Archives for November 2006

How Can I Expect Others to Get It When I’m Not Sure I Do

I had an interesting conversation with my boss yesterday. Please bear in mind that this is a man whom I like immensely, whose talents I admire, whose company I appreciate and whose presence here is a gift to us all. We were in the car (where lots of good conversations with all kinds of people tend to take place), driving back from a pastoral care afternoon. We’re currently in hot-and-heavy-search mode for a full-time Pastor for Student Ministries position and he is in the thick of it, searching for someone with experience who can jump into one of the most important roles on our staff. Somewhere in there, he talked about what’s required for ministry, most especially full-time ministry. “I tell everyone who applies that they’ve got to think in terms of 50 hours a week -minimum. There’s just no way you can come into a ministry position thinking you’re going to work 40 hours a week, unless you’re a slacker.” And that got me to thinking about this whole part-time ministry gig I’ve been engaged in the last 13 years. Is there space for that kind of work, is it legitimate, does it make sense?

This is an issue that I have always struggled with, especially as a woman in ministry, especially as a mid-life woman in ministry, who began her ‘career’ after already occupying a pretty full-time position for 25 years – wife/mom/community worker. I have always wondered why it is that ministry requires more hours of labor per week than any other job out there (well, at least most jobs out there). The one for which I was not paid required about 168 hours a week, in other words, 24/7. I never imagined, when I answered God’s call to enter ministry at the age of 49, that I would have to ADD another 50 to that. In fact, it was pretty clear to me that I simply could not do that and live. I know others who have successfully managed that transition, who pour themselves into a 50, 60, 70 hour ministry week, carefully parcel out small amounts of time and energy for family and friends and do so without looking back, but that is not who I am, nor even, to be perfectly honest, who I desire to be.

Trying to take a Chrismas photo this year, with all seven of our grandkids. This shot sort of captures the core of my life – where my primary commitments lie. It is out of this particular core that I do ministry, which makes my life and my call somewhat unique, I think. God called me to family first and pastoring second, and that is the ‘order’ in which I have tried, often unsuccessfully!, to keep things. Unfortunately, there is no model, no template for this kind of life and I have had to make it up as I go along. And it is a mysterious idea to most men, I think, whose ability to segment their lives is truly remarkable to me. I am eternally grateful to my family for their patience with me through this long process.

So when I went into this profession, it was with the self-awareness that full-time commitment was not in the cards. But how do I explain that to others when I’m not sure I can fully explain it to myself?

Here’s a stab at it, I guess. It has to do with the way I’m wired and with the way I was raised, and with the way my basic understandings about life and how it works were hard-wired into my brain during the era in which I grew up. It also has a lot to do with my understanding of God’s call to me – as a woman, as a wife/mom/grandmom/daughter/daughter-in-law/sister – and as a pastor. And that particular call looks, in many ways, quite different from God’s call to almost anyone else I know.

This is my ‘other’ life, one which has brought deep joy to me and which has required the building of a new identity, that of pastor and professional. For whatever reason, God has given me gifts of preaching/ teaching/caring and God has asked me to use those gifts in service of the church. Figuring out how to do that well has been challenging. It took some convincing to find a job that would be limited to 30 hours a week (called 3/5 time in our profession – and, of course, it seldom was only 30 hours a week.) But I found two – one unpaid at Pasadena Covenant for 3 years, and one here at Montecito, paid – with a pension, no less – for the last 10 years). At the age of 61, after 2 fairly strenuous years of full-time leadership (which proved my initial thesis absolutely right – that I am not cut out for full-time, full-bore leadership responsibilities), I asked for and received a reduction in my hours to 20 per week, a number which has been particularly conducive to sanity for me, accessibility for my family and presence enough for my congregation, especially as our new senior pastor has come to take his rightful place as the person of primary authority and spiritual leadership.

I was born in 1945 and grew up in the 40’s and 50’s. My parents were solid, middle American church-going, Jesus-following Christians – my dad a college prof, my mom a homemaker. My mom instilled in me the ‘ideal’ of meeting a Christian man, getting married, producing children and repeating her life, with her devotion to her husband and children, parents and siblings. My mom was (and is) beautiful, fun, smart and talented, though she seldom believed any of that to be true. She and my dad deeply desired that I get a college education – but that was truly secondary in their minds to my getting married. Which I promptly did, midway through my senior year at UCLA – a decision I have never seriously regretted and for which I am truly grateful as I look at the long arc of our life together.

