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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Faking It

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

If you were to walk into the "office" in my apartment on any given day, you would see about seven different library books lying in various places: the desk, the chair, the floor. All of them have markers in them, attesting that they've been read--at least partly. But it is a rare occasion when I get through one of them cover to cover (here's an exception, an 80 page opus).

Last night I picked up (from the floor) Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor. This book was all the buzz among my pastorally-oriented classmates in seminary, so I had read pieces of it. But not all of it. Last night I picked up the chapter entitled, "Lashed to The Mast." Here's a money quote from the chapter:

" . . . the image aspects of pastoring, the parts that require meeting people's expectations, can be faked. We can impersonate a pastor without being a pastor. The problem, though, is that while we can get by with it in our communities, often with applause, we can't get by with it within ourselves."

Recognizing the potential fallout resulting from an admission that I've been "faking it" as a pastor, let me simply add a hearty "Amen!" to Peterson's assertion. It can be faked. In fact, you'll probably be more successful and healthy in the calling if you are faking it much of the time. Because so much of what you have to go on day in and day out is people's expectations of you and their expressions of whether or not those expectations are being met.

The problem is that our expectations of pastors are more conditioned by cultural images of success or therapy than they are by the gospel of Jesus. We want pastors to be ever-present advice givers, or we want them to be well-groomed images of certainty and prosperity. What we most certainly don't want is a human being who bleeds like we bleed, sins like we sin, and fails like we fail. Peterson's image of the pastor as the one who is lashed to the mast by her calling is good because it understands this, and it insists that the faithfulness (not success) of the pastor is largely the charge of his congretation.

To lash a pastor to the mast of the ship is to say, in Peterson's words, "We know you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are. We know your emotions are as fickle as ours, and your mind is as tricky as ours. That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you." It is to proclaim a counter-cultural preference for the messy-ness of a real pastor over against the shining therapeutic image of one we have all come to expect.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:25 AM | link | 3 comments |

That's Longer Than I Thought

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Italian researches have concluded that the feeling of being "in love" only lasts about a year. Take that, Hollywood.

Normally I would regard a study such as this with skepticism; as if contemporary science can measure such a thing as "love." There. Did you catch it? It's the association of the feeling of being "in love" with "love." My own instinctive association of the one with the other is why I'm positively gleeful over this study. Because they're not the same thing. Yet our civilization is awash--positively awash--with the expectation that they are the same thing.

Now it's entirely possible that I internalized all of those movies and pop songs growing up to a much more unhealthy degree than any of Not Prince Hamlet's readers did. In fact, that's quite likely. But, even so, the cultural landscape that we all inhabit operates largely on the false assertion that love involves, ever and always, those Nerve Growth Factor molecules in abundance. And it further asserts that when those molecules become scarce, then "love" is no longer the thing that you are dealing with, and so you'd best go get in love with someone else.

Think of the overwhelming amount of the popular articstic canvass given over to the "love story" or of a "love song." It's tremendous. And it makes paradigmatic the experience of being "in love." Being in love is, of couse, great. As far as it goes. And I'm just as much of a sucker for a love story or love song as the next guy. The problem is that there are just so many love stories and love songs, so many different expressions of the same experience, that our imagination has short-circuited when it comes to years two, three, four and beyond of a relationship. Our imagination has no trouble at all connecting with the cinematic or the musical expression of year one, but after that the pickins become quite slim. And what pickins there are seem to be overly concerned with re-creating the experience of being "in love," with going back to that state, with remembering it and somehow reclaiming it; it's the misty water-colored memories of the way we were.

Would that there were more of this:

A decade

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour,
But I am completely nourished.
Amy Lowell
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:36 PM | link | 0 comments |

Good Morning Kansas City

One of the really nice things about living in Kansas City is the availability of Roasterie coffee. I am a bit of a coffee fanatic, having worked in this coffeeshop in Denver and this one here in Kansas City. I just like good coffee. Not a lot of frills; just good, single origin bean, black, coffee. The Roasterie's coffee is just that. When I lived in Princeton it was Small World; in Cherry Hill it was whatever I could find. So I couldn't wait to get back to KC, if only to enjoy coffee from the Roasterie.

