Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent 1

I had the fortune of going to two services for this Sunday, the first in Advent. One, last night at the cathedral some distance from my house (wife and I were out of town for a play) and then this morning, at my own little parish. Both were nice.

There is no doubt entering discernment has raised my anxiety level. Not to painful or pathological levels, but the uncertainty is always with me. I am finding one of my very oldest tools still works: exercise. As my back/tendon injury still heals according to geologic time, I find walking both helps and can do nothing to strain it. So, considering the beauty of where I live I don't know why I haven't done it more....I am walking a few times a week. Walking and talking to, of all people, God. Also sorting out my own anxieties and concerns with myself.

Fact is, while discernment sounds like and should be a positive process no matter what the outcome; while my "call" the final day of convention felt as real as my (re)conversion to Christianity in March 2000; while the idea of trotting off to live in an intentional community of believers and study my faith in a graduate setting sounds AS COOL AS HOGWART'S (and always has)...and frankly, while I feel about freaking blasted with grading a few hundred freshman essays each term and wince when I think of at least twenty more years of grading (also, the trend these days seems to be to make community college teaching more and more like high school teaching: only we get to sleep in and are on campus less...more on this another time). While all this is true (and yes, that string of dependent clause fragments joined by semicolons was intention :) ) two things, right now, two unknowns, are scaring the pee out of me (well, not quite the pee, but close).

I know I can find out answers to both these unknowns over the next few months. That is one of the great things my therapist Sharon (may she Retire In Peace...but live on in my caring memory) taught me: I can effect real world solutions to many internal anxieties. Information and action matter.

Question One: what is working in a parish actually like? There is much I know here: I've been senior warden two years (a very funny term considering the average age of my parish :) ); I am a Eucharistic minister; I've been on a couple other committees or at least visited them. I think I've been to 3 diocesan conventions now. I have certainly been behind the curtain. But I have more questions, and my parish is representative of only one type of parish (and, I reflect at this point, perhaps not the environment I'd thrive in most as priest...can never take the City, or at least the suburbs, completely out of the boy).

But what is a priest's life/job really like? I plan to look, interview, and learn as I can. The more priests I talk to the better.

And Question two, even scarier because it's much more unknown: what about money? Benefits. Especially retirement. I have a great retirement with my district and my wife and I are depending on it. But if I switch careers after, say 12 or 13 years of service, how will that play out? My diocese has a retirement. But what if I only get 20 years in it? You see? Switching careers tends to hurt retirement plans like these. I can find the answer to this question by talking to someone from my district and by talking, somewhat delicately, to someone who understands benefits and retirement in my diocese. But while my wife and I are generally responsible with money, we haven't put much extra aside for retirement as we've put her through grad school. If I stay in the teaching biz and she someday becomes a successful therapist (which I believe she will) we will do fine. No silver spoons, but we'll do fine. But if I shift into the priesthood? That is very scary. I hate to sound mercantile; I didn't go into teaching to get rich either! But I don't know specifics about compensation, benefits, and retirement for priests in my diocese. This is not the first thing one brings up when one is "called," but I have a family, it's not me and my books sitting here, and these things matter.

Ah. I feel better already. Journaling: writing: my OLDEST tool of all!

Much love to all, and my thanks for listening :)

In the imitation of Christ

Friday, November 28, 2008

First Step and the Consiliari

Wife and son have the bug and went out late to the midnight after thanksgiving sales...best of luck. I am far too old for that madness.

I had my first meeting with my priest and formally announced my intention to enter discernment. Or, in the lingo, "articulated my call." I really don't like the "call" term. I mean, St. Paul, blinded for three days in Luke's account; now that's a call. Surely, Peter, fishing when Jesus shows up and says follow me; that's a call. My own complex process of discernment? Not sure if the term fits.

I said a long time ago, right here on this blog, that I'd only enter ministry if 1) I had the desire 2) others had the desire for me and 3) circumstances permitted. I actually think number 2 has been the case, quietly the case, around me at my parish for some time; I'm sure I'll get the chance to explore that more deeply. Right now number 1 is pretty much still the case for me. I am trying to be very careful, analyze my self and my motivations skeptically as I go. I am good at doing that.

Number 3 will not become known for a long, long time. And the really important, the critical piece, of 2 is the same. Meaning, the Bishop and the Diocesan Committee on Ministry and a therapist and a doctor and a psychiatrist and the Standing Committee and I don't know who else. The leaders of the Diocese and professionals at sifting people: they will have to agree. I actually think it might be less work to become a naval officer on a submarine. Or it is something along those lines.

