Deacon Sunday Sermon – Nudges and Shoves – 5/22/2011

Below is the sermon that I preached yesterday for Deacon Sunday at my church.  At my church, the Deacon President preaches for this service.

First Old Testament Reading:  Psalm 139:1-18
Second Old Testament Reading:  Jonah 1:1-4,7,11-12,15-2:1,2:10-3:3a

Audio:  Here

Have you ever wondered what you should be when you grow up?  Whenever you might grow up?

Have you ever wondered if you are doing today what you are supposed to be doing?

Yeah, me too.

Parker Palmer in his book Let Your Life Speak quotes a poem from May Sarton:

Now I become myself
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces ….

The journey of discovering who we are is often a long one, a winding journey, and one that has almost as many steps back as forward.  In the church, we call the destination “vocation”.

We often associate vocation with a job in the church, but vocation is so much more than that.  God gives each of us gifts, and calls each of us to a job or a role in life – a vocation – that will use those gifts in the best way.  In essence, we are called to discover who we are – who God has made us to be – and once we find it to be that person as best as we can.  You may be called to a role in the church, or perhaps another career in medicine, law, advertising, sports, or science just to name a few.

The good news is that God already knows who we are meant to be.  In the Psalm we heard this morning it says:  “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”  Some people call this God’s Plan for Us, but I believe it’s simpler than that – it’s God’s revelation of who we are.

And we’re not alone in finding out who we are.  God is present in the journey, and nudges us along the way.  Those nudges take a lot of different forms.  Most are subtle – an internal tug within ourselves to something that interests us, a thought that seems to have come from outside of our self, or the words of encouragement of a trusted friend or mentor, or an insight after reading something.  Some are more like shoves, not as subtle, taking the form of dreams or visions or hearing an actual voice – and many of the stories in the Bible take that form.  However we hear the message, God is with us, and will not let us go until we understand.  It just takes time.

Jonah heard God’s voice at the beginning of today’s scripture.  It was a little more than a nudge, but less than a shove.  The shoves came later.

Jonah was a prophet, and as such likely accustomed to transmitting the word of God to others.  In this story, God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh, and cry out against it for God had seen the wickedness of that city.  At the time, Nineveh was an enemy of Israel, and this was a dangerous message, to be delivered to the enemy.

Jonah heard the message of God very clearly, but decided not to follow it.  And the nudge didn’t quite work in this case.  Albert Schweitzer was also nudged by God into his first career, through much subtler means.

Albert Schweitzer heard his early call through a still, small voice.  The son and grandson of preachers, Dr. Schweitzer himself chose theology and philosophy as his areas of study at the University of Strasbourg, ultimately earning a PhD at the age of 22.  One of his professors advised him to consider a teaching position in philosophy, but he chose theology as his primary focus.  In his autobiography he says, “to me preaching was an inner necessity. The opportunity to speak every Sunday to a congregation about the essential questions of life seemed to me wonderful.”  From his earliest years his call to ministry was expressed through his internal spirit – through his gifts and interests given to him at his creation.  And so he went on to succeed in his field, serving a church, leading a theological seminary, and publishing a famous work of theology.

Sometimes God speaks to us through ourselves, by giving us interest in a particular subject, or through us hearing someone else tell us what they see as our gifts.  Schweitzer heard that quiet call to ministry in his early career.

My own story of becoming my true self starts with a bit of nudging as well.

I was a lot like some of the youth in this church when I was in high school.  I was quite involved in the church, serving as a Deacon and going to Triennium, working at Camp Johnsonburg and serving in the higher levels of the Presbyterian church system.  I was also a bit of a geek, taking every computer course my high school had, playing in the band and serving on the stage crew.

I started at Rutgers feeling that I was headed one of two ways – either to a future in the ministry, or to a future working in the computer field – and I started by taking courses in both.  Then I had a bad experience on campus, and a few months later I saw a few odd things happen in my work in the greater church.  And I came to the conclusion that the church was about a small group of people trying to control the actions and beliefs of a larger group of people. As a result I quit my church roles and walked away.  I was done with the church, though not done with God.

More than 15 years later, I reconnected with the church through the camp.  One summer Sunday while volunteering, I began to form an inner question – whether or not I should be attending a church again every Sunday.  Talking with others I discovered that this was a common question, and I worked with the camp staff to develop a weekend retreat to help adults figure out whether or not to return, and if so how to find the right church for them.

