Saturday, October 27, 2012

On Taking a Break, and Why That's Not a Bad Thing

In the world of relationships the phrase "taking a break" is usually a bad thing, at least for one of the parties involved...but in my church relationship, taking a break from lay ministry is, for the time being, a good thing.

Our team of lay ministers had been front and center in our congregation, either as assisting ministers or preachers, pretty much nonstop for the past couple of  years. With the arrival of our pastoral intern, we had to rethink the schedule; for the first couple of weeks we found ourselves trying to lead worship with an awkward trio of pastor, intern and lay assistant, something that felt like much of a muchness in our small, MOTR/down-the-candle congregation. And then one lay-preaching Sunday one of the other lay ministers delivered a sermon that was so -- well, without going into details, I'll just say, as a stunned listener in the pew, that it was not a good day for anyone, especially a hapless visitor, to have attended the service expecting a sermon compatible with Lutheran theology and comforting/edifying to the faithful  -- that at our next lay ministry meeting our pastor basically called a lay ministry time out, at least in terms of sermonating, for all of us for the near future.

My response? Relief. I'm tired, even with our relatively relaxed one-Sunday-on, three-Sundays-off rota. Especially in this past year when I was recovering from my seizure, sometimes not feeling steady on my pins or comfortable preparing for whatever the day entailed, this modest schedule was still a burden, especially if one of the other players needed a substitute on a given Sunday. It's also nice, frankly, to be able to sit in the pew with my partner and simply experience worship without having to lead it, especially now that we have a new voice and perspective in the pulpit.

I'm still our congregation's Facebook editor, a job that I spend, I think, a good hour on every day just providing some daily content to keep our page fresh and informative, and I'm happy doing that. We seem to have about 55 frequent fliers out of 167 "Likes," which I think is great considering our congregation's general lack of access to the Internet.

In the meantime, I'm rethinking my role in lay ministry -- not rethinking it all that hard, but wondering what the term "lay minister" even means, or at least what it means for me at this point in my life.  It's never been all that defined in our congregation.  Is it something that is useful to others and satisfying to me to a degree that makes me want to continue to be one? I don't know. But at least I have a hiatus in which to think about it. And to do other things.

Friday, October 26, 2012

All Booked Up

This Friday's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is all about books. Which is great; I've been all about books lately.

1. STUDYING: What is your favorite book or series for sermon prep or study? Or have you moved from books to on-line tools for your personal study? Because I'm a lay minister, and a lay minister in a relative academic desert, I don't have ready access to a lot of Bible commentaries or theological works; I have my New Interpreter's NRSV (a great Bible, by the way), a smattering of my own theology books and whatever I can find in my pastor's office, plus what's left of the wisdom I gained in three years of working in a serious pan-Christian bookstore with liberal lending privileges for employees. That is why I rely fairly heavily on online resources like The Text This Week and Working Preacher when preparing sermons or, more frequently these days, our Prayers of the Church.

2. IN THE QUEUE: Do you have a queue of books you are longing to read or do you read in bits and pieces over several books at a time? What's in the queue? This past spring and summer, for a variety of reasons -- perhaps in no small part to convince myself that my cognition was back to normal after my double-whammy seizure event and concussion -- I became intrigued by the concept of classical education, the trivium, and filling in the blanks left by my hit-and-miss liberal arts education. Susan Wise Bauer's The Well Educated Mind has been a great inspiration to me. I downloaded to my Kindle numerous free or low-cost versions of books on her list of must-reads, amended with additions from lists of multicultural Great Books -- everything from the Gilgamesh saga to The Tale of Genji to Jane Austen to Martin Luther King, Jr. And I'm just reading them, very slowly, mostly chronologically. (Even when it hurts, as in the Gilgamesh story -- I apologize to any fans of Near Eastern mythology, but I was so mind-numbingly bored trying to slog my way though this tedious ancient bromance that I could barely get through it, and I cannot say that it has enriched my life in any discernable way.)

This past month I also enrolled in a Greek and Roman mythology class through Coursera, an amazing, free experimental online school offering non-credit courses from legitimate universities, which means I've been reading Homer and Hesiod these days, with I think some Virgil on the horizon.

Of course, I'm interested in a lot of other things as well. I have a number of gardening books in my queue that I read in bits and pieces. I'm entertaining a wild hare about beginning a nature journal -- just a diary of what goes on in our backyard -- and just bought a book about ways to do that. And I loves me some Dan Silva international thrillers. I kind of have a yen to re-read some overviews of Old and New Testaments, to keep my edge, but all in due time.

3. FAVORITE OF ALL TIME: What's one book that you have to have in your study? Is it professional, personal, fun or artistic? (For instance, I have a copy of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It just helps sometimes.) Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. I loved them when I was five, and I love them now.

4. KINDLE OR PRINT? or both? Is there a trend in your recent purchases? Great question. There's no question that the Kindle is an amazing device -- I mean, here I am with an entire library right next to me in a gadget smaller than a TV dinner -- and the Kindle Fire is just so cool that whenever I open mine I can hardly stand the coolness of it all. But it has some drawbacks, depending on the book you're reading. I find it hard to navigate reference books, like my gardening encyclopedias, on a Kindle; it's very hard to find, or regain, one's place. It's difficult to cite passages in books without page numbers, or make notes even with the Kindle features that allow one to do so. And sometimes the editing in a digitalized book leaves something to be desired. (Maybe the proofreading profession will make a comeback.) And sometimes you just want to turn pieces of paper, or scribble a note in a margin. On the other hand, it's very spatially liberating to not have to find places for print books, or have to schlep them around. And in most cases Kindle books are cheaper.

5. DISCARDS: I regularly cruise the "FREE BOOKS" rack at our local library. (I know, I know. It's a bad habit!) When's the last time you went through your books and gave some away (or threw some away?) Do you remember what made the discard pile? We're in the process of sprucing up our home interior -- painting, redecorating in some of the rooms, de-cluttering -- so this summer I was quite ruthless in discarding books from our bulging bookcases and overflowing end tables; I donated them all to our church yard sale, where books are always a big seller, so I felt confident they'd find good homes. Most of the discards were "seemed like a good idea at the time" impulse purchases from the Barnes and Noble remainder racks, cookbooks with recipes I know I'd never actually make, gift books that we didn't really enjoy and some old books of mine that I think had survived three moves but that I hadn't read in years and that I just seemed to be holding onto as souvenirs. It was very liberating, frankly, to pile these into a big cardboard box and send them back off into the reading universe.

Anti-Bonus: I'm feeling a little lazy about taking a photo of my bookcase (actually, my phone is in the bedroom and my camera is AWOL elsewhere in the house), and a photo of a Kindle is kind of here's a bonus addendum of my own. And with any luck it will be a bonus for me. What are some good books you've read lately, of any genre? Thanks for any suggestions.