Monday, April 30, 2007

Quick Poll

For weeks my kids have been telling me about the great things their classes are preparing for Open House night at their school. Son's class is making fantastic art, daughter's class is doing a musical playlet about rainforest creatures in which she is playing a python with a solo.

I wanted to be sure I didn't schedule a meeting for the same night, so about ten days ago I asked my daughter's teacher, "Now when is Open House?"

"The last Wednesday of May," she told me. Whew! Safe. No meetings scheduled on May 30th.

Aha! BUT--today the May school newsletter came home announcing that everyone should save the date for Open House on -------wait for it-----May 23rd. See--there are five Wednesdays in May this year. Ms. Teacher got mixed up and said "the last Wednesday" because in most cases the fourth Wednesday of a month would be the last Wednesday, but not this year.

May 23rd is Session night. Do I a) ask 18 other people to reschedule, b)ask our Associate Pastor to moderate the meeting, even though there are a few things coming up on the docket that I feel queasy about not being there for, c)miss Open House?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Does This Ever Happen to You?

You have a hard time getting to sleep Saturday night. All the moving parts of the coming Sunday morning are chasing around in your head. The ones that have been well thought through and carefully planned now seem heavy with potential for catastrophe. Your overactive brain also surfaces a dozen minor details that have not been attended to and will need emergency triage the instant you arrive at church the next morning. It's all you can do to stop yourself from getting up to phone the people who will need to help salvage the situation. If it's really bad, you may get up and send panicky e-mails in hopes that folks will read them upon awakening. The sermon that seemed adequate when you pushed the print button this afternoon is now revealed to be the worst sermon ever in the history of preaching. Or perhaps you decided to go with an old sermon from another time and place. While this decision seemed utterly reasonable last Wednesday, you now realize that you are, in fact, the laziest pastor in Christendom, entirely unworthy of your pay. You should go back to waitressing in a BBQ joint. At least there you did an honest day's work.

When you finally fall asleep, it is to several hours of anxiety dreams: you oversleep, you can't find a clock with the correct time, you forget to get dressed before leaving for church, you can't find your sermon, you forget the important meeting before worship, the car is behaving strangely--it won't make that left turn to get to the street the church is on, you can't find your office key, you need to call someone from church but you can't get the phone to work properly, worship has begun but no one is paying any attention, you are standing in the pulpit totally nude--has anyone noticed?

You wake up exhausted and anxious and it's only 6:30 a.m.

Not that this ever happens to me. Nope.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Urgent Miaow for Assistance

Psst. Shh. I have snuck to the computer to send you all an URGENT message. My family have been saying the 'K' word. Yes, k-k-k-kitten. That babysitter lady, who I thought was my friend, has a passle of the horrible creatures at her house. They are going to see them later this afternoon. See. Yeah, right. Like, "Warning: Coming Soon to Your Personal Feline Territory, one usurping, fluffly little intruder."

My fellow cat bloggers. You must come to my aid. Bend all your psychic cat energy toward preventing this from happening. Or, if that fails, help me escape.

Elizabeth the Cat

Monday, April 23, 2007

Half Jewish

Somehow I missed this book when it was first published. I stumbled across is recently and would definetly recommend it as an enjoyable read for anyone who, like me, is half Jewish. The authors are an intermarried couple raising a half Jewish daughter. They concede right up front that according to Jewish law there is no such thing as being half Jewish. You either are--because your mother is Jewish or you converted--or you aren't. However, they argue passionately that culturally, psychologically, genetically, even spiritually there is absolutely such a thing as being half Jewish. I have to agree.

My Dad was born Jewish, survived the Holocaust, then after a brief stint in what was still Palestine at that point, he and his Mom came to the U.S. My grandmother packed him off to Catholic boarding school and changed their fairly recognizably Jewish last name to an Italiantized variation. (She was Russian, but had lived in Italy for a long time before my Dad was born.) About ten years later my Dad met my Presbyterian Mom and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I was growing up my Dad was active in the Presbyterian churches we attended. At home we celebrated Christian holidays, not Jewish ones. However, for a good chunk of my childhood, we lived in small southern towns where Jews were few and far between. Even though my Dad had converted, the Jewish families we knew often included us in their holiday celebrations. We weren't exactly kosher, but at least we knew what Homentashn were and why a joke about the president of the college where they all worked that involved the words "schlemiel" and "tuches" was hilarious. When my high school class read The Diary of Anne Frank one of my classmates pointed out, "Hey, she looks just like you!" She didn't. Not really. She just looked Jewish. And I did too.