For a long time, I lived a life very similar to my mom’s and my husband’s mom’s lives. Although, I have to say, I never felt particularly good at it. I learned a lot in those early years and because I have an innate love of learning, it was fun to figure out how to prepare meals, how to be pregnant, how to care for infants and toddlers. But at the same time, I found much of my life to be exhausting and quite lonely. My children were born in 1968, 1969 and 1972 (when I was 23, 24 and 27) and those were the years when every single woman’s magazine had articles about ‘wasting your education’ as a full-time homemaker. My work was valued very little in the culture I lived in and that caused a certain amount of cognitive dissonance in my spirit and in my life. I could do no other – my family of origin had deeply imprinted on me the proper ordering of life, at least as they understood it at that time – and I knew myself well enough to know that I couldn’t leave my babies for someone else to raise. The idea of my husband fully sharing in child-raising responsibilities simply never entered either one of our heads. It was a very different time.

So, I planned birthday parties, became room mother, did the Brownie thing with my daughters and the Little League thing with my son. I went to Bible studies and even began a program for younger moms once my own kids were in school, which I planned and led for five years. Maybe that should have been a clue…

During those years, I got into deep discussions with trusted friends and relatives about the role of women in the church. Coming from a background where I made sure the word ‘obey’ was in my wedding vows, where women taught children only, where the idea of a woman in the pulpit or even serving communion was unheard of, it is still somewhat surprising to me that I began to entertain the idea that perhaps God’s design was not as I had been taught.

I remember going to a woman’s Bible study, led by a very competent woman teacher, where that teacher sat down from her teaching when a male custodian briefly entered the room. I found that absurd and terribly sad. So I went to a women-in-ministry conference sponsored by Fuller Seminary in the mid-1970’s and began to do some reading and thinking and praying about the whole issue. I landed somewhere in the middle, which is a space I should be very familiar with as it seems to describe so much of my life! I couldn’t fully endorse the full-on feminist agenda at that time, but I also could no longer live comfortably within the confines my early training had placed around me.

It took me five years to work up the courage to apply for seminary. Five years after the first persons came to me, gently suggesting that God might have something new and different in store for my life. I heard this from students in a Bible study I was teaching at the time and I heard this from both of my pastors. But I worried about the impact of that amount of change on my marriage. I worried about what my parents and my parents-in-law would think. I wondered how it might impact my children. And I was terrified that I might fail.

With the encouragement of some women friends who had been balancing work and family for a long time, I did apply, when my youngest child was a senior in high school. I was accepted and I began a 4 year adventure that took me to all sorts of interesting places, ultimately leading me into pastoral ministry in the local church. I did a lot of work to get there – not only academic work, but deeply searching personal work as well. Moving out into the professional world, most especially into the professional pastoral world, went against everything I had lived and believed for a very long time. It took time for God to work through my resistances and my fears, it took time for me to jump through the hoops required to become officially ordained, it took time for my husband and me to arrive at a relationship that was comfortably egalitarian, with space for me to pursue some personal dreams.

So…now it’s 13 years later, I’m nearing 62 and my husband is about to retire. And I am struggling once again. Do I take off this hard-won pastoral hat and put it aside forever? That’s what the choice feels like about now. While to me, working at a 20 hour per week pace feels comfortable, doable, satisfying and obedient, to others I think it may look like dabbling. Is there any room at the table for someone with my particular skill set and my unique sense of call? I’m not sure. We’re tossing around ideas about how to do this – once again, the territory is uncharted – and there are no clear answers yet. Any creative suggestions are most welcome!

The Beauties of Fall

I am blessed to live on the south central coast of California, an area of spectacular beauty, with almost immediate access to the wilder, untamed parts of God’s creation. The ocean is south of us (which is almost always confusing to everyone!), the mountains are north (sort of), and a five minute drive in either direction can have you rhapsodizing about the power of the sea or the quiet beauty of a hillside path.

