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Entries in united church of christ (3)

Tuesday
Dec252012

Christmas Churchiness

I got to four church services for Christmas Eve. You might think that's a bit too much church. It keeps me out of the malls, where I don't want to be anyway. The two that anchor such an adventure are "my" church (MHUCC) and "Kelli's" church (CCCPB, where we met some 22 years ago but that I departed six years ago). That's the basic balance for us: we at least get to our own churches, different though they may be. Because my church has a 10 pm service, and it happens to be where Kelli interned years ago, it's in the clear for us to both go and be together, a bit like old times, but without some of the weighty complications I feel. And then, there are some other services that turn up and seem interesting enough to take in if we can.

I'm going to tell these stories out of order. For those keeping score, I went to the following services in this order:

  1. MHUCC, 2 pm
  2. CCCPB, 6 pm
  3. MCC, 7 pm, followed by dinner with friends from there
  4. MHUCC, 10 pm 

CCCPB

As some distance from the strains of CCCPB has mellowed me over time, I've gone a couple times to the Christmas service there too. CCCPB is much as I knew it from earlier times, even during my unchurched times. A small congregation meets in a building that is sparse in architectural ornamentation though is rather radical in its roof line and its 2/3 round floor plan. It has a basic holiday decoration scheme, but without it, the place is rather austere looking for the most part. Many faces remain, though there are giant holes in the population due to attrition and families breaking up and children leaving for school and careers. I still like the messages from the pulpit as much as when I spent four years there recording them all, but with such a history as I have there, it's hard to be really present there. I fidget. Kelli does the reading from Luke every year and is poised closer to the pulpit. I sit apart from her because I feel that it's so easy to be in an old role that just doesn't suit me now, and frankly, being seated next to my own wife triggers that. (Read on for how things go at MHUCC.) There's a tinge of guilt for coming and not being fully present. I don't like it. But I also don't go to church and let myself be inauthentic if I can help it. And CCCPB was a place where I eventually left in part because I knew it was going to be what it was going to be and I was changing. Since then I've been regaled with tales from a variety of sources, so while I am not a member there and rarely attend, I do have a small bit of information about what goes on there, and some things just baffle me. Other bits frustrate me. So it's hard for me to be there. But Christmas begs a different response, and for a successful home life, the concession must be made, especially when carpooling. That said, there are a couple people who I still like a great deal and am happy to connect with, even so briefly as my very occasional appearance there. I guess I need CCCPB to remind me that even a diminishing congregation meets faithfully. I just know it's not my community anymore.

MHUCC

MHUCC is notably larger but still feels like a family. The congregation is eclectic and growing. The programs are varied and meet people at various places in life. Liturgically, there is more to take in since our pastor came from a tradition that placed an emphasis on liturgical year cycles and other things that I would learn about when entering that congregation. It was all new to me, coming from a very lean and sparse life at CCCPB. So, MHUCC has the liturgical colors that change with the church year's progression, choir processing in their robes, and other such touches. The choir is about 24 folks and has a professional director and section leaders. The organ is a delight, and the harp adds a welcome texture. The room feels very large. It's not high church by any stretch but after my church formation at CCCPB, it seems that way. For the late Christmas service, this time the service was a Lessons and Carols service.

Two other services this Christmas Eve were in the mix for other reasons. One more, an earlier afternoon service at MHUCC, was small, intimate, and contemplative, and offered communion. It was held in a smaller chapel room suitable for a special service like that. Having been at a physical distance up in Escondido for half a year now, making a day of being in San Diego was like breathing fresh air and getting a warm hug, even on the rather cool and cloudy day. I've been too distant from church of late, so reconnecting was called for. This small service was contemplative and instead of a sermon, the nativity scene was used as a chance to get us to imagine which of those characters we identified with. Who were they? What would they be thinking as they were in that moment? What would we be thinking as we're in that moment?