Guided by what I learned at the retreat, my search process led me to Lawrenceville (with a few well-placed nudges from Alicia Pasko Morrison and Jill van den Heuvel).  That was in 2006.  Shortly after that, invitations from individuals and the congregation brought me to my work with the Deacons and with the youth.

All throughout this time I began to periodically wonder if I was in the right job.  I’d been working in Information Technology for 20 years at this point, and I began to wonder if the world of machines and concentrating on the bottom-line and career advancement was where I belonged.  My co-workers tell me that I would light up when I talked about my church work, particularly with the youth.  I starting thinking about and researching seminary.  I bought the Parker Palmer book that is referenced earlier and in the bulletin, and spent lunchtime at work reading it to try to figure out what I was feeling and hearing around vocation.  Something was beginning to change.

There are three questions that I have for you to consider today about your own journey.  The first question is this – when have you heard a nudge from God in your life?  When have you made a choice without really knowing why you did?  When has someone else said to you “You really should consider” this or that, often without knowing why they were asking the question?  Has God nudged you?  Is God nudging you today?

Sometimes God gives us a shove, because we need it.

Jonah decided to turn from God’s direction.  He hot-footed it out of town and boarded a ship to Tarshish as a passenger, directly in the opposite direction of Nineveh.

While Jonah was on the ship to Tarshish, God turned to shoves.  God caused a great storm to come up on the sea and put the ship in danger.  This storm was bad enough that it scared even the seasoned sailors on board. The crew, realizing that Jonah was the cause of their trouble, asked him what they should do to him, so that God would end the storm.  Jonah, apparently seeing that he was putting their lives in danger as well as his own, told them to throw him overboard so that the sea would become quiet for them.  Jonah understood that he had taken a course against God, and begins to show signs of a change of heart – at least as far as putting others in danger.

Finally in desperation the crew pleaded directly to God.  They asked for God’s forgiveness for what they were about to do, and then threw Jonah overboard, expecting him to drown and at that point the sea calmed.

Jonah expected to drown, in order to save the ship and the crew.  But instead, something fantastic happened.  He was swallowed up by large fish.  And scripture tells us that he lived in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.

God’s shove for Jonah was very clear.  Albert Schweitzer’s shove was a little more mysterious, but just as clear to him.

One summer day in Schweitzer’s 21st year he awoke, and lying in bed he pondered his good fortune.  Before he finally arose he had reached a decision – he would pursue his passions and scholarship until he was 30, and after that he would devote himself directly to serving humanity.  The exact nature of how he would do that wasn’t yet clear, but the direction was.

Another morning eight years later he found a copy of the magazine of the Paris Missionary Society on his writing table.  He was about to put the magazine down and take up his studies when an article caught his eye – “Les besoins de la Mission du Congo” – The needs of the Congo Mission.  The article spoke of the mission of the society in the French colony of Congo – the mission that was founded by Robert and Isabelle Nassau, who were members of this church.  The author of the article expressed the hope that his appeal would bring some of those “on whom the Master’s eyes already rested” to a decision to offer themselves to this work, concluding “Men and women who can reply simply to the Master’s Call, ‘Lord, I am coming,’ those are the people that the Church needs.”  Schweitzer’s autobiography states the working of God in his heart very simply:  “I finished the article and quietly began my work.  My search was over.”

Albert Schweitzer expressed the shove as a clear call – through the words of a magazine writer but nonetheless directed clearly at him.

For me, the shoves started in the summer of 2008 – a summer of extremes.

The high for the summer was the youth conference trip.  Our church staff and advisors led a group of youth and young adults to the Montreat Youth Conference for what was my first time at the Montreat center. The trip connected me with my prior church life in ways as subtle as listening to Sheridan singing while Rich played guitar, to ways as extraordinary as an experience that I had during a worship service that I can only call a vision.  It was made clear to me that week that while I had been considering my past church experiences and my present church experiences two separate parts of my life’s story, they were actually one journey.  I left Montreat feeling the best I’d felt in a very long time, and at the same time wondering even more whether I still fit in the corporate world that I lived in every day.

And then 10 days later, I was laid off from my job – a job that I’d held for over 13 years.  And … in one morning I was cut off from my income, from the large part of my sense of self-worth that was wrapped up in my job, and from the friends that I saw everyday.  I was isolated, spending a much larger part of my day alone at home.  I’m an introvert, but at some point being alone that much becomes too much.

