People of the Books: Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger

I read this as part of a year-long look at how we do church and I must admit, it wasn’t my favorite of the nine or so books I had to read.  The concept of this book—take a good hard look at your church in the light of Clarity, Movement, Alignment (to mission), and Focus—is solid. This would have been a really great blog post or even a short series. It would make a wonderful diagram to hang in places of meeting, colorful yet stark. The message of getting rid of things that clutter your organization is useful for things that aren’t church; this encourages you to really be aware of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re using the resources you have to do that thing.

Here, let me help you understand this book:

…the healthiest churches in America tended to have a simple process for making disciples.  They had clarity about the process.  They moved Christians intentionally through the process.  They were focused on the elements of the process.  And they aligned their entire congregations to this process.  (ix)

There.  Ignore that this completely focuses on the American church and doesn’t give any thought process to the global Church.  Ta-dah!  You literally now know the entire book; the rest of it is just data and stories to flesh out these four ideas.


But then it tries to be more than that diagram and kind of shoots itself in the foot. For starters, it’s hilarious that a book about being simple is 276 pages long (although part of that is because the font is hella big; seriously, it’s not even the large print version and yet has to be 16 point, which is just unnecessary). What’s worse is that this is trying to be an almost scientific study; much of the text length is taken up with bar graphs of their research to come up with this model. Bully for them for doing a survey and tabulating the results, but once you look at their data versus their conclusions, it’s not all that scientific. Take, for example, their graph for respondents’ level of agreement with the idea that their church limits special events (p. 217). Ignore for a second the fact that they bias their data immediately by comparing “vibrant” and “comparison” churches, which is one step short of “good” and “crap” churches and those are absolutely qualified terms with inherent connotations. Then look at the accompanying textual breakdown where they laud the “vibrant” churches for their 25% agreeing strongly compared to 6% of the “comparison.”

I’m not terribly much a scientist, but in terms of social constructs 1/4 isn’t usually overwhelming support. Also, the very next step down (“agree”) is equal between the two respondent types. What? Okay, that’s a way to say that yes, the “vibrant” churches lean more toward saying yes to this concept, but it’s not overwhelming and it’s not undeniable evidence.  This presents results with way more strength than they actually have and discusses this theory as though it’s obvious and entirely correct. It’s a model for how to consider the structure of one’s church (even though it says on page 3 that “[t]his book is not about another church model”), and I’m a little too much of an academic to accept their celebration over mostly average data (especially when they present it with simplified explanations to support their theory rather than acknowledging the complexity of their own responses).

It also gets really repetitive, as in “okay, now that you understand movement, here’s alignment.  Alignment comes after movement.  Movement was this, and alignment continues that with…” and on and on.  I promise, guys, I can keep themes and ideas in my head for several chapters at a time.  Although perhaps their target audience couldn’t—I was never entirely sure who their target audience, was, actually, since they were talking about being vibrant and aware and using very savvy churches as the good examples but then using completely outdated technological references.  (In two separate places [pp. 11, 173] Rainer and Geiger explain that a blog is a web log or online journal; this book was published in 2011, so hopefully someone bothering to read a how-to-be-relevant church book is at least aware of blogs and also by that time blogs were so much more than the diaries of the MySpace days anyway.)  And there were some bizarrely sexist moments that popped up, like this disclaimer about what Mary and Martha must have been like:  “At least, that is what our wives tell us.  We don’t claim to know about Martha firsthand.”  (p. 12)  And your wives do?  Do all women have an ESP link that I’ve missed?

There was a jarring mix of self-righteousness and apology from the authors; they laud themselves for this hilarious prank they pulled (during the freaking recession, mind you, when folks would have done an awful lot for a job) posting a fake church job that asked for people to hold conflicting theological styles of leadership.  The authors mock the people who applied for it, saying that they were obviously not committed to being true leaders for Christ.  What?  A) That’s a dick move, which I realize is scandalously strong language but I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate pranks and there were certainly better ways these guys could have proved their point without lambasting unsuspecting people.  B)  Turning around and putting that in their book, making money off of the idea that they somehow have a better understanding of what it is to be a focused Christian, is just annoying.  You don’t get the Jesus prize for holding to your ideological tenets, sorry.

