

On a side note - I tried transferring my Y membership out here but the only Y close is in Pleasant Hill which is too much of a drag driving and honestly I'd find every excuse in the book not to go to the gym. So I found out that Fuller has a discount at 24Hr Fitness. Signed up this weekend and am having my first of 5 personal training sessions tomorrow afternoon. I got a discount on those sessions figuring that it would be better to have a professional training help me get off to a good start working out after a major back injury than going in halfcocked and injuring myself all over again. I have some paperwork to fill out before then - eating habits, favorite foods, exercise level etc. Talk about making me feel like a total couch potato. I used to move so much more than I did before I started grad school, I need to stop making excuses and do it again - I guess making it a fixed part of my schedule is going to be a non-negotiable item.

Friday, May 25, 2007

All Kinds of Families

One of the struggles in Children's Ministry-is how to handle those holidays which stress or emphasize families. Mother's and Father's day being two of the key holidays. As our culture continues to fracture so many children find themselves in family units that no longer reflect the traditional intact family. In fact, I don't even like using that term any more as nearly 1:2 marriages now end in divorce or separation.

This question was recently brought up on the website and I in particular love the response and action that one Minister to Children shared:

We celebrate Father's Day by celebrating God, the Father. And tell kids that God is our Father, the best Father there is and give cool Bible stories. This has helped ease over those who don't have dads either because they ran out on their family, passed away or never knew them. This actually increased our kids coming to church, because no matter what they all had a dad!

When we do crafts, we had those that didn't have a dad make that craft for their Heavenly Father and they would leave it on the altar at church. We've displayed these on our altars for the past 5 years!

What a wonderful bridge for children who do not have a father (or in general a parent) in their lives. The idea of grounding these children in the knowledge and experience of God as caretaker/parent whose goodness, mercy and grace is always present can be the pole on which they hold onto throughout their lives when harsh winds blow. My appreciation goes out to churches and communities that continue to express the many ways in which families are made.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Settling in...

The first week was a good one, while it seemed at times like I was going through information overload things all came together with the gracious help of three individuals who have been overlooking CM for the past period of time. I'm so indebted to each of them in so many ways (if you're reading this...THANK YOU!)

Sunday morning rolled along and I had an opportunity to meet parents and more importantly the kids. We have some really wonderful kids here at the church and their parents are involved in Children's Ministries - what a blessing. I'm going by "MJ" here at the church (for Ms. Jeanette) and the kids liked the name - and the fact that I have introduced early on my alter-ego "Gertrude Schlebimowitz." The name came from a gym that I went to years ago in Beverly Hills - I've always called myself Gertrude for fun and the owner of the gym one day called out to me the last name. The full name just kinda stuck after that. Gertrude originally came as a way to have to sign in on internet or other information sites that required a name. Beats having to give out personal info and get spammed to high heavens. Her character over the past few years has been evolving; think of a cross between Linda Richman from Mike Meyer's SNL "Coffee Talk" and The Church Lady a la Dana Carvey (see any connections?) and you've got the gyst of the character. Anyway, Gertrude always tries to pass herself off as me - horribly I might add and I've warned the kids that she might be showing up here trying to do the same again sometime soon. Hopefully my moving boxes will arrive soon and I can get out the costume again - otherwise I'll be heading off to Goodwill to purchase some odds and ends to make up Gertrude's should we say unique style.

VBS is underway here - we're using the Avalanche Ranch program from Group. I was so blessed when the meeting time came and 17 individuals mostly leaders showed up! Our ministry has two awesome volunteers to are chairing the experience and they are doing such a spectacular job! I drove away last night truly humbled at what a beautiful place I've landed at. The church has gone through some challenges over the past year and rather than seeing it crumble and lose hope the experience has somehow infused them with a sense of leadership and momentum - they've come to understand that the work of ministry has to rely on more than one individual and if they are not the ones to actively participate, it's not going to happen. Even Memorial Day weekend is already covered for Sunday.

