Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Opening to Grace -- an ad

I don't think I've ever used this space for an ad before, but I'm going to make an exception.  There is an amazing woman by the name of Tilda Norberg who lives on Staten Island, where she practices and teaches Gestalt Pastoral Care.   Throughout the year she does weekend retreats called "Opening to Grace" near Dingman's Ferry, PA, at her funky little retreat space.   This fall the dates for her weekends are:  Sept. 25-27, Oct. 16-18, and Dec. 4-6.  Each retreat is limited to 6 participants, plus some helpers, and costs $300, which includes room and board.  Gestalt pastoral care is a combination of Gestalt growth work, healing prayer and spiritual companioning.  It's hard to describe.  You kind of have to experience it.  

I studied with Tilda for two years at her home/school on Staten Island.  It was one of the most important experiences of my life.  Given that my life has been a bit of a mess ever since, I realize I'm not the best walking advertisement.   (But then again, I'm not sure this mess isn't partly a result of shaking up my comfortable little world.   Sometimes healing isn't pretty.)

If this sounds even vaguely interesting to you, go to the website and read up on it.  Or give Tilda a call and have a chat.  I highly recommend her and this work.   But maybe you shouldn't go if you like your life exactly the way it is.   I'm just saying ...  

Friday, April 4, 2008

In Defense of Church-Shopping

I recently read an article by a former colleague of mine in which she bemoaned the American habit of church-shopping.  I completely understand how she feels.   I used to preach that same sermon.   She criticized the concept that churches are "spiritual service providers."  Yup, I've made that argument, too, back in my preaching days.   

But let's consider the other side of the story.   Let's say I'm a mom of a young child and worship on Sunday morning is the one hour a week I can hope to get some spiritual nourishment in community.  I may sneak in my own prayer and devotion time through the week -- but not with other people.  This is my only chance and I know I can get more out of it if my beautiful, squirmy, noisy, curious child is safely taken care of somewhere else.  In a nursery.  And the church I attend doesn't have one.   Will I stay?   Probably not.  Could I be accused of only thinking of my own spiritual needs?   I could.  But what would be the point?  That I shouldn't be taking care of my own spiritual needs?   Don't women -- and mothers in particular -- get that message often enough?   Take care of everybody else's needs first!   Yours can wait.   

Or take the accusation that one shouldn't leave because you disagree with the pastor.   The truth is, anybody making this statement is probably a pastor.  What is the point of worshipping week after week, listening to a person who preaches the Word and shapes the liturgy, if you have some fundamental disagreements with that person about that same Word and liturgy?   Is this a tolerance test?   Of course I'll disagree with any other human being from time to time -- we're human, after all -- but to state that agreement with the pastor should not be a criteria for whether one stays active in a church is an unrealistic and, frankly, disingenuous statement.  You can bet the person making it, on his/her Sunday off, seeks out a worship service with a pastor they enjoy.  (If they go to church at all).   

Neither of the above are my current situation.  But here is my reality:   I'm a single mom working full-time as director of an agency, with two precious animals in my care, a home, yard and car that are my responsibility, and aging parents for whom I uprooted my adult life so that I could live near them.   I am not complaining about these things.  I love these realities.  They are, in fact, my calling in life at this stage.   Each one of them has a particular pull on my soul and energy and I do my best to honor all of those pulls.   They are where my time, energy and love go, day after day.   Taking care of a church community is not one of my callings right now. It has been for most of my life, but it isn't now.  And that's true of many people sitting in our pews.  They aren't called to take care of your congregation, preacher, so give them a break.   

I love God.  I love worshipping God in community.   I need that community.   And I am church-shopping to find it.    Shopping has this negative, materialistic, self-centered image in the church and for good reason.   I think a better metaphor is dating.   I'm dating several churches (and other spiritual communities) this year.   I thought I needed to hop from my last church-marriage into a new one and the trouble with that model is you don't give yourself time to learn and grow and figure out how you changed since the last time you made a commitment. So I hopped quickly into what I believed to be a long-term relationship with a congregation.  I didn't sign on the membership line, but I did get very involved.   Then, when I began sensing that the relationship wasn't really working, I felt guilty and confused about how to extricate myself.   

Also, like my real-life dating these days, there is a child involved.  And that makes a tremendous difference.  (Unlike real-life dating, the child goes on most of my church-dates).   It is not just my needs, but his that I consider.   Is he surrounded by other adults in this congregation who demonstrate to him, implicitly and explicitly, the kind of Christian values I hope to help him develop?    If that isn't happening in the congregation, I'm not staying.   Just as in dating, I don't care how much I like the guy, if he's not somebody I feel good about my kid being around, it ain't happening.    

And, as is true in my dating life (or my desire to have one, is more like it), I'm not really out for a long-term commitment just yet.   I need a break from the hard work of that kind of commitment.   I do want to just be able to enjoy the date without thinking too much about the future.  Which means, next Sunday I may or may not want to spend time with you.   I may want to go out with another church next week.   Or I may be serially monogomous for a while -- a few months in this church, a few in that.    

The bottom line is, church-shopping -- or church-dating, as I prefer to call it-- is going to happen.   Churches and pastors need to deal with this reality without judgement.  Just as not every date is going to lead to marriage, not every church-date is going to lead to a long-term commitment.   Nor should it.    And there's nothing wrong with that. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Hafiz -- a poem

Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly. 
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft, 
My voice
So tender,

My need of God