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Learning to say “Yes, And…”: A review of God, Improv, and the Art of Living

I still remember that gathering in a hotel meeting room in Kansas City. The NEXTChuch conference had just ended, and a group of pastors gathered to learn about Improv and how it could impact our ministries. Our speaker was snowed into her hometown, and the leaders began to change their plan. Yes, we were going to improvise a 24-hour workshop on improvisation. Throughout our sessions, as we played and then debriefed, I kept asking for the rulebook, the place where I could read about what we were doing to understand it better. MaryAnn McKibben Dana was one of those facilitators, and she very patiently kept reminding me that she was in the process of writing the book for which I hungered.

When I finished reading the book, it took all I had not to race to the internet and preorder copies for all of my clergy colleagues and church leaders. It was this paragraph that held the book together for me and helped me pivot from “principles of improv” to “heres what it means”:

“The truth is, were not in control of our lives, and the unforeseen happens. Plans fall through. People get sick. Marriages end. The plant closes down. Loved ones die. Our job as improvisers is to use our resources to put together a life in the wake of these things – maybe not the life we had planned, but a good life, a life with dignity, fashioned out of whats on hand.” (p. 119)

How much of ministry, how much of life really, is using our resources to fashion meaning out of what may appear to be chaos? The book is filled with examples of how this happens in workshops, on stage, and in the church. The way this works for those who look at life through an improv lens is saying “yes, and…” This is the key theme in McKibben Danas book. When we say “yes,” we accept the reality of what has been given to us. Be it the character to include in a skit, the terminal diagnosis, the relocation for a job, the burnt breakfast or any other number of circumstances we cannot change, the basics of improv include saying “yes” to the reality in front of us. Read more

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Spare Some Change Edition

Gas Station

Dear Askie,

I’m a new pastor in a small farm town. The church is on the main road through town and I live in the parsonage next door. Across the street is a gas station/minimart. The previous pastor was known to help whomever knocked on the door with money for gas, food, etc., so I’m getting knocks from people looking for help. So far these people don’t live in town, they’re passing through, and five miles further down the highway is an enormous casino. The church members and my denominational leadership do not expect that I hand out money from my front door, and so far I have not. But I feel like a terrible person, the falsest of Christians, and the most hypocritical of pastors when I turn someone away. What do I do?

Sincerely,
Struggling

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TYCWP Imprint with Chalice Press

The Pastor’s Bookcase

TYCWP Imprint with Chalice PressWhen visiting a friend’s office, I enjoy snooping through perusing the shelves. Sometimes I find something that is exactly what I need for a particular situation. Sometimes I’m reminded of old favorites that I had nearly forgotten.

This week we asked several young clergy women serving ministries outside of the parish to recommend resources that have been useful to them in the last year or so. Go ahead, snoop around, you know you want to! (Feel free to add your own recommendations to the comments.)

