back to blogging and a request for help
I can't believe it's been so long since I've blogged! As you might have guessed, things have been insanely busy. We bought a house (which I love!), moved into it (always a crazy process), painted and patched and plumbered, adopted two lovely cats (whom you'll meet soon), and wrote like crazy (among other things, I have now completed two projects on my mind for a while -- some writing on 2 Corinthians for Church House Publishing in the UK and a chapter for the next Emergent Manifesto book with Baker Publications). And then there are some other exciting things I'll be posting about later.
But now I'm surfacing for breath and find that it's been months since I've posted to SarahLaughed.net. Wow. Quite a long break after over three years of continuous bloggins! It's good to be back.
I'd like to share one of the exciting things in the pipeline with you now. In response to the phenomenal success of An Inconvenient Truth and as further means to building an effective, grass-roots movement to increase awareness of the crisis our planet's climate is in, Al Gore and The Climate Project has invited 150 leaders from faith communities to join them for training as presenters who can take the message as volunteers around the world. I'm among those invited.
The Climate Project is providing partial subsidy of accommodations for the training, so the hotel will only cost me $80. It looks like a flight to Nashville and incidentals (getting to and from the airport and whatnot) will cost something like $300 - $350.
I've just taken leave of absence from the Episcopal Divinity School due to hefty tuition bills, and as rewarding personally as my recent writing and work for IMPACT Boston has been, it hasn't left a lot of room to pay for travel, and presenters for The Climate Project are strictly volunteers; we're not allowed to collect honoraria or other payment aside from reimbursement for expenses. In other words, this isn't a career move or a financial boost for me; it is, however, an opportunity to make a difference with respect to an issue that I'm passionate about, that affects all living things on this world, and that has disproportionate, devastating, unjust, and growing effect on the world's poorest.
Can y'all help get me to Tennessee for this training? If so, please consider donating toward the cost of my participation, and, if you feel so moved, lending your voice to the effort on your own blogs and social networks.
Thank you for your support -- both with respect to this and with all of the kind and encouraging notes and constructive feedback you've offered me. They all mean a great deal to me.
lived to tell
Well, I can say definitively now that I have sung a high b-flat in public and lived to tell the tale. Furthermore, I can say that none of the hearers were driven to madness or violence by the experience.
Actually, folks seemed to think it was quite good, and while at first I suspected that everyone was just being nice, I discovered over the course of the reception after the lecture that quite a few of them were telling people who are NOT me that it was good. I hadn't noticed when I was singing that the (totally fabulous) voice teacher from whom I took lessons this summer was in the audience, but when I sat down afterward I saw her a couple of rows in front of me -- and I was immediately mortified. I'm not a perfectionist, as people who know me know very well, but for some reason music brings out the perfectionist in me. I hear anything even remotely out of tune like nails on a chalkboard, and I'd know I'd slid into some notes. And my tone ... I just had no idea what that was like -- somewhere between yowling cat and quite good, but I didn't really know where. So it was a great relief when my voice teacher said convincingly that it was good, and also when my partner -- who always tells the truth about such things (she has said things like, "well, that wasn't your best sermon" or "you seemed really nervous") -- said that it sounded good, and she was sitting all the way in the back (as was my voice teacher, come to think of it).
I do think I could have done better with more voice lessons. I miss the lessons, and hope to be able to get back to them someday.
But hey -- I stuck my neck out and sang something I wasn't totally sure I could do in front of a big group of people, and I'm kinda proud of having done that much. Maybe that's more important in some ways than exactly what it sounded like. Maybe that's why people refer to time in seminary as important formation.
