Saturday, February 26, 2011

10 Things About Me

Here are 10 facts about me that many people do not know. These aren't necessarily the most important things about me and my life, but they are facts that help others to understand who I am. And at the least, one or two will cause most people to scratch their heads and go, "It's a wonder she isn't stranger than she is!"

1. I bought my first Book of Concord at age 14.
What may be stranger is that I started to read it at that age, also. Of course, there is a story to this. A "son of the congregation" had completed his seminary education (at Concordia Seminary St. Louis) and received his first call, and was being ordained in his home congregation. My mother and I attended the service. During the course of this event, the one being ordained is asked about his allegiance to and intention to preach and teach in conformity with the writings contained in the Book of Concord, and then the various writings are named. The one that caught my attention was the Smalkald Articles. On the way home, I asked my mom, "What in the world are the Smalkald Articles?" Her answer was that they were one of the writings in the Book of Concord, that pastors were the only ones that bothered with reading those things. That just got my curiosity burning brighter. At home I looked up the cost of a Book of Concord in her Concordia Publishing House catalog (she ordered material for the congregation's Sunday School), and sent in my order for one B of C. When it arrived, I found out that it had the Small Catechism, a Large Catechism (news to me!) and myriad other writings. My dog-eared and heavily underlined copy accompanied me to seminary 14 years later, and still sits in my office.

2. I know how to tap dance.
Seriously. My parents enrolled me in dance lessons when I was 4, at Miss Jane's Dance Studio. I took tap, jazz, and ballet for 12 years (and studied modern at a later time, but that's a different subject). Tap dance is so much fun, and it is one of the few times where a child is encouraged to make noise, and a lot of it! And like riding a bycicle, you don't forget how to do a time step (my buck-and-wing is a little rusty, however). I even did a liturgical tap-dance while a student at LSTC, for the "Feast of Fools." There are witnesses who can attest to this. Fortunately, this predated Youtube and cell phones with video upload capabilities. My children are most grateful for this.

3. I love to sing.
I have enjoyed singing since I was little. I don't remember a time when I didn't enjoy singing. And I have what I call a "decent" voice. I especially like singing in church, singing hymns and liturgical music, singing in choirs. One of my favorite experiences came from when we lived in Nebraska, and several years I got to sing with the Axtell Community Choir for their yearly Messiah performance. I loved learning the choruses, and really came to appreciate what Handel had done in putting those beautiful words to music. I'm not trained; I've picked up bits of vocal technique along the way, by dibs and drabs. But from nursery rhymes to chant to Broadway show tunes, I enjoy trying it all. In fact, one hymn I want sung at my funeral is "What Wondrous Love is This" just for the last two verses. "To God and to the Lamb I will sing," and "And when from death I'm free, I'll sing on, I'll sing on!"

4. I know a lot of songs.
This goes with the above. My husband says this, too, but a little stronger: "My wife knows all the words to all the songs." Well, no, I don't. Not all of them. But I do know a lot of words to a lot of songs. Credit Miss Jane. She used Broadway show tunes for a lot of her recitals, and I learned the words just by listening to the records over and over. Also, my parents had a lot of Mitch Miller records (which is how I learned all the words to "Nothin' Could be Finer than to Be in Carolina in the Mornin'!"). And as a native Tennessean, I (of course) know all the words to the following songs: The Tennessee Waltz, Rocky Top, Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel, Polly-Wally-Doodle, Dixie, On Top of Old Smokey, Wade in the Water, and We Shall Overcome. My mantra: So many songs. So little time.

5. I read through the Bible, beginning to end, in the 9th grade.
I was taking Latin that first year in high school, and the teacher would give extra credit for reading certain books. Most were history, though there were a few very long novels ("The Last Days of Pompeii" and "Quo Vadis") that were included. And the Bible. And he didn't want a "book report." If we wrote on a piece of paper, "I read (name of book)" and signed it, he counted it as extra credit. So, I read the Bible. Front to back, including the "begats" and all the laws about blood sacrifices in Leviticus. The start of a long, and mostly wonderful, relationship with this book (though I didn't anticipate that at the time).

6. My Mama and Daddy met in the basement of the National Funeral Home.
I really need to turn this into a short story someday. But my parents met in the bookkeeper's office of the National Funeral Home, after my father came back from WW II and my mother went to work there. And the bookkeeper's office was in the basement. And the Funeral Home was owned (at that time) by my grandfather and his brothers. Who were all named Charles. (But that's another story!)

7. My grandpa's brother's wife's youngest brother was my Daddy's best friend. (Mull that one over a bit. The relationships aren't incestuous, but sure sound like they ought to be, right? That sums up Southern families.)

8. I love the Old Testament, but it breaks your heart.
Broken promises, broken relationships, and starting over again even when every nerve in your body is saying "Mistake! Big mistake!" That's the Old Testament. Think about it.
But it is also all about Jesus Christ. Who also breaks your heart, but in a different way.

9. I was confirmed on the Palm Sunday after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, in Memphis Tennessee.
And yes, he was killed in Memphis, and I was confirmed at my church in Memphis. The National Guard was patrolling the city streets, and my godmother had to go through their checkpoints to get to our church. The events of that spring in my hometown took me years to sort out in my head. (Another story I need to write, some day.)

