Yesterday I went to the Annual Gathering event of the Southern California/Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ. Let's just call it SCNCUCC—they do! It is a two day event and I'll be going today too. Kelli has been a part of the planning committee for three years now, and this is her last term. Just as well, she has served that role for a while but now she has a new job she's looking at, working for a hospice in town that has been eager to get her on the staff, offering her a nice position that finally seems to honor her massive amount of preparation. Anyhow, in the SCNCUCC world, she is not only this organizer figure, but she is gaining some traction as an advocate-educator for addressing disability in church life, working for Accessibility to All (physical and attitudinal barriers being brought down to size or eliminated where they keep people with disabilities from full participation in worship and church life). Today, in addition to the harrowing weeks of preparation for the entire event, she also did a forum on her topic as part of the program itself! Finding that my Canon camera did quite fine work for documenting such an occasion, I set that up for Kelli to use, with the hopes we might get some YouTube footage.
In a neighboring space, Lee Van Ham was also giving a forum on his topic of choice: One Earth Economics and how churches can shape consciousness to get more people to live accordingly. Lee spoke at last year's gathering, and on a couple of occasions he's been to my church to do three-part forums. Unfortunately, Lee and Kelli were talking at exactly the same time in neighboring spaces so I could not fully attend both. But, with my becoming media boy in the last year, I found a way to get each preserved to some format.
A couple days ago I bought a small field recorder by Zoom. H4N is a device that can do great stereo recordings with a built in X pattern set of mic capsules. It can also accept two other wired mics or instruments. Or it can act as a USB audio interface to a laptop. Also in the last few weeks I found that my Canon still camera does a pretty adequate job of capturing both video and audio that can be used in YouTube and quick promotional and library fodder. Armed with both of these and Lee's Macbook Pro, Lee and I drove up to Torrey Pines and set up two spaces.
Lee and I were outside on a patio. A little bit out of the way, I thought, but Lee does talk about stuff that people still have a hard time wrapping their heads around sometimes. And he isn't UCC. Anyhow, the patio was nice and breezy. Sunny. Gorgeous day. We put the H4 on a mic stand and the Mac on a table. It would capture video with the H4 as an interface. Simple stuff. If that didn't work though, it would be a quick and effective recorder that could be downloaded later. But today's challenge was to get good audio and basic video from the laptop's onboard camera. What I think I got was a fine recording of the ambiant noise in the region. (There must have been an airshow because there were prop planes all over.) Maybe I got a bunch of wind noise. Shall see. I sat at the computer and monitored it closely during the whole talk.
So far so good. The ten people in attendance were quite close by. I looked up and saw one Susan Styn. I recognized her last name quickly and her church affiliation was a nearby UCC. I've already written about two of her family members here: her father Caleb Shikels and son John Halcyon Styn. John is perhaps best known for launching Hug Nation with his grandpa Caleb. John has been into internet publishing since the mid 1990s and has developed quite a persona. But with Caleb, he took the power of the web and used it to spread Caleb's amazing life experience and wisdom gleaned from his almost 95 years. Caleb was a close friend of my old church in PB. He used to walk a hilly half mile from his dorm at a senior full-service community. He was always charming and witty, but most of all compassionate and—let me not be ambiguous here—a holy man. Our pastor, a man of letters and of a pastoral heart too, stopped to listen with rapt attention to whatever Caleb had to say. Grandson John got closer to Caleb after Caleb's wife died. Over time, their relationship blossomed and the Hug Nation webcast became a weekly thing that got wider and wider attention. How could it not? The tagline is, "the world would rather hug you than hurt you." John is on the record telling how Caleb realized the vast potential of the web to do social good, especially if you start with good raw material. And his life was that. Even up to his final hours, Caleb was part of Hug Nation. Those late episodes are gripping. The ones that follow his death—almost immediately so—with John reflecting on it all, naked with emotion, is so beautiful. It is among the best uses of the Internet I have seen.
John is a master of self promotion, and quite clever at it all. Video blogs, podcasts, webcasts... you name it, he's tried it. Everything he does involves an insanely loud shade of pink (and probably feathers or latex). As outrageous as he is, you gotta take the guy seriously in his way of being so upfront and candid. A year or so ago I was faced with doing the web work for JEM. Talked podcast and YouTube. We are doing just that now. But I also had to get past myself with regard to media burnout, techno burnout, etc. Last fall, I happened to be thinking of how John gave Caleb perhaps his most eclectic and largest congregation: the world. It made me want to learn more finally so I could be of some service to JEM. After all, I've had time to learn and be influenced by Lee for a few years now. More than with Caleb, but I can see how me and John are—in gratitude—both trying to turn a bit of energy back into their respective ministries and to multiply their reach.
