Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Stopping on a Snowy Evening (apologies to Robert Frost)

It snowed all through Nevada as I drove south, heading for Saint Andrew's Abbey for a few days before finally coming home from the month-long road trip. I had scheduled a meeting with my spiritual director long before leaving for Oregon at the end of December, and had to rearrange it to the end of my trip when I decided to take the time to meet a prospective congregation that was a bit out of my way before heading for home. The extra trip added a week to my time away, but it was well spent.

I was a bit nervous about a long day of driving in bad weather. Growing up in Southern California does not prepare you for snow, hail, serious rain....well, anything but sunshine. But I managed quite well, staying on the main highways, and being sure I could reach my destination before dark. I would arrive at the monastery after two days of driving past snowy peaks and stretches of desert elegantly clothed in white. Then I would have a day and a half of quiet and singing and praying with the monks before my meeting with my director. Then I would drive another few hours to Santa Barbara. My longing to unpack was at war with my longing for the quiet of the Abbey and the conversation with my director to pull a month's worth of conversations about vocation into focus. Where was God at work in all that talking, meeting new people who held the ability to place me in a congregation? How to put my hopes on hold again, and wait. How to continue my vigil-keeping without losing engagement in the world around me.

It was cold at the Abbey, 4000 feet up in the San Gabriel Mountains, and there was thick snow on the higher peaks. I was still wearing silk long-johns under my jeans when I dressed for walks in the morning, and I added all the extra blankets to the bed. It began to snow in the afternoon, covering sagebrush and joshua trees with white and speckling my hair and jacket with flakes as I walked to Vespers. New retreatants came and brought marshmallows and chocolate for making S'mores in the huge fireplace, It snowed all night and into the morning of my meeting, the silence magnified by the white which frosted every surface. I worried that I would be snow-bound and have to spend the weekend, but as it turned out, the roads were open and when I came down the mountain, the storm that would have snowed me in poured torrential rain on all the highways that took me home. I had worried that the extra time away from home would just make me tired and impatient. But the beauty of the snow, the blessing of the quiet, the welcome of the Divine Hours instead sent me home composed and collected and ready for God's next surprises.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Artist Returns

When I stopped by church on Friday, my first day home from my road trip, friend Ellie was hanging her watercolors on the Gallery walls in the hall. My pictures had been there since October, and had been taken down for this new display. It was wonderful to see her work; she is quite accomplished, and I already own several of her paintings. But it was sad to see my own work removed from the hallway which connects the sanctuary and the socializing parts of the building. That I had a body of recent work large enough to fill the display wall continues to amaze and delight me.

Taking printmaking, book art and collage classes in the past year has been a source of integration and motivation for me. I have been an artist all my life. The visual world has always been the beginning of understanding the world for me, and my parents always gave me a ream of paper and a new box of pencils for Christmas. I studied art in high school and college, worked as a commercial artist when my children were teenagers. But I got diverted when I went into sales, which was always a satisfying creative enterprise for me. The last ten years have been dedicated to completing an undergraduate degree in psychology and my Master's of Divinity degree. My time was completely taken up with work and school, or school and work. In this time, every day was scripted from the beginning of the semester to it's end, and there was never even time for phone calls to friends, movies, or road trips. This last year of being without work, without a schedule, and with few demands on my time has often felt like I was a balloon, floating out there, ungrounded. Making art has been been an important anchor for me. Carving relief blocks, folding paper, making covers, assembling collage and creating handmade books has reintroduced me to the artist in myself who was buried in reading for information, writing papers, and doing fieldwork.

A friend suggested that my free-floating time was really time for recovery, to take a deep breath and let a less-directed part of myself re-emerge. Perhaps she is right, because I am suddenly full of ideas; a line of cards with block-print designs, new book and journal ideas, liturgical environments for worship in Lent, plus the fiber art and knitting that has filled my life with color for the last years. I collected meditations I had written over the years and bound them into a book of block prints of the coffee cups I use during my morning meditations and coffee cups I have shared with friends over the last few months. There are other "theological" works in my collection, an expression, I believe of the integration of the artist who has always been there with the pastoral theologian who is the newest part of me. As frustrating as this time of waiting for a place in a congregational community has been, I have come to understand it as a time of recovery and integration - a chance for the artist and the theologian to come together to enjoy a new view of the world. I am so grateful for a church home with a gallery wall that let me display this new view, to see and share this integration in my community. I am grateful, as well as for the constant evidence of God's Spirit at work to bring the new to life, and for this new blooming from old stock. Hallelujah!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Road Trip Report

What is wrong with me? I have been on the road since December 28, and have only posted once at the beginning of this road trip. Part of my excuse involves not having internet access most of the time - I never realized what a hardship this has become - and part of my excuse involves having such a good time that I have not stopped long enough to reflect. So I'll try to summarize the last few weeks:

  • New Year's Eve in Salem Oregon with brother John and sister-in-law Judy. Pretty quiet evening with single malt scotch to toast out the Auld and toast in the New.