And the important formation continues tomorrow in a different vein -- I'm working for much of the day as an instructor-in-training for IMPACT Boston, leading pieces of a workshop for teenager. Similar experiences, in some ways: singing and IMPACT are both about discovering the power of stance and voice and using one's whole body.
leaving and coming home
Last night I took part in the service of matriculation at EDS. I have to admit that, as much as I was looking forward to hearing Barbara Harris preach and Bonnie Anderson recognized with an honorary doctorate, and let's face it -- to get a blessing from Steven Charleston is to be BLESSED and know it (among other things, he means it, and he says what he means in extraordinarily vivid terms). But as much as I enjoy EDS liturgy, I didn't really get what the Big Deal was with matriculation until, like Madge's clients in the old Palmolive ads, I was soaking in it. I mean, finishing something -- especially something that usually takes three years to do -- is something to celebrate. But starting something?
I clearly wasn't thinking much, or well. For starters, we've got a lot of liturgies and other rituals to mark beginnings, and they can be very important indeed -- Baptism and the blessing of a union come immediately to mind, for starters. Gathering community to ask God's blessing and support one another on the path is particularly important when one is taking on a new commitment, intentionally entering into renewed or deeper discipleship, seeking to follow Jesus in a particular context. And something I'm really loving about EDS is that it's a community that's intentionally ABOUT something. Sometimes I find a diffusely articulated set of values -- "discipleship," "leadership," "deepening faith" -- doesn't do much. Those words mean a great deal, including a great deal that's specific, to me, but sometimes they mean such different things to different people that a community gathered around them can't provide much in the way of accountability. EDS is about discipleship, leadership, deepening faith, seeking God's kingdom; and as a number of experiences like matriculation has made clear to me since my move to Cambridge, seeking God at EDS means making specific, public commitments -- for example, working against racism and other forms of oppression, not just in superficial, papering-over-cracks and changing a few words to a few other words, but in potentially life- and world-changing ways -- to which the community strives to hold one another accountable gently, but insistently. This is a different kind of community than what I've experienced before, and because of both that and my being in a different place now in terms of my own formation than I'd been when I experienced formation in other seminaries and communities, I have to say that I'm already learning, experiencing, and claiming things that I can tell already are tremendously important for my ministry.
All that's to say that I am really, really loving it here. I feel I'm growing a great deal personally and as a minister of God's Good News, and doing that while also being around libraries and community support that will allow me to file my Ph.D. dissertation is something very much worth celebrating -- and of course, making and renewing the kind of commitments we did last night is something with which we certainly need God's blessing and help as well as support and accountability from the community. In short, matriculation turned out to be quite a big deal for me. The necessary paperwork is en route; I've now well and truly left my former home in the Diocese of Maryland, and have no further affiliation there beyond our sharing in the one Body of Christ. When the time comes, I'm free to go where God calls me next, and to whatever ministry. But I'm at home where I am -- perhaps more deeply and immediately at home than I've ever found myself feeling before, and very happy about it.
moving day approaches/preaching in Michigan
Moving day is set: it's Saturday, July 29. We're renting a 26' truck that I'll drive, and we've got crews that will help us load and unload it. I'm a little nervous about driving the truck -- especially with the streets at acute angles and such close to our new digs -- but it's saving us oodles of money (renting the truck was only about $700) and also that way we don't have to wonder when our stuff will show up (in my experience, movers invariably take days to weeks longer than they said they would), and I'm also pleased that the guys helping us load the truck at our current digs are locals whom we know -- in other words, not surly, unreliable people who would trash our stuff.
But gad -- that means we actually have to have everything ready to go in two weeks! And I won't be home for the whole time either -- I'm preaching at (how cool is this?) a jazz mass for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene on Saturday, July 22 at the Episcopal chaplaincy of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I'm really looking forward to it, though -- it's a very cool occasion, and I get to hang out with the chaplain, whom I met when keynoting the Province V young adults' retreat this spring and found to be a very, very cool guy, and the music director, who also seems very cool indeed as well as extraordinarily talented (and without attitude!).
Moving is stressful, and I'm not looking forward to getting all our stuff together. I am really looking forward to settling in at EDS, though -- we love our new apartment and neighborhood, and we're looking forward to meeting folks in the community.
