RevGals: A Book and Belonging

I am relatively new to the RevGals community. I found them mid-way through my first year at seminary. It went something like this:

August 2013: Move 4200 km across Canada.

September 2013: Start seminary.

October 2013: Become friends with the only other female MDiv-track in my year.

November 2013: Start following every female clergy person I can find on twitter.

And then I found them: A whole community of women who are leaders in their respective churches. Women who share with each other, care for each other, pray for each other, and laugh with each other. Clergywomen who have blazed the trail for me to come behind and benefit from their wisdom and their struggles.

So I hung around the edges. Online as in life, I am more likely to sit and watch and read rather than jump into the fray and comment the hell out of something. But then something happened that made it impossible for me to quietly watch anymore: They made a book. Or at least they started posting about making a book and were asking for people to contribute stories to it: There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor (published on SkyLight Paths, edited by Martha Spong).

The one thing that I love almost as much as reading books is writing (obviously term papers are long finished and my brain has deluded itself into thinking this last sentence is true. Because it sure wasn’t three weeks ago…!) and when I saw the RevGals post, I knew I had to be involved.

But… I’m not ordained [yet!?!]. What do I have to offer to a collection of stories and reflections about life as a clergywoman? Then I realized that I have been in church leadership for most of my conscious life: from the lead in the Christmas pageant to leading prayers and scripture readings weekly from the time I could reach the lectern microphone from a step stool, from choir member to music director, from serving from the time I could walk and carry a candle at the same time to preaching in pulpits across Canada, from council member to warden, from student intern to leading morning prayer when the priest is away.

Maybe I do belong.

bookAfter all, that is at the heart of most of the stories contained in this book: belonging. We belong. We belong to our families, to our churches, to our communities. We belong to the group of people who call themselves clergy. And we have found a unique, quirky, and loving group of people online – and in person – to whom we also belong. These stories are a reflection of our best days and our worst days, our touching moments and our moments of laughter and tears. They are stories of the women who have gone before me to make a place for women in church leadership and they are stories for the women and men who will come after me.

I’m biased, but it is a fantastic book. I also wrote in it, so I’m even more biased. But I think you should read it. Canadian friends, you can find it here.

Another Goal Reached

One of my goals for each year is to read the equivalent of a book every week = 52 books per year. This week, I am happy to say that I have reached that goal and it is all more books from here on in! There are a lot of different books on that list and I’m not too picky about what is a book (though I haven’t been reading picture books this year): there are graphic novels, 900 page historical accounts of particular events, novels, and text books. All that counts is that I read it cover to cover. Now that I’ve reached my goal, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading! On the contrary, in the 2 months left in this year, I should be able to hit 60…!

The End: Dear Grandpa

We went to see the final Harry Potter movie tonight.

It was bittersweet. Sweet because it was a much anticipated and much enjoyed film. Bitter because it was the end of an era of Harry Potter movies.

I was a late(r) comer to the whole series. I didn’t begin to read the books until the first one had already been made into a movie and was playing in the theatres. And I came to the whole series, print or film, quite reluctantly.

I am one of those people who doesn’t like to read a book just because everyone else is reading it. If Oprah has put it on her book list and I haven’t read it, I likely won’t. If I read it before Oprah, I will make sure you know that I found it first. If a book or series is a “must read”, I may wait to read it or skip reading it altogether (still haven’t read Twilight. At this point, it is a matter of principle that I am not going to). I like to find the hidden gems and read them. If a popular book is a genuinely good book and it catches my attention independently of best-seller lists, I might read it anyway… but I’m a book snob.

I am also one of those people who likes to read the book before I see the film and usually prefers the book to the film. I can often be heard saying, “Well, the movie was good but the books was better” or, “They totally messed up the book and changed that whole scene around, cutting out some of my favourite parts”. Don’t be fooled. I probably liked the film just as much, sometimes I just want to sound pretentious.

One summer, about 10 years ago, around the time the first Harry Potter film hit theatres, I was visiting my grandparents in Ontario. I had not read Harry Potter. I had no intention of reading Harry Potter. Harry Potter was entirely too popular for me. My intentions vanished however when my grandfather expressed his dismay and disappointment in me for not having read the books. Not being one who likes to disappoint people, I paid attention.

The first movie is out in theatres. We are going to see the matinee tomorrow afternoon. I have been waiting to watch it with you.

Okay. I don’t really know what it is about, but I’m looking forward to going to a movie with you.

What?! You haven’t read the books? Come here… we walk into the bedroom with the computer desk and some of the treasured books… I have all the ones that have been published. Here, this is the first one. Go sit down and read. We aren’t going to the movie until you’ve finished it.

Um. Okay Grandpa. [For the record, I managed to get 3/4 of the way through book one before we went to the matinee less than 24 hours after I was handed the book and told to “READ”!]