To this day I’m still not sure of God’s part in my layoff.  At the time it felt very much like I was being kicked out of the nest – that I needed to get out of my old job and consider the church as a career.  Or maybe it was a little like being thrown into the sea.

For the next 18 months I searched for another Information Technology job, with no success.

In December of 2009, I interviewed for and was nearly chosen for an IT job in a non-profit organization, indirectly supporting youth.  After a few weeks I was told that another candidate was selected – that it was “this close” – and I was devastated.  I began to wonder why God had chosen to ignore my prayers, had left me standing alone.  Through my work on the Deacons and in the church, I very clearly saw God at work in other people’s lives, but not in mine.

A few days after New Years God gave me another shove.

One particular morning, I was lying in bed and suddenly had the feeling that I was standing up next to my bed.  Next to me, on my left, was this sort of orange-colored, milky, cloud – about the size of a person.  It was completely clear to me that this was God.  At the same time I got the sense of two things happening at once.

The first thing was that I was standing looking out into the world, and God was standing next to me looking into the world.  Both of us were silent but fully present to each other.  God was there for me.

The other thing that was happening at the time was a sense that I was standing looking into the world, and God was facing me … screaming and gesturing at the top of God’s lungs, gesturing wildly … and I wasn’t getting any of it.  The idea was very clear – that God wasn’t ignoring me, but that I just wasn’t hearing the message.

Through all of this I had a sense of eerie calm that I’d only felt once before – during the vision at Montreat.  It felt like all of my troubles were lifted and that all was right with the world.

And then it ended, and I was back lying in bed.

A couple of weeks later I was having a rough morning and a friend offered to have coffee.  She is a pastor in the area, and a recent graduate from Princeton Seminary.  During the conversation I talked about what was bothering me and I inexplicably found myself asking her for information and advice on attending seminary.  That started a more earnest process of discernment about seminary and a call to ministry.

So, my second question to you is:  When have you felt a shove from God?  Has God ever reached out to you to tell you something in a way that made you just Stop and take notice?  Is God shoving you today?

Throughout all of the disruptions in life, God is still with us.  God walks beside us on the journey that God has made.

God was still with Jonah even after he was thrown overboard.  After three days in the fish, Jonah was ready to talk to God.  In a poetic prayer, Jonah speaks of his distress after being thrown into the water, and how he cried out to God.  Jonah spoke of being distant from God, never again to be in God’s sight, but that God pulled him up out of the water.  Jonah prayed that he would do what he had originally vowed to do.

And at that point, God caused the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land, and Jonah again heard the voice of God telling him to go to Nineveh.  And this time, he did, proclaiming God’s word there.

And the people there responded, and in turn were spared.

Albert Schweitzer had a happy ending as well, with God’s help.

Over the next eight years Dr. Schweitzer concluded his work at the seminary and began his medical studies to become a doctor.  At the age of 38, he reached the mission at Lambarene and began his work.  In his two trips to Africa before and after World War One he re-established a clinic from the ground up that had a capacity of 200 patients.

I concentrated for the rest of last year on discerning whether or not God is calling me to seminary and the ministry.  I met with a number of people and audited a class at the seminary.  The Session of this church and the presbytery have taken me under care in the official “becoming a Presbyterian minister” process.  My wife and I have worked hard at discernment of what the changes to our life will be, and have planned for school and the future.  I will be starting my Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Seminary this summer.

And God has been with me, though at times I didn’t quite see it.  This church, particularly Jill Cifelli, Rich, some youth and some friends, supported me, as well as my friends from Facebook and Twitter.  The church and the Deacons in particular gave me a place to use my time and talents for good and I found myself choosing to work for the church to fill my time.  I also had the support of my loving wife who rode the rollercoaster with me, going through her own journey that my situation caused as I went through mine.  God was there to support me through the long dark time.

So here’s the third question – when have you felt God with you on your journey?  How have you felt God’s support during the hard times?  Who has been the face of God to you?

God is with us.  God has known each of us from the moment that we existed, and knows who we are meant to be.  God helps us along the way in ways both quiet and still, and loud and unusual.  With God’s help, each of us can find the way in God’s time to becoming the best person that we can be.

And that is good.

Amen.

2010: My personal Year in Review

December 31, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Candidate Process, Job Search, Life, Religion, Seminary, Work 

I haven’t done a Year in Review post for a few years because I didn’t have any good news then. The two New Years after the layoff were times that I survived rather than showing improvement. This year was different. Very up and down, but averaging to up.