But up against that is an almost constant apology for being academic in the way they do their research.  Christians aren’t stupid, guys, and if you’re going to make sweeping assumptions about what church should look like, then I want all the data you can give me.  Own your work.  I’ll skim what I need to.

I appreciate the examination of a lot of business models to stress the efficacy of simplicity (Apple, Gap, and Google are all mentioned) but that’s a double-edged sword—the Church isn’t actually a business, and if you’re saying it should be then we have an entirely different conversation we need to have.  And even in the comparisons there was a lot of vagueness (who is “we?” what is “growth” for you?  How do you understand that particular anecdote in relation to your main point? When you talk about “this word translates,” from which language do you mean?).

Good to skim.  Definitely good to take with a large grain of salt.  Stick with the opening infographic.

 

Rating:  2.5/5 stars     

On My Own Four Wheels

The wind today in the Land of Pilgrims is ferocious, Reader.  The remnants of a storm that woke me with insisting fingernails of rain tapping my window at 5 this morning sweep through the valleys between buildings on this campus, whirling up the tower past my office window.  It whistles through the top notch I can never close because I can’t quite reach it.

It is a day in which I’m very glad I’ll be getting in my car and driving home for a little while before a concert.

This has not been the week I planned, not at all.  For the first time in a while I had several evenings in a row without meetings or obligations, evenings I planned to spend blissfully curled up with my laptop while I cursed my characters in this first week of NaNoWriMo.  I did end up getting to do some of that, but I also got to spend several days carless and worrying about repairs.

I live in a small city, Reader, where there is public transportation but it’s not the most efficient or user-friendly.  It is not an automatic assumption here like it is in New York or Chicago or London.  This is still very much car country, and as a single person who lives alone and has a pretty crazy schedule I rely very heavily on my car.  No bus gets to all the places I go, so when I don’t have a car, I lose a lot of freedom.

By freedom, I mean independence.

How American a statement!  I remember my father’s father adamantly insisting he could drive in his later years even though he was going blind and deaf and had a heart that never decided on a regular rhythm.  He knew that losing his license would make him, culturally speaking, baggage; an old leftover ferried around by his family, a burden, an afterthought.  He was an incredibly independent and stubborn man and he fought that loss until the doctors themselves said no more, we cannot allow you on the roads.  It was a point of some soreness for the rest of his life—which was a little less than a decade.

No one plans for their car to fall apart.  Mine is old (but don’t tell her) and has certainly been ill-used.  This summer alone we travelled together some 9,000 miles in about 4 1/2 months; she has been put through her paces, as have I, and it’s showing in some of the repairs I have to do.  But when they crowd together, demanding to be heard in clanking rumbles of discontent; when the repairman say we will have to do this, and this, and this, and this…Reader, I get so frustrated.

Part of it is that I am frustrated I can’t fix this myself.  I pride myself on being able to do little fix-its and delight in around-the-house type jobs.  I like knowing how things are put together; when I was a kid, I would exasperate my mother by pulling apart her pens to see if they all had the same pieces and then putting them back together with mixed success, depending on whether or not I’d lost the spring in the deconstruction process.  She started using a lot more pencils until I was old enough to be able to handle the concept of keeping all the parts.

But I don’t understand cars, and specifically I don’t understand my car.  I haven’t had the chance to pull up in a driveway and pop the hood to just explore the engine; I haven’t taken the time to crawl underneath with a book or a friend and memorize the chassis layout.  It irks me, Reader, that I fit the stereotype of the clueless female who walks into a mechanic’s shop and has no idea why there’s an upper and lower engine mount.