Ch-ch-ch-changes ... !
taking time to breathe
I haven't blogged much of late, have I? Things have been very, very busy -- I've been working at full steam throughout this week even though I'm hanging out in L.A. (where I grew up) on the closest thing I'll have to a vacation this year. It has been somewhat relaxing at least to be tapping away on my laptop in a quiet house or by the pool instead of in my study at home, but I do hope I can get a solid chunk of down time before Wednesday, when I head for home. I should get home at about 9:30 p.m. or so on Wednesday, at which point I have to go to the printer's to pick up a poster or two and copy some articles for The Witness' presence at the General Convention (usually abbreviated as 'GC') of the Episcopal Church. In the morning, I hope to take the car in for an oil change and then load the car with GC gear. There'll be a lot of it -- much for The Witness, and since that necessitated my driving instead of flying, I plan to bring lots of the comforts of home, as I won't be home again until June 21.
On the morning of June 8 I drive to Kenyon College in Ohio for the Global Episcopal Mission Network Institute, where I'm co-presenting on "Views on the Future of the Anglican Relationship" with Christopher Wells, with whom I served on the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, the body charged with preparing General Convention to respond to the Windsor Report and related documents and events. On June 10, I'll drive to Columbus to help set up the GC booth for The Consultation, a coalition of progressive organizations in the Episcopal Church. On June 11, I pick up my honey from the airport, as she has VERY generously volunteered to help with The Witness' coverage of convention, and the marathon that is General Convention begins!
With all of that in the works, I haven't had much time to breathe, let alone blog, so I haven't shared much of my personal news:
I've got a new job that I'm excited about -- I'm editing The Worship Well, a website with ideas and resources for good and creative liturgy, for Church Publishing. It's a part-time gig, so it doesn't interfere with my editing The Witness, which is also part-time, and I get to work from wherever I am. That's important, as in September (if not sooner) I'll be moving to the Boston area to enroll in the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When my bishop first decided that I should go to seminary, I can't say I was excited about it. I've spent a majority of my adult life in graduate theological education, and have a seminary degree from St. Mary's Divinity College of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland as well as a C.Phil. (all but the dissertation for a Ph.D.) in New Testament/early church history from U.C.L.A. My discernment of a call to ordained ministry was in part a recognition that what most inspires me as I study the New Testament and history of the church is working out in my worshipping community what it might mean for us to be the Body of Christ as we follow Jesus today. I found my voice as a preacher and experienced a call to parish ministry, and so I was initially unhappy at being taken away from parish ministry to spend more time in classrooms and libraries.
Now, though, I'm really looking forward to being at EDS. All those libraries plus the structure and community of academic life at a seminary will, I think, make it easier for me to file my Ph.D. dissertation, and I'll also have the chance to branch out more in my studies; I'd like in particular to engage in deep and extended study of issues in the Anglican Communion that I took up in my work with the Special Commission. And I imagine that all the things that made me love seminary the first time around -- living in a community of folks who take their faith and formation seriously, long talks over margaritas about liturgy, theology, church politics, and life, the goofy fun that emerges in a community of people under similar pressures -- will be present in life at EDS. And as much as I love Frederick, where I live, it'll be fun to live once more in a big city (good Thai food! public transportation! art-house films!).
Knowing that I'm moving there, though, puts me in an awkward kind of in-between stage. Our house in Frederick was the first property I'd ever owned. It was a stinky (literally! The whole place smelled like cat urine when we moved in), disgusting mess when we bought it, and with a LOT of elbow grease, we turned it into a charming home. It's the first place I've really 'nested,' and I did that bigtime. It's sad saying goodbye to that and moving into an apartment that seminary regulations say can't be painted; it's hard to believe that my new digs will feel anywhere near that homey. I have confidence, though, that I'll settle in soon enough, and will eventually get to a point where it's hard to imagine living anywhere else. And now that it's set that I'm going to EDS, my imagination is already starting to settle there, and once I get back to Frederick after convention, I think the summer will mostly be about getting rid of stuff I don't need and packing up to go. It's a very good thing that I'm happy to be going where I am; otherwise, I think I'd mostly be feeling dislocation. As it is, I'm far more looking forward to being there already than I am upset about needing to move.
