In Praise of Clerical Fiction

Of course, as I begin my fifth year of wearing the collar, I know that my vision of the ordained life was not a complete one. I did spend my three years of seminary puzzling out ancient alphabets and surrounded by mountains of religious texts, some more obscure than others, and I currently own more Bible commentaries than I ever thought I would, but throughout it all novels have served as faithful companions along the way. In fact, by discovering the existence of a certain sort of fiction, I was eased of some of my anxieties about taking on this particular role in God’s church.

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Conspiracy Theories

Advent-conspiracy-bannerI had no choice but to join the conspiracy. In the summer of 2009, I started my first call post-seminary and ordination as a pastoral resident at a growing, mid-sized, suburban, mainline protestant congregation in the Deep South. During a planning retreat in August with my senior pastor, I was introduced to the Advent Conspiracy (AC), which the church had already joined. It was an amazing, spiritual, and challenging experience for them, during which a congregation of 140 in worship raised around $5000 to build 3 wells in the Chaco Region of South America. They decided to continue it during the two Advent Seasons that I served with them; projects in those years raised funds to dig a well and help build an orphanage in Kenya.

Simply put, the Advent Conspiracy (AC) is a program theme for Advent. The four weekly themes are "Worship Fully," "Spend Less," "Give More," and "Love All."  AC started in 2006 through the work of five pastors. They head churches that are non-denominational, larger congregations, which clearly state their theological positions on their websites. Most of the leadership roles are filled by men; however one congregation (Windsor Crossing), after two years of discernment, now states that women can have full leadership in the church including the role of pastor.

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It’s Just Math

 “This is not class warfare—it’s math.”

On September 19th, President Obama proposed a deficit reduction plan that would be paid for by tax hikes for families making $250,000 or more annually, a group that makes up just 1.5% of the U.S. population.  Conservative pundits expressed concerns that President Obama was either engaging in or encouraging “class warfare.” To this, President Obama responded, “This is not class warfare—it’s math.”

At the same time, an “Occupy Wall Street” protest began in NYC, and now similar protests have spread around the world.  Protesters at such events have made a habit of chanting “We are the 99 percent” in reference to the fact that 1% of the nation’s population is taking home a quarter of all income in the U.S. each year (a phenomenon eloquently described by Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz’s article “Of the 1%, By the 1%, For the 1%” in Vanity Fair’s May 2011 issue).

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Changing the Conversation: Resources for Talking Money

Editor's Note:  This article is one in an occasional series called "All About the Benjamins," running this fall on Fidelia's Sisters. As many congregations and organizations are running stewardship campaigns and lining up budgets for 2012, we'll be taking a look at the sometimes-taboo topic of money, and the role it plays in our ministries. 

Lewis Center Giving It happens. I don’t want to make excuses about it – but you know that it’s happened to you too. You go to a continuing education event, you take superb notes, you nod in vigorous affirmation, you wonder why you couldn’t bring the biggest nay-sayer in your ministry to sit in the corner.  And then you get home. You have to wade through all of that email, return all of those phone calls and prepare for the funeral of the beloved church member who died while you were away. There is no way that you were going to recapture that energy. Not this week. All those great resources gather dust.

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Pathos, Passion, and Pine Valley

  AMC

When Bridesmaids came out earlier this year, much cultural noise surrounded questions of box office success.  Would men go see this?  Could a comedy about women really make any money?  Apparently, long standing wisdom suggests no; even if the finale hadn’t featured Wilson Philips, I would have delighted in the success it found.

It’s astounding to me that the entertainment industry asks questions like this, but I suppose it shouldn’t be.  Back in the 1970s, Time magazine covered the move of the networks in expanding what were then half hour soap operas into the hour-long format I grew up accustomed to, and described them – programs which were born as advertising vehicles to housewives – as “TVs richest market.”  Now, this very month, All My Children, which has been running for over forty years, will air its last episode, and it’s only the latest on the network chopping block.  I find this endlessly curious, especially in light of that terrific Time piece (which, I confess, I located as a link in the Wikipedia entry on “soap operas”), which concluded that the market for soaps was no longer limited to blue collar housewives, but had since expanded to include college students (that’s when my folks got hooked), richer housewives, hippies and the unemployed.  It was a “ghettoized” market, but man, did it bring in money.

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Harry Potter 7.2: Thoughts on a journey

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I first met Harry Potter while I was in seminary, after my teacher-sister recommended this great book one summer while I was visiting home.  She couldn’t stop reading it.  Or listening was more like it, as the first few books we each passed around were the brilliantly produced audio books.  There were days that my husband came home to find me in our tiny seminary apartment, sitting on the couch, listening to a tape player with tears streaming down my face, with the wide eyes of shock, holding my hands up to him to be quiet and not interrupt this crucial moment.

