Reconnecting with Faith retreat update

November 29, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

We’ve finally determined the cost for the Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home retreat January 26-28, 2007.

The cost will be $45 per person.  However, we are determined that money will not keep anyone away from the retreat.  If money is an issue contact the camp – we have financial assistance available for those who need it.

The Bigots are Coming

November 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs, Religion 

US Army Specialist Eric Rivera was recently killed in the line of duty in Iraq.  His funeral is scheduled for this coming Friday, December 2 in Atlantic City, NJ.

The Westboro Baptist Church (mainly composed of the family of Rev. Fred Phelps) of Topeka, Kansas has announced their intention to protest at Rivera’s funeral to show that Rivera died because the United States supports fags.  (No, I didn’t make that up.)  Apparently, they believe that 9/11 happened to the US because of gays, and that our soldiers are fighting to support a gay america.

This group is the group responsible for many states writing laws restricting protests at funerals (or at least at military funerals).  NJ is one of those states, and NJ law prohibits any protest within 500 feet of a funeral or funeral procession for one hour before, during and one hour after a funeral.  Also included is a clause banning the obstruction of entry into a funeral or related building or procession.  The penalty is up to 6 months in jail.

These people make me sick.  They make me ashamed to be a Christian.  I am nearly motivated to violence by their actions.

I hope that a number of my fellow citizens will show up and give them the treatment that they deserve.

UPDATE:  Within 24 hours of posting this, I have received 8 hits from cox.net in Topeka, Kansas.  Interesting.

Reception of New Members

November 19, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Today the Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church received me (and 15 others) as new members of the church.

All of us were asked to sit up front in the church along with our families.  Carolyn joined me this weekend (taking a break from the Catholic thing) and sat with me in the first pew.  I think I like it better towards the back.  The building looked full – just enough room for everybody to be comfortable rather than crammed in.

The bulletin included a legal size page with our pictures and self-written bios on both sides.

Just after the Children’s Message, we were called up by name to be recognized as new members.  One of us, Kate – a student at Princeton Seminary – needed to be baptized.  We were all asked the traditional baptism questions as our formal profession of faith, and then Kate was baptized in what has to be the wettest baptism I’ve ever seen in a Presbyterian church (water was actually running down her back).  Then the congregation read the Words of Welcome from the Book of Common Worship, and sang a hymn “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” and the congregation was then invited to pass the peace (moved from the beginning of the service).  The Peace was as chaotic as usual with the crowd of us tripping over each other.  Then we all sat down and the service continued.

One pleasant surprise was the hymn just before we were received.  It was “I Danced in the Morning” (#302 in the blue Presbyterian hymnal, if you’re playing along at home).  The Rev. Tim Ives was the Associate Pastor at the church that I grew up in.  He has to be in the top 5 people responsible for my spiritual growth, and I doubt that I would have been a deacon, YAD, member of Synod committees, or Youth Triennium participant if it weren’t for him.  This hymn was the centerpiece of his service of installation in that church.  “I am the Lord of the Dance, said He”  Freaky coincidence?  Carolyn and I don’t think so.

At the end of the service, the group of new members left at the beginning of the last hymn to form a receiving line in Fellowship Hall.  I managed to get Carolyn to stand next to me – after all she is part of the family now, too.  We then met a huge crowd of people, most of whom who told me their name and few that I remember, and then we had the cake that was specially made for us.  We chatted with all sorts of folks and then headed home.

This is the end of the journey that began in August 2005 when another volunteer at Camp Johnsonburg asked me “What church do you belong to?” and I had no answer.  It went on to include the Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home retreat at camp and my church search.

While this is the end of the journey back home, it is certainly NOT the end of my spiritual journey.  I hope to bring you news as time goes on.  I look forward to this church finding a way to pull me into greater involvement – I’m eager to get started but I need help to find that first thing to volunteer for.  And I also look forward to telling the story of this successful journey at the new Reconnecting with Faith retreat next January.

Thank God that’s over … and OK

November 18, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life 

I had a colonoscopy done yesterday.

