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As an addendum to my previous post about wedding rudeness, here is a spectacular example of the gift-giving insanity I referenced. Once you are mocking your gifts or asking your guests for a way to change or replace the gift, you've gone off-track. Back to kindergarden for remedial politeness lessons!

Wedding rant
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It's mid-June, which means it's prime Wedding Season. Beautiful, happy couples are pledging their love to each other, beginning their lives together.

In the midst of all this socially-sanctioned conspicuous consumption, there are a few things everyone really ought to remember:

- No wedding couple "deserves" (or needs) a "perfect day". I am sure they are very nice - I have met some absolutely delightful couples, some of whom went through hard stuff to get to where they were. But "perfect" should not be what anyone aspires to. Perfect means someone has read too many wedding magazines and watched too many movies. Weddings are a loving celebration of real people. Focus on that. In light of which:

- No one is a prop. I repeat: no one is a prop. It can be fun to have people dress in coordinated outfits, and more power to you. But those people should not be chosen for how they will look in those outfits, or in your pictures. They should be chosen for who they are and what their presence and support means to you. That way, if they don't look "perfect", that won't matter. From black eyes or broken bones to cranky children to radical shifts in gender identity between the proposal and the wedding -- the witnesses are not props, they are people you love, and their job is to love you and support you, not help you act out some fantasy.
NOTE! This even applies to children. I'm sure your second cousin's husband's niece is cute, but don't make her your flower girl just for the "look". Children are not props.

- Your guests do not "owe" you a gift worth a certain amount of money. There are no "bad" gifts. Be gracious and grateful. Remember that this is a party, and you are the host. Act like it.

- The bride is not a "princess", she should not be acting out some fantasy to that effect, but she is also not a fragile child. She is a full human being who can both take responsibility for her actions and be expected to operate within normal bounds of decency and reasonable boundaries.

The flip side of all of these is that couples planning weddings find themselves under an awful lot of pressure. The wedding has become a stand-in for consumerist aspirations, a time when people try to be something perfect rather than celebrating what they actually are. Focusing on their (messy, complicated, imperfect) reality will lead to a lower-stress and more meaningful and memorable wedding.

Amazing Iced Tea!
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While the fourth day of July is not a holiday up here, it seems an appropriate day to post my awesome iced tea recipe. Liberally adapted from an old family recipe, it is simple, delicious, and easy to tweak. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
- half an orange, rinsed and sliced
- half a lemon, rinsed and sliced
- frozen orange juice concentrate
- black tea bags (2)

Make a big pot of strong black tea. I like to use Tetley bags for this, I find they're the best, but I've had interesting and enjoyable results using Earl Grey tea as well. Let the tea steep for a while (if you're me, forget it on the counter for an hour or two).

When you remember the pot of tea, pull out your pitcher and put two or three generous soup spoons worth of OJ concentrate in the pitcher. Stir in your warm tea slowly - the warmth of the tea will help dissolve the concentrate. Add slices of orange and lemon and let sit for a while. Here too the warmth of the tea will help mix the flavours. After about 30 min, or - if you're impatient - when you're ready to drink the tea, add enough ice to fill the pitcher.

More concentrate makes the tea sweeter; the original recipe calls for a whole can of concentrate, but I find that to be much too much. I've had good luck making one sweeter recipe, then adding another pot of tea to a half-pitcher to make a second batch of less sweet tea.

The sweetness and flavours change significantly after an overnight in the fridge; I think the orange slices macerate a bit. So tasty.

I have taken to drinking this in the morning in lieu of coffee - tea and OJ combined, a prefect breakfast drink. Particularly when the thermometer edges up into the 30s...

Welcoming the stranger
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The readings for tomorrow* are about welcoming the stranger (the eager or curious can find the gospel reading here), and that is what I want to preach about - it's something our community needs to think about. I've been thinking about the dual roles of host & guest, influenced by my (small) knowledge of Japanese religion - that we are both host and guest, each welcoming the other and meeting Christ in the other in a dance, of sorts. (Clearly I need to clarify these thoughts before I preach.)

Another blogger I follow posted this poem, and I loved the way it fit with what I was considering while widening it. It reminds me a bit of the George Herbert poem, Love Bade Me Welcome (poem here, musical setting by Vaughan Williams here).
Now I'm sharing it. Enjoy.

****

Love After Love

Derek Walcott


The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

****

*The first reading is the story often referred to as the binding of Isaac. I'm not sure what I'll do with it - I'd rather ignore it, but it's not a story that lends itself to reading in church and then leaving aside.

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It's strange to notice the shift in stress and tension when it finally reaches the point that quitting everything and running away starts to seem like the easier and more appropriate course of action.

What I signed up for
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I had a fun if busy Thanksgiving weekend planned: a murder mystery party Friday night, a relaxing Saturday with a parish dinner that evening, my first solo Thanksgiving service on Sunday, and then a day trip to a nearby city to meet up with friends who are normally much further away.

But plans do tend to go astray, and this weekend lived up to that. Thursday early I was woken up by a phone call: my parish's former organist, now in a nursing home, had died (she'd been given a month to live at the beginning of September, so this wasn't exactly a surprise). And *poof*, there went my plans. Thursday got shuffled around so I could meet with the family. Friday, I got to the party, but late, because I was meeting with people to prepare the funeral. The murder mystery party was fantastic (especially considering that I knew barely anyone at the beginning) but Saturday disappeared into a vortex of sermons (Sunday & funeral, since my sermon-writing time on Thursday had disappeared) and bulletins and negotiating the complicated dynamics of a small parish when key powerbrokers are grieving. Challenging.

