Monday, August 03, 2015

The Search for Summer

I have several soapboxes onto which I like to climb if prompted. This happens more often on social media than it does on here, but it does happen, and I'm not all that shy about it if I really get going. I can get pretty passionate about people not being jerks to my LGBTQ friends, the importance of public education, disassembling the stigma around mental illness, and clergy self-care. These are probably the top issues that can get me rankled for various reasons. I mean, yeah, there are tons of others that I have opinions about, but I think that these set me off much more.

There's one other that has really been weighing on me, particularly because it's affecting our household quite a bit at the moment: summer.

Okay. This doesn't seem like it belongs in the same group as those other things I mentioned. Maybe it has some tie-ins to self-care, but in a different way. I should probably explain myself.

Coffeeson is in a play. He's been taking theatre classes for about a year now, and landed a part as a Lost Boy in a production of the musical Peter Pan. And both Coffeeparents are incredibly proud and excited that he's finding something he loves doing. So a lot of our time this summer has been spent driving to and from the theatre for rehearsals. By the time he gets home, he's exhausted. Then we get up the next day and do it again. Again, he loves it, and we love that he loves it.

Let me tell you what summer was for kids of my generation: bikes, cartoons, actual vacations, ice cream, swimming, baseball in the backyard, trips to the park, trips to the movies, trips to amusement parks, library reading programs, Kool-Aid, sorting through baseball cards and comic books on rainy days, and a million other things that we came up with on any given day depending on our mood.

Let me tell you what I see summer as for kids today: travel sports leagues, play rehearsals, band camps, and school activities that actually end in mid or late June and start up again in early August.

Yes, my "get off my lawn" game is strong in this post.

For the Coffeehousehold, the days of summer have been a mad rush out the door first thing in the morning to work and daycare, a rush home to shove dinner down our throats, and then the drive to the theatre. This is the ideal when Coffeewife can get out at a reasonable hour and I don't have an evening meeting at the church. When either or both of those things happen, we endure a few extra layers of chaos. Oh yeah, and I'm working with a manuscript deadline. And this is just with one kid doing one thing. I can only imagine what it'll be like in a few more years when Coffeedaughter starts up even with a single activity of her own.

What happened to summer?

Now, I can hear the pushback. Some of this is the typical predicament of today's American family caught on the hamster wheel of Too Much Activity. I'll fess up that ours is not a unique situation. I know plenty of families experiencing this same ordeal most days all year long. But, man, remember when summer was a thing? Like, a lazy, relaxing thing?

Will it ever be that again? For anybody?

When I took my sabbatical a few years ago, I was amazed at how difficult it was for me to relax. I embraced the time away and I made it a point to really stay away from church stuff, but the pull to fill every minute of what was supposed to be a time of rest and renewal was a strong one. It took me a few weeks to realize not just how busy I'd been, but how dependent on being busy I was.

There is a part of us that is dependent on the hamster wheel. As much as we crave time to just sit, I suspect that both Coffeewife and I get a certain thrill out of the rushing around, and that's a scary thing. Once one of these responsibilities is completed, we'll probably enjoy it for a second, and then move right into the next thing.

We need summer. A real lazy, relaxing summer. At least for longer than a week or two. Sabbath is good for the soul. I hope we allow it for ourselves--all of us--at some point soon.

Friday, July 31, 2015

July 2015 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for July...

1. I binge-watched my way through season 3 of Orange is the New Black this past month. There was a different vibe to this season than the last, with no big baddie tying many of the inmates together. Instead, a variety of smaller storylines shuffled the characters forward, seemingly with an eye toward how things would blossom in the next season instead. However, we did see most characters' experiences with the themes of parenthood and faith: many flashbacks tended to focus on these, and several storylines featured them. Perhaps the one overarching story featuring every character was a private company taking control of the prison, which brought significant changes to the system and way of life for everyone, usually not for the better. And the very last scene is the adding of beds and the ushering of busloads more inmates into the building, signaling a drastic shift for the population. It was a transitional season, during which we saw some of the better and more intriguing backstories of the series so far, setting things up for the next.

2. I recently finished Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggemann, where he analyzes all the different dimensions of keeping the Sabbath, and how it is in many ways a protest against a culture that demands constant production and consumption. In classic Brueggemann style, he weaves a thread from the commandment in Exodus 20 all through the rest of scripture to show how Sabbath is an act of defiance against societal pressures that ultimately dehumanize and commodify. After hearing great things about it from so many, I'm glad I finally read it myself. It was also very timely, as I've been having issues with keeping Sabbath lately.

3. I also read and enjoyed If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Tigers by Mario Impemba and Mike Isenberg. The bulk of the story is by Impemba, a broadcaster for FOX Sports Detroit, who shares his experiences as an announcer and journalist not just for the Tigers, but also from his previous stops with the Angels and in the minor leagues. The book covers everything through the 2013 season, and he shares what things have been like around not just Detroit but MLB in general over the years that he's worked in the field. The result is a lot of interesting and funny stories of interactions with players and managers, times on the road, and what it's like to do his job. These sorts of books are great not just for fans of a particular club, but for fans of the sport in general.