Apparently I come by my refusal to watch movies before reading books honestly. I also do what I’m told.

So Grandpa, I wish I could have watched all of the movies with you and that you had been able to read the entire story from beginning to end. It was a good one. Thanks for getting me started on it.

Things I Have Done This Week:

  • Made (and eaten) chocolate chip, apricot, pecan cookies
  • Counselled my first client as an almost full-fledged counsellor
  • Been to yoga twice
  • Read 2 books
  • Been on three dates
  • Built myself a new profile website here
  • And another site here
  • Drank a lot of coffee
  • Watched half a season of Gilmore Girls
  • Knitting
  • Almost been hit by a pickup truck
  • Reorganized my bedroom furniture

Transitions

I rang in the New Year sitting on my friends couch with a tired dog sitting on my feet. It was great to spend time with good friends. New Years always seems fairly anticlimactic. Is this just a holiday invented for parties and drinking?

Anyway.

I nearly reached my goal of a book per week. The 5 weeks of two courses and the two months of leading a grief group/organizing a discussion series/school/work took a toll so I was three books shy… but it isn’t about numbers. I read some great books in 2010, and some less than fantastic (and a lot of parts of text books).

A bunch of things got crossed off of the list this year, and there are many works in progress.

The close of 2010 also saw me finishing off all of the coursework for my Masters. Only the practicum remains. I start 2011 with a certain amount of apprehension. My life is completely changing as of this week. I am dropping down to two days of work per week, meaning I am going to have to budget finances closely to break even with living expenses. I am hoping to be getting 20 hours per week of practicum spread between two sites. However, as of right now, I have no appointments booked. So now I have the concern of actually finding people with whom to work on top of the nerves of actually counselling real people.

On a positive note, Christmas in Edmonton was a lot of fun. I have had an unusual amount of time with my sister this year, between a week in San Francisco and a week in Edmonton with just the two of us. We lazed around, walked endlessly, and enjoyed doing nothing and still a lot of things. We managed to connect with nearly everyone in the family, including a Christmas morning skype with Dad and Colleen in Malawi. So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Oh Hai…

…its Monday.

The question that I usually ask myself about now is “Where did the weekend go?”

It was stunningly gorgeous this weekend. I took a ferry to Vancouver Friday afternoon and basked in sunshine on the outer deck the entire way. My reading and enjoyment of the outdoors was momentarily interrupted by a whale sighting (“Attention passengers, we will be passing some killer whales on the starboard side” “Starboard side? Starboard side?!?! Where is the starboard side??” “Relax. You’re on the starboard side.” = Infestation of every single passenger on board, blocking my sunshine and view.). But, I did get a tan (I have sandal lines to prove it!) and I did enjoy my book.

Yesterday, enjoying the continuing sunshine (for part of the day), the fact that I had finished my paper for the week the previous day, and Victoria Harbour Ferries free rides all morning, I harbour ferry hopped and then wandered markets and shops. After obtaining a hot, soy mocha from one of my favourite coffee standards in the Cook Street Village, I sat on a bench over-looking the ocean and Olympic mountains, reading some more.

Today: it rained and was overcast and muggy. And it fit my mood: I had to work. Goodbye weekend.

What I’m Reading

Each year, I keep a list of the books I’ve read. The main list is in the back of each journal, however, I also decided to keep the list on this site. The blog list might be a more accurate representation of how much I read in a year as it is organized by year; the journal lists are sorted by life of journal (which is not by year).

All of that is to say that you can read my completed 2009 list here or find the link on the side bar. I just missed beating 2008 (we ended in a tie): I finished a book on New Years Day. If I hadn’t spent all of Christmas Day finishing my knitting, I probably would have passed last years mark. At any rate, I once again met my goal of a book a week (text books not included, though they probably should be).

Book List 2010

  1. More Ready Than You Realize – Brian McLaren
  2. Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia – Douglas Todd (ed.)
  3. Before the Rooster Crows – Peter Kimani
  4. Assessment in Counselling – Albert Hood and Richard Johnson
  5. Generation X – Douglas Coupland
  6. The Wayfinders – Wade Davis
  7. Non-Violent Communication – Marshall Rosenberg
  8. Heavy Rotation – Peter Terzian
  9. Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott
  10. Community: The Structure of Belonging – Peter Block
  11. Striving for the Wind – Meja Mwangi
  12. A New Kind of Christianity – Brian McLaren
  13. Sylvia – Bryce Coutenay
  14. The Way of the Heart – Henri Nouwen
  15. I and Thou – Martin Buber

Community

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the subject of community lately. The thoughts have been stimulated by life decisions I’ve had as of late, by conversations overheard and conversations with friends, books I’ve been reading, and observations of the world around me. Now that I have begun to think about it, I see references to community everywhere.