I started the year still looking for a secular job and having little luck, depressed after just barely missing out on a job right before Christmas. (Irony: after I made my decision to change direction, the person that they picked left and they wanted to interview me again.) That all changed with two days close together in January. One day a good friend accompanied me to a job fair at Rutgers, which turned that day from a depressing trip to a job fair to a day with a friend and by-the-way time at a job fair. We also had lunch with the campus Protestant chaplain at Rutgers and I found myself asking her to have the local seminary contact me. Later I realized that I had no idea why I’d asked for that. A couple weeks later I had a rough Monday morning and the same friend met met for coffee. That conversation led me to make the decision that I had to do serious vocational discernment and seriously consider seminary. What followed that decision is a long story that gets told as the year follows.

February found me stretching in many ways. I started auditing a class at Princeton Seminary and meeting with folks from the seminary and my church about my sense of call. I started serving on my first presbytery committee. I started spiritual direction. And at this point in my journey I was on a dual track – religious vocational discernment and secular job search.

March found me working a part-time job for a local ecumenical group serving as the project manager for a June justice revival weekend. It also found me working full-time (to start) for the US Census counting noses at group living facilities and service-based locations (shelters, food banks). Regretfully the Census job didn’t pan out as advertised and the “full-time” work ended up being at best 15 hours a week and only lasted 3 weeks. But it did give me a technical break in unemployment that allowed me to form my own small business. That business continues to provide a small amount of income and will hopefully do so as I go forward in school. March also found me being approved by the Session of my church to apply to be an Inquirer in the PC(USA).

April found me making what was nearly the final turn to the new direction. The justice revival work got going in earnest. I started the Youth Ministry Certificate program at Princeton Seminary with a retreat before the annual Youth Forums. And I started some steps to take care of the space between my ears.

May was packed with growth for me. The work between my ears got going in earnest. My justice revival work was in high gear before the June weekend. I got to be in the audience of The Daily Show and spend a great evening with two friends. And I got to go to the Unconference (in Maryland in 2010) and make new friendships that I hope to have for years if not forever.

In June the justice revival happened and was an amazing and tiring weekend.  And I began preparations for July.  Also in June I began working on the family stresses that were created by my discernment process and change of career.

In July I got an opportunity that I’d been hoping for since I returned to the church and started working with youth – I got to go to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium.  The youth director at my church wrote the Small Group Manual, and as a result I was able to attend as Small Group Staff, Small Group Leader Trainer, and as a Small Group Leader.   My presbytery’s delegation was housed across the street from the dorm that I was in, so we got to spend a lot of time together.  I had a blast, and attending Triennium cemented my sense of call.  After that trip, the last obstacle between me and my new career path was resolved, and my new journey began.  At the end of July, Carolyn and I got to take a short vacation that we desperately needed – giving us time to reconnect and re-explore each other.

August was a quiet month of preparation work.  I spent the time getting ready for the new year at church (in my new role as President of the Deacons, and with new youth staff) and preparing to meet with CPM.  The Committee on Preparation for Ministry of my presbytery approved me as an Inquirer at the end of the month, beginning the official process towards ordination as a PC(USA) minister.  I also began my work on applications for Princeton Seminary.

September was a very busy month with the beginning of the church year and with seminary application preparation.  At the end of the month I submitted my Princeton Seminary application and kicked off the process of obtaining references.

October was a time of celebration.  Carolyn and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary.  We also one week later spent 3 days visiting Princeton Seminary in the role of prospective student and wife.  Both of us felt very comfortable with that visit and very much at home.  And the big celebration happened a week later at the end of the month, when I received my acceptance for the MDiv program at Princeton!

November brought a chance to enjoy success and reorient myself to my new direction.  I delivered my commitment letter to Princeton Seminary while attending the Emerging Adulthood seminar early in the month.  The rest of the month was spent completing some work between my ears and preparing for the holiday season.

December has been a time of waiting and preparing.  With the help of friends, I’m working on preparing for seminary.  I’m building lists of books to read before I start.  I’m trying to decide about whether to pursue Summer Language (an intensive 10 week program for Greek or Hebrew) or take one last summer trip with my church youth group.  And I’m reorienting my thinking.  One bright event of December was a chance to meet a Twitter friend from Atlanta, one of her friends and a local friend for lunch at Drew University.  I also unfortunately spent the end of November and most of December fighting a sinus infection that took a lot of my energy.

