In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Citizens on Patrol

Back when I was a kid (just a few years ago, really), I was a fan of the Police Academy movies. I believe it was Police Academy IV was the subtitled "Citizens on Patrol". It was about these citizens getting trained by the police on general safety and self-defense. Of course, it was hilarious!

All summer, our neighbor has mentioned to us that she is participating in a program this summer where neighborhood citizens are walking around the neighborhood to help promote safety. It's a great idea. It helps us know our neighbors. It helps us identify the "problem" houses. This walk was not about who hadn't cut their lawn or anything like that. In fact, I think there is another walk for that purpose.

Anyway, last week, I finally got to join my neighbor and another neighborhood resident in walking around. I heard about some of the problems that the neighborhood has faced. I also heard some anecdotal evidence that the walking program was working. At a minimum, the graffiti and petty crime was moving to other nearby neighborhoods. Of course, we don't just want to shift the problem. They were discussing trying to start similar programs in the other neighborhoods so that the petty crime didn't just shift.

Understanding our role in the community is important to urban spirituality. The city is not a place for individuals who don't want to interact with others. The city is for people who feel a connection to the community. Just like a church, the neighborhood claims each resident as a shaping part of the neighborhood. There are always problems with each neighborhood, just like there are problems with every congregation.

When people are willing to reach out to one another and care for one another, then we see the hand of God in action. My walking friends are pretty bold about chatting with people who were on their front lawn. They wanted folks to know who they were and what they were doing. They want to see the whole neighborhood healthy, and they understand that each person's wellbeing is important to the neighborhood's survival.

Sometimes (I still struggle with this idea), I think that salvation works the same way. I've heard someone say, "We all go to Heaven together, or we don't go at all." What if that were true? It would make us think about "the least of these" in a totally different way. It means that we have to care about the people around us in a very profound way.

I give my props to the Northeast Citizen Patrol and their effort. May they teach me to care about my neighborhood, and its residents, the same way they do.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Still Obsessing

If you are a long-term reader of this blog, you heard me a few months wax not-so-eloquently about my acute obsession with New York City. Well, I just want to let you know that this obsession has not died out. Reading Breathing Space is continuing to feed my obsession. As I read about the joys, trials, and tribulations of a pastor in the South Bronx, I want to be there with them. I want to try out my own version of ministry in this city.

Why do I have this obsession with New York? I'm not sure. One reason is that, as far as the US goes, New York is the archetypical city. It is the standard to which other cities are often held. I'm not saying this to put down other cities, because they are each unique and special in their own way. New York just looks and feels different somehow. It was an innovator in how a city should be developed. Manhattan instituted the street grid system very early in the city's development. It's very difficult to get lost in Manhattan. They also built the subway to allow people from all over this major metro area to travel to any other part - or to no where at all. New York knows that it lacks space, so people make up for it by pretending that strangers aren't all around them. They either pretend strangers are friends, or they pretend strangers don't exist. It's an interesting mentality.

OK - here's where I bridge to urban spirituality. New York has found a way to make it's space very sacred. I think that this comes out the knowledge that there is no space that is unused. There is no personal ownership, it is all shared within the community. People develop sacred spaces for themselves around the city. Several folks probably share a particular sacred space.

People in cites also understand that they must live in community with one another. Their own survival depends on it. Folks who live in the city accept that they will never be truly will never be truly silent...the earth always has distractions. I think that urban dwellers understand this better than the rest of us (I'm an urban dweller wanna-be). For many of us, we lack the ability to pray, or meditate, or be in the presence of God unless we get a very sterile place. This sterile place must be quiet (or have mood music playing). It must be the right lighting. It must be filled with the right kind of people, or not be filled at all. However, there is a difference between a sterile space and a sacred space. The sterile space is a myth. There is no space that can truly provide a perfect prayer or meditation spot. There are only illusions of such space, usually set up by creative architecture and ambiance. Urban dwellers don't believe in sterile environments. Everything has been touched before. Everything has been use for a variety of purposes.

Urban dwellers worry more about the self than the immediate environment. They do not blame their spiritual dryness on the environment. They take that responsibility on themselves. They know that they must overcome the environment...or learn how to work with the environment as it is. It's not an easy challenge, and few of us are up to the task.