Now, for the consiliari. I have no idea if that word is spelled right and no desire to look it up at the moment. I laid around sick recently for a day and watched all 3 Godfather movies in one day. There, the consiliari (that may be the singular don't speak italian) were advisors to the godfather. Funny, I know. But since I ended my relationship with my therapist; well, since she retired and I haven't yet found the need to get another one...I have 3 consiliari, not counting my wife. Let's say, C1, C2, and C3. These are all men in whom I confide and have known for years. I have a C4...have not told him about this yet.

C one through three are all spiritual men of different hue. One, evangelical, one, contemplative/recovery, one, recovery spiritual in ways I still don't know fully. But each of these men know me very well.

One, when told, said: congratulations, fantastic, I think you'd make a great priest...that was nice to hear; I respect this man's viewpoint very much.

Another said: something positive, great, good for you; I work with this one and I think he does not want me to leave my job but he understands my yearning for deeper meaning in work. He understands how community college keeps you so busy there is little room for any real intellectual growth.

The third said: whoa; be careful. And he had a very provocative suggestion. Since my call finalized, centered, cemented maybe after Diocesan convention, after the energy of a few hundred episcopals in one place, he told me I should leave my little, struggling country parish and drive a bit do a much larger, thriving one. Do work there, lay ministry in a community that size, then see. This is a powerful idea.

For now that my priest and I must meet regularly over months, not that, get this, I must read every book in the bible as part of my initial discernment; my priest and I will be spending some time together. His initial recommendation, and I hate to go on with mafia imagery, is deeply important. He must get to know me and my qualifications, strengths and weaknesses, in every area, before he recommends me to the Bishop. And perhaps someplace in this conversation I may have to tell him: while we have made friends and experienced real growth in our little church, it has slowly shrunk, mostly from deaths, since we got there. I was put into vestry very quickly really. We've tried hard to get it to grow but for a number of reasons, new members have come very slowly. And the oldsters are locals, mountain bred people. Nice enough, but very different from my wife and I who were raised in the very big city and always enjoy visits back. We went pretty far to one extreme moving out to where we are; our next home will likely be something in between the woods and the urban desert we grew up in.

So. C3 makes a good point. Now, I don't really know if that would do it for me; if my call to priesthood, which I still feel, would be satisfied by lay ministry alone. If lay ministry would really utilize all my gifts to their fullest. It is very complicated in that a parish must launch a candidate. The rector must recommend you, but also the parish commmission on ministry and the vestry. In short, a parish and its leader present the candidate to the Bishop after a year or two of active service and discernment in the parish.

Now seems like an awfully bad time to leave. And I don't know, I don't think, our rector understands where the challenges have been for my wife and I. It has not been all bad! When it comes to theology my priest and I have similar views on many things. The two priests who got my wife and I into the E church, from two different parishes some distance apart...both have left the ECUSA and started "Anglican" branches over the installation of Gene Robinson. In brief, both these men ministered to my wife and I very much but I am glad as hell we don't go to either of their churches.

I will just have to take this one step at a time. I am about halfway through Genesis (I read most of the bible for EFM a couple years back) and see my rector again in a couple of weeks. Always careful about serious decisions, I don't mind a longer discernment. If it takes a year to send the Bishop a letter, I'm okay with that. For it's true the high energy of convention may not match parish work at all. Even in a larger and vibrant church. And I can go to seminary for a degree in NT without the ordination track. Oh, my decisions why I entered discernment are so complex...I will share them another time.

Thanks to all who read. And happy thanksgiving to all as well. Much love.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Anonymity....

It hasn't taken me long to realize it will be very hard to remove all traces of my former quasi-anonymous self; even the url of this blog, which I cannot change, is a dead give away to anyone local. I will think on this.....

In Fear and Trembling

I don't have the time to discuss the reasons why, but I have made my wish known to enter formal discernment for ordination into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. This blog is one of the very first people I have told besides my priest.

It's a long and even grueling process, culminating in a three year and very expensive seminary degree. I know I have ten years in my school retirement, a good income (finally) but it is just something I feel I need to explore. Right now, I feel it is the work I should be doing, a work much more vital than this work. I will have a chance to learn much more as I go along.

I am taking my first name off this blog and making it as absolutely anonymous as I possibly can so that I can describe my discernment process here, truly anonymously. I would like to start another, public blog, and will link it to my facebook when I do. For now, love to all and hope for prayers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boo

okay, late for Halloween, but I haven't posted here in so long...right now I do feel the need.