Overarching the year were a few events that do not fit the chronology well.  From late spring until today (and continuing) I’ve been doing a lot of work in my head to grow, and to process the changes that such a large career shift creates.  That large shift has also produces some stresses – in family, in friendships, and in relation to my church.  I’ve worked hard with those involved to try to navigate the emotions produced and the logistics involved.  This in turn has created further growth and improvement in me, in my relationships, and hopefully in the others impacted.  This work has been HARD, but well worth it.  And the relationships that have been involved I believe to be stronger now.  I won’t say that pain is necessary to growth, but I will say that getting through pain successfully often produces growth.  Last, a note that a few serious illnesses of family members came in the fall and that was rough too.  Those family members are on the mend.

Also not fitting the chronology well were the growth of a few new and old friendships through shared experiences.  I can only hope that I have given to them as much as they have given to me.

All in all, this year was a very up and down year.  I am thankful for my wife and friends who supported me through it, who listened to my ravings and pain, and who continue to stand by me.  While it has been rough most of the roughness has taken place in the service of growth in the right direction.  And there have been some glorious moments of celebration and happy-dances.  I’d never have believed that I’d jump up and down in my kitchen past age 40 until the day I opened my seminary acceptance letter.

I end the year with a new direction when I had no direction.  I end the year with strengthened relationships.  And I end the year with new friends that I value greatly.  And I end the year with a much, much stronger sense of the direction that God wants me to take, as well as many reminders that God is always with me.

I’ll take it.

New Church Roles

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion, Young Adult, Youth 

Yesterday has to be something of a record for me being invited to take on a new church role.  Luckily all of them are manageable and most are one-time or short-time needs.

The role that is most visible and important is that I was asked to be the Vice-President of the Deacons next year.  This in turn makes me the President of the Deacons the following year.  Now, the Vice-President has no real responsibility other than perhaps leading the deacon meeting if the President can’t be there.  I have figured out two other responsibilities, though:

  1. If the President of the Deacons for another church dies, the Vice-President attends the funeral.
  2. In the event that the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville is attacked, the Vice-President will make coffee in an undisclosed location.

The President of the Deacons does have serious responsibilities.  Those include:

  1. Working with the Associate Pastor to create the agenda for the monthly deacon meeting.
  2. Leading the monthly deacon meeting.
  3. Producing the schedule for coffee and greeting each Sunday, including tracking the changes.  This will be easy for me – I’m already sending out the reminder e-mails each week.
  4. Preaching on Deacon Sunday.  (I asked my wife if she thought I could do that, and she said “No problem.”  Then I asked if she thought I could do a full 15 minutes and she said that cutting me off would be the problem!)
  5. Serving as the deacon member of the nominating committee.

So, barring any changes, I’ll be doing the President job in the 2010-2011 year.  Of course, each position is in addition to my regular role as a deacon, the deacon ministry team that I belong to and my little job sending out the reminder e-mails.

Another job that I was asked to perform is to serve on a small team working on a particular curriculum for our Youth and Young Adult program.  That group is only expected to meet 3 times or so, so that’s not a big addition.

I was also asked to attend a meeting to talk about planning a major regional church event.  A presbytery committee is starting the process, but the group that was invited is ecumenical.  This could be interesting.  I have a little bit of awe at being invited as most of the other names on the list that I recognized are religious professionals of one form or another.

And the last one is to help with some computer issues in the Computer Lab at our church, and potentially to substitute for someone during Vacation Bible School.  I’m likely to do that if the schedule works.

As I said – except for the deacon responsibility these are all small things today, and I will likely do all of them.

Staying Busy

Recently I have been thinking about what I do with my “non-work” time.  With my career transition, I’m able to use time for “non-work” activities during the day, hopefully to the benefit of others.  Someday I hope that I can combine my vocation and avocations.

This led me to thinking about listing all of the various things that I do.  Some people put them on their resumes, but mine is already too long and I’m not sure what it would add.  So I’ll list my “sideline” things here for your interest/amusement.  I know that once I find a job I may have to cut back on some of these (indeed – several of them have been started since my career transition started with the caveat that I may have to stop at some point).

Work-related

Recently I’ve been providing computer services to others as a sideline.  Mostly this consists of PC maintenance, including some hardware work, installing software updates, and a lot of fixes to things like “my computer does X when I do Y – can you fix that?”.  This is done for various forms of renumeration including lunch and good will.