As some are aware, I had the opportunity to volunteer in Kenya for three months this summer. One of the (many) reasons for deciding against going was because of the community I am finally feeling a part of here and my reluctance to break away from that right now. After a number of years of transient life, I seem to be craving an integral part in a healthy land-based community.

What is it about community that compels us and draws us in? Over and over when I was living and working on the Pacific Grace we were confronted with trainees returning year after year to the program. One of the interesting things we found is that it was the community which drew them: crew changes on a regular basis, the boat itself isn’t enough of a draw (it is a hard life on the boat for many trainees – up early in the morning, doing dishes, no showers, no [shock, horror] Facebook…), but the consistent thread is the welcoming community rooted firmly in God. It is this community which draws trainees back year after year and gives then a sense of being loved and known.

This type of community, that which welcomes everyone regardless of physical or mental weakness and ascribes worth and value to each human, is the premise of Jean Vanier’s book Becoming Human which I just finished re-reading. If you haven’t gone out and read it yet, you should. [Aside: There have been two great posts on the blog Faith and Theology in the last week or so involving Vanier’s L’Arche communities here and here.]

Two weekends ago, I visited a good friend in Vancouver. We first met ten years ago in high school when her family moved to town for her mother to take up a teaching position at our school. As principal, Dad invited their family over for a bbq one evening and, as the daughter the same age as the new family’s daughter, I took her on a long bike ride through the coulees. She likes to relate this story and tell everyone that I tried to kill her. Not so. We have kept in touch, some times better than others, over the last decade. When she was tree planting up in northern BC, she would stay with us on days off. When I moved to Victoria I became friends with her best friend, not knowing they were friends. Somehow (and, I think, for good reason), life has kept us connected. Both of us have had a number of major life experiences in the last few years. Mine involved living in intense community on the boat for a period of time and then finding myself on shore without it and craving it. Hers involved a campervan pilgrimage around the east coast seeking to understand how others do community and interact with society around them. In the end we have both settled in BC in various types of communities. I had the privilege to step into hers for 24hrs.

The HOB is a house of five girls living in East Vancouver. They have a fantastic community house in which the care they have for each other is genuinely evident. I began to journal my thoughts on community while I was with them. They have community meals weekly and spend time praying with and for each other as well as holding each other accountable. Entering their community house, I immediately felt relaxed and welcomed, as though I had known all of the girls for years. (And they put me to work in the morning making pancakes as though I had known them for years…) It was a refreshing feeling and the resulting 24hrs was the precise downtime and recharge that I needed. All of our living spaces should be like that.

On a long public transit ride home two weeks ago, I was reading Jean Vanier while eavesdropping on a conversation going on between two people on the other side of the bus. The conversation began with them finding out why the other was on the long bus ride from downtown Vancouver out to the ferry. The guy was describing to the girl that he had come over to Vancouver for the weekend to meet with a Swami who was in town. He continued to tell the girl about some of his experiences with the Swami and yoga and life pertaining to the two. One thing they discussed was a farm he had spent time at where 18-30 year olds can go to spend time within an ” intentional community” – his phrase. After my weekend in Vancouver, this phrase made me perk up and listen all the more intently. This community he was so enthusiastic about was a Buddhist community but the phrasing he used and the ideas he was sharing about could have come out of the mouth of any Christian. It struck me, listening to them talk and get excited about that kind of lifestyle, that yearning for community is not restricted to any one faith or national group. Christians do not have a corner on the community market. After all, isn’t it this community aspect that draws people towards cults in the first place?

It seems that this desire for community is hardwired into us. It is, after all, how we have lived for thousands of years. It is the model we see in the life of Jesus and that of the early church (see, for example, Acts where the believes all live together and take care of each other). It strikes me, therefore, that this is an opportunity for us as Christians to excel and meet a real and expressed need in the world around us. People desire community. We have in our possession the ultimate model of what healthy community looks like so why are we not more front-and-centre in providing it? What an opportunity it could be to show the world that the teachings of Jesus actually work.

It also leads me to wonder at why, if so many seem so hungry for genuine, intentional community, are we not living like that? Are we so caught up in our Western way of life that we cannot break out of it into something we all yearn for? Have we suppressed our desire for so long that we no longer recognize it? It is entrenched; we are trapped in a cycle we cannot get out of and everyone is so caught that no one wants to make the first move. Or, we are so individualistic that we don’t even know anymore if anyone else thinks like us.

As usual, I have more thoughts and questions than answers on the subject. However, I do believe that Christians and the church can and should lead the way in the example of what real community looks like. By creating places of community that are open and welcoming to all, we not only provide the solution to a need the world has expressed, but we follow the life and model of Jesus, the one we are called to exemplify.