Sunday off

I took this weekend off. I didn't take all my vacation last year and figured it out too late, so this time I sat down with my calendar and thought, "Hmm. When will I be tired?" and blocked off the first Sunday of Advent, Valentine's Sunday, and some appropriate family vacation time. I didn't know then that I would spend the week before this break with the burial and memorial service of a friend and colleague, and how tired I would be right now. Nor did I know my mother-in-law would ask to take the boys for the weekend to see her sister in Iowa. Nor did I know I would spend much of it very, very, sick.

But a break it is, and we did some Christmas shopping (nearly finished) and saw Devotchka and Leo Kottke and have had some quiet time together in the house. I have propped myself up on the couch and watched whatever _I_ wanted to watch, without negotiating with my eldest son.

But Sunday morning off , especially living inches from the church, is weird. I used to be able to skip church all together, but I haven't been able to for the last year or so. Part of the Covenant Discipleship expectation (I'm in one of our several groups here at Fairmount) is that we attend worship if able. Maybe that is working on me. Or maybe I just know I need to worship once in awhile, even though it is hard to turn off the what-can-I-learn-today part of hearing someone else preach. So I woke up this morning, here next door to church, and had to figure out where to go.

I ended up at House of Hope Presbyterian on Summit. It's a big steeple church, elegant, gorgeous, formal. The music was stunning. We had communion (seated, with the elements distributed one at a time.) I couldn't see the preacher -- he was in the preaching nest and I was, late, seated behind a pillar. But it was a solid, thoughtful, pastoral reflection on the apocalyptic texts of Advent I usually struggle to address myself. And I got to be moved by worship without worrying about pulling myself together for the next part of the service.

My boys are on the road home now -- I miss them terribly-- and I have Advent candles for us to light together. And I still have (barring a funeral in the next few days) two days off to laze about or prepare for the season. Happy first Sunday of Advent.


Herb and Dorothy Vogel

I preached about the story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel this morning. Their "50 for 50" gift of art brought 50 pieces of art to the Weisman Art Museum in Minnesota.


Lucky, or something

I interrupted a break-in this week at church. It happened this way:

I had a meeting at 7:30, just a few people, and we were all a few minutes late. I walked up to the building and the door was unlocked. The lights were on. I walked in and when I turned down the hallway to my office, a man came down the hall, smiled at me and said hi and walked out the door. I walked past the doorway to the Wesley Room and saw another man come out of the dark kitchen and he smiled at me, said hi, and walked directly out the door. I unlocked my office door, set down my coat and thought, "Huh. I wonder what they were doing here." I wandered around a bit, found two trustees working in the basement, and kept wondering what was wrong.

It took me ten minutes to figure it out. When I noticed the door jamb had been jimmied out 1/4 inch or so I knew what had happened: the first man had been working on my door and when he heard me walk in he hid his tool and walked past me outside.

At that point I called 911 and the police came and walked through the building with me. Nothing was stolen so I didn't file a report, but my call is on their record. They assured me it was fine to call 911 if it happened again.

So we are reconsidering our locking policies. I think I should put a note on my office that says, "Nothing of value in here except biblical commentaries" though I'm sure that wouldn't work. And now I am less confident of running next door when the building is empty, especially at night. And I do (did) that a lot.

I haven't had enough emotional energy to think about it much this week; I'm more emotional about a friend that died, whom I was with all afternoon the day this happened. But there are moments when I think, What if I'd been four minutes later? I would have walked into someone inside my office, and that would have been a whole different thing.

But that didn't happen. What did happen was I saw (and smelled) two suspicious men and walked right past them. I didn't ask them what they were doing, which I normally would have done ("Excuse me, I'm the pastor here. Can I help you?") but I let them walk right past. While the front of my brain was running through the church calendar and all the reasons they might have been there, talking myself out of assuming the worst, the back of my brain was telling me to just walk on past. And I did.

I was lucky, or something. I hope next time I'm smarter. But it is what it was, a possibly terrible, and actually distressing, encounter in a church, the last place you expect it.

Doctors, Pastors

I had an appointment with a new doctor this week. I get a new doctor every year, apparently -- ever since moving back to the Twin Cities my doctors keep moving away after a year of me. (Maybe I shouldn't take it personally.) So last time I was in my clinic I asked a staff person: give me the name of a female doctor who has been here awhile.

And so my appointment. I was thrilled with her, and hope I get to keep working with her. She listened well, wasn't judgmental, seemed smart and on top of things and all that. But I also realized that (beyond the hope that I might get to keep one doctor for awhile) I was comfortable with her because she was so much like me. Startlingly like me, actually: same gender, race, age, marital and parenting status. And not too skinny. Just made the whole thing easier because there were so few cultural gaps to jump.