4. The awesomely terrible experience that was Sharknado 3 happened the other week, where Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, and a bunch of other recognizable faces battle sharks...in tornadoes. I've come to look forward to this self-aware silliness every July, complete with social media running commentary. This year, however, the reaction online seemed more subdued, at least in my feed. That, and I think the franchise is trying harder and harder to top itself. This time there were sharks in a space shuttle. No, seriously. Still alive and everything. Really, I'm serious. But that's part of the dumb fun! Coffeewife remains unconvinced. Anyway, they've already announced that there will be a fourth installment, so that's something to look forward to.

5. Alchemy, the first original album by Meytal, released this month. Meytal is the band started by drummer Meytal Cohen, whom I discovered years ago during a random Youtube search. Her story is pretty incredible: born in Israel, served for 2 years in the IDF, moved to California to attend school, and started posting videos of herself drumming along to her favorite metal songs. People started paying attention, and she eventually ran a crowdfunding campaign to produce her first original album. She's incredibly gifted and I'm excited for her that she's reached this point. The songs are no-apologies metal, with the drumming especially tight (of course). Here's a song from the album, "Shadow in Disguise:"

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Prayer for Pentecost 10

Based on John 6:1-14

Faithful God, sometimes we look at what we have and worry that it’s not enough. The demands for our time, our energy, our resources seem greater than what we can give. So often, we manage our gifts out of anxiety instead of abundance. Rather than appreciate what we have, we agonize over what we don’t have. Rather than give thanks for the people and possessions with which we are blessed, we complain that we “only” have so much. We say to ourselves, “Here is what we have, but what is it among so much need?”

Through Jesus, you call us to a different vision. You invite us to consider how, through your Spirit, you cause greater blessing through our sharing than we can imagine. You stretch our loaves and fish beyond where we think they can go for our own sustenance, and for that of others. You are generous with your love and forgiveness, and encourage us to be just as gracious.

We pray that your love and grace will be felt with these whom we lift up to you…

O God, in seasons of change, center our hearts by the promise of your presence. Guide us forward by a sense of your possibility rather than our own fear. May we be faithful to the mission you set before us to feed your people, and by that same mission may we be fed as well. Amen.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

On Being a Stubborn, Self-Reliant Perfectionist

So. I more or less have a completed draft of a manuscript for my book. But it's way too early to celebrate and it's way too early to provide any idea at all regarding when I'm taking next steps toward publication.

The reason for that is I haven't actually submitted the manuscript yet. And the reason for that is I've cobbled together a small team of readers to check out a few chapters that I'm not happy with.

Let me tell you how big of a deal that is. I am one of those people who usually finds it very difficult to ask for help. I can point to causes in my life history that may have conditioned me to resist such acts of humility. No, if there's an instruction booklet handy or if there's enough leeway in whatever I'm doing to learn from my mistakes and avoid asking another to shoulder my burden (you know, like I'm always preaching to my congregation to do for one another), then I'll try to plow through as best I can.

Now, when it comes to my writing, I think I'm at least 10 times worse.

Understand that I love writing. It's a creative outlet that I have enjoyed for most of my life. And while the calm, rational side of me fully understands that asking others for feedback can help improve my work, my prideful, selfish side takes an incredible amount of convincing, because obviously it's already perfect and having others involved would ruin it. Obviously. But really, it's more a hesitancy to give up control (or admit that I'm not really in control) and fear of the possibility that my work is actually flawed, and could be improved.

But I know that it will do me a great deal of good to hear my team's thoughts. I've asked some awesome people to do it, and I know that it will make for a stronger finished product. It's just getting over that first big obstacle of "making the ask" that I think always confounds me, for the reasons stated above. But hey, I've overcome it this time, so that's something, right?

I guess that this is sort of an update on the book. I'm still a way off, but getting this far has been a mountain to climb in itself.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Prayer for Pentecost 9

Based on Mark 6:30-34

Faithful God, through Jesus we experience your desire for peace and renewal. You call us away from busy workdays, from impending deadlines, from daily home maintenance lists, from worries about loved ones, from rushing kids to practices, games, and performances. Speaking into our frantic days, you say, “come and rest a while.” We confess we don’t often hear your invitation over the many demands on our time and energy, and yet you are persistent: “come and rest a while.” You remind us of our need to be still, to rejuvenate physically, emotionally, spiritually. It all eventually begins again, but without such reminders, we only hurtle closer toward burning out.

As you call us to a place of rest, we’re not sure we can lay down our burdens for too long. The demands on our time are real, and affect our and others’ livelihood. But within your invitation is the assurance that these heavy loads are not ours to carry alone. You send us your presence through this community we call church, encouraging us to share our burdens so that we may truly move toward wholeness and peace.

We lift up names and situations crying out for such an easing of burdens, listening for how we may help shoulder them with your love…

O God, the journey of life can be a tiring one. Some days, it takes all our strength to take even one more step. Grant us the humility and courage to answer your invitation to rest, and to share what weighs us down with you and with one another. Amen.