MCC

The fourth service, a bonus for the day, was at the Metropolitan Community Church where a friend and colleague of Kelli's is on staff. MCC, largely populated by the LGBT community, is a refuge for folks who have perhaps not been welcome at so many other churches, and even among their own families. Because LGBT folk are exiled from all kinds of home lives in all kinds of traditional settings and from all kinds of geographic areas, it's really an eclectic mix of things that might pass for traditional, but instead of messages of making the world a narrower place, a smaller place, a more limited place, the message inherent in the MCC's very existence is one of celebration of the opposite of all that. It's kind of interesting because in some ways, it's like many other churches but without the implicit or explicit homophobia. Just because folks are gay doesn't mean they want to forsake the good things from the traditions they were to inherit, but from where their options for real inclusion were limited or shut off entirely. MCC is their new family where it's safe to be oneself. MCC is the home that has been created to bring the LGBT world back to the Christian fold. There are probably many who, were it not for MCC, would never set foot into another church. I've been there a few times and at least tonight, I found it to be the most surprising of the services. After this service, we went off with Ali and her partner and her daughter to a fun dinner at the greasy spoon diner we've gone to for a few Christmas Eves now, Rudford's. It was delightfully irreverent.

Back at my church, what's true at MCC regarding the LGBT community is largely true there as well, but having been there now for about five years, it's become familiar. MHUCC was a pretty traditional place tending toward liberal, but about a decade ago in particular, the church's embrace of the LGBT world was stepped up. And interestingly, the place has grown a lot because of it. Dropping in on the MCC reminded me of a dynamic I saw a few years back when I slowly and tentatively moved into the life at MHUCC—at the very same time as yet one more mom family meltdown was under way, and by then, a year and more had passed since the utterly miserable exchange with my old man (and a silence that stretches now to an unheard of six years). Add to that a feeling that my home church of CCCPB was not the place to stretch into the new person that needed to emerge from all that, and I realized there was something I had in common with the LGBT folk at MHUCC, broadly speaking. How many tales of exile from families-of-origin are there, with relations strained to the point of breaking only because some people have to answer the call to be themselves? How many exiles from the church communities that are found to be the old wineskins? Hard to say, but when my original tribes were found to be lacking and I needed something new, that's where I felt I came home to.

Church Hopping?

For some years now, since Kelli has been either in school or interning or since I dabbled in another transitional church for a bit in 2007-2008 (UCCLM), then joined MHUCC, Christmases have been diversified. A couple years in a row I did these Christmas Eve runs on my bike for the added sport of getting warmed up and feeling all invigorated upon walking in, sometimes to some really unfamiliar settings (the Greek church was the most unusual). Not too many folks know this but if you were to take my particular ethnic strands and send me to church along traditional faith trajectories, I might be equally at home in Protestant, Catholic, and even Orthodox settings, though of course, I have always identified closer to Protestant. But the tug for me, while never really having the success I could wish for with the family life, is to share in the lives of a few different families at Christmas, in part because those historical families of Christianity are within me at some level, but also that the world today requires a less insular Christianity.

At any rate, the matter of getting to many churches, or sampling the services even at my new home church, keeps things from becoming predictable. Too much church life is led by rote and inertia. If anything, church should be the irritant, not the pabulum. As it is, at MHUCC, I have a practice of trying to never sit in the same seat. Sometimes that applies not just to weekly services but to parts of a given service. There are times when I sit in three different places, moving during logical breaks in the liturgy: sit one place to start and then at the passing of the peace when everyone gets up and greets one another, land in another place, and then maybe before the sermon shift again to a third place. I just mix it up so I don't go and "do" church with my brain off. So it is, stepping it up on Christmas Eve, getting to a few locations and experiencing Christ's family in a way that a place like San Diego affords, with so many traditions found in one place.