One thing we do not have, however, is a readily seen delineation between the seasons of the year. No snow (well, occasionally a bit of powdered sugar on the tops of the mountains), fewer and less dramatically colored leaves than many places in the more northern or eastern parts of our country, no extended period of dormancy from which spring elicits a sudden and startling awakening.

But if you live here long enough, you do begin to see the subtle differences that exist in our climate as the earth makes its way around the sun throughout the year. There are indeed colored leaves. They are beautiful and various. My yard is graced by a gingko tree, one of the longest-lived plant species on the planet, which gives us a spectacular show every year as its fan-shaped leaves morph from bright, lime green to a brilliant yellow-gold. Then our yard is literally showered with these beauties as they almost all drop off about two weeks before Christmas each year. There are some maple varieties that change color, lovely small eastern redbud trees whose dark red leaves do a reverse turn in the fall, fading to a soft rust, and the ubiquitous liquid amber, with its spiky pods and multi-colored leaves. True, there are no large piles of fallen leaves in most yards, but there are lovely varieties in color to be seen. Trouble is, there are so many evergreen varieties that it is sometimes hard to spot those colors amidst all that green.
Perhaps the most significant change to be noted as the calendar changes from summer to fall is in the angle of the light as it falls on the earth. The misty, sometimes dreary days of summer foggishness give way to a clarity of air and sky that almost hurts the eye. The blues are deep, the clouds are large and lovely, the air begins to have just a little nip to it, especially as the afternoon shadows lengthen.
The view from the top of Highway 154 in October was enough to suck the breath right out of your chest. And the vineyards in the adjacent valley were gloriously green and purple, loaded with large clusters of dark, ripe grapes. That’s a sure sign of fall in these parts, as the grape harvest gets into full swing.
And of course, there are all those fall-blooming flowers in every garden and grocery store across the town. Chrysanthemums galore, hydrangeas, late-blooming roses, amaryllis, camellias. Beauty nestling in every crevice, it sometimes seems.

Yes, the changes are subtle. But they are nonetheless real and quite beautiful to the discerning eye. I, for one, wouldn’t trade it for unending days of snow, sleet, and sludge. Although I do think the whole idea of ‘snow days’ is a grand one, and something we don’t have here in California. Sometimes that works against us, I think, creating a sort of drivenness to always be doing, doing something…because the weather is just so great. Sort of works against developing a true appreciation of Sabbath sometimes. Still, I’ll take the climate any day and try to be creative about re-thinking that Sabbath idea!

Giving Thanks, 2006

H ere’s to the bounty of the earth,
A nd to the eating that is nigh.
P ray, let us merrily increase our girth,
P iling our plates with mountains high of
Y ams, potatoes, turkey and pie.

T ake yourself a second slice,
H ave another piece of cake.
A nything goes, there is no price, for
N one of it will widen your waist.
K eeping tradition is surely nice,
S ince everyone knows this is the day that’s
G iven completely to the notion,
(I nvented by a cook, so they say) when
V acation mindset gets in motion,
I nviting all to come and play.
N ow pile those plates up, everyone,
G rab the kids and have some fun!

‘Twould be nice if it were so, but, alas, we all surely know…it ain’t! Nice to dream, though.

Hope your holiday is filled with family, friends, fun and food. And that somewhere in there, you find your heart filled with gratitude for the blessings that are yours.

When Is a House NOT a Home??

When it’s in process of being made a different house, that’s when.

We’ve been in the throes of preparing to re-model for almost a year now. Making plans with our architect has been slower and more meandering than the last time we did a major house project. Don comes up with a new idea – or we do – or our contractor does – and things begin to morph.

It started with peeling paint on a cabinet. “Sure should do something about that nasty looking door, shouldn’t we?” Well, yes. But that was about . . . 5 years ago! Then the microwave oven and the fan/vent over the cooktop died. “Well, just get a cheap countertop model – you know we’re going to remodel this space someday anyhow.” That was about 3 years ago. Finally, about 15 months ago, we asked our architect to step into the process and help us think about how we could redo our kitchen space to make it work better and look better.

“Hmmm…I think raising the ceiling to match the one in the living room would be great. Then let’s open up that wall between the two rooms and hang some beams. And you know, while we’re at it, let’s open up the doorway to the family room. That narrow door is a dead giveaway that this is a garage conversion.” That was round one.