I’m also going to be helping another church do some brainstorming of what they want on their church’s website.  And yet another church has asked for help with their website, but I don’t know the specifics yet.

Local Church

I have a lot of roles at church:

  • Deacon – currently serving on the Board of Deacons, assigned to the Prayer Team and enjoying serving Communion on occasion.  I’m also the designated “e-mail reminder” person who sends a note to the people assigned to jobs each Sunday.
  • Open Door – recently completed a stint as co-chair of a task force studying issues of hospitality to visitors and the community.  I’m likely to serve as a member of the new Session committee being created to continue this work.
  • Webmaster – of the church website and the weekly e-mail that goes to almost 400 people.  This role also has me serving as the social networking expert surrounding our presence on Facebook and such.
  • Youth Advisor and member of Youth and Young Adult Council – nothing that I do at church brings me more joy than my work with the Senior High youth group.  I’ve also been involved in supporting the youth director with strategic planning for the youth council lately.
  • Percussion – most members of the church have been surprised to learn that I was classically trained as  a percussionist in high school.  I’ve been using those skills on snare and cymbal, djembe, congas, and other instruments in both the alternative and regular service.  Apparently I’m not as rusty as I think that I am.

Greater Church

  • The God Complex – serving as Webmaster for the new weekly Internet radio show that is hosted by Bruce Reyes-Chow and Carol Howard Merritt.  This involves blogs, web hosting, e-mail and other stuff that I don’t even know about yet.
  • I will be assisting my local Youth Director with the Small Group manual for the next Youth Triennium.  Not in a major way – just reading and editing.  I hope to turn that into a trip next summer, but that would require some creative planning (anybody need someone to man a booth or serve as a chaperone?).
  • This blog seems to provide value to some.  I’m also on Twitter and most of my friends there are church-related

Other Stuff

  • I’m a member of the Delaware Valley Ham Radio club.  I’m a general-class ham – KC2SMS.
  • I’m one of the keyholders for the ham radio emergency equipment for the local Red Cross office.  The Princeton Red Cross chapter is the “center” for ham radio for the state’s Red Cross groups, mainly because we are centrally located.  Monday night will be the monthly equipment test for the Red Cross and the NJ State RACES/ARES folks.

So, I’m keeping busy.  If I were being paid for all of that at a reasonable salary I’d have a full-time job.  As it is, it’s more like 1/2 to 2/3 of my days and some of my non-work hours.  I like to help people, and I usually don’t care whether I get paid or not (though getting paid is important for other reasons).  My hope is that someday I can use these skills for a paying position with some meaning to the world.

This Week

February 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Ham Radio, Religion 

This week is “in between” time.

I’m in the middle of the process for obtaining Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute.  I’ve had the skills for years, but never got the certification.  My wife already has this certification.

It’s a lot of work getting this certification.  I had to document 4,500 hours of work leading project tasks over a period including at least 36 months of time.  I also had to document 35 contact hours of training.  The process of documenting that alone took me a solid week.

Then I chose to take an exam prep training class to make up the 35 hours.  I found out later that I already had the 35 hours (my previous boss reminded me of an in-house training class that counted), so I should be able to carry some hours into the next reporting period.

I completed the training class yesterday and submitted my application.  Now I’m in the up to 5 day waiting period while they decide whether or not to approve my application.  Then I pay for the test and either immediately scheduled the test or go through the 5-day audit process.

This PMP certification will open up a lot of jobs that I am qualified for aside from not possessing the certificate.  Many large and medium-sized companies require this certification for project management jobs.

I had to put the job search on hold while doing the documentation and training.  I should be restarting it now, but I believe it would be more effective to get the certification and update my resume and then start.  So this is limbo time.

Tomorrow is busy anyway.  I need to drive to Philadelphia (in the rain and/or snow) to pick up a city ID card for my volunteer work with the Philadelphia Digital TV project.  I was recruited by the local FCC office as a ham radio operator to assist with the installation of Digital TV converters for the elderly or disabled.  I may be volunteering this Friday to do this work.  Then in the evening my church committee Project Open Door is presenting our final report to the church Session.

Thursday I’m having lunch with somebody from the church.

Friday as I mentioned above, I may be volunteering in Philly.  There is a Trenton Devils hockey game that night.

Saturday evening is a major event.  The Trenton Devils are retiring the number of Scott Bertoli – who played his entire professional career (aside from a few trips up one league) with the Trenton Titans.  I’m definitely going to that game and getting out all of my old Trenton Titans stuff.