Going to unfamiliar churches figures into making the Christmas story a bit more real and experiential. The Greek church in particular made me the stranger in the strange land, even a little bit like the holy family seeking a place at the inn. It's a good thing for this white male to remember that there is a lot of rejection that people face while trying to be in communion around Christ's table. Not being eligible for the eucharist in the Greek church was one reminder about rejection that I don't get in my usual life. (Had I been a baptized member of the Orthodox church, I could have taken the cup and bread, but a quick question about that after having walked into the church, knowing nothing about the liturgy, suggested I'd be okay. I guess my host thought I was already baptized. It seemed very insular and monocultural in there. So, as a result, I was in line and was questioned by the priest if I was baptized as Orthodox. No? Sorry, members only.) While the Greek church was unparalleled in its lush appearance and the layer upon layer of its ancient tradition, coming from my low church protestant background, particularly from a congregation that has a very progressive stance on inclusion, that was kind of a rejection that I am not used to. At MHUCC, it's taken for granted that if you came to that building and want to take communion, you're in, and who are we to put up a barrier? That to me mirrors the pronouncements and practices of Jesus, known for being exceedingly welcoming. Churches that don't roll that way just baffle and disappoint me.

The Christmas Burden, The Christmas Gift

Last night though, finally in the midst of that special night that causes an aching and yearning for peace and quiet both outside and inside, I was feeling a great need to soak it all up. The weight was upon me, feeling down from a half year in a new town, leaving JEM, struggling still with family matters and joblessness (except some pick up work) and tensions that those things inevitably bring to home life. Being a pretty committed non-commercial Christmas practitioner makes me kind of the odd man in the room in most rooms I might enter. People get the idea and maybe even savor it, but don't usually seem to expect someone to succeed at it. The personal layers of hungering for the Christmas message are overlaid with the dire situations the news brings us (or sometimes doesn't, but should). With an utterly senseless massacre—an act of domestic terrorism if ever there was one—too fresh in the mind, and with increasingly dire predictions regarding our environmental crisis being met with too weak a response by nearly everyone, my heart is heavy. With so much balkanization of American society into more and more insular and self-reinforcing tribes that are loathe to interact for the common good, my heart is heavy. For watching as Thanksgiving and other spiritually and even nationally vital holidays are so brazenly co-opted and turned into the playthings of industry and commercialism, my heart is heavy. It's a heavy time.

A heavy time indeed, and the whole world needs Christmas even more than many pious folk realize. Jesus didn't arrive on the scene for the benefit of Christians, right? Sure, he emerged from among Jews and operated in that world. But even he, in his words and especially in his deeds, served humanity and portrayed another way of being human. Best of all, it doesn't require membership or much other than to live from the place of compassion that all of us have but sometimes forget about. He didn't ask for people worship him as some deity. He wanted people to follow his way, not himself. To the extent that one follows him is to realize how he embodied the Way. And that his way was available to everyone, even to this day. No faith system really has the patent on humility, compassion, forgiveness and all that great stuff. They aren't qualities that expire. He just embodied those in such a way that it was hard to imagine he was made of the same stuff we were. So we grapple at best, and ignore him at worst. At our own peril, even.

Maybe Christmas causes eyes to glaze over and people to hear "yadda, yadda, yadda." That's a shame. That's not the Christmas I know, now having some great experiences taking in just what I have in my infinitesimally small sampling of Christian practices over only a decade. When I overcome even my own programming—that is, to venture farther afield in my church hopping, maybe to more ethnic churches, or economically disadvantaged communities, or other places where Christmas burns bright for "the least of these"—I have much more insight and awe coming. While I have my struggles with depression and all the ways I feel I don't fit the mold that produced so many around me, Christmas is one time when, theologically, I fit in just fine. Somewhere between the shepherds and the wise men, there I stand. For me, Christmas is indeed the promise that God bothered to look our way, even my way. God's very curiosity about how our lives go led to Christmas. What's it like to be one of them? I got this idea...