It’s also frustrating because, for the several days that I didn’t have my car, I had to rely on other people.  The horror!  The outrage!  The humility of it!  Oh, Reader, how amazing it is to see all the places in my life that I still stay, “No, I’ve got this, I’m okay” even when asking for help is the most logical thing to do.  One of my coworkers lives literally across the street from me; she was more than okay with ferrying me around for a few days, especially since the only places I went were work, home, and the shop.  I’ve no doubt that it would have been a bit different if I had had several meetings I needed to attend, but even that could have worked.  After all, have I not done the same for her in the many times she’s had car trouble?  I didn’t think anything of it because I understood that this was something she needed and I was in a position to help her out; no worries.

Yet when the positions are flipped, ALL THE WORRIES.

Oh, how much I want to know everything and be able to do it all by myself, to walk around on my own two feet and drive on my own four wheels and need nothing and no one.

Until the wry voice of God whispers, Even Me?  I was not created to know everything; I was not made to do all things by myself.  Even Jesus wasn’t master of all trades; He was a carpenter’s Son Who wasn’t as good at fishing as Peter or at accounting as Matthew.  And that was fine, because He was good at His thing—He was very good at His thing, thankfully.  But His thing wasn’t every thing, and if freaking Jesus didn’t do everything, what makes me think I can or should?

No, little one, it is grace to be in relationship with others.  (Even though it’s really great to have my car back.)

 

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  (Luke 10:33-34, ESV)

People of the Books: The John G. Lake Sermons on Dominion over Demons, Disease, and Death ed. by Gordon Lindsay

I found this odd duck in a neighborhood garage sale last summer and, surprising even myself, decided I definitely needed a book of sermons for a quarter.  The purchase was partly to start expanding my understanding of sermons; I know medieval sermons and 21st century sermons, but not much in between.

This was originally printed in 1949, so it’s definitely in between.  John G. Lake (of whom I’d never heard anything before picking this up) was a preacher in the U.S. in the 1920s and 30s.  He apparently left quite an impression, considering he has his own ongoing ministry organization, mostly due to his healing ministries.  The editor of this volume himself says he was “dying from ptomaine poisoning” and was cured by reading typed sermons of Dr. Lake (“Dr.” being an honorary rather than degree-bound term).

And that’s the theme of this book—all are sermons of Lake’s describing how it works that we can, via sermon and prayer, heal people like God did, like the apostles did, in miraculous ways.  And Reader, I have no idea what to do with that.

Having come through a country church and known some country church people, I’m not unfamiliar with the concept of faith healing.  I know a woman who believes God made one of her legs grow so that she wouldn’t be off-kilter anymore, and another who had God heal her crippling arthritis.  And yes, I know well the story of the man Jesus told to get up and walk, right alongside the promise that we who follow will do even greater things.

But Reader, I doubt.  Part of it is having grown up with the charlatans that John Oliver so rightly tore apart on his show; part of it is being related to a doctor and a bunch of science types who understand the incredible complexity of the human body.  It doesn’t make sense to me that these kinds of healings are claimed miracles—even the illness of the editor is basically just food poisoning that can mostly be taken care of by being sure to flush your system out with lots of fluids, so who’s to say that’s not what happened rather than some magical sermons?

And that’s the thing that stops me cold—somewhere in the basic layouts of my subconscious, I apparently think of miracles as magic, even though I know that I believe in the concept of miracles and I 100% believe God is at work in our lives every day.  So why not here?  Why can I not attribute this kind of thing to His doing?  Lake himself goes to great pains to tie together belief in God and belief in healing ministries:

Healing is simply the salvation of Jesus Christ, having its divine action in a man’s flesh, the same as it had its divine action in a man’s soul, or in the spirit of man.  (17)

God hates sin and God equally hates sickness, for sickness is incipient death.  (23)

We used to have a little Englishman in our evangelistic party who would say to the people when they were praying, “Now let us stop praying for five minutes and BELIEVE GOD, and see what will happen.”  (28)

About the hardest thing to get hold of is a good old-fashioned Christian who believes God.  (40)

So where is my belief?  Where is my understanding that God can do whatever He wants to do?  Part of it is stopped back in that place of logic when Lake discusses his flat-out ban on medicinal cures as a sign of a lack of faith:

Drugs have always been the unbeliever’s way of healing.  God always was and is the real Christian’s remedy.  (43)

I would argue there are many things that require drugs, but then is that lack of faith?  And what of how to be healed—is it a matter of asking hard enough?  That can’t be, because there are so many who pray so earnestly and have nothing.