The Roasterie's owner, Danny O'Neill, is obsessive about the coffees he buys, providing meticulous details about where they came from and who he bought it from--no brokers here. And so every day I have the benefit of starting everything off with a cup of coffee that I hand-grind and brew, made from beans that were roasted about a mile from my apartment last week. It's great. Usually I buy their organic line, and I'm presently enjoying a cup of the organic Guatemalan you see displayed here. It's lovely.

Another interesting thing about living here is the presece of Aldi grocery stores. The presence of the stores is not really interesting in itself; it's that Meredith has taken to shopping there exclusively. "It's so cheap!" she exclaims. And so it is. And not only that, but you find the strangest brands of things there. This morning I had a bowl of granola made by a company called Grandessa, supposedly a "gourmet" food line. Well, if mango chai granola is gourmet, then I have no argument. That's right: mango chai. Granola.

I can die now. Nothing can top this.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:45 AM | link | 0 comments |

If You Love Music, Then Run The Other Way

Monday, November 28, 2005

Andrew Sullivan has a link to an mp3 by The Right Brothers called "Bush Was Right!" Musically, it's horrible; politically it's bleary-eyed; comically, it's brilliant. You have to listen to it--you won't regret it.

Here's the best line from the song: "Ted Kennedy: wrong/ Cindy Sheehan: wrong/ France: wrong/ Zel Miller: right!"

The funniest part is that they're serious.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:22 PM | link | 0 comments |

Nothing Like A Family Holiday to Make You Wonder If You're Life's A Failure

Sunday, November 27, 2005

If one will pardon the tongue-in-cheek title, please do. If not, sorry; blog entries have to have titles. It's just the way it is.

Meredith and I drove 8 and a half hours on Wednesday night in order to arrive in Lake Bluff, Illinois, at her brother's house. We spent the Thanksgiving holiday as two people in a house of 13, six of whom were children under seven (one being about eight weeks). It was delirious. It was maddening. It was bliss.

When Meredith and I hang out with her family, we are the odd one's out. For we, unlike her siblings who have produced seven children between them, have produced no children and are quite intentional about keeping things that way for some time. My brother-in-law is a PhD-wielding father of four with a mortgage and two cars. He spends his time playing with his kids and fixing up his house (which this weekend involved standing in the nighttime Chicago snow as a men in coveralls took a backhoe to his front yard . . . long story). My sister-in-law is a mother of three who absolutely shines at family gatherings; she runs the kids' meal times, coordinates games between them, and orchestrates the dizzying production that is bedtime.

In the midst of this, there is me and Meredith, Uncle Rocky and Ta-Ta Birf. We play with the kids--for awhile. I make coffee. But mostly we sit around and wait for something meaningful to happen. And, for one, I start to wonder about my place in the whole arrangement. In terms of achievement and experience, I still feel like the junior-member of the family (this is true of my own family as well). But I have learned enough about myself to know that another degree or a brood of children wouldn't make that feeling go away. I'm probably bound to have it my whole life.

Then my brother calls me. On Thanksgiving. From Colorado. He calls me to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving and to tell me that he's spending the day with his stepson at their church, helping to serve a Thanksgiving dinner to homeless people. He's not with his wife, and he's not with his family. These are his choices, but still the situation makes me feel useless, not only amongst the family swirling around me in Chicago, but also to my family miles and miles away in Colorado.

Yeah, that feeling may not be going away any time soon either.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:24 PM | link | 6 comments |

Righting the Ship

Saturday, November 26, 2005

I spent a combined 17 hours in a car over the Thanksgiving holiday, commuting from Kansas City to Chicago. During that time I did, yes, listen to the Kelly Clarkson cd; but I also during that time listened to another cd, a new cd, one that undoes any and all damage done by "Breakaway": Picaresque (hat tip: Jeff and Jonas) .

It is the broccoli to my skittles, the steak to my cheese puffs, the water to my soda. It is pure, it is chewy, it is goooooooooooood.

All merits of "Since U Been Gone" aside, The Decemberists convinced me of my folly halfway through the first of no-less-than-seven listens with this line: "for a tryst in the greenery/ I gave you documents and microfilm too."