Then we decided it would be really great if we transformed our small laundry area into a walk-in pantry. Well, then, where shall we wash the clothes? Hmmm… that family room is way too big and there’s all that wasted space behind the sectional. Let’s build a laundry room in there! Great idea – but that meant ripping out all the built-in storage in that room, which we have used completely for the last 10 years of residence in Santa Barbara.

Then one afternoon, while standing in the yard, looking at the house with both the architect and the contractor present, one of them said – “You know what would really be a great idea? Let’s make this carport into a garage while we’re doing all this other work!” Well, my husband LOVED that idea – cover the cars on all sides? And gain back some of the storage space we’ll lose with the laundry room/family room work? This is good stuff!!

By now, about 8 months had passed since the first meeting with our friendly architect, and the boxes you see in the picture above had begun to be packed and readied for storage during the duration. I began to make the rounds at cabinet makers, tile stores, plumbing supply shops, flooring experts, appliance vendors. And we began to realize that all this remodeling stuff -while not adding a single square foot to our house size – would be extraordinarily disruptive – basically shutting us out of any entertaining or normal home usage for a good long time.

Just in the last couple of months, we realized that with the carport enclosed, we could put a door from where we’ve always parked the cars directly into the back of the family room. That meant we could eliminate the large French door structure on the side of our kitchen – the one we have used as a primary entrance/exit all these years. And we could replace it with a bay window – complete with seat! – and leave our dining room table in the window for small groups, turning it around and opening it wide for large ones. Cool!

So now I’m also ordering windows and getting estimates on garage doors. Whew! What a mammoth project this turned out to be. Hopefully, we’ll be able to live here and enjoy all this for a good, long time. But as we have learned all too well, there are no guarantees in this life. So we’ll take it a step at a time and see where it all ends up. Demolition is scheduled to start next week – just in time for Thanksgiving – which was, ironically, our expected finish date when conversations with the architect and the contractor first began! Maybe we’ll be moved back in by Easter? We’re praying in that direction!

What Is It About Singing?

For almost all of my life – since about the age of 5 – I have sung in choir, beginning with children’s choirs at church and at school. Singing harmony strongly has always been a part of my life. Maybe because I grew up in a home where music of all different kinds was part of the fabric of daily life. My dad was a marvelous pianist (he learned Rhapsody in Blue by checking it out of the Los Angeles Main Library and memorizing it in chunks and he also accompanied Billy Graham’s very first ‘tent’ crusade in LA in the late 40’s) and he filled our home with his own beautiful music, and recordings of all kinds of things.

Although I have never attended an opera, or even a light opera, I heard La Boheme, Madame Butterfly and all of Gilbert and Sullivan by the time I was 12. Then, I joined the choral group at my junior high school. And I LOVED the fabulous choral music program at Glendale High School under John Key in the 1960’s – 10th grade choir, 11th grade Choraleers, a women’s group which required an audition (oh, how scary that was!), 12th grade A Capella Choir, with duets sung in public for the first time.

While a student at UCLA, I also auditioned for and was accepted by the A Capella choir there, under the direction of Roger Wagner, and sang through Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in Royce Hall at the tender age of 17. I sang lead in a barbershop quarter at the Hollywood Bowl that year as well, as part of the annual UCLA Spring Sing, and I continued to sing – in Roger’s choir when I could fit it into my schedule – or in a women’s choir when the load got too heavy for the A Capella schedule – all four years, even after I was married in the middle of my senior year.

As a young mom, I sang with our church choir at Glendale Presbyterian Church, under the direction of Don Fontana (who later went on to Crystal Cathedral fame), until I became pregnant with number 3 and the director refused to cut me any slack with sick kids. Then we moved our membership closer to our home in Altadena when our kids were 3, 5 and 7. And I began a 21 year collaboration with Roland Tabell and the music/worship program at Pasadena Covenant Church. PCC was not a large church, but they had a 30 member choir and enough instrumentalists to field a small orchestra for concerts and a worship band for Sunday mornings.

Roland nudged and encouraged me in many directions during those years – to sing solos, to produce musicals, to organize worship liturgies, to plan portions of entire services, to chair the very first Worship and Arts Committee in the early 1980’s. He was, and is, a trusted and admired friend, a gentle soul with enormous gifts with which he has lovingly and creatively served the church. Even in retirement, he is active at PCC, now singing in rather than directing the choir.