Healing is not always obtained by saying prayers.  It is obtained by obeying God.  (46)

“When a man’s spirit and a man’s body are filled with the blessed presence of God, it oozes out of the pores of your flesh and kills the germs.”  (108)

Men have assumed that it is necessary to persuade God to heal them.  This we deny with all emphasis.  God has manifested through Christ, His desire to bless mankind.  (132)

That is the secret of Christ’s salvation; that is the secret of Christ’s healing.  It is not trying to get healed.  It is trusting Him for it, and believing Him when He says He will do it, and the mind relaxes and the soul comes to rest.  (36)

That’s a little contradictory, then, because Lake’s stance is that it’s not about pushing God to do what we want but it is also about being what God wants.  I’m confused, because we can’t earn grace or healing; how then to explain the way some are not healed?  Lake doesn’t really give a final answer on that, and that may be because this is a collection of sermons rather than a full write-up of his understandings.

There are many things Lake says that I totally agree with and appreciate, like the idea that sickness as God’s will is a ridiculous concept:

They came to a man’s bedside and said, “Your sickness is the Will of God.”  Well, it is the work of the devil, and in the ultimate sense every death that ever took place was the work of the devil.  (68)

And that the Church has to broaden whom She lays all of her hats on:

The Modern Church must come to a realization of other ministries in the Church besides preaching.  In the Modern Church the preachers is the soul and center and circumference of his church.  The Primitive Church was a structure of faith composed of men and women, each qualifying in his or her particular ministry.  (127)

But Lake lived in such a different time, a different world.  I was prepared to read this and get rid of it, but I find I may be going over and over it for some time to come as I think about how I balance the rationality of being human and the absolute freedom of God.

 

Rating:  3/5 stars, since it inspired so much thought  

People of the Books: Renovate or Die by Bob Farr

I know, I know, this is a terribly cheery title—and painful, after last week’s post.  However, my books to review are piling up on my desk, and I do need to do them.

This was an assigned book attached to a larger church examination process in which I am participating (with Magister, actually, so pester him if you want a different perspective).  It is not a book I would likely have picked up on my own, I must admit.  This is partially due to the fact that I get really touchy about the alarmist thinking/speaking of many How To Christian books that proclaim the Church is going to fold next week under the pressure of modern agnosticism and the lack of relevance and so on.  I do think that the Church needs to remake itself, but I think that’s always the case; the Church of the first century didn’t work in the sixth, or seventeenth, so I don’t know why we’re so surprised it doesn’t work in the twenty-first.  People change.

God doesn’t.  And I feel like that gets lost sometimes—God meant for us to gather together in some way and say that hey, this God thing is pretty cool, we should talk about it.  It’s why Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep.  He didn’t have any literal sheep.  He was a carpenter, He wouldn’t have known what to do with sheep.  But He did have a heart for people gathering around the things He’d tried to teach, and that’s the Church.  It ain’t going to go quietly into that good night, y’all.  I wish folks would stop saying that it will, as though our inability to understand PowerPoint is going to crush the Kingdom on earth.  Sorry, but we’re just not that powerful.

That said, this book.  I always look at books through an editor’s eyes, mostly because I am one.  So I was rather disheartened at the layout of this; some of the pages were poorly set, the font was a weird choice, and there were those little “this is important” pop-out text boxes with choice quotes that you just finished reading anyway why do you need to highlight them again like in magazines.  (I really don’t like those highlight boxes.)  And the epilogue absolutely should have been the foreword; it made little sense at the back of the book.