These are just some initial thoughts on urban spirituality. Besides the books I'm reading, I have several friends who are very well versed in this area. I'm hoping we can work together to develop more thought about urban spirituality. Until then, I'm open to your comments.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Breathing Space

I'm reading a very good book right now. Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx is a personal reflection by Pastor Heidi Neumark. I've heard Pastor Neumark speak before, and I've been impressed with her presentations. This book chronicles her personal journey alongside the journey of Tranfiguration Lutheran Church in the Bronx, her first call. She came to the Bronx at a time when it only held the dregs of society. Her church remained a faithful witness in the face of a lot of violence, oppression, and little support from the New York City administration.

Pastor Neumark is no longer at Tranfiguration. I've visited her current congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in Uptown Manhattan. The congregation conducts services in both Spanish and English. Their latest project has been to open a small GLBT youth homeless shelter. Pastor Neumark is a very thoughtful person, and her thoughtfulness is reflected in her book.

There are a few books out there about pastors in their first calls. I've heard of many of them, but have not actually read them. This book appeals to me because it appeals to my interest in urban spirituality. It takes elements of the city and shows them to be the holy relics they are. I'm going to need to go more into urban spirituality (in fact, it probably wasn't fair for me to bring it up here and not do into depth). I'll try to write my next post about it.

The point of this post is to recommend Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx, by Heidi Neumark.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ring My Bell

My sister's wedding is on Sunday. Today, I'm getting all the "stuff" together to drive up to my parent's house for the weekend. The wedding is in my hometown, which is a five-hour drive away. Because I live in the big city, I need to pick up some food and supplies to make the weekend go smoothly.

I always enjoy going to my parent's house. It's always calm and relaxing. I think this weekend is going to be a lot less calm than my other trips up north, but it is going to be a good time. We have a lot of family coming. I believe most of them are camping out in my parent's front yard for the weekend.

To add to the fun, I agreed to play the organ for Sunday morning worship. Then, I'll need to go and change into my tux and get ready for the wedding. Yes, it's going to be a very full weekend. I'm standing by my sister for the wedding, and my other half is going to be standing by me.

Because my other half is a part of the wedding party, it makes for interesting bulletin reading. You know how they always define the relationship of the wedding party to the bride and groom. Right now, by his name, it reads "Brother in Law of the Bride". Except that doesn't always fit on there. For a while, we joked about writing, "'Special' Friend of Brother of the Bride". That didn't fit either, so we're back to Brother-In-Law.

Wedding bells will be ringing up north!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My Accounting Ministry

Now that we are back from camp, I need to write some checks and pay some bills for The Naming Project. I think that sometimes it's easy to forget that paying bills and doing bookkeeping is an important part of our ministry. It would be great if I could just run around the world without a thought to money. However, without good bookkeeping, our ministry would collapse.

Of course, if the money was flowing like milk and honey, then I'd hire a bookkeeper who really knows what to do. Then the pressure would be off of me to account for all our money. We are not at that point yet, but I'm hoping that we will get there soon!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Akaloo! Gesundheit!

Every so often, I do some writing projects. At one time, I had a column in a local GLBT newspaper. The newspaper was short-lived and my pay was non existent. I've also helped to write some curriculum for Augsburg Fortress. This spring, I was asked to write two sections of a new program coming out called Akaloo!

Akaloo is supposed to be a life-long discipleship program. It integrates tough questions with the developmental process. If you get all of it, then you have curriculum for birth through old age. I wrote two sections for the senior high portion on Matthew and the church. I sent it all in on time, and have already gotten paid. So what's left?

Yesterday, I got my two free copies of the book. There are about a dozen writers for this book, so it's not like my writing career is taking off. However, it's fun to see something that you helped to write come back to you. Then, I looked at the two sections I wrote. I think it was doctored a little bit. However, I could still recognize my style hidden in the funky graphics. I'll tell you, it looks a lot different once the page is designed.

Honestly, I would like to write more. I would like to write about GLBT Youth Ministry, Urban Spirituality, or Queer Lutheran Theology. I'm sure that more topics could come to my mind, if I thought about it. Right now, I'm not sure I have the discipline to write something. Frankly, I'm surprised that this blog is still updated. However, I dream of being able to write something that is all my own. The curriculum is nice and all, but it's fitting into someone else's vision. I want to create my own vision.