In a similar way, for me to have suggested and then urged (or nagged) Women Who Speak In Church into existence is an attempt to not let time fly by so fast for Kelli and me. Ever since I discovered the B2 blogging platform in March 2004 (starting this blog in earnest), I had been suggesting some kind of shared project for us to be involved in (since we don't have rugrats, see?). It just took an extra seven years to get there! Having come back to my roots of self publishing, the tools today to build community even in the cyberspace zone are many. The need is there. Kelli and her cadre of friends in ministry are always interesting to listen to. They are a new generation of clergy, sure, but they are also near the leading edge of a larger trend in mainline denominations: more women than men enter seminary now. So, the world of the faithful is statistically more likely to get a woman pastor. Or a chaplain in a hospital or hospice or battlefield will be a woman. WWSIC is one way to help introduce that to people, through the stories of the contributors. To learn how a woman's ministry is different, or rooted in a different paradigm of existence.
Maybe my motivations are coming from different places at once. I do like recording and publishing. There is a neat feeling that follows that kind of work. I want to support my dear wife in her endeavors, or Lee after his pointing the way to new lifeways. But there is a dose of rebellion in this too. In the case of WWSIC, part of the not-so-conscious motivation is to make the counterargument against the voices that think it is preposterous or socially dangerous that women should fill the high level clergy positions. This is not just an abstraction; my own stepmother (an 89 year old woman now) has been drifting farther and farther rightward during my married years. Years ago she was inquiring when I would find a quality wife and settle down. She used to ask me rather often what I though my role should be in a marriage, and what my wife's should be. Feminism confused her. In the early days with Kelli, it was innocent enough. But my stepmom initially wanted to skip my wedding until I begged and pleaded with her that she would be my only family (and not even by blood) who would come to that special day. She did come. But over the years since, she has called into question Kelli's movement into ministry, most particularly the movement toward ordination. She can rattle off biblical texts with the standard issue fundamentalist fervor, but she doesn't seem to understand them. If she did, she would know that God cannot be contained. God cannot be boxed in. God calls all the unlikely suspects. The ones that no one expects. Or if we are true to reality, the ones WE don't want. God works on the outside of our human value system. If God wants Kelli or any other woman on the staff, did God make a mistake? Did Kelli accidentally pick up the phone when the call was for a penis-bearing human?
I think the world knows what a couple thousand years of male-shaped church life has gotten us. Maybe if this God is so big, so vast, so in control, maybe it is time we admit that it is time for women to be given their rightful place in the balance of things, and that we might have to face that God has something to do with it all. Maybe God is sending the message, 'move over, I'll drive!' Maybe my stepmom will curse and stamp her feet, but I am perfectly happy to be married to "a nice church girl" who also happens to be the baptizing, Lord's supper serving pastor too! And in supporting her against all adversaries, I have to be ready. But in a less defensive posture, I could bring to mind a favorite quote that Lee cites to illustrate how this work to change things should be approached. Buckminster Fuller said, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change things build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." I don't have to wreck the male establishment to advocate that women should preach. It isn't a zero-sum game here. Of the women I hear in Kelli's world, they speak of being incorporated into the mix, not taking it over. If any self-respecting fundamentalist really believes the Bible is inerrant and should be taken by the letter, then really he has to contend with Paul's illustration of the Body of Christ, with many members. And the body of Christ is probably made up of a bunch of penises either! Or he has to deal with the Pentecost event that animated people of all stripes and led them to break into evangelism to all sorts of people. If God wants to call and send the Spirit to animate people, then that is not something that some narrowminded second guesser of the divine should be commenting on. God's strategy always seem to skirt expectation. Clever, eh?
That last bit most clearly took a swipe at the stance of my step mom, but for me to leave the male side of things out is to miss a big chunk of what animates me. It seems both my step mom and my old man are put in some kind of disorder at the presence of Kelli in my life. Both think she has come between me and them. Both do their little form of protest and estrangement, or both drop their condescending comments that we have largely chosen to shut out. The fact is, Kelli, cute and cuddly as she is, is a force to be reckoned with. She appears young but is initiated in life by all manner of pain, disappointment, and loss. She has a brilliant theological mind that sometimes leaves peers in the dust. Her academic sense is spot on and she typically is ahead of her class. She has served seniors, K-2 kids, middle school students, dying patients, hospital patients, church congregations as Xtian Ed. director and Sunday School teacher, and has been a disability rights advocate and educator. She is a poet and book maker. We recorded a CD together. She is also yet to be 35! Anyone is foolish to diminish her. Warm of heart, sharp of tongue, she is. I plan to defend her against all comers, even family. Especially family. I married a nice church girl. Get over it, already! I also say, the problem with persecuting Christians is that they become...more Christian!
But more than as an act of defense, WWSIC is a way to live the Bucky Fuller lesson. JEM is too. Both keep me focused on moving forward somehow. One way I understand my own brand of Christian resurrection is that so much energy now goes to supporting these causes—energy that once went to supporting mine and feeling closer to death with each passing day. John Styn helped me find myself with relation to the role of technology, and myself was really to do some good for others. Funny then I would run into his mom at the very same time as I was recording for both Lee and Kelli. Sometimes you just get little clues along the way that you're on the right track.