So yes, that’s judgmental of poor Abdingdon Press, but I think that we don’t get a pass on being good at publishing just because we’re Christian.  If anything, the quality of what we produce as people of faith should be outstanding.

As to content, this is kind of meant to be read as a sequel to Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase.  Farr builds on Schnase’s practices by giving a bit of a practical push to them, and I really appreciate some of the structure that Farr adds in terms of distinctions.  He molds his thesis around the idea that really doing the five practices requires renovation and that there is a difference between redecoration and renovation:  in redecoration, you’re changing the outside of how something looks, but renovation requires that you go in and knock stuff down and rip stuff out.  He argues that the Church needs to do some renovation, and I think that part is true.

However, the way he goes about it seems a little severe to me.  He talks about how staff should totally change with a new pastor (which I completely disagree with, as I think this shakes up the church too much and also gives the pastor way too much centrality), and he makes the assumption that every older person does that just because young folk know how to use Google means that that’s the only language we understand—even as he’s incorrectly categorizing types of electronic communication and misnaming things like blogs.  Yes, learning now is different than it was in the 70s, but we’re still looking for authentic relationships that don’t hand us Jesus in touchable watch format.  In fact, there are a couple of places where Farr makes it quite clear that he doesn’t expect young folk to be reading this book at all, which is an annoying example of how writers keep talking about us without ever talking to us as a generation.

Farr takes a while to get into his swing and I most certainly don’t agree with him on everything (for one thing, he puts Bible study waaaaaay further down the list of things that need to happen in a church, especially with youth, than I would; in my mind, if we don’t have Scripture at the core of things, we might as well be running the local Y), but I think this is a solid book to read in conjunction with the Five Practices one (which I’ll review on here soon, really).  If nothing else, he says really smart things like this:

We don’t need more members.  We need more disciples of Jesus Christ.  (71)

Yes.  Yes to that.  Yes also to this:

I think it is a good thing to start slow with new people.  Please don’t push them right into a committee.  Start them in hands-on ministries where they can see lives changing.  (62)

Also, for the record, Farr is speaking from within the United Methodist church, so that shapes his voice and suggestions and understanding of how pastors and congregations work together.

It’s a good tool in the box of working through congregational change and growth.  Not the best, but I’ll hang on to it.

 

Rating:  3.5/5 stars  3-5-stars

Sancta Sanctorum

In the Old Testament, the Temple of Jerusalem feels a bit to me like Russian nesting dolls.  Each new layer is smaller than the one before and rather harder to open.  The core, that bowling pin doll that is solid instead of hollow, was the Holy of Holies, that place where God and the High Priest hung out and everyone else was Not Allowed.

If you ask me, the high priest has a pretty miserably stressful job.

I found this note about the Holy of Holies and the dolls in my desk, half of an entry written months ago when I was super stressed out about a terrible horrible no good very bad day at work; somewhat unsurprisingly, I still find it relevant.  In that entry I was yelling at God because I wanted Him to fix things.  In this, I’m not yelling.  But I’m still asking.

Here’s the thing; I thank you, Reader, for your support and thoughts and prayers and reading (and don’t feel badly if you’ve skipped most of those, I promise your reading is still enough) while I’m healing from this ear surgery.  Unfortunately, there’s been a complication—in the worst voicemail ever, my surgeon’s office informed me that they’d “found something,” which of course I imagined to be imminent death but which turned out to be an infection in my ear canal.  So that hurts, pretty much all the time, and I have more meds and a part of me is freaking out because I always go to worst case scenarios.   Worst case scenario (I mean, other than actually dying from the infection backtracking to my brain—I don’t play when it comes to being a pessimist, Reader) is that the infection unsettles the graft and then my body attacks the prosthesis, and that just wouldn’t be cool at all.  I want to be better, I want to be whole, I want to be able to go swimming and stop taking pain meds.