I joined facebook as many of you who read here know. Not sure what to make of it so far but I am using it; as KMJ put it: it's blogging in reverse, all the comments and no posts. I, of course, want to do actual posts, but as the field of friends has grown dramatically fast, some people I know very well some I hardly knew when I knew them twenty years ago, I'm not so soure what I'll do with facebook. If you read here or used to and want to be added, just send me an email; I don't mind.

A lot is on my mind, more than I have time or energy to blog about. I live depression free and (almost) obsession free and have for some time. Oh, I have my issues, but then so does every living person I know. No, the things that occupy me right now are different things.

I am happy Obama won. I don't know how well he'll do, but as a teacher who works in a state funded community college, whose wife works with kids mostly from medi-cal families, those communities are the ones that I want to see given help and opportunity. I don't really care much about the expansion of the upper classes. And, I hate the Iraq war, think O is a much more intelligent than McCain..., yes, I am glad though I am no political expert.

I am very sad to see Prop 8 win in California. 8 makes same sex marriage illegal. I am astounded and embarrassed by this proposition and by the attitudes which allowed it to pass. It is even more frustrating to me that many years ago I too thought sexual orientation was a choice, like smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, to use recent examples offered to me by a close friend in an argument over 8. Where can I even begin?

I can't. I don't have the time or energy to write a full post on this and the writing has already been done by others better and more educated on this issue than I. Let me say that everything I know and hear from gay friends is that orientation is a deep seated part of who the person is (as it is for me, a hetero male); they do not talk about their behavior and desires anything like smokers and alcoholics talk about their addictions. And to me, whether orientation is a product of genetics or environment or both or neither, it does not matter. Allowing those couples the same legal protection, the same public moral committment, seems a clear civil rights issue to me in and out of the Christian world. Loving my neighbor as myself is the only argument I need.

I also believe that the fundamental issue, for Christians, is how we read the bible. Surely proof texts can be found against men having sex with men in Leviticus and there is a description of the behavior as unnatural in Romans, though Paul does not seem to be talking about loving couples; he may not have known one. I sat at a friend's house recently and picked up a book on parenting which had some good content and then a couple of chapters on "the rod," or spanking children...when the author related stories where parents said they liked the rest of his approach but wanted to suspend the spanking part, use time outs or something instead, the author said something like: doing that is disobeying God; God tells you to spank your children and you must do so or you are disobedient to your Creator. The author, of course, is drawing on two passages in Proverbs (and if Solomon wrote those parables, look at his kids).

Give me a break.

The fact is there was a time when I could not imagine questioning the bible, when I thought I had to believe every word of it, that it functioned as a sort of cure all guidebook to life. I absolutely do not believe this any more. Why? Because I read it. The books in the bible must be understood for what each is and the human authors and historical and social realities which affect the writing acknowledged. Our view of God has changed over the last few millenia.

The fact is, as I've said here before, while liberals like myself are sometimes described as "cherry picking" because we set aside some parts of the bible and use others, the fact is every mainstream fundamentalist I know does the same. (Jesus seems to have done the same thing himself). Head coverings in Paul are cultural, his attitudes towards homosexuality divinely inspired. His occasional words to the Corinthians on women submitting to husbands quoted endlessly, his naming of female leaders (perhaps even an apostle?) in the church conveniently ignored as are the rest of his comments on equality of sex in Christ (Luke Johnson is very good here). I would not care about all this except that slavish reliance on biblical proof-text wounds a lot of people: women, gays, children, the kind of oppressed people who get so much attention in the gospels and prophets (in my opinion I can include gays as they are marginalized in our society and denied fundamental rights by the ruling, and straight, majority).

If we err at all, we must err in love. Love truly must explain all things, reveal all things, guide us in all. Without love we are lost. I am sorry; there is no divine and perfect book I have read on this earth. I think evangelicals (really descended from the puritans) emphasize biblical proof-text so much for a handful of important reasons, but their loss of the centrality of eucharist and ritual symbol, the Mystery, is not least among them in my view. The bible came to the forefront of the common experience of our faith in the reformation period, and sadly, become an idol like the "idols" which the puritans too eagerly stripped from the service.

I am not saying the bible is not important, even critical to our faith, or that it is not used by God uniquely. But it has silver and dross, and we must continually strive to use love to seperate the two. It really does take a textual critic to understand chunks of its content. Why didn't God give us a perfect book? I have no idea. One would think He would. I'd think He would get rid of cancer too but that remains. We live by faith. He gave his Son. That must be enough.

Regardless of my tone in spots here, love to all. This weekend S and I go to Redding for the Episcopal Convention. Pray for wisdom. There are times I despair that it exists on this planet.

t