Every Thursday night for almost all of those years at Pasadena, I was at choir rehearsal – singing every part from 2nd soprano to 1st tenor – depending on the vocal make-up of any given year, or as needed on any given piece. I even sang a powerful rock/pop duet in several different concerts during those years, never feeling entirely competent to do so, and most certainly feeling completely untrained and surprised by it all. I started and sang in a women’s trio that performed for teas and sang in worship from time to time – and I loved every minute of all of it, even when I was sick and/or exhausted, even when I was pulled by the demands of family or community. It was my safety valve, my personal time, the place where I worshipped most fully and joyfully.

Then I answered this strange call to attend seminary. Didn’t know what was in store when that started, that’s for sure. And singing in the church choir got a little harder to do, although I kept it up most of that time. I also sang with a small group of seminary students who formed a choir during certain seasons of the year, and I enjoyed learning a Mozart duet for two sopranos while I was studying and working at Fuller.

For three years after I graduated from Fuller, I worked at PCC in an unpaid pastoral position, while jumping through the hoops required for ordination in my denomination. (I also joined the Ministers’ Chorus at our annual denominational Midwinter conference for a couple of years, but gave it up when my voice got tired from singing everything in the tenor range because there weren’t enough women for us to learn music in anything but TTBB format.) I became an avid John Rutter fan during my Fuller years and filled my balcony office with the sounds of Rutter/Robert Shaw/Chanticleer/Anonymous 4. I worked alone up there, and could crank it up ’til no one could hear me singing along!

For as long as I can remember, singing and/or listening to sung music has been at the core of who I am as a person and who I am as a follower of Jesus. From Brahms’ How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place in high school, through dozens of masses at UCLA to anthems, hymns and praise choruses of all kinds all through my life, song has sustained me, nourishing me in ways nothing else quite does.

When I moved to Santa Barbara, however, all of that changed. There was no regular choir at my new church, only an occasional gathering of singers with sporadic attendance and excellent – but voluntary – leadership. It wasn’t a priority, it wasn’t a value. During most of my tenure here, we met for worship in a gymnasium, with terrible acoustics. Even a crowd of 400 could disappear into the rubber floor and the vaulted ceiling. Not exactly built like a cathedral – nor even like the strangely arranged worship space at PCC. Most of the sounds we made together stopped in front of our faces and for almost 9 years, I never felt that I could sing at full volume for fear of standing out rather than blending in to the glorious sounds of a singing congregation.

But for the past 18 months, we have been enjoying our lovely new worship space, with its clear acoustics and it’s lovely structure. And our little choir has begun to meet just a bit more frequently. And our new (well, almost new) senior pastor loves (and is very conversant with) choral music and great hymnody. Joy, oh joy.

So tonight I write because I have just come back from one of our seasonal choir rehearsals. Only about 15 of us there tonight – and heavy on the tenors, of all things! – but oh, what a grand time we had! We worked through an easy Bach piece for Thanksgiving week and we looked ahead at a beautiful Christmas Eve possibility. And we sight read in the hymnal! I don’t think there is anything more satisfying than sight reading 4-part harmony. It’s a challenge, it’s invigorating, it’s worshipful, it’s wonderful. And our hymnal is an absolute treasure trove, filled with gems of all different kinds, from complicated 20th century harmonies, to the simple melody lines and clear harmonies of African American spirituals. And we finished it off with one of my favorites, “Trust in the Lord,” a call and response chorus written and arranged by my friend, Roland Tabell, and filled with good memories and happy associations for me. And even though my voice is old and out of shape (much like every other part of me, I guess), I was able to sing fully, soulfully, worshipfully and gratefully. What a gift.

So… What Comes Next?

The cliffs at Shoreline Park, Santa Barbara CA
My life feels a bit like the edge of that cliff sometimes…
only I can’t see what’s down there.
So, I ask myself…what comes next?

I wish I knew the answer to that question. For many months now, I have been contemplating the future – wondering what the next phase of my life will look like. At this stage of the game, I am not much nearer to an answer than I was when all this pondering began.

