Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Just Wondering

Petra has just returned home from this fantastic youth conference.

I'm going to make a true confession: I was a little nervous about her going. Let me count the ways.

First, there was the matter of pastor-mom-pushing-pastor's-kid-to-participate-in-religious-stuff. Petra is 17. And, thus far, she has, apparently, been participating willingly in the life of each congregation I've served. She actually joined Saint Sociable two years ago, which made me very happy. Of course.

This has been a marked difference from my experience with her brother, who resisted church stuff around the time he was participating in Confirmation Class (age 13), and never willingly went again. Petra has been different.

Still, I was worried. Is she doing all this just to make mom happy? Last fall when the conversation began about whether to attend this conference or not, Petra was worried it would conflict with a summer theater program she normally participates in. I decided, early on, if it conflicted and she therefore resisted, I would absolutely let it go. Period. I have no desire to force my children to participate if it means they are there resentfully.

As it happens, it didn't conflict, and Petra signed up.

Still, I fretted, just a bit. I wondered, exactly what kind of theology would be on display at this conference? I mean, I assumed mainstream, orthodox Christianity-- and I'm, of course, down with that. But... would there be conservative elements? What if my child comes home-- horror!!!-- more conservative than when she left??? This is a young woman whose Facebook profile describes her as "Very Very Liberal," so my anxiety was... perhaps... misplaced. And I figured: Petra is who she is. I believe she has been taught sound theology, both at my knee, so to speak, and in the churches of her earlier childhood, before I was ordained. I trusted her to sort the wheat from the chaff. I also let go of the idea that I can control where she lands theologically. She is who she is, and she will be who she will be. And it will be wonderful, I feel sure.

Then, she went, and every night I received a call from her saying, essentially, THIS ROCKS. I was, of course, pleased. In fact, Petra tells me, more than one preacher threw out some words on GLBTQ issues, same sex marriage, etc. With a light touch they shared the firm conviction that inclusivity is the heart of Christianity; when you start excluding people, or stop loving people because of their sexuality, you have departed from the core of the gospel. (To which 5000 Presbyterian youth responded with thunderous applause).

After Petra got home, and we began processing her experience together I mentioned to her that several churches in our presbytery have stopped sending their youth to this conference, precisely because they perceive it to have an unacceptably liberal bias. And I confessed to her my tiny (unfounded) fears about her being exposed to theological conservatism.

I trusted Petra. Why can't the churches and parents who are theologically conservative trust their children?

Monday, July 19, 2010

There She Goes!

Petra has just turned on the shower. She is leaving this morning for a church youth conference of epic proportions (well, to her). I can see her excitement. We spent yesterday afternoon under the sign of the bulls-eye, purchasing, among other things, a lightweight bathrobe (for modesty), a bunch of unmentionables (ditto), a very cute dress (for-- well, cuteness) and a tiny fan (for cool, in the not air conditioned dorm rooms in which she will be staying).

When I was a youth, and very active in the church, we went on retreats, with priests. Beloved rolled her eyes when I said that... now everything is a bad joke related to the church's abysmal track record at dealing with sexual predators. I never encountered any priest, at least until I got to college, whose intentions towards young people was anything other than showing them the love of God in Jesus Christ.

The conference Petra is attending is a different model of making disciples. Through the experience of nearly a week of small and large group activities, including wonderfully inspiring worship, engagement in mission projects, Bible study and team-building, this conference seeks to raise up the next generation of leaders for the church. Every kid I know who has ever gone has been changed by it. Every kid I know who has ever gone has remained active in church through the classic fall-away years of college and early 20's.

So, Petra is going. And she is not going unwillingly, but with a real spirit of openness and adventure, thanks be to God.

When Petra was six, this movie came out. Between the theater and our living room, we have probably watched it together, oh, about 50 times. We love it that much. So, with a little prayer for Lindsey Lohan, here's a tiny clip, of a girl stepping out for an adventure.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Opera, Rainstorm, Anniversary

Last night Petra and I took an hour and forty-minute drive to a gorgeous lake-side opera house to see "Le Nozze di Figaro," certainly one of my top two or three favorite operas of all time. The setting is beautiful and serene-- deep in the woods with the lake glimmering behind. We ate wonderful boxed dinners (chicken for me, crab cakes for Petra) and listened to a lecture from the continuo player. Then we allowed ourselves to be drawn into Mozart's Shakespearean domestic tragi-comedy. (I can't see stories of unfaithfulness as not having a dose of tragedy in them.) The opera was aurally and visually sumptuous, the singing was just about perfect, and we had the added thrill of hearing the Count's vengeance aria while enormous claps of thunder rattled the opera house.

Susanna's singing of 'Deh vieni non tardar' almost made my heart stop. So luscious, so full of desire and tenderness, and the soprano had such a gorgeous tone. It was breathtaking.

