samedi, janvier 30, 2010

This country life

I live in the country -- but I'm not "of" the country.

And as many years as I spend learning the ways of the folks who have spent most of their lives out here where Chester County smoothly merges into Lancaster, I probably will never be able, or willing to pass for someone who was born here.
I realized that once more today, as I officiated at a funeral for a man whose family had a grant from William Penn to farm on area land -- oh, say about ten generations ago.
Now, not everyone around here grew up on land their ancestors were granted by the United States most famous Quaker. Some grew up on farms, but many had ancestors who worked on the railroads, or ran small businesses, worked in hospitals, taught in local schools.
And some, like me, came out because they started to despise the cloned suburban developments in which each house is the twin of the one across the street.
"This is a country congregation" said someone to me as we chatted in the lower level of the 19th-century church after the service.
In comparison with the large, executive-driven congregation in which I'd been an associate, they do seem to take their time with decisions.
Otherwise, I'm still finding out what "country" means, used as a modifier.
I know one of the lay leaders doesn't do email.
But she does own a cell phone -- and she does answer it.
That's progress.
And if the churchfolk care to define "progress" a little differently than those on the Main Line, I'm fine with that.
Come and visit.
Turn left past Farmer Messner's, right at the tree farm, over the bridge (but watch out, only one car at a time), left at the old mill, drive parallel to the stream, right at the stop sign...and step back in time.
Just a few steps.
You may find it's not a bad place to recoup, take a few deep breaths.
Until the cell phone rings.
Don't worry, you are not the only one.
I haven't turned mine off, either.

Last column of clergy shadows series

As I complete this series on the dark side of the ordained ministry, one thing has become starkly clear: clergy are much more like the flock they pastor than they, or their congregants, sometimes wish to believe.

Some struggle with depression.

Others get ensnared in online pornography or in physical sexual misconduct.

Men and women of God may grapple with addiction, whether it is to booze or to sex.

And even if they don't succumb to one of these temptations, clergy can have "special friends" in their parishes, creating cliques and pushing away others who may feel they don't belong.

Immersed in clergy dysfunction for a few months, I had to raise my head out of the muck and ask: How do the majority of ordained men and women stay healthy?

• • •

For some perspective I turned to the Rev. Dr. Stephen Treat.

Director and CEO of the Philadelphia-based Council for Relationships, and a prominent therapist who often appears on local media, Treat also is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor.

Treat's advice to clergy can be summed up in four words — take care of yourself.

"There's a general feeling of low self-worth among some clergy," Treat said. "They end up helping other people, doing good works and never putting in boundaries. "

In addition, Treat said, lots of clergy isolate themselves from groups of colleagues where they could get some support. Ordained men and women can be "rescuers" he added. "That's a dynamic in which you don't acknowledge your own pain."

Some congregations build their clergy up too much and don't see them as human beings — a wounded shepherd is very susceptible to that, he noted.

What can clergy and congregations do to hedge against misconduct that can fracture congregations and stigmatize clergy for a lifetime?

Treat has some practical suggestions for clergy.

Make sure you take your vacation days — all of them.

Take care of the relationships you are in.

Some congregations and members of congregations put clergy on a pedestal right up close to God.

"Be differentiated," Treat advises. "Don't judge yourself, but be balanced, so that when someone puts you up there you take it with a grain of salt."

As for congregations, they can encourage healthy behavior on the part of their leaders by respecting boundaries by calling during office hours, making sure the pastor is paid well and generally helping clergy practice a healthy lifestyle, Treat said.

"Functional parishes respect a clergyperson's boundaries," he said.

In thriving congregations, I would add, laypeople also report misconduct to church leaders and judicatory officials and, rather than colluding in it by staying quiet, hoping someone else will be the coal mine canary.

• • •

After spending a lot of time immersed in tales of misconduct, I'd forgotten that most of the clergy I know are quite sane, positive members of local communities, the kind of people you'd meet watching their sons at a Little League game or doing aerobics at the local Y.

The majority of clergy handle the pastoral tasks of congregation life beautifully, Treat said. And he sees a lot of them — the council runs numerous programs and seminars for clergy.

While we might hear about the ones who have problems, many more clergy have a healthy sense of who they are, lead relatively balanced lives, and have gotten good education about self-care, and sexual boundaries, he noted.

When I was a newly ordained minister, I observed some older clergy who were seemingly doing their time until they could retire. The joy of being a pastor had, as far as I could tell, long ago burned out for them.

But I've also seen clergy with 30 or 50 years of congregational experience under their belts serve with great joy and a strong belief that God has put them in the right places at the right times. It's not easy being a clergy person in the early years of the 21st century.

In this time when religious institutions are strained by the forces of secularism, pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders aren't given respect and authority — they have to earn it. The era of "Father says" is dying, if not already dead.