So, feel free to go out and look at Akaloo. If you run across the green book titled, Questions for Life: Matthew's View (Grades 9-12), then go to the Church section and see if you can identify my two entries. It's like a scavenger hunt!

Eventually, I'll be telling you to look for other books (hopefully)!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Back from the Island

I've returned from TNP Camp 2006!

It was a great week. We actually had 12 kids. That's a 50% increase over last year, and two more than I predicted in my last post. We had one kid who has been there all three years. Two years ago, he seemed like he was totally lost. He didn't even have the will to read his poem about death in front of the group. This year, he wrote a song, using themes from the week, and sang it to the whole group. It was excellent! It was emotional all around.

Our week also had it's challenges. Within a five hour block, we had a theft accusation, a trip to the emergency room (I got to do that), and one of our directors being so mad that he swore in front of campers (I missed that one). On the whole, I feel good about the week. I hope that we can continue this work in the future.

I've spent the last few days working on our apartment building. We are getting ready for some new tenants. There is a lot of cleaning and painting to be done. Ah, the mundane life when you get off the mountaintop!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Camp Out 2006

We are currently getting ready for our third installment of The Naming Project Summer Camp. Our first one was in 2004. That's the one that was filmed and turned into a documentary for the masses. We were hoping that we would get a bounce in registrations due to the film. Right now, we are setting at 10 registrations. That's not a bad number, by any stretch, but we were honestly hoping for more.

However, it is exciting that most of these kids are new campers to our program. Hopefully, we can grow from this group into the future. We also have a bunch of qualified adults to work with the kids. When we first started, we only had the four of us. Now, we have 8 adults to work with kids. It's not necessary for only 10 kids, but it is nice to divide the labor across a bunch of adults.

I always enjoy my time at camp. I spend a little time out in a canoe, just being with nature. I like the staff and the kids who work there. In fact, many of the kids who will be at the camp are the kids I traveled to San Antonio with earlier this summer. It will be good to reconnect. Many of them know me from my camp experience.

I'm impatient for it to start. I still need to wash clothes and pack, but I want to just BE THERE. It's always exciting when the kids arrive. I'm going to be on the island for a week. It will be fun, and I'll have a good time!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Flaming Pants

I could share several stories about my trip to Toronto...however, I'm going to focus on one. This story is both very moving and quite funny at the same time. It's also very providential, as I have mentioned the background in a previous post.

Two posts below this, I pasted an article about an attempted gay pride event in Latvia. Several GLBT folks and allies were in a church, when anti-gay protesters stormed the church. When people attempted to leave, the crowd threw rotten fruit and shit at them. In the article, they mention Pastor Maris Sants. I did not realize when I posted this story, that Pastor Maris was going to be attending the Together in Toronto Assembly I was at this weekend. I have met him, and he is a lovely person.

However, he had packed the same clothes he had worn the day of the protest. When he was talking to people, he smelled shit. He then thought the smell was coming from his clothes (he had cleaned them). He asked others if they thought that he stank, and they said they couldn't smell anything. His memory was triggering within his nose.

His hosts decided that they needed to do something to help Pastor Maris out. They went out and bought him some new clothes. Then, they planned a ceremonious "pants burning". Of course, we couldn't start a fire on the college campus where we were staying, so we traveled to a nearby church courtyard. We prayed. Some GLBT clergy read scripture. Maris shared his story and some thoughts with the group. Then, we were all handed lighters. They put the pants and jacket in a little grill-type thing, doused it with lighter fluid, and set it on fire. While it burned, we sang a hymn. It was a very moving and powerful experience. I dare say that it was the best worship of the weekend, and it was very spontaneous.

Of course, it you think about it, a "pants burning" is not a common ceremony. It is not listed in the Occasional Services book given to Lutheran Pastors. I joked all weekend that the pants burning was the highlight of the weekend. I just enjoyed saying "pants burning" over and over again. Some folks said they would go, as long as he wasn't wearing the pants when they were set on fire. My favorite joke was when one of the pastors turned to me (holding the ashes of the pants in a cookie tin) and said, "Mr. Poopy Pants". I lost it right then.

Just so you don't think that I'm completely irreverent, these jokes were not shared during the pants burning. They were all within a small company of friends.

Toronto brought me all sorts of new a pants burning ceremony.