I want to hear.

I also want a whole lot of other things, especially after the great conference last week in which I felt like I could breathe for once, like I was doing not only what I wanted to do but what God has shaped me to be doing—I want to be in a job I care about, I want to stop living two lives, I want to stand in the sancta sanctorum without all of this mess of being in the outer courts.  And what God keeps quietly trying to tell me is that He tore the curtain; there aren’t dolls that separate those spaces anymore.

There was a meeting today held by the folks of the disability services department here on campus surrounding what faculty can do to be helpful and understanding to those who are deaf or hard of hearing.  There was a lot I didn’t know in terms of how you can work around that—the programming and software to do real-time captioning alone is super cool.  But so much of it I did know, so much of it was affirmation of the things I’ve experienced in working through this oddity of being momentarily disabled, of having one foot in a whole culture.  It was affirming and yet frightening; I hold tightly to the hope that this is indeed momentary, that I will regain hearing, that I will be fine.  To listen to a student who knows he is going deaf and can’t do anything to stop that be cheerful and helpful and outgoing was a hell of a thing; he’s in choir, he with his hearing aids and his weekly chemo to slow the fact that his body is attacking his own ear canals.  That is its own holy space, for him to keep on living a life—that is the ultimate hope, really, to keep on living.

And I had a great revelation/realization on Wednesday about some things that are very important to me, and it made my living room holy for that moment, a holy of holies of being in the Presence of God Who smiled that I finally figured that out and decided to try living it.

And there was a great lunch on Tuesday with Interpreter and my deacon and music leader (they need names, I know, I’m running short on time at the moment, sorry) that involved the fact that I will get to that next job, that next career, that being able to breathe, and they support that and are pushing me to be truly mindful of how that will work and that is good.  So it was a holy place at that high-top table in a little cafe, and later that night it was a holy place in a bar with another dear friend of mine who told me to stop being a putz about how people want to be my friends.

These are all holy places, holiest of places because they have that aspect of what the original did—God is there.  I guess we now all have the high priest’s stressful job, in a way, but the thing about deleting the rings of the Temple is not to cheapen the incredibly “other” aspect of the core within but to let that change the rest of the world outside.  It is something else to realize the power of a moment in a holy place, whether it be somewhat obvious like a cathedral or rather less so like a lecture hall.  It is that spiritual shiver of ghost fingers crossing your temple, the non-physical air that brushes against you and chuckles without sound in the way only the Spirit can because you are seen, you are known, you are present as God wants you to be.

And you don’t even have to wear pomegranates.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.  (Matthew 18:20, KJV)

Perhaps Sheep Would Be Easier

Pas·tor (ˈpastər), n.  1)  A person who has charge of a flock (lit. and fig.).
From Anglo-Norman and Middle French pastour, pastor, pastur shepherd, spiritual leader (12th cent. in Old French; French pasteur) and its etymon classical Latin pāstor shepherd, person who tends flocks and herds; in post-classical Latin also person who has the spiritual care of a body of Christians (Vetus Latina, Vulgate) < pāst- , past participial stem of pāscere to feed, give pasture to.”  (Oxford English Dictionary)

I have only ever had three career desires in my life.

When I was small, I wanted to be an ice skater.  I suppose this was my version of the desire to be a princess, since I don’t remember ever actually wanting to be a princess.  I did, however, fall in love with ice skating thanks to the winter Olympics, and I remember sliding around the kitchen floor in my socks and thinking that maybe, one day, I would be able to skate like them.

I grew older and realized my family didn’t have the money and I sure as Sam didn’t have the dedication for ice skating, or the desire to leap off of cold ice and trust that I would land smoothly back on the knife blades strapped to my feet.  (Children have the fortunate angle of not knowing things like physics; it allows for dreams that are much bigger than ours because they don’t get bogged down in details like probability.)  So I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian.  Someone even bought me an FAO Schwarz Veterinarian Kit for Christmas, complete with stuffed dog, oversized plastic syringe, stethoscope, patient intake forms (no, really), and blood pressure cuffs.  It was one of the fanciest toys I had ever received, and I’m pretty sure I declared that every stuffed animal I owned had heartworms and severe colds and broken bones of all sorts that year.