Sometimes when church life gets really unpleasant, either locally or nationally, I hear a little voice in my ear that sometimes sounds like my grandmother and sometimes like Moses himself. It whispers, "Hey. You don't HAVE to hang out with these crazy-ass Christians. You've got another option." In fact, several people in my life have asked if I couldn't just as readily be Rabbi Rebel rather than Pastor Rebel. And I always say, "Jesus and shrimp curry. That's all that keeps me on this side of the line."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Break a Leg

Yesterday was opening day for the production of The Wizard of Oz in which my daughter plays a munchkin. As I was driving her to the theater early in the morning, I was trying to explain the custom of saying "Break a Leg!" to an actor about to perform.

She didn't get it. "But why would breaking your leg be good luck? Who would do your part if you broke your leg?" I let the matter drop.

When I picked her up that afternoon, she was near tears. While eating her lunch backstage, she had lost a tooth--then literally lost the tooth. She had enlisted the help of castmates to search for it, but to no avail. She was distraught, because she has the other teeth she's lost collected in a "tooth safe" she was given by her school when she lost her first tooth in kindergarten. When we got home, we dumped out the contents of her lunch bag and sifted through carefully. There, in the crumbs at the bottom of her bag of pretzels, was the missing tooth. Great relief.

I think from now on, the good luck wishes for those in our family with theatrical aspirations will be, "Lose a Tooth!"

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fencing the Font

It happened again. A member of the congregation called asking about baptism for their grandchild. The grandparents are relatively active in our church. The parents of the beloved grandchild are not members of any church. The young family will be visiting next month. Could we baptize the baby?

According to Presbyterian polity, no. We can't. The Book of Order says:

When a child is being presented for Baptism, ordinarily the parent(s) or one(s) rightly exercising parental responsibility shall be an active member of the congregation. Those presenting children for Baptism shall promise to provide nurture and guidance within the community of faith until the child is ready to make a personal profession of faith and assume the responsibilities of active church membership.
A session may also consider a request for the baptism of a child from a Christian parent who is an active member of another congregation.

I've been known to stretch this pretty far. I've baptized children whose grandparents have been bringing them to Sunday school and other church activities. Since these kids are in town, the grandparents can undertake their "nurture in Christian community" and church members will know them and have opportunities to fulfill their part of the baptismal promises.

But kids who live hundreds of miles away and whose parents aren't part of any church? Even an extremely broad reading of the BOO doesn't stretch that far, as I read it.

Yet the grandparents are always upset. I've had one set of grandparents leave the congregation over this years ago in another place. "How can you deny baptism to this precious infant--regardless of what their parents do or don't believe?" "What if the wonderful spiritual experience of having their child baptized would be the one thing that would draw this young couple back into the life of the church?" At this point the grandparents are usually not willing or able to hear an exposition of the Presbyterian understanding of baptism, they are just pissed off. Especially if they've already started planning the christening party before they called me.

There are also Presbyterian churches who totally ignore this rule and go ahead and baptize in these situations. I've had that thrown in my face several times: "Well the Smiths go to Down the Road Pres. Church and they had their little grandchild baptized last month--so we know that you COULD do this if you really WANTED to. . ."

What do you do about baptizing grandchildren at your place?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dorothy at Last

This week my daughter is in a production of The Wizard of Oz. She is one munchkin among dozens. She hoped, hoped, hoped to be one of the Lullaby League munchkins, but though she progressed through several auditions, she did not make the final cut.

This follows my own Wizard of Oz experiences as a child. I was in two productions of Oz in two different towns where my family lived. The first time I was hoping for Dorothy, but was cast as the Good Witch of the North. The director explained that I was very good, but they felt more confident having an older girl play Dorothy. Fast forward four years and we are living in a different place. Once again I audition for Oz, hoping for Dorothy. This time I am cast as the First Winkie--a big demotion to my mind. Once again the director explained that they felt that Dorothy should go to a more mature actress. (I'll say she was mature. When she showed up at the cast party wearing skin tight leather pants and the skimpiest of sweaters, the little munchkins' eyes just about popped out of their heads. She is now a lounge singer. But I digress).

