Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Being A Fake

Impostor syndrome, it's called, although that's not a DSM category.

That's the sense, the powerful feeling, that you're not the person you claim to be.  You'll be sitting in a meeting, or giving a presentation, and it'll feel for all the world like you just showed up out of the blue.  "Why am I up in front of these people," you'll think.  "I've got no business being here.  And they'll know it.  Surely, surely, they'll figure me out."

I used get that now and again, up there in the pulpit, although it manifests less now than it did when I began pastoring years ago.

I've felt that return lately, as I've worked on the pre-marketing for my novel.  I've made the mistake of looking at other writers my house has published.  Lord, but do they have resumes.  Award-winners.  Best-sellers. Professors of Creative Writing.

And what do I have?  I blog here, and have a smattering of articles published.  I write short stories that I share with my friends.  I pastor my little church.  I putter around in my garden.

It's more than a little bit surreal, a particularly lovely daydream that has taken corporeal form.

But I also feel like a hobbit amongst dwarves, suddenly very mortally aware of my relative lack of adventuring credentials.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dying and Rising

The morning was hot, the thick wet suffusing heat of a late Southern summer, and I was walking.

Three point five miles, it is, from the place we get our car serviced to our home, and even though the day's temperature was heading into the triple digits, I'm still happy to walk it.  Because when you walk, you see things.  You're aware of creation.

The sun beats down, the sidewalk fiercely radiant under my sandaled feet.  I see the shade cast by the tall trees at the waning of the morning.  I cross the street, and walk under the generous cooling shadow of their canopy.

I see a man at the crosswalk, unshaven and smoking and wearing a surplus jacket five sizes too large.  It's 97 degrees.  He's doesn't appear to be sweating.  He does not notice me.

I pass an elderly man, slow but quietly determined.  He looks up, he smiles.  "Oh, we shuffle along," he says.  "Yes we do," I reply, returning the smile.

And at a bend in a road, deep in the heart of a suburban neighborhood, I pass a church.  It's the same church I always pass when I walk that way, only now, it isn't.

Meaning, it is the same building.  It is still a church.  But it is no longer the church it was.

For years, for decades, it had been a Korean congregation, small and independent.  Presbyterian.   But the bold, blocky, assertive fierceness of hangul text has vanished like smoke.

This is unsurprising.  The Korean community has moved on, out into the sprawling exurbs, just like the immigrant Scots who once filled my grandfather's church moved out of Queens.

That church is dead.  But the church still lives.

In the parking lot, a fleet of lightly-used 12 and 15 passenger vans, each white, neatly numbered.  I count them.  There are at least a dozen.

"Christo vive!" announces the bright new sign, along with worship times, all in Spanish.

It is, I reflect, one of the great strengths of a faith that inherently transcends culture and language.  It can adapt, can adjust, shaping and forming itself to the reality it encounters.

Oh, we shuffle along.  Yes.  We do.

Monday, August 22, 2016

One Minute Mindfulness

The most recent acquisition in my household sits, a darkly unobtrusive cylinder in our living room.   It's an Amazon Echo, a remarkable little gadget that automates your home life.  Like the computer in Star Trek, it'll do almost anything in your home.  It'll adjust the thermostat, lock your doors, turn your lights on and off, answer your questions, order your pizzas.  And, of course, let you buy things from Amazon from the convenience of your sofa without even needing to lift a finger.

Which is, of course, The Plan.

I talked about it a bit during my sermon yesterday, but in playing around with its expanding functionalities, I was struck by a "skill" it can learn: being your mindfulness guide.

You ask the machine in your living room to guide you through a quick meditation.  "Alexa," you say, because Alexa is the name that triggers it to listen.  "One Minute Mindfulness."

A synthetic voice, generically female, counsels you to sit, attend to your breathing, and not worry about your thoughts.  Gentle white-noise music plays, usually of a burbling brook underlaid with New Age synthesizers.  You breathe in and out, and the minute passes.  "Enjoy your day," chirrups the mindfulness machine.

Mindfulness has loose roots in Eastern practice, and can be an excellent way of centering yourself.  But it is increasingly turned into nothing more than corporatized meditation, meditation for the explicit purpose of increasing productivity.   Not enlightenment.  Not awakening or the loss of self or transcendence.  But productivity.

Which is why One Minute Mindfulness is categorized as a "productivity" tool.

"Feeling stressed and frayed by endless scattering inputs and demands?  HR strongly encourages mindfulness!  It kinda works, and it impacts the costs of our prescription plan considerably less than the Xanax/Ritalin cocktail you'd otherwise need to endure contemporary suburban existence."

It's so peculiar, living in what was once the dystopian future.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Vee Bee Ess

I sat in my office as they arrived, pulling into the gravel lot of our little church, and wondered about going out to say hello.

I was going to, of course, but having spent much of the day in the unairconditioned church office, I was...well...a little stickier than I tend to like to be around folks.  But before I could get moving, one or two arrived at my office to say hello or to ask questions.

They were bearing crafts and guitars and planning materials, because this was Vacation Bible School, being run as our little community runs it.

And we do it different, being the little church we are.

VBS has never quite felt like a thing for me, perhaps because it was never part of my life growing up.  Worship and singing and Sunday School, sure.  But Vacation Bible School just wasn't something that Presbyterian churches in Nairobi, Kenya did back in the early 1970s.  It didn't play into the life of an English Free Church in the late seventies and early eighties in a London suburb.  And it wasn't part of the dynamic of a downtown commuter social justice church in the late 1980s.

And yet, here it is, a ubiquitous part of the expectation for American church life.   It's just a part of the summer, like swim team or soccer camp or any one of the ways we manage the time of our children now that they're generally not called upon to help with the harvest.

So much VBS is neatly packaged, carefully constructed to appeal to the bustling suburbanite.  Every year, the ads arrive for the VBS packages.  There are the ubiquitous cartoon characters, each professionally created.  There are often tie-ins with whatever blockbuster movie is anticipated for release, to the point where it wouldn't surprise me if there was a Suicide Squad-knockoff VBS theme.  "Cain, Jezebel, Goliath, Ramses and Judas: Five Lessons from The Villainous Five."

Huh.  That....actually...might be kind of cool.  Seriously.  Cain, the undying, bitter and lost.  Jezebel, fierce and terrible and selfishly cunning.  Goliath, massive and Hulkish, all about power and brutality.  Dude.  It'd work.  And then Ramses could be...but I'm getting off topic.

What I love about our little VBS in our little church is that it is none of those things.  We go hard core amateur, meaning it's a labor of love.  There are straight up crafts.  Guitars.  Simple themes that relate to God's love.  It's designed, planned, and implemented by church members, feeling more like the games played at a traditional family gathering than a pre-packaged commodity.

And what amazes me, every year when I pop in to observe the singing and smell the paint, is just how natural it all feels.  How organic.

In this era when everything is packaged and marketed and you can teach kids about Jesus for the low low price of $199.99* there's something refreshing about that.

*starter kit only, please check your catalog for pricing