So, whew, found good doctor.

But, hmm, raises an issue about pastoring.

I am having a great time at my current church partly, I know, because I hit my demographic so squarely. I'm pastoring people who are mostly my race, more often than not my gender and surprisingly my age. Many, many people are at the same stage of parenting I am. Many are happily married. Our education is so similar I even went to school with a bunch of them. I can toss out a cultural reference in my sermons and forty people nod their heads at me. It's just a little easier.

But I love being pastor to people of all ages, men and women, and people of different races and backgrounds. I'm a pretty common demographic in my church but the variety is great fun too. Each Sunday we have folks ranging from 0-90 something. We represent four races, different economic and educational backgrounds, and different sexual orientations. That makes for a good community and wonderful ministry.

Pastor Rich and I feel it is really important to have variety on the pastoral staff if possible, and we are glad to work together representing two generations and both genders.

But I've been thinking about my comfort with my doctors, and wondering if it is hard for folks who are different than me to get used to me as a pastor. I bet many of us wish the pastor looked a little like us, thought like us, was like us. I can hit it some times but not for everyone, ever.

I think we probably have to listen to each other a little more carefully, work to keep assumptions at bay, and develop trust over time. In preaching I have to try and step outside my usual references to include a variety of generations and both genders (although I stink at sports analogies.) We might think we just walk in the door and are "pastor" but really the whole relationship takes time, experience, and trust. Just like doctors.

References, 11-15 Sermon

Last week I mentioned two movies in my sermon, so I'll post links to the trailers here.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
opened locally (finally) and is showing at the Lagoon and in Brooklyn Center. It introduces Gabourey Sidibe and stars Mo'Nique and Mariah Carey. It is rated R. The StarTribune reviewed it today here.

The other movie, a more mainstream one, is based on the true story of Michael Oher, the star left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. The Blind Side stars Sandra Bullock, Kathy Bates and Tim McGraw and introduces Quinton Aaron. It opens today and is showing in several theaters and is rated PG-13.


Vanity, Part 3

The part that has surprised me the most about this vanity project is the response I get from other women. I say something like, "I'm allergic to my hair color and I think I'm going to have to quit." People say,
"Oh no!"
"Surely you can find a different kind of dye."
"You can go somewhere else, can't you?"
"You don't want to do that. You will lose all the volume in your hair."
"You'll have to get a good cut or it will look terrible."
"How bad is the allergy?"
"What color is your hair, anyway?"

And many women grab their own hair as if to say, "Not mine!"

Note I didn't say, "I'm exploring the terrible chemicals in hair dye and think no one should use them." Nor did I say, "I'm feeling it is time for me to buck society's idea of what hair should look like and go natural." Nor did I say, "Anyone who colors their hair is an idiot." (That would be calling the kettle black, or blonde, as it were.)

But still, lots of women get anxious when I say it. Kind of like when you say, "I'm gonna stop eating meat" or something like that. Makes people nervous.

Of course some people have been wonderful and supportive. I've noticed a small group in church slowly moving from blonde to natural shades with gray. I've noticed lots of women look great and have hair that is not chemically altered. I've noticed I don't really notice other women's hair color that much.

And my husband is superb. He tells me I'm lovely every day. I'm not sure when I'll believe him, but it is good to hear.

Anyway I think we are kind of wound up about hair color, we females. A lot of it is the gray issue, which isn't my concern. In fact, for years I've looked forward to being an older woman. I've always imagined I would stop fussing with my hair, I'd throw away the makeup, and be terribly confident and graceful anyway because by then I'd be wise and patient and loving and would be ready to be done with all that.

I'm not gray yet, I think, but I want to get started on this wise and loving part, whatever I look like. And as for everyone else -- do what you want with your hair. If I make any progress on wise and loving I'm not gonna be pointing at your head.

Vanity, Part 2

So (see previous post) I've been obsessed the last few weeks with researching the chemicals in all the little various bottles cluttering up my bathroom. The StarTribune ran an article a few weeks ago about health concerns in cosmetics, and I ran into an article at Health.com recently which listed common products suspected of increasing the risk of breast cancer, like plastic water bottles, shampoos with parabens, and phthalates.

Most helpfully, Environmental Working Group has a website, Skin Deep, which rates thousands of products on a scale of 0-10, 0 being good and 10 being dangerous. It isn't foolproof, because some items are listed more than once with different scores depending upon how accurately the ingredients were listed. But you can check your shelf of products, see what sort of numbers you are working with, and work to find products that are lower.