On the personal front, I'm settling in. This past weekend I visited Newark, the town that I was raised in until high school. I lived in the Rosemont section and at the end of our block was/is a manmade Lake aptly called "The Lake." It's approximately 1.5 miles in diameter loaded with crawdads/mudbugs in the water, an occassional catfish (caught one on a shoestring with flour/water dough bait when I was 9) and more ducks/geese and seagulls than you can count. I brought my dog Diva over to the lake with me and we took our time walking around it - she definately had fun checking out the ducks, I kept her distance from the geese as there were a number of new goslings nearby. It was a deja vu of sorts for me - remembering the times we went out on canoes in the water as I passed by tiny boat docks, standing on the bridge where we would have rock throwing contests, remembering to stash stale bread to feed the duck and the happy times when my family would bike/walk around the lake in summers after dinner. In a sense, God was wrapping up some loose ends for me that together we've been working on over a period of time and I had a sense that a few more strands were being knotted up this weekend.

Yesterday before heading out to do homework I went for about a half mile walk on the beach in Alameda - I don't think I will ever get tired of viewing the SF Skyline from the beach as I walk. I really can't think of a city that I like more - even my time in Paris is a close second with Manhattan Beach running third.

Keep your prayers up for housing - I got a call last night from the individual that I was hoping to move in with and there might be a glitch, the church is considering a no pet policy again - I'm really praying that with a deposit they'll allow Diva in. Otherwise it will be a challenge coming up with first/last/deposits and I don't want to overextend my welcome at my aunt's place. So thanks in advance for the prayers.

Friday, May 18, 2007

How Do You Spell SUCCESS?

I can't believe that the week has already ended and I'm facing my first Sunday morning in my new congregation. There's a part of myself that is facing that first day jitters. Yet the class rosters are filled for the next two weeks and individuals are beginning to sign up for the summer months. This coming weekend the church is starting to add registration cards in the bulletins and passing out the bulletins at the beginning of service so they can highlight and give the opportunity for individuals to hand in their cards - good call. They'll be highlighting the summer months for children's ministries and beginning on Tuesday I'll be hitting the pavement high and low for individuals to fill the gaps.

It's been a good week of settling in. I still feel like I'm in a whirlwind with information overload yet it is different this time because there is so much information and preparation that has been made for the person who took this spot. For that I will be forever blessed and thankful! There's much to do; first on my plate besides the acclimation is a budget line item and then beginning to flesh out possible vision/objectives for the upcoming year. This is going to take time - I will be doing this in the culture and company of other individuals who have been a part of this ministry to make certain that we are focusing on what is of importance to this community and to help with buy in and ownership of what we plant. Afterall, it is the entire communities crop, I am blessed to be the one that is given the weighty responsibility of watering, weeding and harvesting. As I shared, this is going to take time yet it is again bringing me back to the question of what a spiritually healthy child looks like? And as I am this causes me to ask some questions:
  • When a child moves to Jr. High School/Middle School ministries what foundation will they bring with them?
  • Will the scriptural knowledge they bring with them consist merely of stories, memory verses and random ideas with no real understanding of how they all connect?
  • Will a child be able to begin to make critical decisions about how they will incorporate their faith into their everyday lives?
  • Have they begun to incorporate spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, service and worship into their lives?

And then of course comes the question of how can one really measure those responses? One of the biggest challenges in ministry to children is the quest for a reasonable way to evaluate "success." I admit at one time I was looking at success through the lens of growth - participate numbers, increase in giving, consecutive weekly attendance, volunteering parents etc. The problem with measuring success this way is that you can become so myopic on numbers that you wind up missing what is in front of you that is truly important. The child and their spiritual development. That's not to say that growth or increase is not a factor that needs to be considered - healthy programs will show growth yet it is an outcome of, and not the main goal.