  • Meeting the new Bishop of the Oregon Synod and his assistant at the Bishop's Convocation at the beach. The weekend included wonderful visits with pastor friends, lots of laughs and some shopping (of course) at the Pendleton store (a fabulous blanket with Iriquois turtles).

  • A week in Portland, visiting old friends and church buddies, walking in the Irvington neighborhood, scoping out shops to sell scarves, visiting the Portland Museum of Art. Lots of good meals, good wine and good conversation. Lots of cold and rain.

  • A week at PLTS in a class to teach pastors how to counsel couples preparing for their wedding. Beautiful clear nights with spectacular views across the Bay, good conversations with friends, several good meals and shopping for yarn at my favorite yarn store.

Tonight finds me in Northeastern Nevada preparing to meet the call committee of a congregation looking for a new pastor. It was a 500 mile drive from Berkeley, but I am eager to meet them and happy that our first contact will be a face-to-face meeting. I wanted to check out the area before I made a committment to them, and I wanted them to meet me in person in order to answer the "age question" from the beginning of the relationship. There is snow on the ground here - we are at 5,ooo feet, I understand. At least it's not raining or snowing. Oregon gave me enough of that to last awhile.

Am I becoming addicted to road trips? In spite of my longing for a home of my own, it will be sad to give them up.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Coming Home to Oregon

Ahhhh! Real weather. It snowed on me and my little Honda going over the pass at Mt Shasta on Friday night, making me a little nervous, but adding a some excitement to a very ordinary drive. I left Santa Barbara at 10:00 am, headed for Oregon and prepared for rain throughout the day, and snow complications after dark. The sky was certainly dark and stormy, but offered no rain until I left Redding after dinner at 8:00 pm. As we gained elevation, the rain turned sleety and snowy, coating the verges of the highway with white. I had purchased chains, which resided in my trunk, and the highway conditions on the radio kept repeating all the places where chains were imperative. I even saw 18-wheelers stopped on the roadside to put on chains, but the highway was clear and I didn't hesitate to continue on to Mt Shasta City.

The roads off the highway were covered with packed snow, but driving through town to a motel with vacancy was not a problem. The only difficulty was getting up the steep drive in to the parking lot -- a bit slippery, but my Honda was up to it. Although I customarily drive straight through to friends in Roseburg, this time I decided to allow for the possibility of snow in the passes of the Siskiyou Mountains and not to drive through them in the dark. The view out my motel window was of fresh snow covering an old-fashioned neighborhood, no streets plowed or walks dug out. It looked like a Christmas card. My heart rose with delight. The morning drive through the mountains was beautiful. Snow dusted fields and farms which are otherwise grey and brown this time of year, and still the highway was clear and driving was uncomplicated. Gloomy skies and drizzly rain down into the Willamette Valley pleased me -- not in California anymore! And here I am in Salem, tucked into brother and sister-in-law's cozy home, watching the rain out the window and feeling welcomed back in their love.

Wednesday, brother John and I will attend the Bishop's Convocation at the coast and I will have a chance to meet the new Bishop and his assistant - the people who facilitate placing pastors in congregations. I have been looking forward to renewing old friendships from my internship days, to studying and relaxing together with other pastors, to networking a place to live and work in Oregon. The Bishop's Convocation is a lovely tradition, an opportunity for the Bishop to fulfill his role of being the pastor's pastor, so pastors come to be served by their pastor and renew their depletely energies.

There's still a part of me that lives in Oregon, even though I have been gone for two years. It is always so lovely to return to the weather, the friendships and the landscape that is so different from my native territory. The part of me that lives here takes a deep breath and says WELCOME HOME.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Are You the One?