If you know my age, you realize that I’m a bit young for this.  I have some personal history (some nasty flareups in college and about 5 years ago) and family history of colon cancer.  After the last flare-up my doctor has put me on the “every few years” plan for the rest of my life.

The good news – nothing is wrong.  No sign of cancer, polyps, anything unusual.  My diverticulosis (a mild case) is about the same as last time.  The doctor took some biopsies, and will let me know in two weeks if they are clean.  If so, I get 4-5 years before the next one.

A few tips if you’re headed this way.  If you have a choice and can swallow big salty pills, use the pill prep (Visicol or Osmoprep).  They are much less painful and less bad tasting than the alternatives.  Also, if given the opporunity to be sedated and/or completely knocked-out, DO IT.  I’ve had 3 of these now with a greater degree of unconsciousness every time.  Sleep through it if you can.

I missed work on Friday for this, but I’m just as happy.  The prep left me feeling a bit depressed (at the loss of control involved) and a little weak from the all clear liquid diet.  The anaesthesia left me only 80% there for 4-5 hours afterward which I slept off at home.

I am a Presbyterian, again

November 16, 2006 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Last night, the session of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, NJ voted to receive me as a member by Reaffirmation of Faith.  This ends my nearly 20 year departure from the church (and at least a few years off the rolls anywhere).

I wasn’t alone – there were 15 others joining at this time.  Three by Profession of Faith, Six by Reaffirmation of Faith and 7 by Letter of Transfer.  As I’ve said before, this was a very diverse group on everything but age.  The new members live as far away from Lawrenceville as Lahaska, PA and Bensalem, PA.  There are two first-year students at Princeton Seminary.  The ages run from early 20’s to “I don’t want to even guess” retired.  When you add the non-member spouses (like mine) and young children, the group ends up being more like 25 people.

In fact, we outnumbered the elder members of the session.  Because the group was so large, the session had to start their meeting in the chapel and move to their usual spot after the new member portion was complete.

We got started about 7pm with new members and session members filtering into the room.  The chairs were arranged in a big circle that just barely fit in the room, and the new members and session members were interspersed throughout the circle.

The main portion of the meeting was taken up by the introductions.  Each new member was asked to give some information on themselves, their families, their faith journey and why they chose Lawrenceville.  Each session member did the same, substituting what membership means for them for their faith journey.  Due to the size of the group, this took over 45 minutes.

After that, the session voted to receive us into membership and to authorize the baptism of one of us.  We then said a common prayer and passed the peace.  The session then left the room to continue their meeting (being 1/2 hour behind schedule due to our group’s size) and the rest of us headed home.

On Sunday, we will be recognized during the service and one of us will be baptized.  We’ve been instructed to sit up front in the reserved pews (along with family) and that we will be called to stand in front of the congregation at some point.  During the final hymn we will be escorted out to form a receiving line in Fellowship Hall.

The one funny point of the evening came when one of the new members talked about the music program and choir being part of his reason for choosing Lawrenceville.  An elder who is in choir (and who was still jet-lagged from the mission trip to Israel) leaned over and told him when the choir meets.  He then informed her that he’s been in the choir for six months!  Apparently short women in the soprano section up front can’t see the big guys in the baritone section in back.

Why Lawrenceville?

November 15, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Tonight, I go before the session of the Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church (NJ) to be received by Reaffirmation of Faith as a new member.  There are about 15-20 of us (I think) being received by various methods.  To that number you can add 6-10 kids.

A while back, I wrote about my return to the church after an absence of almost 20 years.  What I didn’t really put into that post was why I chose this particular church.  Apparently, I’m going to be asked that question tonight, so here’s my summary of why (in no particular order).

1. It feels like the church that I grew up in.

That could have been a bad thing (since I had some issues with my original church that were minor contributors to my departure), but I checked on the issues that I had with the church that I grew up in and reportedly they are not a problem here.  The way in which Lawrenceville feels like the church that I grew up in are:  size (number of members and attendees, size of sanctuary/buildings), service format and content (basically a traditional service with the old standard hymns and a format that I’m used to), music program (wow! can this congregation sing!) and an active youth group.