My hope as I begin this ministry is that the answers to these questions will look something like this:

  • Children look forward to being a part of our ministry with them. They desire to be regular participants in it and begin to build relationships not only with their friends, but with their shepherds and guides.
  • Volunteers find that they are energized by their time in ministry and are eager, excited to be a part.
  • Families become like the apostle Andrew who exhorted others to "come and see" about this Jesus. They become the first link in outreach to the community about what we're doing with and for children.
  • Children develop a deep seated, heartfelt love for God that is communicated through involvement in worship, a desire to be discipled, living out their faith through their choices.

I'll be spending much time digging around for ways in which we can remain faithful to the message of Christ while fostering children's faith in this ever changing and challenging world.


Mmmm waffles - there's none better than Ole's Waffle House in Alameda!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Welcome Back Kotter ... I Mean Netter

My family - myself and the Diva dog have finally landed! After many months of prayer and discernment, I submitted my resignation at the church that I was working at to return to California. I missed the large urban area and vibe that accompanies such a surrounding and felt so homesick the entire time that I was in know like continually writing "CA" instead of "OR", calling state troopers "CHiPs", etc. Tony Bennett was right - I had left my heart in SF and the Bay Area when I was 15 and we moved away from there. It took me a few decades to make it back but God was gracious and the move took place.

Originally, I was looking at coming on board with another church in the Bay Area, after a period of time in conversations the church had to put on hold the offer due to some internal issues. I'm thankful for that happening, it allowed me an opportunity to really continue to process whether the church I was looking was going to be as good a fit as originally presented. During the process I had asked for continual doors to be opened in prayer and God graciously answered those prayers with a church community in the Tri-Valley area of the East Bay. Yesterday I began work at San Ramon Presbyterian Church as their new Director of Children's Ministries. I couldn't have asked for a better location. San Ramon is situated in the valley which provides for the beautiful green hills and great weather that I was going to miss about Oregon, yet is a hop, skip and a jump from the SF shoreline.

We left this past Saturday evening after a marathon two and a half weeks of purging, packing and goodbyes. The little Mazda was loaded up as far as it could safely be packed and we left Newberg. I was hoping to get to Weed the first night but tuckered out after a couple of hours driving. Diva did incredible! She had her little pillow and blanket, the harness was too small for her and thank goodness she didn't feel the "need" to try to roam the car although I can't imagine where she would have gone. The iTunes came in handy - I finally finished Frank Peretti's "The Oath" - marginally good book for an audio book and if it fell into the right hands it would make a decent sci-fi script or B rated mini-series...but I digress. U2, Dave Matthews, Cold Play and a host of other jams kept the drive sailing smoothly. The weather was GORGEOUS - blue skies and great scenery all the way down. Mt. Shasta was visible. I didn't know how many rest stops there were which made traveling with a pet terrific. We took a few short stops for Diva to play and my legs to stretch out.

I hit California about 3:30ish on Sunday afternoon and found myself crying - surprised me! I discovered a couple of things this native Californian didn't know - Jelly Bellies are manufactured in Fairfield, and we now can ride the Diamond lane with one person on off hours when posted. And while I can say that I ate very healthy all the way down my car did a quick "exit" when low and behold I spotted an In and Out Burger. My first meal back home was a delicious double double and fries. Calorie and fat laden, but ooooh so delicious with those grilled onions.

The drive through the 80 wasn't as bad as I thought, with the MacArthur Maze being closed due to that horrendous accident that destroyed a large section of the freeway - they had the detours labeled really well and even this first time driver had no problem finding my way which is great seeing I can be directionally challenged at times. According to the news this morning the new estimate is that the freeway will be up and functional again 26 days earlier than scheduled as they are having round the clock crews working on the rebuilding project. I think that actually surpasses the the time that it took when a portion of the freeway fell in the LaPrieta quake in 89. I found myself crying again when I looked over to my right and found the skyline of SF. I am home.

We're temporarily housed at my aunt's home, she's been awesome and great company too! Diva now has a new playmate - Roxie is a 3 year old psenji who seems to enjoy having someone around. There's only been a small scrap here and there when someone (I won't mention any names Diva...) was a bit overzealous in her playtime. I'm meeting with someone this week and hope that it will work out to move into a townhouse in Danville which will bring my commute down from 30 minutes to about 15 at tops. Gas hasn't been too bad so far, the most I've paid is $3.54 and I found out I had gotten ripped when another station six blocks away had it for $3.37.