  • Scar Tissue, a novel by Michael Ignatieff, is recommended by Erica Brown, Assistant Chaplain at Northwestern University. The Rev. Brown lends it to students whose parents/grandparents have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Rob Bell’s Nooma Videos are recommended by two women ministering in higher education. Narcie Jeter, United Methodist campus minister at Winthrop University, notes that students love them (though they wish he used a tripod!) Jennifer Janney, Associate Minister to the University at Chowan University adds that they are “AMAZING for campus ministry.”
  • Narcie Jeter couldn’t stop at just one, and also gives shout outs to Jan Richardson’s In Wisdom’s Path and to  Alive Now for its poems, prayers and quotes. Finally, she points to Relevant Magazine’s weekly e-newsletter, confessing that she still hasn’t gotten around to reading the print ‘zine, but loves the e-letter.
  • Stacey Jutila works the night shift as chaplain to Children’s Memorial in Chicago. She recommends If I Get to Five, by Fred Epstein and Josh Horwitz. She notes, “This book is written by one of the first pediatric neuro-oncologists. He talks about the reality of brain tumors and
    their impact on children and families. He does a wonderful job of examining the social, medical, and spiritual aspects of pediatric cancer.” The Rev. Jutila also recommends Ode Magazine, which she says is “a wonderful international magazine that looks at issues of justice, peace, environment, spirituality and health.”
  • Former college chaplain Mary Allison Cates recommends Iona’s A Wee Worship Book. She notes that “the invitation to the table on page 84 is revolutionary and beautiful.”
  • Worship is also on the mind of  Callista Isabelle, Associate University Chaplain at Yale University. She lifts up Prayers & Litanies for the Christian Seasons by Sharlande Sledge. Chaplain Isabelle notes, “She uses imagery brilliantly, and I’ve used this book as inspiration for Sunday morning liturgies and evening services. The book is arranged both by liturgical season and thematically.”
    She also suggests Sustaining Simplicity by Anne Basye, “down-to-earth journal of one woman’s quest to live simply. Basye gives accessible examples and frames her struggle for simplicity theologically. There’s also an online guide for group conversations. My favorite part is the book is formatted as little scribbles and Post-It notes, so it looks just as scattered as my life but flows more
    smoothly!”
  • Kate Smanik-Moyes, the Helen Carnell Eden Chaplain at Wilson College, refers us to When Violence Is No Stranger by Kristen Leslie. She notes, “Working on the campus of a women’s college means I frequently work with students who have experienced acquaintance rape. I read this book almost every year just to remind myself of the theological and pastoral frameworks that can support my work with these students. In my humble opinion every pastor should read this
    book.”
  • Anne Turner is between jobs right now, having moved to a new region with her spouse. Her picks  during this liminal time are, “A tie between The Christian Century (because it makes me still feel like I can carry on an adult conversation,even if I do have to sing “I’ve been working on the railroad” to daughter Lucy between every page) and Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church (because I could compare her experience to mine and decide that, no, I’m not burned out like she was, despite my worst fears.)” Narcie Jeter also suggests Leaving Church.
  • Mira Hewlett’s work straddles two fields. She is part-time in religious life at Dickinson College and part time at a local parish. She recommends Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren, and Leading From the Second Chair by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson. She writes, “Amazing insights on how to work in a parish under someone else where one must work to implement the vision of others. But the lessons translate so easily and profoundly to any other ministry that involves a boss that it makes it a must read for those who desire to have the most impact within their role.”
  • How To Be A Perfect Stranger gets a nod from Kelly Burk, a young clergy woman from the Church of the Brethren, currently serving as Interim Director for Campus Ministries at Earlham College. The Rev. Burk also suggests the previously mentioned Leaving Church, noting that the memoir “touched me profoundly and gave me encouragement to follow where God was calling even when it wasn’t where the institutional church wanted me.”
  • Suzanne Vinson is a chaplain for a skilled nursing facility. She recommends Gifts of Many Cultures  by Maren Tirabassi and Kathy Wonson Eddy. Chaplain Vinson notes, “Great compilation of liturgy, prayers, writings and art from the global community. LOVE the resource. Use it weekly in creating worship services, for personal reflection, AND in leading spirituality groups.”
  • In addition to the previously mentioned Nooma videos, Jennifer Janney also suggests the Bonhoeffer classic Life Together as having “been the best words on community for me in a rural ‘out in the middle of nowhere’ place in ministry!”

We also asked this same group of women for personal or “just for fun” resources. Some women’s personal resources were other women’s professional resources, so they were mentioned above. Other sources mentioned (space prohibits comments on these) were:

  • Eat, Pray, Love a memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert (Mary Allison Cates and Suzanne Vinson)
  • Pride and Prejudice BBC miniseries on DVD (Kate Smanik Moyes, who comments that if you don’t like Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, she doesn’t want to hear about it)
  • Battlestar Galactica DVD (Anne Turner, who claims that she watches it for the religious themes)
  • Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen  and David Oliver Relin (Mira Hewlett, who calls it a story of faith, cultures, education, and vision)
  • The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine (Suzanne Vinson, who likes it “so far”)
  • Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (Erica Brown, who says there is “tons of good stuff” in this novel – about the plague!)