If I could give a Christmas present to the world, it would be that folks would awaken to what a radical thing Christmas really is. Forget the dumb pageants and the statues that freeze a moment in time that never happened unless you read the Bible poorly. Forget trying to medically figure out virgin birth. Forget arguments meant to save Jesus from pagan seasonal festivals. Or arguments that Christmas was just a Christian hijacking of those festivals. It goes without saying to forget the commercial extravaganza. It's so much more than all that. Those are the distractions, the frozen symbols, the weeds that choke the crops. The time is always when we need to be rocked by the idea that divinity has taken up residence in us, among us, and for us. And maybe in spite of us. It's really quite the proclamation, isn't it?

Getting to church a few times on one particular day of the year is a small thing to help reinforce that awareness, and to try to drink it down as if I were at an oasis.

Saturday
Jun112011

Feeling the Revelation

It started as a joke in December of 2010 after seeing the first billboard proclaiming Judgment Day was to happen on May 21. I posted a joke event entry on Facebook for my young adults group at church. I called it The End Of The World. There was a cute illustration of the Earth being destroyed by a meteor. Big explosion. Funny, eh? It was heir to my other such mocking references in song, journal, and joke at the expense of the fundamentalists and doom sayers who have led people to hysteria and maybe suicide by their various doomsday predictions. We in the UCC tend to elevate our noses above that stuff. The Facebook event also included a possibly moving date just in case we got the date wrong and recalculations were needed. I had no intent to really move it. I was making a larger joke at my own expense: my graduation from high school was on June 11, and this was to fall on the 20th anniversary of that date which to me seemed like the end times of history for me.

What began as a joke made all those months in advance slowly morphed into plans for a real get-together with the group. We still had a joking tone about it. We were going to have a "post-apocalyptic regressive dinner" featuring nuclear-safe food like Spam and Twinkies. Others had other food ideas: your "last supper" meal that you would want most to eat before your death, and also the option of bringing freegan food—found food—in keeping with an expectation of shortages and deprivation. I was onboard still.

But as the whole matter of Harold Camping blossomed into major news and hysteria and so many were caught up in mocking it all, one of our number (quite well educated in seminary and years of Baptist life growing up) cautioned a couple of us to ease up on the mocking since there are people who are well meaning and faithful but grossly manipulated by religious charlatans like Camping. At the same time, the June newsletter from my former church started with a great article on Revelation and how to disentangle the popular readings of it (that are the basis for Camping's utterances) from ones that stand up to more historical scrutiny and that aren't just manipulations of the faithful. I wrote to Jerry the pastor and he let me use that article and sent along some notes for a forum he was giving. All of a sudden, in about a week and a half I found the opportunity to take our End of the World party more seriously.

I have to admit, I sort of hijacked this event, but since we tend to be unprogrammed anyway, mostly people are flexible. But what was rumbling in me was that the UCC, a mostly liberal/progressive denomination, has little to say on Revelation. Most mainline denominations sort of shrug it off more than engage it. The dismissing attitude I sense falls in two related forms: If the scholars haven't figured it out, we won't go there yet. There must be great stuff in there. We just don't know how to interpret it. Or maybe people just dismiss it and say it should be left out of the canon because it is too weird. I haven't detected a UCC movement to claim it back and to find a meaningful alternative to the nutty and even dangerous interpretations coming from the more conservative wing of Christianity. But such a silence leaves the fundamentalist interpretations and their fictionalizations in stuff like the Left Behind series as the go-to viewpoints, in part because they are sensationalist, but probably because they appear to be the only voice out there. It is a forfeiture of biblical interpretation that gives the people with the completely wacky ideas the microphone and the knowledge that no one will oppose them! I don't particularly like that.

Lee Van Ham was the first one who helped me have a breakthrough in understanding Revelation as a document setting one earthly paradigm against a cosmological paradigm. (I also had to learn the P word upon meeting him.) He gave me a clue that the book of Revelation was one of hope and perseverance. So since about 2006 or so I have been looking for support along those lines. That is Jerry's general take on it, so I had two trusted voices speaking from close to the same viewpoint. Richard Rohr put a more mystical spin on it (perhaps more in tune with the larger message of the book), but that too took away any reservations that this book is meant to give people the willies and to induce nightmares in people of good faith.