Well that is it for now - it's been a lot of information to digest and I am suffering from information overload. I think it's time to hit the road home so I can take Diva on a walk at the Beach. Ooooh, I LOVE saying those words again!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Adios Amigos!

Happy Thursday to you all! It's been quite a few busy weeks for me. Most of the time I've been focusing on my online course work which has been challenging to complete without my laptop - I've been going to the Lake Oswego Public Library to use their computers with sound cards to take lecture notes and submit all the required writings. I'm loving my Theology class which is focusing on Christology and Soteriology. These are such important concepts to understand beyond the mere formalities when you are involved in the important process of providing spiritual formation/catechesis to children and to your volunteers as well. I've discovered that I am starting to understand Barth, and still come away from lectures with regards to Schliermacher (not sure on the spelling) with the same dull headache that I did in Dr. Brown's classes! To my friend the Feminarian - I'm with ya baby and feel your pain! I've just settled on my paper topic and in the next two weeks will be hammering out the rough draft for that along with all the other items due.

The other thing that I've been doing is visiting churches during interviews. It's been wonderful to check out how churches are trying to reach out to those in their communities. There was one church in particular that I was really interested in working for which didn't work out as I mentioned previously in a post. I was bummed from the perspective that I had put much time and effort into the interview process yet at the end could easily see that it was for the best. Shortly after ending my process with this church another church contacted me. When I flew down a few weeks into the process the experience was so much different than San Jose. I felt like I had landed back home. In a sense, I had. The East Bay area of Northern California is where I grew up until high school. In the larger sense it was the place that played a central part in forming me. I know that might sound funny but I really do believe that the communities that we grow up in play a significant role in the formation of who we are as people and our sense of community.
Take my home of Newark, CA. Population 42,471 at the 2000 census. Newark was and is a multicultural location. The church and school that I attended was the only Catholic church in the area. My memories of Newark for the most part are great - riding bikes and fishing for crawdads at The Lake around the corner from my house, sneaking off to Coyote Hills Park to search for obsidian arrow heads from Ohlone tribes. Digging up the occasional horse shoe at the dirt patch between our residential area and the church next to it - reminders of the dairy community that was previously on our land. Going to Newark Days in September and the summer days spent at the Park where I was part of the "Rec Rats" gang. This city allowed me to be exposed to so many unique cultures - Native American, Hispanic, Asian, East Indian, Jewish in a relatively small area. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area provided me with an even greater view of the world - especially in the 70's when so much of the world around us was changing. It was in the combination of my church, city, family and Bay Area that I learned what it meant to be a part of a community, what my responsibilities to community where and how to be an member of God's community while not hiding away from the rest of the world. In this place, I came to know God, to love God, and eventually to desire to serve God.
So much for that tangent....needless to say the Bay Area is where I consider home. And now, I am happy to say, I am returning home. San Ramon Presbyterian has asked me to join their staff to work with their children and families, and I have accepted. The church is a growing church, with a solid children's ministry. I won't be jumping into a ministry that so many challenges like this previous church. I'm blessed to have administrative help 12 hours a week, volunteers who come in and prep materials and set up rooms, and a healthy, active and committed staff of ministers in place. They've even purchased curriculum and set up the basics for summer already! And VBS is rolling along smoothly. I feel so blessed to be joining a church that has procedures already in place.
I head out on either Friday or Saturday of this next week, doing a two day journey so I can enjoy the scenery on my way down. I'll be bunking at my aunt's for two weeks and then hopefully moving into a place by June 1st. I'd appreciate your prayers the next two weeks for protection and health in my back - it's a bit strained right now and safety on the road. I'll be testing out Diva's new seatbelt/harness this weekend and together we'll be on the road. I'll be taking some pics on the way of our journey and posting when I have a chance. So stay tuned!
Adios Amigos!