Sunday I have coffee duty for the deacons at church, and youth group in the evening.

2008: My personal year in review

December 31, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Admin, Job Search, Life, Religion, Work, Young Adult, Youth 

Good riddance.

It’s not that the year was all bad.  Some of it was really very good.  It’s just that the bad outweighed the good.  Most of this was due to one very bad thing.

Work
This was a particularly bad year.  I’m not going to go into details, but you should assume that life at my former employer wasn’t particularly fun before August.  In August, I was laid off from a job that I’d held for 13 1/2 of the last 15 years.  It only helps slightly that this employer ultimately filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November.

And if that wasn’t enough – the economy tanked at the same time.  The cause of the company’s failure wasn’t solely the economy, but it was a big part of it.  Jobs just plain dried up from September through early December.  There are signs that things are easing now.

If it weren’t for positive things and positive people in the rest of my life, I don’t know how I would have handled this.

Church
The good:
I LOVE my youth group.  The young men and women that I work with more or less every week are all wonderful, and I learned a lot about myself, them, life and God over the last year.  Sunday afternoon/evening is the high point of my week.

The summer trip to the Montreat Youth Conference was one of the top 10 experiences of my life.  I truly feel that God spoke to me that week in some fashion.  I know that my faith deepened, and that the same happened to most if not all of the group from our church that went on the trip.  I also feel that I grew outside of the religious aspects.  (Of course, this high leaves me wondering where God is in my life now, when things are not so good.)  The biggest thing that I learned this year – while I care a lot about our youth, they care about me too.

Putting together the Moderator Meet and Greet event in April was a lot of fun as well as being a lot of work.  I met a lot of new and wonderful people.  The event was well attended, and I hear that it helped commissioners make a decision at General Assembly.

Meeting in person and working online with other church leaders has been mostly positive.  I’m amazed at how strong the online Presbyterian-and-beyond religious community is.  I’ve felt support when I needed it and given and watched it flow the other way when others needed it.

Serving as a deacon has been rewarding.  This is work that I know that I can do and do well, and that is relatively easy, and that aids the church.  That’s sort of the point, isn’t it?  I just have to be careful not to schedule myself too heavily (like the Sunday that I had coffee service AND served communion AND agreed to set up tables for a later event).

My committee studying hospitality, visitor and community issues for the church has nearly completed its work.  We have identified 19 issues and more than 19 suggestions for how to change/fix/handle those issues.  We present to the Session in February.  The team has worked hard and learned a lot.

Serving as the new webmaster for the church’s website and weekly e-mailed newsletter has been a growth experience for me.  It has forced me to learn new technical skills and also to generate a little content independently.

The bad:
The worst has to have been the controversy over my blog in March/April/May/June of this year.  I don’t know if people realize it, but the church was about 12 hours from losing me in April – the only things keeping me were the facts that Youth Sunday and the Moderator Meet and Greet were imminent responsibilities of mine.  This event only took 2nd to the loss of my job in how poorly I felt while in the middle of it.

I am also continually dismayed by the negative tones in some conversations/fights/battle-royales in the church community over the hot button issues of today.  Those of us within the church fight harder and with less love than we do with our colleagues in other denominations or religions, even though the points of disagreement are far smaller and unimportant.

Home
Home life continues to be solid.  Carolyn and I have ridden out the very rough patches of the 2nd half of the year with no negative effect on our relationship.  Most of this is due to Carolyn’s very conservative nature when it comes to money, and the strong planning ability that both of us have.  She continues to be supportive at a very difficult time in my life and it has brought us if anything closer together.

The cats are still fine.  They turn 13 tomorrow.  Isaac is still suffering from a bit of arthritis in his hips, but the daily Cosequin is helping.  Both of them still have a fair amount of kitten left and still go running around like crazy animals occasionally.  Albert has had no recurrence of his kidney issues.

The house is fine.  We have had to put off a bit of home repair work (mainly fixing the fireplace chimney that failed a while back) for economic reasons.  Nothing important is wrong, and we continue to love living here.  It’s a great neighborhood – not too noisy, not too quiet, and plenty of kids running around.
My car has had a rough year.  I was rear-ended in July and minor damage was done to my rear bumper.  It was fixed pretty quickly, but it took about 4-5 months before the insurance companies paid my deductible.  Here’s a tip – no matter how late you are, don’t pass on the right on a one-lane on-ramp.