It was with great agitation and some tears that I admitted to the Assistant to the Bishop for the Synod in the Northeast that I was not coming to the congregation whose paperwork was in my hand. I had visited a a classmate in her first parish in the early Spring and met the assistant. I was enchanted with the area and the Synod, and would have loved to work there. When I called him in the Fall to tell him that I had sent my theological resume' to the Oregon Synod and was planning to move there in the beginning of 2008, he'd been expecting me to ask for a parish in his synod and had one of his favorite congregation's paperwork ready to send me. I wanted to see it and read it with an open heart. They were certainly an interesting congregation, but after weeks of sitting with the prospect, I just couldn't say yes. Every part of my "moving to Oregon" project seemed to be on track, and that seemed to be where the Spirit was leading. But......

The very same day that I sorrowfully declined the opportunity to meet this lovely Eastern congregation, I got a call from the Assistant to the Bishop in Northern California. He wanted to know if I was interviewing somewhere else. I could hardly catch my breath and croaked out that I was not, thinking all the time of the wonderful congregation in the East that I had kissed goodbye in the morning without ever meeting them. It seemed that there were two congregations in Northern California for which the Bishop's Assistant thought I might be a good match, and that were appropriate for a first -call pastor. He described them briefly, the reasons why a pastor would be likely to want to serve them and why she might not be interested. One was old, kind of stuck in their ways and still losing members while the community around them was growing. The other was in the middle of nowhere, but flourishing. He wanted to know if I would be interested in the seeing their profiles. Yes. You bet. I closed my phone and sat in my car trying to breathe. I cried again for the lost opportunity with the congregation in the East, even though I could not really identify why I could not say yes to them. And I cried because these other opportunities were so unexpected. "Where have you been all this time?" my heart was shouting to God's Spirit. "Why have you waited until I started something else?" What will happen now to my plans to move to Oregon to be ready for a call to a congregation there? I finished my errands and came home. Sitting across the table from Marti, I spilled the whole story, the saying goodbye and the phone call from Northern California. Tears welled up again. "I don't think I can stand this! It's stirring up too much and I don't even know how to process it all!" I was waving my arms and nearly shouting. She thought I needed to sleep on it all and think about it again tomorrow.

"Are you the one, or shall we wait for another?" This text for last Sunday morning is the story of John the Baptizer's incarceration and his sending his disciples to ask Jesus this important question. It's become my text, too. It has been nearly a week since the phone calls, and I've been faithfully reading the papers for each congregation the Northern California Bishop's office sent. I've been looking deeply at how they talk about ministry, what their history is around conflict and mission, how they see themselves responding to the community around them, trying on their mission statements to see if my mission and gifts for ministry connect with any of theirs. "Are you the one, or shall I wait for another?" It's a big question. They were asking it of me, as well, even though they didn't know it yet.

In the end, I have chosen to respond in favor of one congregation and to decline to interview with the other. I e-mailed the Northern California Bishop's office on Monday morning with my decision and my resume' is on it's way to the congregation right now. I still can't catch my breath. I am headed to Oregon December 31, for the Bishop's Convocation on Jan 2. It will be an opportunity to meet the new Bishop and his new Assistant, the ones who will assess my suitability for a call to a congregation there. I will have the chance to network with pastors I have not seen since I served as an intern in Portland in 2005/2006. It will be wonderful to be back.

Can there be two Plan A's? "Are you the one, or shall I wait for another?"

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Selling Scarves at at the Holiday Craft Fair

It all started when my favorite yarn shop went out of business. Well, it actually started before that, but this last round of knitting addiction began with the bags of yarn I brought home from BB's Knits in July. I had been knitting scarves for gifts and to wear for a long time. It's a much more creative and rewarding project for me than sweaters or afghans - you submit to the lure of some luxury yarn or luscious color, buy a few skeins, pick out a design you love, and start the project. It will be done in a short time and you can wear it or give it as a gift. Instant gratification! Longer projects are too boring and expensive.

When BB's marked down all the yarns I'd been lusting after, I went a little nuts. I bought two shopping bags full of merino and cashmere, silk ribbon, multi-stranded name it, I probably had some. I began to create wonderful scarves in patterns I loved, but by Fall, I realized that I had more than 30 scarves. Too many to wear, too many to give away. They were overflowing the bags I used to store them. I began to think about selling them.

When I carried them with me to Portland in October to sell them to some stores which sell handmade clothing, I found out that I was too late. They had already purchased everything they were planning to sell for the season. If I still wanted to sell some of my designs next year, I should talk to the proprietresses again in March or April.