I confess that I am sure that, spiritual calling aside, some small part of what pushed me into the preaching life was a desire for vindication. I really can carry the whole show. Every week. So there you idiot Children's Theater directors. When I step into the pulpit on Sunday, somewhere my inner ten-year-old raises a fist and says: Aha! Dorothy at last!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

You know vacation is over when . . .

You get back to the office and discover that the ONE person whose name would be the absolutely worst name in the world to have inadvertently left off the Easter bulletin's list of musicians playing in the service, did, in fact, inadvertently get left of the list.

This family has been mad since just before Advent. Now . . . oy.

Not good.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


It is spring break, my sister is visiting, and I have taken a couple of days of post-Easter vacation time. So yesterday we went on pilgrimage. Oh. My. God. That's all I'm going to say about that, except that my daughter was in raptures and expressed a desire to live there. Also that my son helped carry away certain merchandise that was purchased there. It takes a very manly guy to walk down the streets of L.A. carrying an American Girl bag.

We also visited the La Brea Tar Pits, which are in the same general part of town.

But my favorite part of the trip had to be spotting this bumper sticker.

Monday, April 09, 2007

High and Low

The high point of Easter worship for me was the duet "O Death Where is thy Sting" sung by a teenager in our church, who has just been diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, and her father.

The low point began when our Children's Ministry director launched her Children's Moment with the question, "Where does new life come from?" I immediately thought, "Oh no. This is not going to end well--and there is an excellent chance that my son will be the reason this does not end well." She showed the kids seeds, which look like pebbles but spring to life when the rain hits them. She showed them lily bulbs which look like ugly onions, but when buried in the earth, transform into glorious flowers. Then she held up and egg and said, "Now who could imagine that any kind of life could come from this hard, cold thing?" Whereupon, just as I'd feared, my son piped up, "Well, first you have to send the hen to meet the rooster. . ." Needless to say, no really heard the wrap up about these things being Easter symbols because they remind us of Jesus, who was dead and rose again and that Christ is the true source of new life for us all.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Inner Calvinist Emerging

It's official. I'm totally depraved.

The Academic Suburb Community Good Friday Service was held at the Episcopal Church this year. I probably appreciate high church liturgy more than many Presbyterians. I enjoy introducing certain high church elements into our worship from time to time when it seems appropriate. However, when I find myself among folks who take all that stuff utterly seriously, my inner Calvinist emerges--and not it a good way.

Yesterday the Rector at St. Stuffierthanthou was detailing for us how the Eucharist would unfold. "After each communicant has received the host, the Chalicifer will come forward and . . ."

And I evilly whispered to the Congregationalist pastor sitting next to me: "Chalicifer? Wasn't that the cat in Cinderella?"

I think the Rector heard me. Maybe I should wash my mouth out with sherry.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hippa Strikes Again

Last week it dawned on me that I hadn't seen Retired Missionary Couple at church in a while. I asked one of their friends if they were out of town. She said, "Oh my! No! Mrs. Missionary broke her hip last month. She was in the hospital for three weeks! They just moved her into the full nursing care portion of Our Retirement Community until she is well enough to be back in their apartment."

Of course, no one called the church office about this. I went to visit Mrs. Missionary the next day, but she was at Physical Therapy when I got there. I went back today and finally made contact. I apologized for not having visited sooner, but explained that we had not known she was in the hospital. She looked at me like I was not quite bright and said, "Well, I was in the hospital for three weeks. Didn't you see my name on their list?"

With a deep sigh, I explained that due to the Health Information Privacy Protection Act, clergy no longer have access to any "list". If no one tells us that someone is in the hospital, we won't know unless we literally trip over that person in the hospital hallway on the way to visit someone else.

I'm not sure she believed me.


An addition to the family--maybe

No. Not THAT kind of addition. The nursery coordinator at our church has a cat who just had four adorable kittens. My kids desperately want one. I'm not opposed to being a two-cat household, but I'm concerned that our current cat, who has been solo cat around here for all of her seven years with us, might react violently to any kind of threat to her vast empire.

Advice on adding a new cat to a currently one cat household?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Let the Sun Shine In--Maybe

This morning the chair of our Properties Committee and I met with a rep from this company to start a coversation about the possibilty of installing solar panels on the roof of the church.

Have any of your churches "gone solar"? Could you share experiences, caveats, warnings, success stories and ideas for financing such an effort?