Then I grew older and realized not only that I wasn’t that great at things like science, which is kind of a prerequisite for medicine, but also that pets come with owners—sometimes, owners who have nothing but their pets and are horrifyingly emotional about them, or owners who have pets and don’t give a damn and are horrifyingly unemotional about them.  I didn’t want to deal with that side of humanity, so I looked at what I was good at and decided I wanted to be a teacher.

This isn’t terribly surprising, as the teaching profession runs some three or so generations deep in my family.  I grew up with teachers, both the ones to whom I was related and the ones I adopted as school became ever more a safe haven for me.  My teachers were, in a sense, my friends, and the difference they made in my life was and is incalculable.  I also realized I had a knack for it.  So off I went to grad school to be a teacher—a professor, to be exact, of medieval literature.  I was living the dream.

And it was a nightmare.

If you’ve been with me for a bit, Reader, you remember my complaining even as I had the job I had wanted for some 10-15 years, realizing that I did indeed love to teach but I loathed being a teacher.  It was a job that took everything and gave very little back for me, and I started seeing that I was spending more and more and more of my time at church.

I never wanted to be a pastor.  In many ways I still don’t, but it’s become painfully obvious that that’s so much a part of what I’m doing anyway.  It’s on my mind this morning because I’m sitting in my office (yes, I’m writing this in between work projects, shame on me) and paying attention to what I’m doing.  Sure, I’m registering students and switching classrooms and designing flyers for our department’s journal and a hundred other things, but I’m also listening.  I’m listening when my subordinate who has been asked to make a really tough decision about where her career is going comes in and tells me first of anyone what her plan is and why.  I’m listening when one of the faculty members comes by to show me what he’s going to do in class because he wants it to be okay that it’s a little under par since he’s been sick all week (though he’d never phrase it like that).  I’m listening when my boss’s daughter comes by and drops in my office just to say hi, because she’s a hilarious kid and having a rough time with college.

(And she bought me a cookie the other day, which just blows my mind in its simple generosity and grace.)

I’m listening when a coworker comes in in a tizzy wound up about some tech failure because her frustration is not totally about the tech, it’s about the work environment in which no one seems to respect that she needs the tech to work so she can do her job.  I’m listening when a student tells me that he’s falling behind in class because of family matters that have totally caught him off-guard and forced him to reevaluate what he thought he knew about himself.  I’m listening when a colleague talks about a sibling who is dying on the other side of the country.

I’m listening.

I had dinner with Interpreter Monday night, and I told him some of these stories and how they are the life-giving parts of this job.  “You’re being pastoral,” he said smugly, which is anathema to me.

And yet.

I never wanted to be a pastor.  Sheep are foolish and slow, and the shepherd’s life is filled with danger and boredom in unequal measures.  But there is much afoot, Reader, in realizing just how much “never wanted” does not preclude “will not do.”

More next week…..

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have everything I need.
 He lets me rest in green pastures.
    He leads me to calm water.
 He gives me new strength.
He leads me on paths that are right
    for the good of his name.  (Psalm 23:1-3, NCV)

Frailty, Thy Name Is Body

I complain a lot about my Gnostic distaste for my body, I know, groaningly accepting this mortal bone house shambling toward decay.  I think I’ve also mentioned how humorous I find it, then, that I adhere to this faith system and this particular corner of this faith system that is so very earthy and physical, that champions a God Who was killed (briefly) after a meal between friends.

So I’ve been very preoccupied with the physical this week because I’ve been trial-running a hearing aid.  Ugh.