Another kind of insight that arose out of Lee's interpretation was that Revelation is not written for rich nations to interpret. It is for the troubled people who are plagued by the power that the rich have over them. Jerry insists it is protest literature. So for it to be written and understood, one has to know the kinds of powerlessness and fear that people in oppressed situations know. Apocalyptic literature is good for liberation of the soul because it defiantly announces that monstrous powers of oppression and domination are limited and empty in their claims to divinity. That is the domain of God/Christ alone (depending on if you're reading Jewish or Christian apocalyptic lit.). The problem is that to explain this to people who don't feel oppressed, this interpretation falls flat. It is unflattering to people who have to sit by and hear that their retention of any kind of power and privilege is somehow evil. But I think that is missing the point. The point isn't to slam individuals trying to get by. The point is to critique the systems of the world, the corporate ("body") evils that manifest in the systems of the man-made world. Some we recognize as our contemporaries, and fear that they have too much power already and need to be limited somehow: Empires. Transnational corporations that pollute, enslave, and ride roughshod over local laws and traditions. Trade deals like NAFTA. The Military-Industrial-Corporate-Think Tank complex. Agribusiness, epitomized by Monsanto. Giant banks that foreclose on the laboring folk and credit card companies that charge exorbitant fees. That is the kind of evil that undoes community welfare, and these days, even has the power to ruin the biosphere too. Revelation is written to encourage people who are feeling under the weight of all that. People who fear nothing can save them from that but God.

One movie called What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire does a profoundly moving job of showing how empire has been the logical (and illogical) end of the line of civilization. For all it can do for us, it is also the basis of our destruction at the hands of working and consuming ourselves to death. And not just ourselves, but all of the life-giving biosphere too. The movie takes on peak oil, population overshoot and dieoff, extinction, and all the dismal stuff that no one wants to look at. It can sometimes be so brutal that it makes you feel. My intent to show the movie was to accomplish just that. It isn't that my group is not smart, or even aware, or even passionate about a range of social/environmental/political concerns. They are quite fine, and probably ahead of me in those regards. But one thing you can't particularly teach is how to feel like someone.  People are quite familiar with the topics. But this film is so powerful in the way it brings so many forms of dread together, that you can't help but get rattled inside. That is what Revelation is supposed to do to a person: Rattle them. Shock them. Rattle YOU. Shock YOU —into a new and larger consciousness, often brought on by an overwhelming feeling. Intellect alone won't get us there. We have more intellectuals on this planet than ever, and more problems than ever. Call it over-civilization. What needs to happen is that people feel the pathos behind this global issue. Intellect is secondary. Everyone welcome!

Watching this movie, it would be my hope that people would see that we people of faith (and equally so, those who don't think themselves religious) ARE at the mercy of the system-gone-crazy, and that only falling into trust in a larger reality, maybe God, maybe the regenerative power of nature—or call it what you will—can help get us past all that and start on the arduous task of righting the wrongs of an overcivilized human race that thought it was God. Maybe that would be accomplished by taking our hands off the wheel and letting God get back into the driver's seat. The exodus from Egypt is upon us all over again. Can we trust the wilderness we're entering on a global level?

So, back to the evening's program.

In the week before the Saturday date, this all was working on me. Stirring. Despite having not used the name since 2006, I realized this was another EONSNOW teaching engagement, so I sort of made some rumblings about a larger idea with one or two of the group, but not too completely because it was still taking shape in me right up till I went to bed at 4:30 the night before! What I came up with was a "teaching liturgy" that set us into a sacred, ritual space where the idea was to engage both the power of the darkness, and the power of the light. Since we as Christians are the people of the resurrection, and not of the tomb, we claim  hope in things we can't see, worthy results even from ill-made decisions, all by the grace of God. One thing I learned from the Rites of Passage last year, and with some additional reading and understanding of rituals, is that a ritual charts the flow of life's experiences in a microcosmic, representative way. To take people to a dark place is one thing, but to ritually move them back to a place of illumination is another. A ritual like this is a microcosm of life that embodies the dark and the light, the flow of all things. They should not be broken apart. Facing such a devastating vision of things using the King Crimson song and the movie is the downward and inward path to confront deep feelings, but reemerging to partake in the shared meal of the communion, and the more optimistic U2 song is the integrative aspect that connects both polarities of life into one.