10. I was a member of the National Organization for Women while in college and through my early twenties.
I joined while in college cause I was a young woman in the South who wanted to work in journalism and get equal pay for equal work. (Like, duh!) I quit after deciding that I couldn't support NOW's stand on abortion rights. But I'm glad I was a member for a while. I gained a lot in self-confidence, and met some wonderful women. It was also the first time I met and got to know women who identified themselves as lesbian. In hearing their stories (especially regarding life in a Southern city known as the belt-buckle of the Bible belt) I learned a lot, both about them and about how churches do not always witness well to Christ.

There you have it, ten random facts. At some future date, one or two of these may merit a longer essay of its own.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Goodbye to All That

The movement from January into February brought an ending and a transition that should not go unnoticed or unremarked for those of us staying in the ELCA. What has ended is the former churchwide structure, which came to a formal close on January 31st, 2011. The announcement of a new "streamlined" structure was made last fall, along with the word that a number of positions would be eliminated with the consequent lay-off of individuals serving in those jobs. The fate of some of those individuals was known right away, in particular the former heads of divisions which would no longer exist. But the fate of many others was and is largely unknown, and is only being publicly revealed as some are bidding farewell in various publications of the churchwide units.

And so it was that as I read through my email this evening, I found this message from Pastor Robert G. Schaefer, Executive for Worship for the Worship and Liturgical Resources section of the churchwide structure, in the February edition of ELCA Worship News:

"Epiphany and Mission
"It has been an honor and a privilege for me to serve as Executive for Worship and Liturgical Resources as part of the Office of the Presiding Bishop for two years. It is, therefore, with many mixed emotions that I am taking my leave at the end of January to serve as Lead Pastor of a congregation in Southwest Florida. My departure will coincide with the end of the Worship and Liturgical Resources section and former churchwide structure on January 31, 2011.

Praise and Thanksgiving
I am thankful for the opportunity to have, for a brief time, shared in assisting our presiding bishop in the oversight of worship in word and sacrament and this church's efforts to be an evangelizing church centered in the means of grace. I am deeply grateful for the remarkable worship staff I have served alongside and am awed by their understanding and grace during this time of difficult staff reductions. It has been a joy to travel across this church to promote the centrality of word and sacrament in God’s mission to the world. I have witnessed the many and rich ways worshipping assemblies bring the centrality of these means of grace to expression in local contexts. It has been a blessing to serve with Bishop Hanson and all the remarkably gifted and dedicated staff of the churchwide organization.

I leave now to return to my first love; stewarding the means of grace in a local worshipping assembly of this church. My pastoral ministry will be greatly enriched by my time in Chicago. I remain hopeful that as we continue to fine-tune the work of the worship team in the new Congregational and Synodical Mission (CSM) unit, that the centrality of word and sacrament, spoken of in our confessions, will continue to find clear expression in the organizational structure of the ELCA.

Blessings on the journey,

Pr. Robert G. Schaefer
Executive for Worship
Office of the Presiding Bishop"

As Lutherans we view church structure and governance as mostly matters of indifference (adiaphora), which is not the same thing as saying that we don't care how the earthly church chooses to order and govern itself. Rather, we recognize that structures come and go over the course of the centuries, and how the church orders itself can vary as long as the Gospel is rightly proclaimed and the sacraments rightly administered (the satis est of the Augsburg Confession). And being as the ELCA seems to "re-structure" itself with some frequency (so much so that I and others have difficulty in remembering just what the various parts of the churchwide structure are calling themselves now), it would be foolish to have any "feelings" for a structure now relegated to the dust-bin of ecclesiastical history, one that like those structures before it in the ELCA has been abandoned in the current dismal fiscal environment.

What we should not view with indifference is the exodus of men and women from their positions and jobs in the churchwide offices, as many of these positions have been eliminated and cut back. These brothers and sisters in Christ have worked for the ELCA, most of them behind the scenes, out of a sense of call and mission. It is an unfortunate but necessary fact of the times that personnel matters are dealt with privately; usually this privacy is a benefit to workers.

However, one distinct drawback is the inability, in such a time, to fully understand the scope of the layoffs at the churchwide level, or to name specific individuals in prayer as they go through this transition. Often one only learns after the fact that a position has been eliminated (or "consolidated") and that the individual that one had come to rely on is no longer there.

The ELCA has come under a huge amount of criticism in the past decade, and especially in the past two years. Some of the criticism has come from questions regarding the "essential" position of some of the projects that the ELCA has supported. For some critics, the recent downsizing has been overdue. However that may be true, the toll this latest restructuring is taking both on those who have had to leave and on those who are left behind in the churchwide offices cannot be ignored or made light of. In particular, as it becomes clearer in the year ahead what is left, and what has been preserved, going forward in the leaner ELCA churchwide structure, the question may need to be asked if the re-structuring truly serves the "right preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments" or not.

I note that Pastor Schaefer closes with that hope and prayer in his farewell message to those who attend to worship matters in this church. He writes: "I remain hopeful . . . that the centrality of word and sacrament, spoken of in our confessions, will continue to find clear expression in the organizational structure of the ELCA." I take this opportunity to thank Pastor Schaefer, and others who worked with him, for their attention to the centrality of word and sacrament in the portion of the Church of Jesus Christ known as the ELCA over the past few years. Without an advocate for worship within the structure, it is uncertain what lies in the future for such an emphasis and witness for Lutheran worship and liturgy. At the least, it will be more difficult to find people in the structure of the ELCA to whom we can address our concerns.

And let us continue to lift up in our prayers those who have not fared well in the re-structuring, those who are still trying to find jobs and positions, whether in or outside of the organizational church. May these servants of the church be surrounded by those who can support, comfort and strengthen them until they find the place to which God is leading them.