So then, it’s been around ten years of friendship – for some others I know it’s been even longer.  Ten years of passionate reading, ten years of watching this young boy become a man, along with his two loyal and talented best friends, Hermoine and Ron.  Ten years of experiencing a story so near and dear to our hearts come alive on the big screen.  So it was with ten years of memories that I walked into a late-night showing of the final chapter of Harry Potter movies, The Deathly Hallows Part 2, by myself, popcorn in hand, and filled with a pile of mixed emotions.  Grief, excitement, pure happiness and anticipation, sorrow and anxiety.

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“Always Say ‘Yes'” and Other Truths from Bossypants

Bossypants 2 Full disclosure: When Tina Fey was hosting Weekend Update in the early oughts, I rocked a pair of tortoiseshell glasses, mostly because my boyfriend at the time had a giant crush on her. But also because here was a woman so funny and relatable that I both idolized her and was pretty convinced if she knew me we would be BFFs. Over time my affection for Ms. Fey has only deepened. I thought Mean Girls was brilliant, watched every episode of 30 Rock, laughed at Date Night, and, okay, never got around to seeing Baby Mama

So, I downloaded her memoir, Bossypants, as soon as it was released. I forced myself to only read one chapter at a time, so I wouldn’t run out of book too quickly. While many celebrity memoirs are interesting to read for their gossip value (Who were Rob Lowe’s lovers?) what I found compelling about Bossypants was Fey’s relationship with her work. Comedy is clearly a calling for her, just as ministry is for me.

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“Punishment Comes One Way Or Another”: A Review of True Grit

Editor's Note: This review contains spoilers. Lots of 'em. Don't read this if you don't want to know how this movie ends.  However, if you've seen it and you're looking for a good movie to reflect on theologically and to maybe share with your congregation, read on…

True-grit-2010-big "True Grit": Directed and screenplay adaptation by Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”, “Fargo”).  Starring Jeff Bridges (Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), and Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney)

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For our Enemies: Between Self-righteousness & an Abiding Hope

This morning, when I saw “BIN LADEN IS DEAD” plastered across the New York Times web page, I found myself surprised.  Not that he’d been assassinated, but that the event was making headline news. Osama bin Laden has been in hiding for years and hasn’t seemed to have much real power for quite a while now. Every once in a while a scratchy video or tape of him would pop up, but that’s it.   

He’s a powerful symbol, of course: terrorism, 9/11, and all-around Evil.  He’s also a very convenient symbol: it’s hard to point to an identifiable Enemy in the complex, disparate movement that international terrorism has become or in the wars that the U.S. military is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. He provides a useful, unequivocal face of the Enemy for us in the United States. 

And so, some Americans were celebrating Sunday night in the streets of Washington, D.C., and New York City. Facebook status updates were peppered with “God bless America!” and “Justice is done.” and probably other, more ugly, statements than my predominantly liberal friends and family would post.  However, one friend of mine suggested that now Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Jerry Falwell (!) can play bridge in hell since they have gotten a fourth partner.  Well.  (And I thought Rob Bell had cleared all that up?) 

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Better Than That: A Review of Love Wins by Rob Bell

Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, the highly-publicized book by megachurch superstar/pastor Rob Bell, arrived on my doorstep in the same Amazon delivery as Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. The heft of the books and the size of the type on their pages led me to an initial comparison: Peterson’s is 320 pages of thick prose that tells the story of a lifetime in the pastorate. Bell may have higher celebrity status than Peterson, but he is at least a generation younger, with far fewer years of experience. His book barely reaches 200 small pages, and that’s only because the type is so big. I’ve long been a fan of Bell’s Nooma video series, but this was my first foray into his written work, and I have to admit that I judged the book by the cover (or, by the font size).

Peterson’s own endorsement on the front flap of Love Wins was my first clue that there is much more depth to this little book than its word count lets on.

There has been no shortage of controversy surrounding Love Wins, which challenges a classical Christian understanding that anyone who does not confess a faith in Jesus Christ is doomed to eternal damnation in hell. Even before its release, the blogosphere exploded with both criticism and support, most responding to a publicity video in which Bell raised the questions: Could it really be that Mahatma Ghandi is in hell? If we need Jesus to rescue us from God’s wrath, what does that say about the character of God? Why would we want anything to do with that God? The Good News, Bell concludes, is actually better than that.

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