I've done this off and on for years, and I try to get all my soaps and stuff below a score of five or so, but then I get amnesia and go buy something with an 8 or something. I love cosmetics gifts bags, and I've trusted Aveda for years. (That's how I ended up coloring my hair again.) I forgot, though, that Horst Rechelbacher sold Aveda to Estee Lauder, and I suspect, but don't know, that the formulas changed. Horst is now working on something called Intelligent Nutrients, obscenely expensive care products that you could eat. (If I want to use the stuff in my kitchen I'll follow the recipes in Annie Berthold Bond's book, Better Basics for the Home.)

I don't know all I'm allergic to: the formeldehyde on new clothes, para-Phenylenediamine (probably), and some other mysterious chemical. So I'm trying to get my product score closer to zero, or at least under 3. Then I'll be exposed to fewer chemicals and perhaps I can save some money, too.

The trick, of course, is not getting amnesia again -- forgetting all about this and succumbing to a cute gift bag in the store, or believing it when someone says I need a little "lift" and telling myself that the chemicals aren't really that bad, or thinking that it must be fine because the government lets the companies sell the stuff after all, even though the FDA doesn't test personal care products. Of course most change for me is cyclical -- a few steps forward, some back, and try again. Here we go.


Vanity, Part 1

After months of a mysterious allergic reaction I finally pinpointed its source: my hair color. A little research and I think I found the culprit, para-Phenylenediamine. It's a nasty little chemical, present in almost all hair dyes, and has been banned in Europe because of a suggested link to cancer.

I shared this with some friends at lunch one day and one of them smartly said to me, "You bug me about drinking Diet Coke and you put this crap on your head?"

Just in case I didn't catch the point, I had another, unrelated allergic reaction a few weeks ago, and heard the doctor say, "You need to consider your soaps, your hair products, your makeup, and your laundry detergents." Uh, excuse me, but that is a long list of bottles to read the fine print on. Well, why is that such a long list, anyway?

So, besides researching chemicals and hair care and makeup options, I've been facing my vanity pretty directly. I was schooled in vanity as a young girl, and I've worn makeup since I was a teenager and my hair has been chemically altered since about 1980 (except for a two year break during which I got pregnant with Theo, which, now that I think about it, is curious. I mean, I didn't stop dying my hair so I could get pregnant, because I didn't think I could, but I quit dying my hair and awhile later got pregnant. Could be coincidence, but I firmly do not believe I got pregnant because, as so many people helpfully say, I adopted a child and "relaxed.") I've been schooled in vanity, I've been surrounded by vanity in a culture that has a very particular idea of how we females should look and by an industry intent on selling us stuff to achieve that look, I've been encouraged in my vanity by folks who fuss about how I look while I preach, and I've fueled my vanity with fears about how the world will respond to me if it's just me they see.

At the same time I preach the Gospel every week, about how God loves us and how radically this opposes what the world tells us. Spiritually I work at being more and more authentic, whole and healthy and believe that makes me a better pastor, if not person. I love the people in my congregation and in my life and realize that has nothing to do with their hair color, if they are gray yet, or how much makeup they have on their face.

There is a dichotomy here somewhere.

So I'm going to quit putting nasty chemicals on my hair. That means, of course, a difficult transition, because the only way to go from chemical blonde to natural not-quite-blonde is to cut your hair really short, cover it with brown (almost all of which I'm allergic to) or look like a reverse and shaggy skunk. I can use henna, which has unpredictable qualities and is likely to make some of my hair turn coppery. I think I have a few weeks before I'm forced to a decision.

Which should be no big deal. I should be able to change the color of my hair without concern. I should be able to be a coppery redhead for awhile, and then some weird brunette for awhile, and then see how gray my natural not-quite-blonde-not-quite-brown has become in the last several years. But it is a big deal to me, partly because I have to stare down my vanity and my concern about what people will think of me. And, as the helpful young woman at the local co-op who chatted with me about henna said, "It's hard to have a professional look and use henna. It is unpredictable."

I'm a pastor. I've tried to look professional. But I'm not an anchorwoman, I'm clergy. Do I have to look a certain way? Where did I get this idea? Does it help me as a pastor to fit society's idea of what women should look like? Does it matter if my hair is a weird color, or a boring color? Does it matter if I use mascara, or lipstick? Will people hear my sermon better? Or will they hear it better if I am myself, shed of another layer of the fear that is dished out by an anxious culture?

I don't yet know. But we're going to be finding out.