A friend who sells collectibles at swap meets and vintage fairs, offered to let me display my inventory at some of the Fall shows for which she was registered. So I have been spreading out my handknits among wooden bowls and crystal candlesticks for the last few weekends. People loved my stuff, picked it up, tryed it on, fingered it lovingly. But they were not buyers. They were looking for bargains, for household chochkes and willing to spend two to five dollars for their prizes. Handmade cashmere neckware was not on their shopping list, nor was a $150 price tag. It was fun to hang out and show off my wares, and helping my friend pack up all her fragile merchandise cemented a friendship. But it didn't move any of my inventory.

She suggested the Holiday Craft Fair that was an annual event in the tiny town just south of Santa Barbara. People come looking for gifts and beautiful things, she suggested, and that was the customer base I was looking for. So I signed up, offering to share a space with another friend of hers - a sculptor of whimsical constructions of stainless steel serveware. It did sound like a good idea, but as it turns out, my scarves got less attention from the holiday craft shoppers than the collectibles customers. The only scarf I sold was to a friend, who wouldn't let me give it to her as a gift. So all my inventory came home with me again.

Everyone I know will be getting a scarf from me for Christmas. I guess I'll have to start wearing them, too, because there's still more yarn in those bags. I can't stop knitting now, I am just hitting my stride. I'll probably have created enough new inventory to show up at those Portland boutiques in the Spring. If you are in need of warm neckware, give me a call.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reclaiming the Past

Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to First Lutheran Church in Venice was like driving back into my past. This was my old church. This was my parent's church. So much of my own faith formation is centered in that community, that when I found out that they were installing their new pastor, I wanted to be there to celebrate with them. The pastor we all loved left for another postition just before my father died nearly three years ago.

It was a dark day, threatening rain the whole way down the coast. How beautiful. The sea so dark, the highway empty. The old neighborhood was familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Lincoln Boulevard has become so seedy, and the traffic lights longer than I remembered. I couldn't remember where the bank was, so I just kept driving toward the shopping center nearest my old apartment. Ah, yes, there was a Bank of America in that shopping center where I used to get my nails done. The center looked so different and I hardly recognized the bank. There were big stores that I don't remember and the bank all frilled up to look like it dropped out of Art Deco Paris.

The church looked beautiful, and friends were gratifyingly glad to see me. No one knew I was coming, so there were lots of widened eyes and huge hugs. These are the people who were there at the very beginning of my journey to a pastoral vocation. We sang together, planned worship together, ran a school, welcomed children and their parents, prayed each other through tragedies and triumphs. These are the people who visited my mother faithfully for five months when she lay in hospital bed on a respirator, unable to move or talk. They brought food for my father for months after my mother's hospitalization, and the men in the congregation visited my Dad every week during the year and a half he was alone after Mom died. It was good to be surrounded by them again, to feel part of the Body of Christ in that place. I gasped as the processional cross that my Dad carved for them moved down the aisle at the head of a procession of pastors and singers.

The story of their three-year search for a pastor was inspiring. These days I am frustrated and close to despair. I have done everything I know to find a call. And everything I have done seems to be useless. Every avenue seems blocked, and I am suddenly unsure of my next move. I want to wait with patience, to be open to the Spirit's work, but instead I am agitated, anxious, crabby and grieving. The Venice congregation looked at 26 resume's before they met this new pastor. Some of them told me that the first two pastors they called were not pastors everyone was sure of, but that they seemed overall to be a good fit, so a call was issued. But those pastors chose not to come. This pastor was one that everyone agreed on. And he wanted them. He told them that it was a good thing that they hadn't called him at the beginning of their search, because he would not have been a good fit then, and would likely have declined the call as well. This is an encouraging story. And just being with them all as they celebrated made me happy. Much like the love-fest of a wedding, I was swept up into their joy, as if he were my new pastor, too.

So many people told me how much they missed my parents. The older people said they had missed my Dad during the discussions of procedure could have been helped by his understanding of the past and his strong voice against change simply for the new. My mother had been such a model for young women who had no church experience growing up and were now raising families in the church. They remember her dedication and energy with such easy fondness. I have been missing my parents especially in this season of All Saints, and it felt good to be sad about their loss at the same time that I experienced their community going forward with Spirit into the future. All that love is still there, gathered inside those walls, ready to be touched, to be taken home, to be held in my heart, to be shared as I look into my own future.