My husband, on the other hand, has been making his plans – at least for the transitioning-to- the-next-stage part – for a very long time. On March 28th of next year, my husband will be 65 years old, and for about the last three years, he has been preparing himself, and his colleagues at work, for his retirement. He has worked for the same company (although it has been bought and sold 4 times and has a new name as of the last transaction) for the last 35 years – very skillfully investing money for individuals, non-profits, and corporate profit-sharing funds. Over the course of his long and honorable career, he has realized more and more that what he does is more of an art than a science, that choosing equities for investment purposes is often a matter of educated intuition and grace more than it is a skill set to be learned by rote.

He has worked hard to build a team of like-minded folks, people who show an aptitude for both investments and people-contact, so that his own departure from the firm will be as smooth and painless as possible. One of the primary reasons he began to plan so far ahead of the game was because of the nature of the last buy-out – by a large, eastern financial institution with its own peculiar set of bureaucratic hoops to jump – and his desire to ‘make room’ for the next person coming down the pike. So two years ago, he cut out one day of work per week, with a matching cut in salary. This year, he took another day and another matching pay cut. The plan was to be fully retired by March 31, possibly returning a few days per month as a consultant. The latest twist to the design has been moving the retirement ahead to June 30, with no part-time involvement after that date.

A primary motivating factor for that decision – which came to him as a ‘vision’ from on high in the early morning hours a couple of weeks ago – was my decision to re-visit my own professional commitments in June, 2007. The last few years have been a time of almost constant movement in my life, changes in every corner, from kids to career. Some of that has been wonderful, encouraging, exciting and fun. Some of it has been difficult, awkward, confusing and painful. All of it has been unsettling and served to compound my own inner sense of confusion and uncertainty during a life-stage that has eccentricities all its own. A little background might be in order.

My call to pastoral ministry came late in life. I was nearing 50 when God confirmed in my heart and mind his call to serve him by serving the church. My four years in seminary were a revelation, a time of pushing, pulling and stretching, a time of affirmation and growing certainty that God had something new and different in store for the second half of my adult life. My kids were raised and married, grandkids were beginning to be born, my husband was ready to make at least a short geographical move, and at the end of 1996, I found myself in Santa Barbara, working 3/4 time in an associate position that covered the gamut from worship supervision to adult ministries to pastoral care to regularly scheduled preaching and teaching.

Throughout the twists and turns these years have brought, God’s call on my life has always been remarkably clear – “you are to serve me here, at Montecito Covenant Church, loving these people for as long as I leave the door open for you to do so.” So far, the door has been open, the call unchanged. The circumstances have morphed – multiple times! – with changes in staffing and workspace coming regularly -and the job description has changed all along the way, but the call has remained clear and strong.

In September of last year, after a particularly exhausting two-year interim period, I cut back from 30 (usually more like 40) hours per week to 20 (now usually more like 25) and limited the scope of my involvement to match. A year ago this month, with a new senior pastor on board whose dreams for the future of this place didn’t seem to include a position like mine, I offered to retire by January of 2007 . By mid-year 2006, however, a number of different factors converged to make me seriously question that decision, so I asked my boss (whose own dreams were morphing right along with my own) if we could re-evaluate everything at the end of this current school year. He readily agreed and that brings both my husband and myself to that previously mentioned June 30th date. Dick is ready to call it quits, to look for new avenues of service, to travel more and be with grandkids more. The question is – am I? Part of me says ‘yes,absolutely, that all sounds great!’ but part of me says ‘well, are you sure??’ Part of me wants to know if God’s call has changed, if it’s time for me to fold my tents and withdraw from active ministry, to make room for the next person coming down the pike.

My senior pastor is encouraging me to step back, take a long view and decide what exactly I would like this next phase to look like. Do I want to pursue training as a spiritual director? Well, maybe. Do I want to continue to preach on a fill-in-as-needed basis? Yes, please. Do I want to offer some well-planned, creative opportunities for folks to go deeper in their faith, to practice spiritual disciplines, to re-discover Jesus as the center of life? I think maybe so. Do I want to engage in one-on-one conversations with people about things that matter to them? Absolutely. Is spiritual direction the best – or even the only – way for those conversations to happen? Hmmm…I wish I knew the answer to all these questions!