One of the things I adore about seeing plays and operas with my children is how very engaged they are in the arts themselves. We talked about the vocal production of the singing actors, and their stage presence, and the creativity of the staging. We talked about how very like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" the opera is (minus fairies and potions). But our conversation ground to a halt not long after our car pulled out of the driveway, as we encountered scary-severe weather, at the start of our 91-mile trip home. At one point, as hailstones smashed into the windshield, and we were creeping along at 11-miles per hour along a densely wooded road, I started remembering stories of people whose cars washed away in such sudden storms, or whose cars were crushed beneath trees downed by such winds.

Enough drama; we got home safe and sound, though the trip home took an hour longer than the trip there. Which means, I go to worship this morning with about 5 hours of sleep. I'm letting Petra sleep in (she heads off to a week-long youth conference tomorrow; she needs her rest!).

And yesterday was the anniversary described here. Still so grateful for this love.

Friday, July 16, 2010


*Note: This post has nothing to do with the Grateful Dead. Not that there's anything wrong with them.

I was outside this morning watering and dead-heading flowers. Well, specifically, petunias in my window boxes. I have two different shades of purple in three long window boxes outside my dining room window, plus a couple of odd, spiky, daisy-like flowers which some garden store bestowed upon Beloved as a token of their appreciation for her business.

I know I've talked a lot in the past (other springs and summers) about planting, and gardening, but you know what? I'm such a fraud. Four years ago (?) I asked my then neighbor ALG (Adorable Landscaping Guy) whether I could just tear out my grass and put in flowering plants. I hate, loath, despise and abominate grass. It is anathema to me. Why? Why grass? Why water and cultivate and care for something whose sole purpose, in my neighborhood at least, is to cut it to an even length, not allowing the plant to do what it wants to do according to its nature? Makes NO sense to me.

ALG said, sure! Why not? So, we did. I remember him moving my ancient rhododendrons around on the Fourth of July that year, while we huddled inside, hiding from a pouring rain. The first year it looked much like a lunar landscape: occasional tiny plants and vast expanses of mulch. And rhododendrons, one of which, after moved, took on a distinctly Japanese landscaping appearance, growing as it had into a long trunk and wide, shallow canopy.

Year by year the flowers have filled in and thickened.... no thanks to me. I feed them, never. I weed-- well, close to never. I water only sporadically. (The last time I'd watered before today was last week, when I did so daily out of sheer Christian compassion for all living things in the midst of our wicked heat wave).

There is one patch of land- well, two, bordering my driveway-- for which I do have complete responsibility, however. Where I plant my annuals (though I am sneaking some perennials in there, too-- hello Lavender! I don't care that one of your mystical functions is to repel romance. You are staying!). And-- my windowboxes. And, I don't know, this morning after Beloved had gone on her way, while Petra was still sleeping, and before I had to shower and get me out of here, I found myself, not only watering everything (windowboxes, side-planters, driveway flowers, and vast landscape of perennials), but also, dead-heading my petunias. But only my petunias. The foxglove is going to have to wait.

As I was dead-heading, I noticed, not for the first time, that sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the blossoms that are past and dead, and those that are just coming-- this is mostly a petunia phenomenon, I think. My experience is limited. I have learned to touch the suspect blossoms gently. Those that are fresh and coming are firm, rubbery and cool. Those that are spent are like tissue and often break away before I have a chance to pinch them off.

I thought about the things I'd like to dead-head from my life. Ways of spending time. Things others (ahem, Beloved) might think are tissue, pinch-'em off things, but which I feel have some value to me-- I can feel the coolness of budding life in them. And they have to be allowed to grow.

Church is the same. We so often look at programs and wonder: dead? Or alive? And sometimes it is very, very hard to call it.

I would like to dead-head the following things from my life:

Compulsive behaviors of all types (this includes, but is not limited to, certain ways of using the internet, food-- even healthy food!-- and even my relationship with Beloved.

Whoa, Nellie, I did NOT say I want to dead-head my relationship with Beloved. But there are ways I use that relationship-- ways in which I am not my healthiest self, but am, instead, needy, compulsive, and immature-- those are the things I want to go.

I heard in a pastor training session a couple of months ago that in every relationship, one person is a pursuer and one is a flee-er. Me: Pursuer. Beloved: Flee-er. (Also, Ex: Flee-er. Clearly.) In the training (which was led by a pastor who is also a psychotherapist) the suggestion was made that we ought to attempt to act in the opposite way of our natural tendency. In other words, if you are a pursuer, well, don't flee, necessarily, but at least back off. Don't crowd, overwhelm or otherwise smother your loved one. If you are a flee-er-- well, try to hang in there. Try not to run when things get tough and all your instincts are telling you to go.

I have been trying to practice this in little tiny ways. The other night I had planned to see Beloved-- just hanging out at her place, after a meeting at work. But I had things at home I needed to tend to. But all my instincts tell me: See her if you can! Don't miss an opportunityfortogetherness!!! But I chose, instead, to go home. To tend to what needed my attention. To speak to her briefly on the phone ('cause, you know, I'm crazy about her and all). But not to smother. I think it was a good thing. Pursuing relentlessly: trying to deadhead it. Just a bit. I think we will be a healthier "plant" in the end.

OK, I lied. Enjoy!