2. The church has a policy of tolerance for all viewpoints.

A church can either be somewhere along the “conservative” to “liberal” axis, choose to work for tolerance of all viewpoints (within reason), or choose to avoid controversial issues. Based on what I was told (and have seen since), this church shows an unusual tolerance for a wide range of opinion.  One story that I was told was about a table at a men’s meeting where a discussion of a controversial issue erupted. Two people staked out the opposite positions, but everybody contributed with opinions all the way across the spectrum on that issue. None of it was heated.  That’s what I want – nice respectful academic discussion.  Having said that, the church averages out to someplace center to progressive in theology.  This is truly a “big tent” within the Presbyterian mold.

3. This church is a thinking church.

There is a big emphasis on adult education and study. Not just “let’s all study the Bible together” but discussions on applying faith to issues.

4. The church has lots of volunteer opportunities.

There are a lot of things going on. The church wants to have as many people involved as possible – but at the same time doesn’t want to push anybody beyond what they want to do.

5. Church leadership is open and involves lots of people

Unlike other churches that I know (or grew up in), this church rotates a lot of people through it’s leadership roles. At the ordination/installation service that I attended they asked anybody who had ever been an elder or minister to get up and lay hands on the new officers. 1/3 of the congregation got up – a HUGE ratio.

That list was written back in August when I chose this church.  Since then, I have also come to realize that there is a warmth to this congregation that might not be apparent to a casual visitor (or a summer visitor, for that matter).  Put simply – people care at this church.   About each other, about people in the local community, about justice, about evangelism.  There is a level of warm commitment – not just words or slogans but actual one-to-one action.

Feels good to me.

Tomorrow, you should be reading a post about tonight’s meeting.

Catholics, Birth Control and Eucharist

November 14, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Today’s votes by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops affecting birth control and Eucharist hit my family personally.

While I am Presbyterian (joining a new church tomorrow evening), my wife is a practicing Catholic.  (What the heck is “practicing” about?  I think after about 40 years she’d be good at it!)  We have chosen not to have children.  We are not using the rhythm method – my wife is an engineer and would never settle for a single point of failure.  You are welcome to draw your own conclusions on what all that means with respect to birth control.

The bishops issued two documents today that are relevant:

The first document talks about marriage and the Roman Catholic church’s teachings.  In reality, only the first page of the 12 page document talks about marriage – the rest talks about contraception, repeating Catholic doctrine stating that the Rhythm method is the only one allowed (though they call it “Natural Family Planning”) in any circumstance.

The second one talks about preparation for Holy Communion.  Among other things it states that intentionally ignoring church teachings is sufficiently serious that the lay person should avoid Communion.  It also repeats teaching about Confession, mortal sins, and the fact that Catholics should only take Communion in a Catholic or related Byzantine church.  Also that non-Catholics should not take Communion.

Put the two together and you reach the conclusion (verified by Catholic priests in a newspaper article that I read) that any Catholic using contraception should not take Holy Communion.  The newspaper article that I saw this morning cited a survey statistic that 96% of married Catholics used contraception.  One activist in the Catholic church on sexual issues was quoted as saying “This should save them some money on wafers”, but I don’t expect much to change.  I suspect that this new guideline on taking Communion will be ignored just as the teaching on contraception is ignored.  After all, the church spokespriest was quoted as saying that priests will not be refusing anyone at the rail on this issue.

So what does that mean for us?  For me – nothing.  Nobody changed the rules that I live by today.  For Carolyn …. well, I can’t speak for her.  I assume that if you ignore the teaching about contraception, you might as well ignore this teaching as well – and I suspect that 95% of married Catholics will continue doing so.

What I do know is that the Presbyterian Church will always allow her to take Communion in one of our churches irrespective of what her church teaches about doing so.  I also know that the Presbyterian Church will be happy to take her in should she get sufficiently frustrated by the differences between the Mother Church’s teachings and her beliefs.  And I know (and she’s been told) that the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville always welcomes her.

