Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Challenges of technology

Last Sunday, my congregation really entered the technological age and I realized just how dependent I have become on technology. My HP LaserJet printer – the one that prints many pages per minute, that prints in color and that duplexes failed. Well, not exactly failed – rather it ran out of ink in the red cartridge! In my logic that does not seems to be a problem that stops everything, but it apparently is. Seems that the printer knows when there is no ink in one cartridge and has a chip that says “don’t print” even when what I want to print uses black ink. I tried everything – pretending that I had installed a new cartridge by taking out the red cartridge, shaking it and then putting it. No luck. I tried running the print without the cartridge – no luck. After a few other tries – I can tell you that hitting the printer does not work nor does *&#&^*&&! - including debating the three hour round to the mall to purchase a new cartridge, but after spending so much time trying to by-pass the programmed issues, I no longer had sufficient time to get there, get the order or worship printed and still have a sermon to deliver. So I did it electronically.

On Sunday morning, I set up the screen, hooked the projector to my laptop and we went through the service without paper. Luckily it was Earth Day and I had a good excuse.

Excuse, you say – why excuse? When I first came, the remnant congregation was quite used to having the Order of Worship on one side of a 4 x 5.5 sheet of paper. But I wanted us to live large – to be extravagant – to show the world who joined us in worship that we had something to share. With that thought, I enlarged the Order of Worship to fit onto both sides of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. I fold it (by hand) include clip art (not pirated, but free for general use) and then for good measure, added two more sheets of regular size paper with lots of news and information. If perception is reality, then the perception visitors would get is that we are a congregation with lots going on. I think it worked. I used to get the question “Should I print more than 6 or 7 for worship?” Now, that question is should I (and it is me that does the printing) print 35 or 40?

As the number of copies has increased, I have dropped one of the pages of news and started a monthly newsletter to save paper and some of my time. But when I purchased a projector and screen to use for movies and classes I heard remarks like – "I hate screens" "I hate looking up at words in church" – never mind that looking up seems to be reverencing God - "I hate the snappy things people do with PowerPoint." As my time here has lengthened, I have come to hate using so much of our resources to print bulletins that are never taken home, are rarely read and waste reams of paper (and ink) every week.

I have a ways to go with this technology. I am the only person who can use it in our congregation. I own the only laptop to hook up the projector to and I won’t share my personal laptop. I am the only person who knows when to go from one part of the service to another. Time for me to rethink this. Not that I won’t do the projector/screen sthick anymore – rather, that I need to train one or two others to share the load.

Oh, and in order not to face this printer crisis again, I bought myself a wireless printer, scanner and copier – color, duplexes, thinks for itself. Now as long as my internet provider keeps going, I can.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

GOD? Whose G_D?

I just returned from Rochester, NY where I attended the first Interfaith Understanding Conference sponsored by Nazareth College, a private college started by Roman Catholic nuns. The conference began on Sunday and ended today (Tuesday) at noon. During those 48 hours, we heard many speakers, attended numerous quality workshops and talked with so many people who were different from us that our collective heads are still spinning.

Here is a brief look back at this conference:

Our opening speaker was Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun from Erie, PA. She talked about women in her church and her Roman Catholic upbringing and heritage and her calling to help women religious find their paths. Sr. Joan has been a guiding light for women – both Catholic and non-Catholic, Christian and non-Christian – for almost 50 years.
Following Sr Joan, Dr. Eboo Patel, a Muslim leader and founder of Interfaith Youth Corps (ifyc.org) told the story that forced him to choose life as a visible Muslim: His parents and grandparents provided care to women who suffered abuse in their Muslim homes the same way American women suffer abuse in their own homes. His family helped hundreds of such women and when Eboo asked why, his grandmother said that this caring is how a Muslim acts. This grandmotherly philosophy made Eboo Patel determine, at 22, that if he was to be a good Muslim he had work to do in this world – work of caring for the least of these (Christians, does "caring for the least of these" sound familiar?).
Finally, this morning, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield showed us how – as he phrases it – you do not have to be wrong for me to be right. Using humor, he told of a cabbie, Christian, who started putting questions to the Rabbi – like: so, why don’t you believe in Jesus? The response: Jesus was a wonderful man, full of good things to say – just not the man he, the Rabbi, thinks of as Savior. It was Rabbi Hirschfield who wrote the book reminding us that just because I am right does not mean that you are wrong. We can all be right.
In breakout sessions, Muslim students (proudly wearing head scarves) led us through discussions on peace. Catholic women showed us how individual stories can tell who we are, without making the listener defensive. Multi-cultural panels addressed difference and sameness of God (or G_D, or for a Muslim: “Allah, Blessed be His Holy Name” as well as Buddhist and Hindu sacred beliefs). Some Episcopal women showed us a new way of labyrinth meditation; in yet another session, we re-learned the lasting work of Martin Luther King and Gandhi.

Whose God? Yours, and yours and yours and mine -- we just get to the divine in different ways. As our world shrinks, we need to know more about the various paths so that we can converse and not be so fearful of losing our core that we stop listening. If our beliefs have staying power, our conversations solidify our world and make peace a reality instead of a dream.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Will the "real" Sharon plase stand ...

Last week, I wrote about my experience with some forms of shopping that I have tried in the 19 months I have lived in this beautiful rural community. I blogged about “shopping” at match dot com for a nice, educated, liberal male living in somewhat close proximity to me who could be a dinner date, a dancing partner, someone to talk to who would understand the idiosyncrasies of this life I am called to.

One of the “matches” whom I met told me that I was not clear about what I was seeking. He is spot on. I deliberately was not clear about the kind of companion who would be a match. Here he is: Someone who can carry on an intelligent conversation, a friend who is empathetic, one who might go bike riding if we found a level path and would like to have a picnic as part of the ride. Shortly before my three-month subscription ended, I devised an experiment on how to attract men - I revised my profile, taking education from Ph.D./post-doc to BA, changed music interests from more classical to C&W, added line dancing and otherwise modified the picture of me to see what would happen.

Several men did wink at me but they winked at a fictional character. Would they be interested in the “real” me? At the core of the real me is that I am an ordained minister, that I work full time as a pastor of a new church that I am called to start: A church that is different - a liberal church in conservative Tioga County, Pennsylvania. People shy away from ministers. They assume we are different – I am not sure, but I think that means that I have a halo though I have never seen one or that I have a shepherd’s crook that pulls them into the church doors they are avoiding.

The truth is that when I started seminary, my friends could barely believe I was going to change my occupation and become a minister. I have a loud laugh, tell off-color jokes (now just in select circles and they never were that bad), flunked “prayer chain” at my UCC church in Colorado Springs because I always forgot to pray consciously for the people who asked for prayers, and could not pronounce the words in the Hebrew Bible. However, it is true, I am called to ministry. My call is to be a different type minister – a minister who starts churches, who helps churches grow, but who does not stay at one church for a 30-year pastorate.

I am not proud that I in my life I am reluctant to tell those I meet in social situations that I am a minister. We ministers must have terrible reputations for grabbing every person by the collar and trying to convert each person who happens to pass by.

I am not proud that when asked what I do, the first thing I say is that I work with people and if pressed, that I do counseling (which I rarely do) and only when pressed to say where I work, or to give my business card do new acquaintances learn that I am a minister. Talk about “hiding my light under a bushel tree” when the part that should be is “this little light of mine.”

This past Sunday, I preached an Easter sermon about Mary, the first convert and her imperative to “go tell the others.” I, too, am required to go tell the others. I just wish the others would not judge me by the actions of others they have known. In turn, I will try not to judge them by some obscure standard. So when you see me coming, you will see that I am a minister; not to worry: you will only be converted if the spirit leads you.

P.S. I found some clothes in Ithaca yesterday (at Fantasy and Fiber).