Thursday, August 21, 2014

Both sides now . . . or . . . stuck in the middle again

Yes, I know it sounds like an Oldies’ radio station up in here right now, but that’s the reality of my life today.  Let me give you some examples:

The other day I was browsing Facebook and I noticed that a clergy colleague was looking for suggestions on how she could update her 100+ year old sanctuary with more screens and better sound system for worship and events.  Her ideas are, to my certain knowledge, very expensive to carry out.  While I’m glad that her congregation has the funds to do these kinds of remodels to their building, I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t some other use - some “missional” use - for the money.  I happen to know that this particular congregation is in an urban location that has undergone gentrification in recent years . . .

A couple of hours later I answered the door to an elderly, homeless, blind woman.  She was concerned that she was too late to receive food, because it was after the hours that we usually give out food.  She was actually a whole day late, but that wouldn’t have kept me from helping her, if we’d had any food to give.  But we don’t.  I had to apologize because we had no food to give her - none at all.  For some months now no one has brought food to our pantry - not church members, not the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, not any of the groups who meet in our church hall - no one.  The cupboards are bare.  It seems like there simply is no money in our community right now for people to buy food beyond what they need for their own families to eat . . . 

Seeing both sides now.  Church needs to reach out with great tech to bring people in.  Church needs to forget about the tech and out out with food to care for the people.  

Meanwhile . . . a woman and her daughter have been attending faithfully for a couple of months now. They’ve been working hard at our church work days.  They’ve brought the fellowship meal once or twice.  They participate in everything we do.  And then one Sunday they weren’t there.  I remembered the mom had said the daughter would be with her dad that week, so I wasn’t too worried until they didn’t show up again the second Sunday. I emailed, and got a response.  They were with family, and she wanted to call later in the week with a question for me.  The third Sunday they weren’t in worship I called.  Mom is concerned that we are Open and Affirming, that I perform Gay Marriages and how that conflicts with what she learned growing up in a Fundamentalist congregation.  She said she loves all the people in our church but is worried that her daughter will be exposed to things that are against God’s law.  She was, however, willing to accept some reading materials and will come talk to me about her concerns after reading them . . .

A few days later, a lesbian who started attending the same 12 Step meeting that I also attend came to see me.  She had missed the meeting last week after learning that I am the pastor of a Christian church.  She thought maybe she wouldn’t be welcome where I was.  That maybe I was judging her.  She let what she believes to be true about what Christians believe get in the way of getting to know who I am as a person (and as a Christian).  But she looked at my Facebook posts and prayed about it and talked to friends about it and decided to give me a chance, and return to the meeting I attend. . .

Stuck in the middle again. I’m a Christian so how can I accept “those people” over against I’m a Christian so I can’t possible accept “those people.” 

This is my life today.  What’s your’s like?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the office . . .

In April I started sorting out my life.  I went through my home looking for just those things that I truly love and don’t want to live without, discarding everything else.  Some was thrown away, but most was given to people who needed whatever.  When I moved into a much smaller place I was surrounded by those things that bring me joy.  I have since discovered that even some of those things aren’t really necessary.  I kept clothes that I wear but don’t love.  I don’t think I need clothes I don’t love.  And books . . .I have to admit it’s really, really hard to give up books, but I think I kept more than I really need.  Of course, most of those I kept are books that I haven’t read yet . . . but then there are the Harry Potter books and the Narnia books and the Douglas Adams books.  Do I need them?  Will I re-read them again?  (YES! OK, I’m keeping those.  ☺)

Meanwhile, back at the office . . . 

Last month a homeless woman accidentally had access to all the rooms in the church buildings for a number of days.  She is a hoarder, I guess, because she started taking things outside and piling them up in out of the way places on the property.  We noticed some things were missing - like the big coffee pot and the Spanish congregation’s  projector.  She insisted she didn’t take anything that she wasn’t freely given by someone.  I didn’t quite believe that.  After a few weeks we were able to convince her to leave the property (without having to have her arrested) and secure the buildings by changing locks.  Two weeks or so later we started discovering her caches and found so much stuff!  She had stashed things in the electrical closet and in the little emergency exit area behind the preschool building and in the bushes next to the church.  We couldn’t believe what all she took - and kept!  I understood taking coffee mugs but why take the giant, very old dictionary?  There were so many things she could have pawned but didn’t.  The Spanish congregation even found their projector in perfect condition.  

As we went through the stashes I kept finding items that had come from my office.  There were a few things that I had missed but way too many that I didn’t even notice were gone. I could understand not noticing a few books missing from a shelf, but some of the art objects that I thought I loved were in her stash and in the weeks that they were missing I never realized they were gone.  When I looked around I realized that I have a lot of stuff - a lot of stuff that just sits there, serves no  purpose and that I don’t even love.  Stuff that I keep because it is a souvenir of someplace I went or was a gift from someone (not necessarily someone I even like, just a gift.)  

I guess it’s time to start that sorting process in my office.  It’s time to get rid of books I haven’t taken off the shelf in 10 years or more, and decorations that I might use again sometime (but probably won’t) and items that are lovely but that would serve someone else much better.  

I feel a need to simplify, to somehow ignore my desire to own stuff, to make my life so simple that if I want to pick up and go somewhere else it won’t have to be a huge production.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Her name was Geggie.

She wasn't Aunt Geggie or Miss Geggie or Geggie plus whatever her last name was.  She was just Geggie and she was always part of our family.  Not in the same way that Dorothy and Webby were, who came over from Ireland on same boat as my father's mother.  And not in the same way that Aunt Jo was, who was actually my mother's best friend in high school.   Mother treated her like a role model, maybe an older sister or a beloved aunt, but she wasn't either of those things either.

In the early 1920s Geggie (short for Gertrude) came to Philadelphia from a small town to find work and somehow ended up renting a room from my mother's parents.  She became much more than just a boarder.  She ate her meals with the family, listened to the radio with them in the evenings and went to church with them on Sunday morning.  She helped my grandmother with the children - including my mother - and used the family sewing machine to make her clothes. Eventually she  truly became part of the family.

I probably haven't thought about Geggie in decades but lately I find myself sort of in her position.  I separated from my husband at the same time that my church had to cut my salary by 30%, so I had to move from my spacious apartment.  I was hoping to find a little studio somewhere and I actually did, but then the man who was living in it needed to stay so the family asked if I'd like to move into their spare room.

I had to think about that. I've never lived with strangers (unless husbands count as strangers). I'd never lived with any family except my own.  I haven't shared a kitchen or even a bathroom in decades.  And I really, really wanted to live all by myself.  But I decided maybe God was trying to get my attention and that maybe I needed to live with this family for a while.

I've been here for a month now.  It's different from what I am used to, that's for sure.  This is a close family and all the siblings and cousins and in-laws and nieces and nephews and such wander in and out whenever - even when the couple who live here aren't home.  I am free to cook for myself if I choose, but I am always welcome to join them for meals.  Mostly I feel good being in the middle of a family, but on those occasions when I feel a little outside my comfort zone I can always retreat to my room, my sanctuary, where I keep everything I love.  And when I do retreat to my room, no one thinks badly of me.  

I don't know whether this is how it felt to Geggie when she first moved in with my mother's family. I'm just glad she did move in and stuck around for so long because now, close to a century  later, she gets to teach me, too.