March 26, 2015

The Risk of Learning

I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for about nine months now, attending classes several times a week at a studio less than a mile from my house. It’s done wonders for my back, which has long been beset by debilitating (though mercifully intermittent) pain. I’m not naturally strong or flexible, but I’ve marveled at the incremental progress I’ve made, class by class, as the months pass by.

I was finally starting to feel like a modestly capable yogini when I recently discovered during an intensive workshop that I had been doing chaturanga – a fundamental pose that one does countless times in each class – wrong. Not a little bit wrong. All wrong. My initial chagrin was magnified a hundredfold when I discovered that I am nowhere near strong enough to do it properly.

March 25, 2015

How I Write So Much

I write a lot. I mean, I am by no means truly prolific; I've written one book and won't have the next one drafted for another year or so. I have friends like this who turn out incredible numbers of well-written pieces. But, I do publish fairly frequently for a person who works a full time pastoral ministry job and parents two small children. A couple times lately people have commented on this, and I've felt all weird and panicky, like, I need to explain myself. Like I must be guilty of dereliction of duty in other areas of my life because I write "too much."

So, I'm explaining myself. Not because I really have to, but I do think it will make me feel better.

I write a lot in part because I've always written a lot. It's been a habitual part of my life for more than twenty years. When I was in grade school I wrote a novel. When I was in Introduction to Creative Writing at Kent State University during my freshman year of college, I wrote exactly twice as much as I was supposed to per the syllabus - in part because I was too afraid to ask if the twenty-five journal pages were supposed to be double-sided, and in part because I just had that much to say. Back in the heyday of this blog I published upwards of twenty posts per month. And for the first five years of my ministry I also wrote a sermon manuscript nearly every week. 

More and more frequently, I'll think of something I want to write and instead of writing it for my blog, where I have a very modest readership and no source of revenue, I'll tailor it for a publication that pays and has a broader audience. In that sense I'm not necessarily writing more than I used to, though I do think I'm writing better than I used to. 

And then there's this, and this is key: I borrow time to write from three different areas (more or less).

I take time from my personal life; I don't knit anymore, and don't watch nearly as many television shows and movies as I'd like, and don't have the tidiest house on the block, because I choose to spend time writing instead. As I gear up to work on bigger projects - currently a preaching commentary, soon enough a book - I know that this is the area that will require the most sacrifices. I am mindful about protecting time with my family.

I spend pretty much all of my ministry-beyond-the-walls-of-the-congregation time to write. I used to serve on denominational committees, and I don't anymore. I miss it. I am way less connected to both the UCC and the DoC locally than I was when I traveled to Altadena once a month to serve on the Pacific Southwest Committee on Ministry, but I can't do that kind of thing anymore if I'm serious about writing. I think, though, that writing is a legitimate way to serve the greater church.

And I borrow some time to write from my pastoral ministry. I'm often thinking through issues that are deeply relevant to my "day job", and able to reuse bits and pieces of writing for church things - and, critically, because my church is supportive of this. I was told when I was interviewing here that they'd written the job description to cover 2/3 of a full time position, so that whoever came to the position could bring their particular gifts and graces to fill out that last 1/3. Writing doesn't comprise an entire third of my vocation here, but it's certainly part of it, and for that I am very, very grateful. I try to "give back" by writing things that are highly specific and practical to my congregation - hymns, pageants, etc.

So, that's pretty much how I write so much. And why do I write so much? That's a much easier answer: because I need to.

March 16, 2015

Sabbatical Summer 2015

In May, I will celebrate the tenth anniversary of my ordination; June marks the fifth year since we moved to Western Springs. This hardly seems possible. This summer I will take my first sabbatical from pastoral ministry - two months, from mid-June until mid-August.

My plans for this sabbatical have shifted. As recently as last month I assumed I would be beginning doctoral coursework; I applied and was accepted into the Association of Chicago Theological Schools Doctorate of Ministry in Preaching program. But, an unexpected opportunity materialized and I have requested a deferment.

Instead of starting school, I'll be starting to write another book. Last week I signed a contract with Herald Press. The editors contacted me in January with an idea and have worked with me to develop it into a proposal. We're all pretty stoked about it. I'm not quite ready to divulge more details, but it's become increasingly clear to me that it's a book I'm called to write.

My intention is to spend most mornings with the girls, and write during the afternoons. Additionally, I'll be returning to one of my favorite places on earth, Collegeville, Minnesota, for a weeklong writing workshop with Lauren Winner and eleven other women writers.

I don't imagine we will completely disappear from First Congregational Church. Maybe that's the way a sabbatical is supposed to be, and maybe it will feel like I'm "working" when we come to worship. I'm okay with that. This isn't just my church; it's my family's church, too, and it wouldn't feel right to separate them from their community of faith for two whole months. I'm also going to drop in to help coordinate First Congo Family Camp; it's just one night, and again, my kids would be bummed not to go. (I hope to take a make-up sabbatical weekend sometime in the fall, to compensate.) I do suspect we'll take advantage of the opportunity to visit a few other local churches, too.

I'm looking forward to a summer of family, writing, swimming, reading, biking, yoga... and more writing.

March 2, 2015

Let Us See You Ever Clearer

I have a rather busy week, with more things on my to-do list than seem possible to actually accomplish. I was bemoaning to a colleague this morning that it was taking me forever to finish the bulletin because I couldn't find the right hymns - there aren't many hymns about Jesus overturning the tables at the temple, you know? She joked that I should write a hymn, and I was all, "yeah, right!". But then I went back to my office and thought, "why not?" and proceeded to spend the next hour writing this, to-do list be damned. It's not the best hymn ever, or even the best one I've written, but it will work perfectly for our worship service this Sunday.

(It's licensed through Creative Commons - you're welcome to adapt but not use commercially, and please give me credit. Thanks!)

Let Us See You Ever Clearer
(Tune: CWM RHONDDA)

Jesus, you preached grace and mercy,
fed with stories and with bread.
Yet your parables of judgment
stir our hearts with quiet dread.
Let us see you ever clearer,
not what we prefer instead;
not what we prefer instead.

In the temple you turned tables,
scattered coin and sheep and dove.
Crude dishonor sparked your anger,
Indignation from above.
Let us see you ever clearer,
Righteous, holy Son of Love;
Righteous, holy Son of Love.

Though we know where this is going -
Christ shall suffer; Christ shall die -
still we search for easy triumph,
pray the cup shall pass you by.
Let us see you ever clearer,
As the cross is lifted high;
as the cross is lifted high.


Creative Commons License
Let Us See You Ever Clearer by Katherine Willis Pershey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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