There's simply no way that "how can I put it?/you put me on/I even fell for that stupid love song" can hold a candle to "find him, bind him/tie him to a pole and break his fingers/to splinters."

I have seen the light.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:53 PM | link | 3 comments |

Yes, It's Come To This

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I am not Prince Hamlet; I'm pretty certain the melancholy Dutchman would have sooner killed Claudius than wield in his trembling hand a copy of the latest cd by . . . Kelly Clarkson.

Not Prince Hamlet indeed.

I didn't buy it, but checked it out from the library. But that will be little consolation for the Jeff Bryan's and Landon Whitsitt's of the world, who are no doubt by this time tearing their hair out or swearing in Georgian. But let me offer this in my defense: I was weaned on a steady diet of power pop music, and, in certain seasons of life, my palate goes wild at a key change or a major chord progression. I can't help it. I'll despise myself in the morning, I know; but for now it's a steady diet of the original American Idol winner.

Please try to understand.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:39 PM | link | 9 comments |

Talk About Your Four Days

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My vocation is in the habit of placing its practioners in situations they are ill-equipped to navigate. I have written before of things like school board hearings, but today wraps up a four-day stretch as yet unmatched in my time as a [fill in the blank] of the church.

Here's the recap:

Saturday: Officiate a Quineanera. The Quinceanera herself attended our church's preschool when she was a girl, so her mother asked if the church, as it had done for her eldest daughter nine years ago, would host the explicitly religious portion of the event. Gladly. Of course, I'd never even heard of a Quinceanera before this, let alone seen one, let alone officiate one. It was a brief service, patterned mostly after the Presbyterian Reaffirmation of Baptism service, with some elements of a wedding service thrown in for effect. My text was I Corinthians 13 (no not that part): "When I was a child . . . but when I became an adult." It seemed fitting, given that the occasion is a sort of rite-of-passage celebrating a girl's 15th birthday. All went as well as could be expected, given the fact that the proceedings involved 31 adolescents in formal wear who arrived in two stretch Hummer limousines, one of whom exclaimed at one point, "What service? You mean, like, there's a pastor?"

Sunday: Lead Lord's Day worship. Nothing out of the ordinary here, except that the person who normally handles the sound and the lights in the sanctuary was at the hospital with his father-in-law. So the microphones weren't working and some of the lights never got turned on. On top of that, the sanctuary drapes remained closed the whole time, leading to a nagging question throughout worship: "Why does it feel so dark in here?" But there was good news amidst the darkness. A young woman and her baby were our guests. Having driven by the church several times and seen the sign, she decided to join us. In a congregation our size, you notice. Which is good.

Monday: Officiate a funeral for a woman I met once. She lived in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities, and her housemate has recently begun to worship with us Sundays (more good news). I met her about a month ago when I visited him in their home. On Sunday her housemate told us that she had passed away; that afternoon, the staff of the group home called me and asked if I would officiate the funeral. I was glad to do it.

Today: Officiate the graveside service for the same person and her family (in the rain). Then visit our sound and light guy's father-in-law in the hospital, taking my new British friend along with me. Then moderate a meeting of the presbytery's Commitee on Preparation for Ministry, where we will examine a candidate for ordination's readiness to receive a call to ministry. It's my first exam like this, and it involves someone who was one of my best friends in college, someone I used to gulp coffee and Sprite with while playing Mario Kart; now I'm moderating his examination for ordination-readiness. I gotta say, I didn't see that one coming.

God is good. This work is good. The challenge is to stay attuned to the still small voice in the midst of the storms that the work involve.

Gloria Dei.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:28 AM | link | 1 comments |

'Tis Nearly Upon Us

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

That old dog, winter. At the house where we lived in New Jersey, the sun shone through this big bay window and onto the couch, and our cats would sprawl out in delirium for hours. That's the way to pass the winter.

I recently came upon some sloppy and hastily-composed verse that I scrawled around this time last year. I share it for your amusement only (and a little bit out of my need for affirmation):



I have delighted in fall long enough to know that its' joys will not last;
they will wear on for a time,
and then they will become the curses of a damnable ragged winter.
Then I will aspire for spring's open windows and late afternoons,
only long enough to grow tired of heat and mosquitos.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:19 PM | link | 4 comments |