I don't think that's a bad thing.

The transition to a less hierarchical model of leadership is a chance for both shepherd and sheep to realize that they serve in community as a sign of something bigger than they are — and to help each other become, with mutual forgiveness, respect, awe and laughter, the best that they can be.


vendredi, janvier 29, 2010

For my pain and suffering?

It feels like almost a week -- I suppose thats how time impels itself forward online in the land of tweets and blogs and status updates.

But actually the Internet went down on Wednesday.

It turned out to be a modem problem.

But in the middle of a very long morning which began a little after seven and ended with the sun well over the yardarm, it appeared to be all but a modem issue.

An hour or so with the Comcast guy...mercifully short, in retrospect.

Two or three with the nice folks in Bangalore or wherever they are, chatting about the Belkin router.

Then back to Comcast -- he suggested I should call Dell. It was only when I burst into tears, after an hour or so of turning my laptop on and off, that he scheduled another appoitnment with a Comcast tech.

Meanwhile, a deadline loomed, first comfortably in the near distance, then where I could see it, then a little too close for good behavior.

In the past couple of weeks, the computer repair guy near the high school has become rather like a guru to me. Or should I say, that pretty much everything he teaches me is enlightening.

After spending a few hours pulling cable out and plugging them back in, he twisted the backside of the cable modem Mr. Comcast 459 had left for us -- et voila, the Internet came back on.

Eventually, I called Comcast -- and told them that the fact that Mr Comcast hadn't checked the modem had caused me considerable expense (cell phone minutes and Dave's company) not to mention a very large amount of time.

After a few more comments of this type, the technical support guy called a superior. When he picked up the phone once more, he said that, for my "pain and suffering" Comcast would give me a month's free Internet.

I confess, that I did act a bit "girly" -- and I have no remorse.

Which do you think is worse?

lundi, janvier 25, 2010

Just like your mother...

Call it the five year itch. It's been about half a decade since our clan last got together in West Chester -- and it's about time we laid eyes on one another once again.

So I have sent out an email to as many relatives as I can think of -- and about ready to concede the neccesity of sending out snail mail to those more elderly relatives who aren't leading lives where the real and the virtual sometimes can't be distinguished.

It's often pained me that I have no close relatives in the Philadelphia area. It seems that in the area in which we live, lots of families have relatives who reside close by, able to come over for dinner, or babysit, or take kids out to dinner and a movie.

But I am very rich in cousins.

The Jacksons, Singers and Smiths have seeded themselves, like dandelions, all over the United States. In my family, it doesn't matter if you are a Jackson to the first or three power, a Singer who lives in Israel, a Smith whose dad joined the John Birch Society. You are one of us.

Tonight I heard from a cousin...our grandma's were sister in laws. I think. She teaches on a native American reservation well west of Pennsylvania -- something I've never even imagined. Clearly, I need to meet her.

Anyhow, in her first Facebook wall to wall posting she said she'd named her daughter after my grandmother. Then commented how much I looked like my mom.

I know I'll like her already!

There will be a lot of, hotels, maps, shuttling folks around, reservations -- that aren't neccesarily my strongest point. Lists. Lists. There must be an online tutorial or site for organizationally deficient people who are planning family reunions.

But rallying my shadow (invisible?) side is a small price.

I am getting so excited at the idea that my kids will get to meet their wonderful, talented, passionate, generally leftist (also generally nonreligious)...hmmm...cousins.

And I have a feeling the aunts and uncles, the dads and moms, are going to be smiling in what must be a socialist paradise -- thrilled to hear that the clan is gathering once again.

dimanche, janvier 24, 2010

A door opens?

Yesterday I drove my son to a meeting about a student program for kids traveling overseas.

Rooted in an initiative that came out of World War II, the project sends high school and middle school students to places like Australia, Greece, and, of course France and England to experience other cultures.

Someone, a teacher or a Boy Scout pack leader, has got to recommend the prospective traveler, or they don't get an invitation.

The presentation was a little overly polished for me -- you can tell the leaders have given their sales talks many times.

But in spite of my jaded, journalistic dissection, I couldn't help but get a little excited. As did my son, who was obediently taking notes when the speaker asked us to write something in our application.

The two weeks in France and England is hideously expensive. "You'll have to raise money" I said quietly to Mr. C. He seemed willing to do chores for others, something that he's never shown much eagerness to do at home. As we were leaving, I asked another parent, clearly clued into the kid fundraising bluebook, for idea.

Though we signed up for an interview, Mr. C's dad still must approve, or say it's a no go.

But I had the sense that somewhere, hopefully somewhere really lovely, my dad was smiling.

We're going to try to make this happen, Dad.

I warned my son, as he chattered his way out the school door, that there's a big difference between smart, and smart alec. And I'm never positive, on any given day, on what side of the line he's going to fall.