It’s probably easier to live in a one-church household.  We’ve done fine for all these years in a two-church household.  We talk, and exercise freedom of conscience on religious issues.  We support each other’s personal faith.  We’re also generally on the same page on theological issues and issues of applying faith to life.  That might not be the same page as the Roman Catholic church, but it’s OUR page.

Capitalization and “Christian”

November 8, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion, Web/Tech 

While writing a document for my new member process, I’ve just discovered that Microsoft Word 2003 automatically capitalizes the word “christian”.

Is that technically correct?

Getting Involved at church

November 7, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

This week I have a homework assignment from New Member Class.  I have to check off a list of activities that the church does that interest me.  I also need to answer two questions:  What do I expect to get out of Lawrenceville Presbyterian, and what do I expect to give to Lawrenceville Presbyterian?

I’m a rather strong introvert.  It’s not always easy to detect – I tend to speak of myself as a “loud introvert”, someone who can keep up a facade that makes me appear more outgoing.  As you may or may not know, introverts draw their energy from a different type of activity than extroverts (aside from eating and sleeping, of course).  Extroverts go into social situations and actually draw energy from the room.  Introverts on the other hand need solitude or a small group of close friends to create energy.  Introverts can actually feel the energy draining from them in a large social setting like a party.  Extroverts may go home charged up – introverts tend to go home exhausted.  This is a big generalization, but still true.

So how does this relate to new church members (and me in particular)?  I speak from my own experience.

I have to work hard to feel comfortable in a setting like the usual Fellowship Hour after church.  I’m fairly comfortable in church – I’m there as part of a mostly anonymous crowd and only interact personally with those sitting around me, and even then only for the passing of the peace.  But put me in a room and I’m lost.  I end up a single individual wandering around the room without talking to someone, or even standing on the side.  I will talk to those that I know, but I’m fairly unlikely to walk up to someone and introduce myself.

On the other hand, in a known group and particularly a small group, I’m fairly comfortable.  On a committee, in a small study group, as part of a team – I’m comfortable.  I know my place.  It’s even more comfortable when I’m part of a group working towards a goal – putting together a special service, running a youth activity, serving on a committee, or even just bean-counting.  In fact, that’s the best way for me to meet people – to work with them towards a common goal.

Once I feel comfortable in one small group, I feel that I have allies and I’m more comfortable branching out into something new.  I know that I had allies before or at least that people were giving me the benefit of the doubt, but this subtle shift from “that person over there” to “Bill, the guy I worked with on X” is huge for me.

So the hard part is getting that bootstrap job in an organization.  I feel like I need to be invited to participate in that first activity, and if it’s not joining an organized group but is more like an open activity I need to be dragged along.  Once I’ve done something with people, I will know them and be more open to fully voluntary participation in the next thing.  It’s just getting into that first thing that’s so hard.

The one exception to this rule is Camp Johnsonburg.  This camp is the one place on the planet (no hyperbole here) where I have felt totally accepted for being authentically ME outside of my marriage.  Camp Johnsonburg works hard to create that acceptance and even celebration of each of us – it’s probably the 2nd or 3rd core value of the camp.  I go there, smell the unique combination of plants in the air, and feel at home immediately.  The tension in my body drops dramatically nearly instantly.  I am ME, and people like me for being me.  There’s nothing more powerful than hearing “We’re glad that you came” and knowing that they really meant it.  That they didn’t mean “We’re glad that you brought your money” or “We’re glad that you brought your skills” or even “We’re glad that you added one to the headcount”.  We’re glad that you came – that you are who you are and that you are sharing it with us.  That’s powerful.  That’s a core of my theology – that all people are good to God to some degree or in some way unique to them.

As I re-read what I wrote above, I realize that camp isn’t really the only such time.  There have been a few more.  Serving as a YAD to Synod was like that.  More recently, meeting with Jill, Nolan and Rick about Lawrenceville Presbyterian was like that – I felt at ease in the first few minutes.  It might not have been on my checklist, but it was a huge factor in choosing a church.