Sunday morning went well, although my key lay leader was home sick and so everything was a bit scattered. Pulled it off, felt reasonably pleased with myself, and then went home ... and worked on a funeral bulletin. Printed, folded, hymn inserts printed and folded, and then it was time to look at the sermon. Funeral sermons still terrify me, and this one in particular loomed large, because this woman was such a key member of the parish and so this would be my first true "parish" funeral, where anyone from the congregation who could attend would be there. It is accepted wisdom among clergy that the first opportunity a new clergy person has to be truly accepted by her (or his) congregation is the first big funeral. I knew this was it and it needed to be good.

Monday daytrip plans were, of course, canceled (so sad!) and instead I put the finishing touches on the sermon, checked the church, got all decked out (full collar & cassock does look pretty fantastic, imho), and headed down to the funeral home for prayers. A few interesting conversations with funeral home staff later ("You're ... a priest? Good for you! How old are you?") and some prayers, observe the closing of the casket, escort the body into the hearse, back in the car, up to the church, make sure everyone is set, and... go.

And it went well. My sermon was good (not perfect, but good enough), people seemed to appreciate the service, the family seemed happy with the way things went. There was a good mix of grief and appropriate light-heartedness. People wept and were then able to smile. I attended the reception afterward and had yet another conversation or two about my age* ("How old _are_ you?!") in which I - cheerfully - refused to reveal my age. The conversation was stopped by the best response I've heard yet: "My mother always said it was rude to ask a lady her age. So... how much do you weigh?" I gratefully accepted compliments about the service.

Then home. Too much adrenaline to nap, so I did paperwork, cleaned up my desk, sorted out old papers, got set up for tomorrow.

Ah, yes, tomorrow. No day off then either: meetings (two!) downtown, so the day will be busy yet largely a write-off.

And so it goes. The long weekend in the life of a small-town pastor. Happy, productive, exhausting.

(I may take down this post in a few days. Not sure whether I want to leave this much information about my life up indefinitely.)

* People think I look SO YOUNG when they meet me. These conversations seem to disappear after I've been around a few weeks. I like to think that I am simply competent enough that it stops being an issue - but I wouldn't mind if it weren't an issue in the first place. And since when is it polite to ask a professional you've just met how old they are?!

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Supposing there are people who use abortion as a form of birth control ought to be considered as absurd as supposing there are people who use skin grafts as a form of winter coat.

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Learning to love intuition
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One of the strange things about growing into my role as a clergy person (and thus as a designated leader/decider/tie-breaker/blame-taker) is learning to trust my intuition.

Now, I am generally a highly intuitive person ("Intuitive" is the most stable of my Myers-Briggs characteristics), which is both a blessing and a curse: I "know" things before I have actual evidence on which to base them, which can lead to a lot of second-guessing myself when I want to be sure. When it comes to parish work, I also don't have much experience using my intuition, and so I feel like I am making decisions in the dark or based on very little actual evidence. It's only when I look back that I realize that my intuition has already been serving me: my instincts are apparently better-honed than I realized.

Furthermore, my attempts to get answers from those with experience often ends with "well, it's a judgement call" or "it depends on the situation", which is another way of saying "you'll need to develop an intuitive judgement about how to handle these things."

And so I am learning to love my intuitiveness, and slowly figuring out when I can trust my intuition and when I need to be careful and get more data. Another item for the "they didn't teach me this in seminary!" list...

Tony Hoagland, In Praise of Their Divorce
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I keep telling myself that I should be posting more than a bunch of poems, but then I come across a poem that cries out to be shared and I can't resist.

For this poem, I will add that my opinions about divorce are complex. I would not recommend divorce to anyone (apart from those in an abusive/dangerous situation). But I ... well, I suppose I'm still figuring out the details of what I think. This poem does a powerful job of reframing the question and pointing to hope in what can otherwise be a dark, painful situation. Thus I commend it to you.

*****

In Praise of Their Divorce

And when I heard about the divorce of my friends,

I couldn't help but be proud of them,

that man and that woman setting off in different directions,

like pilgrims in a proverb

--him to buy his very own toaster oven,

her seeking a prescription for sleeping pills.

Let us keep in mind the hidden forces

which had struggled underground for years

to push their way to the surface--and that finally did,

cracking the crust, moving the plates of earth apart,

releasing the pent-up energy required

for them to rent their own apartments,

for her to join the softball league for single mothers

for him to read George the Giraffe over his speakerphone

at bedtime to the six-year-old.

The bible says, Be fruitful and multiply

but is it not also fruitful to subtract and divide?

Because if marriage is a kind of womb,

divorce is the being born again;

alimony is the placenta one of them will eat;

loneliness is the name of the wet-nurse;

regret is the elementary school;

endurance is the graduation.

So do not say that they are splattered like dropped lasagna

or dead in the head-on collision of clichés

or nailed on the cross of their competing narratives.

What is taken apart is not utterly demolished.

It is like a great mysterious egg in Kansas

that has cracked and hatched two big bewildered birds.

It is two spaceships coming out of retirement,

flying away from their dead world,

the burning booster rocket of divorce

falling off behind them,

the bystanders pointing at the sky and saying, Look.

-Tony Hoagland, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (2010)

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Nothing quite like family to make you realize how imperfect and un-self-actualized you really are. Anyone can be a saint alone...

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