Never mind the fact that I’m super angry that, at my age, this is a thing for me.  (To which comes all of the conversations and monologues I don’t want to have about what I mean by this indignation—is the body not allowed to decay before a certain time?  What does that say about the way I regard my older friends with hearing aids?  How about people who are born with the need to have them or get them as kids because of some unfortunate accident or illness?  Do I label them by age?  And what am I considering in “age”?  Does it change how I react to someone if s/he is substantially older than I?  That can’t be right, as nearly all of my friends are at least a couple of decades ahead of me and it drives me nuts when they call the age gap to attention, but am I not doing that when I cling to youth as a reason not to have to deal with this?)  What I’ve been so terribly aware of has been mechanics.

Mechanics:  science is amazing.  That’s a thing, and I can say that even though I was terrible at science in school and can’t be bothered to get better at it as an adult.  I can still marvel at what human beings decide to accomplish.  This hearing aid—it’s roughly the size of a nickel, and that part holds the battery, microphones (two), and wireless technology so as to be able to “talk” to the computer in my audiologist’s office that programs it.  Then there’s a clear wire no thicker than spaghetti connected to an earpiece a little smaller than a dime that sits snugly in my ear canal such that, when the whole shebang is in, you can’t see it until you know what you’re looking for.  And that’s not even the smallest model this company (Phonak) makes!  The whole unit not only fits in my hand, but could comfortably have a party with at least six of its brethren before they got even a little difficult to hold.

I find that incredible, especially having grown up with grandparents who had hearing aids for extreme hearing loss, great big dollar-coin-sized monstrosities snaking down to wax molds that totally covered the ear opening, plastic contraptions that squealed and chirped at all the times calculated to be most embarrassing to pre-teens.

Not that this doesn’t chirp or squeal.  It does—and also vents, large enclosed spaces like parking lots, and fountain noices are hell with this.  This is partly because hearing aids change both how and what you hear.  Since the unit with the microphones sits on top of your ear, you no longer hear out but up.  Try it:  snap your fingers right next to your ear.  Now snap your fingers just above your head.  When I’m wearing this, those are two different sounds just like they are with you, except reversed.  The snap close to my ear is now less easy to hear because there’s a dime-sized plug in my head (and I feel it.  It doesn’t hurt, now that my ear has kind of gotten used to it and I’ve learned to put it in properly, but I am definitely aware of it as you would be of any foreign unit shoved into your ear).  But ambient noise?  ALL THE AMBIENT NOISE, because wearing this aid has essentially been like wearing a lapel mic on my head—and anyone who’s ever been to a conference or a sermon knows that that thing picks up all manner of sounds other than the person’s voice.  Yes, I have the power to turn down the volume, but that means that I’m also turning down the ability to catch the voices themselves of other people—which, as a friend pointed out last night, is fantastic for me as an introvert that I get to turn people “off,” but it does become a choice of weeding out random sounds so I can pick up the specific sounds I was having a hard time hearing anyway.

It’s been a tiring week, because believe it or not this kind of adjustment takes a lot of energy.  I’m really pleased people have been pretty mellow about it and patient with me as I’ve been trying to work with and around it.  It helps that most people don’t even know I’ve had it, since it’s pretty invisible.  But it’s been very instructive, to me, in both what I’ve lost and what I still have.

This trial is not permanent for me; my hearing loss isn’t severe enough that I would really merit it, but also I have decided I don’t need it and its downsides right now, regardless of what other choice I decide to make in the future health of that ear.  But it is an incredible thing to hear in stereo the keys clicking as I type, to hear birds chirping on my left side, to hear envelopes scraping across each other as I sort office documents.  To hear is such a marvelous and exhausting thing, binding together the incredible noisiness of the world.  As I approach the probability of yet another surgery to repair the 30% of my eardrum that’s missing, I’m very aware that someday I will have to have this.  That frustrates me, a lot, but it also pushes me into the compassion born of understanding for the friends I have now who are dealing with this, and with parishoners in the future who will deal with this.

I may also have to start being nicer to my grandmother.  It’s not really her fault she squeals.

 

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.  (Matthew 11:15, RHE)