So what does this mean when joining a church?  I need to be pulled in.  Please pull me in.  You won’t be disappointed.  I know that I have skills that can be put to good use, and I’ll give you a list on that piece of paper you asked me to fill out.  I just need a little tug to get out of my shell.

Turandot, Boheme Opera Company, November 5, 2006

November 6, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fancy Shmancy, Music 

Here are two names to remember – Benjamin Warschawski and Olga Chernisheva.  If you follow opera, you WILL be hearing these names again.  You just might have to pay a lot more to actually see them.

Carolyn and I made our twice a year trek to the Trenton War Memorial to see Giacomo Puccini‘s Turnadot performed by The Boheme Opera Company.  The Franco Alfano ending was used.  This was a Sunday afternoon matinee.

The short version of the story:  It’s a fairy tale of ancient China.  The law states that in order to marry Princess Turandot, a suitor must ring a gong and then answer 3 riddles.  If he fails, he is executed.  If he succeeds, he wins his bride.  Calaf, the exiled Prince of Tartary and his father the exiled King, along with their servant Liu, come to Peking and Calaf is entranced with the Princess.  He rings the gong, and then the real fun ensues.  He successfully answers the riddles, and Turandot is horrified that she’ll have to marry.  She gets the unknown prince to agree that if she can discover his name by dawn, he will die.  Then the whole city spends the night trying to get the name under penalty of death.  He reveals the name to Turandot, and her heart melts and she marries him anyway.

This opera is interesting in part because Puccini died before he completed it.  Just after Liu’s funeral scene, Puccini died of a heart attack while undergoing experimental (in 1924) radiation therapy for throat cancer.  The opera was completed by Franco Alfano – a student of Puccini’s and a fully-qualified composer in his own right – under the direction of Toscanini.  I am not particularly fond of the duet that Alfano wrote, but the ending is every bit as magical as I’m sure Puccini imagined.

(For those who have read my opera tales before – nothing went wrong with the production.  I usually get some disaster, but for this night I only spotted one mistake by a chorus member.)

Olga Chernisheva was fabulous in the soprano role of Liu, the slave girl to the Tartar King Timur.  She sang the entire night beautifully, particularly in her death scene (Tu che di gel sei cinta).  She can also act, and played a very convincing corpse for the following scene.

By far, the oral fireworks of the night came from Benjamin Warschawski in the tenor role of Calaf.  The character gets the most famous aria from this opera – Nessun Dorma – “None shall sleep”.  (HERE by Pavarotti)  Warschawski performed it note-perfect with as much emotion as I’ve ever seen.  It was clear that he both sings well AND understood the emotions behind the words.  In fact, he performed it just as well as Pavarotti in the clip that I linked to.  Unfortunately, Puccini didn’t leave a gap for a standing ovation at that point in the opera – we had to wait until the curtain call.

One thing about regional opera – you almost always get a standing ovation from some of the audience during the curtain call.  I think that people come to the opera in part to be a part of such a celebration.  However, this opera got a richly deserved Standing O from the crowd – about 80% of the crowd were on their feet before the minor characters had taken their bows and 100% were on their feet by the company bow.  As always, the Boheme orchestra was excellent and the sets and props and lighting and such were wonderful.  When Warschawski took his bow, the roar from the crowd was deafening.

The one downside to the production was the performance of Othalie Graham as Turandot.  This is a tough opera part for anyone – Puccini wrote more high C’s into this part than I’ve ever seen in a soprano role.  However, Graham didn’t seem up to the part in this performance.  Her high C’s were loud but she never quite reached the pitch, and her staging was wooden – even at the end when her heart had supposedly melted.  I have to wonder whether or not she had a cold for this performance.  However, she was creditable in this very difficult role.

Next up for the company – Rigoletto April 20th at 8pm and April 22nd at 3pm.  The company gives a pre-curtain talk about the opera 1 hour and 15 minutes before curtain – I strongly recommend arriving in time for it.

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