The "teaching liturgy" was as follows:

Welcome and introductions
A bit about why this came together this way in light of recent charlatan predictions. What is the end of the world to you? What is civilization? What are your understandings of Revelation? Will lead to...

Discussion of The Apocalypse/Revelation of John
Notes courtesy Rev. Jerry. Historical setting, background on apocalyptic-crisis literature. The intent to overwhelm and shock people into some kind of response, ideally a faithful recommitment to God in protest against empire-consciousness, then manifested by Domitian, who some thought was Nero (aka 666), reborn. Early Americans (under the crown) referred to the Stamp Act as “the mark of the beast,” —when they were subject to the Crown’s harsh economic policies from afar.

Song: Epitaph by King Crimson (1969)
A song about the disillusion with the mind of empire and its handmaiden, state-tamed religion, written by white men from within that world at the peak of the 60’s counterculture in Britain. Henri Nouwen discussed parts of this song as part of his book, The Wounded Healer.

Watch the movie What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire
A movie by another disillusioned white man of a privileged culture, asking the question of what follows empire? Hopefully it will have the power to disturb as Revelation would, to provoke a new consciousness or to tie together fragmented consciousness.

Discussion of the movie and Revelation
in light of a new understanding of how empire consciousness does indeed pose a threat to all of us at this profound, global level. Hopeful aspects of encountering this?

Sacrament of Communion
with common elements made sacred by a blessing by the newly ordained Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas. Here we integrate our brush with new consciousness into a larger God consciousness instead of disowning it. Practicing God’s economy of grace and enough for all, in protest against the empire consciousness of scarcity and competition. How does being wounded by this knowledge of the fragility of all we know, this gnosis, pave the way for us to become the wounded healers in the way Henri Nouwen envisioned?

Song: Peace on Earth by U2 (2001)
A protest song by citizens of a nation often under the boot of an empire state (Ireland under England), but by artists who faithfully claim allegiance to Christ above earthly powers that would divide them from God’s other children. A protest song against empire consciousness and the violence and division it brings.

Benediction

I admit, it was hastily thrown together, and I wish that there was more time to actually teach a few basics on Revelation and apocalyptic literature (but Jerry's notes do quite well with supporting that), and I wish that the connection to Nouwen's book was better made, i.e., how facing our deepest pains is the best motivation for meeting the world's greatest needs. In this case the movie would help us to feel the vast woundedness associated with being alive today. Communion aims to put us back into a whole, ready to do our parts as integrated people ready to address the world's hurts.

During our post-movie discussion period, there turned out to be some conversation that took a decidedly personal turn, toward some vulnerable topics including bouts with homelessness, coming out of the closet, wrestling with false self and the kinds of reprioritizing that go with losing jobs and prestige. We didn't talk that much about either the book or the movie at hand, but it was clear there was a new freedom to open up at a level that can pave the way for bigger leaps of faith and trust such as will be called upon in this perilous life ahead of us.

I'd like to do it again. The thing can get long, but I think that is part of what needs to happen. It is not just a movie and discussion. Not just a church service. Not just an activist's meeting. Surely it is worth the four hours or so that it takes. The short term goal is to soften people's objection to Revelation, or their indifference to it. But the longer term goal is to open up their consciousness, to make them feel the pain of the world, not to dull it. It has to be a better use of a few hours than just cutting down someone else's faith, even if we are undermining it with a more useful interpretation.

Saturday
Jun042011

Social Media Serendipity

kelli does a forum on disability and accessibility in the churchKelli at her forumYesterday 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.