Seminary, here I come! Well, almost -- in the meantime, there's this small matter of General Convention, finding out just where I'll be housed next year, packing up, and moving. But I think the change will do me good. If you have any tips for Boston life, give me a shout!
it's been a while ...
I haven't been posting much here, and I'm even further behind on the Anglican news digest. I've got news to share, though, and I'd like to get back to posting regularly here as well as on my other pages.
First off, I'm pleased to say that I've accepted a new job. I am editor of The Witness magazine. The Witness has been around since 1917 as an Anglican voice for justice, I've admired their work for years, and I think their mission is of particular importance at this historical moment, so I'm both honored and energized to be joining them. There was some gap between editors, so it's going to take a while before I hit my full stride and post content as frequently as I'd like to see it going up, but I'm already posting new articles from both regular and new contributors to The Witness, and I encourage you to check it out. (If any of y'all happen to be photographers or writers interested in contributing please do feel free to contact me too!)
The new gig is part-time. The difficulty of part-time work is that I still don't have benefits. I'm trying to figure out what to do for heal care, since I can't afford to continue the COBRA coverage from my last job, and that's very stressful. I'll probably end up switching to a health plan with a deductible of multiple thousands of dollars, so it will help if (God forbid) I develop some major medical condition or have a massive car accident or something, but it will be no help at all if I get the flu, a sinus infection, or some other condition that would benefit greatly from medical treatment, but isn't immediately threatening to life or limb. This is a downer.
The lovely thing about part-time work — especially when I'm doing it from home — is that I'm still free to take the next good thing that comes up, whether that's guest preaching, teaching, or consulting in a parish or, should an opportunity come up that's OK with my bishop, an ongoing parish, chaplaincy, or seminary gig. I also really ought to file my dissertation, I've got two partially written books going, and now that I'm in my third year of blogging the lectionary, I'm wondering whether I ought to revise and supplement what I'm doing to produce three handy one-volume preachers' commentaries on the lectionary.
Sadly, though, a little over a month ago my ordination process hit a huge snag that could delay me for several years. This is a massive downer. I miss working in a parish. I miss preaching regularly. And it's harder to produce focused reflections in the lectionary blog without day-to-day pastoral interactions with which I can bring my thoughts on scripture for dialogue. I've been in various discernment processes or waiting periods for almost ten years now, and it's a huge blow to think it could be a few more years left to go (not to mention many, many thousands of dollars more in expenses, which are hard to meet when one isn't working full time, the washing machine just broke and needs replacing NOW, and our home heating system really ought to be replaced to the tune of five thousand dollars or so). I'd appreciate your prayers.
I've really been encouraged, though, by opportunities I've had to get to know more about more of the folks who read this site, mostly through the SarahLaughed.net online map, where over 250 readers thus far (so many that you have to click on a little link at the bottom of the map to show them all!) have posted a pin to show where they are in the world and a brief “shout-out” to say hello. I also have much appreciated emails I've received from readers sharing their own ideas and a little bit about how they've used the site and what it's meant to them. I really am an extrovert, and at a point when my day-to-day work doesn't involve face-to-face interactions with other people, it's been nice to picture the faces of people with whom my work brings me into contact. When I feel isolated, it's lovely to click on a map and see all of those pins or open the email folder I keep with the title “encouraging words,” and see just what kind of relationships are developing here in cyberspace. I'd love one of these days to add more features for y'all to interact with one another here too -- something like what Real Live Preacher (an amazing writer and a good friend) has done with his expanded site. I'm glad to hear that folks have liked listening to podcasts of the lectionary blog, where you can hear my voice with your ears rather than only by my tone in writing, and it would be wonderful to find ways to bring that kind of personal touch to relationships between readers.
So thanks for your messages, your “shout outs,” and most of all, your prayers. These are rough times, but I'm glad to have this corner of cyberspace that makes me feel like I am helping to further the mission of the church even if I can't now do all of what I feel called to do.