Monday, January 23, 2006

Ten Miles to The New York Times

It took me just under a month to begin questioning the quaint appeal of living in a "small, forward-thinking, agricultural village." Perhaps it is just that it is the middle of January, and most of the folks in my area are hunkered down planning for planting season and watching the markets.

This morning as I drove my regular ten miles to pick up my New York Times, and then drove back to my progressive village where I can get an omelet and coffee for $4.85, my ambivalence about living and working in a rural setting finally got to me.

This afternoon, I drive ten miles in the opposite direction to eat lunch in a cafe in a tourist town on the river. Here I pay $6.50 for a cup of great homemade soup and salad with homemade cranberry tea bread. After lunch, I'll indulge in a latte (Hopefully it will be better than the weak and watery latte at the only other coffee bar in town).

Perhaps I sound like a snob, but I am no more snobbish than the table of newly retired suburbanites antique hunting in Tommy Hilfiger tennies with whom I share the cafe. . . I confess a bone deep ambivalence about my work as a "country mouse" and my other life on my days off as a "city mouse."

Country Mouse: I like it that people in small towns don't shut the door in my face as I enter a restaurant. I like it that young girls don't wear thongs (at least not that I can see and that is saying something. . .) The kids don't "dis" me, or their friends, or their parents. I like it that as I jog my two miles to the cemetery it is quiet and the farmers and train engineers wave back as I trot by offering them the country salute. People here are nice, thoughtful, generous -- once they get to know a person.

And yet, I don't like it that I am in the minority here. In fact, I am the minority: There is, as far as I can tell, 1% lesbian (or gay) persons living in a twenty mile radius. This is a problem when I go into the bank, or the post office, or restaurant and all conversation stops dead; heads turn and expressions remain carefully neutral (although not always. . .) as they recognize that I am "that gay pastor." In a small town, everyone knows everything. Perhaps if I had a hungrier ego, I might enjoy such notoriety.

City Mouse:
I love it that I can get to a coffee bar (one of several, actually) by walking. I love it that the university students are everywhere glued to their I pods and don't care what I do. (I have yet to see an I pod in my country environs.) I like it that going on in my city, 24 hours a day, is cutting edge research in half a dozen fields including artificial intelligence and virtual reality. There is a kind of energy in my home city. It feels, I imagine, like Bangalore right about now as that city reaches toward an unimaginably creative future. I feel unlimited possibilities in my home city.

I don't, however, enjoy the conspicuous consumption that is a feature of my city as it surrounds my neighborhood. I detest the suburban sprawl taking over the farm land my ancestors came to the area for. Even little league and soccer have become occasions for conspicuous consumption. I don't enjoy the materialism and sense of entitlement that seems to be a consequence of so many possibilities.

I guess for right now, my call is to try to negotiate these two lives: one in the city of my birth where I teach and experience the cutting edge of university life with its underworld of greed and entitlement, and the other-- the small town where I also live and work, with the slower, more reserved life. Living in tension is creative, I guess. Ten miles for a New York Times isn't that far. . . and I did find an excellent latte, eventually.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Trusting the Process

Ah, the Committee on Ministry. What a mixed bag. I have had both really positive experiences with the process of being "in care" as we call it in the United Church of Christ, and some really unpleasant experiences.

Do I trust the process of discerning call, testing call? Yes. I do. But I don't always like it. I have been in the process of ordination for about 6 years now. When I first began this process, I was promised that I could fast track to ordination. A year later, with a different Association Minister, I learned a little bit more about the covenantal theology and process of the UCC --and I am grateful. It meant an extra degree (MDiv) in addition to my MTS and MA. It meant an Ecclesiastical Council -- I was the first person in my Association to have one, (and to pass unanimously, I might add) and I came away understanding a little bit more about the process of discernment and experience necessary to enter into covenanted ministry.

Most recently, I made an inquiry to be granted the endorsement of ordination for my current ministry. There is no precedent I was told. (I have been listening to the Alito hearings and debating this issue of precedent with myself. . .) I argued that there has not been a precedent for an out lesbian person in our Association ever . . . The committee has agreed to continue its discernment on my request.

It is a part of my call, as I see it, to educate the Committee on Ministry as we together attempt to arrive at what it means to be in ministry, and on what the rite of ordination is. I think we disagree, so we'll keep talking.

Sure, there are the fraternity-minded who hold the attitude "it was just as (painful, difficult, hard, long. . .) for me, so it should be for you too." Yet, they are in the minority and it is usually easy to spot them. For the most part, I have found the process to be a mutual struggling toward definition of ministry, toward accountabililty and challenge. I am a part of the denomination because I believe in its theology and polity. I support the wholeness of the process even as I argue with applications or interpretations of it (I am a Reformer, after all!) .

For today, I have the tools I need to continue to live the ministry to which I have been called. I'll keep trusting the process, but I'll definitely keep praying for the Committee. . .

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