Health

No major changes.  On the Montreat trip I lost a number of pounds due to the stairmaster-like qualities of the village of Montreat (to get anywhere you have to walk down a big hill and up a big hill).  The emotional strain of being out of work took off some more.  I’ve managed to end the year a net 10 pounds down.  Otherwise, my health remains the same.

I’m hoping that 2009 will be a combination of the continuance of good things, and an end to the bad things that are happening now.  I see new hope in the elections of both our PC(USA) Moderator and the new President of the USA.  It remains to be seen if that hope turns into a better reality for the country, church, and me.

Happy New Year!

Thanksgiving Weekend Update

November 26, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Job Search, Life, Religion, Work 

It’s time for another update.

This year is different.  Being out of work at a holiday is both easier and harder than usual.  Easier – because there’s more free time to prepare.  Harder – because the situation does tend to drag on you.  This year I am thankful for what I still have:  my wife, my home, my health (more or less), my cats, my church youth group, my other church friends, and all of my friends who have been so helpful with my job search.

The job search continues.  I have a few irons in the fire for possible permanent positions, and I’m starting to look at consulting as a temporary or permanent solution.  I have heard from several companies that they are impressed with my skills and experience, and that they need someone who can do what I do, but that they are unable to hire at the present time.  They’re telling me that they’ll get back to me in the first quarter of next year, assuming that I’m still available (and truthfully – I hope that I’m not).

This weekend is alternating nothing and crazy.  Here’s a quick rundown:

Today (Wednesday) – Later this afternoon I’ll knock off the job search and start vacuuming the whole house.  Tonight Carolyn will start preparing the stuffing for tomorrow’s dinner.

Thursday (Thanksgiving) – Carolyn’s parents will be arriving at our house in the morning, and all of us will head over to my parents in the early afternoon for the big extravanganza.  (Carolyn’s aunt, uncle and cousin will go to my parents independently.)  The afternoon should include dinner, a post-dinner snooze or walk around the neighborhood, then dessert and probably the Eagles game.  The Brennan parents and Carolyn and I will head home and the Brennans will stay overnight at our house.

Friday – The in-laws will head back home at some point.  So far, nothing else is planned.

Saturday – No big plans, but there’s a Trenton Devils game in the evening.  Carolyn will probably make the dessert for tomorrow.

Sunday – Church-a-palooza.  This is what happens when I’m not paying attention while scheduling.  I’m on deacon coffee service before and after worship, I’m serving communion during worship, and then after Fellowship Hour is over I’m setting up tables for the evening Hanging of the Greens Advent Potluck Dinner.  In the afternoon Carolyn and I will prepare a salad, then we’ll go back to church for said potluck and cleanup.  It’s actually a good thing that I’ll be that busy – it offsets the week.  This is a semi-historic worship service – the “first elder under age 18 in 310 years” is also serving communion for his first time.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Starting as a Deacon

September 9, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

My journey as an active deacon is beginning again.

Last night I attended my first Board of Deacons meeting at church.  This was the reorganization meeting for this year.  I had also been to New Officer Training last Saturday.

I was assigned to the Prayer Team, my first choice.  Last year’s deacon president preached a sermon in which she recounted her trepidation in being assigned to the Prayer Team, so I was surprised to see last night that the 3 slots were filled with people who had chosen it as their first choice, plus 2 others will join us as well.

I also volunteered to be the person who e-mails a reminder to the folks designated for coffee or greeting service each Sunday.  That should be easy, as long as I can keep the schedule straight.

I wasn’t able to sign up for communion (our church uses elders and deacons to prepare, serve and clean up) – mainly because I am already assigned to coffee on communion Sunday in October and all of the preparation slots were taken by the time the sheet got to me.  Maybe I’ll be able to do it in November.  The last time I was a deacon the Book of Order specified that deacons could only serve communion if there was a shortage of elders, so I had only 2 opportunities to serve (one at camp, one at Triennium).  This is a meaningful experience for me, so I look forward to doing it again – even if I have to sit up front at church!

The entire Board meshed well, so I look forward to a good year or three.

What’s going on

July 18, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Ham Radio, Life, Religion, Youth 

My blog has been quiet, and light on what’s going on in my life.  Most of that is due to the Sword of Damocles question about what I should write here.  (By the way, more input is desired in the Bible Study on blogging.)

Here’s a short roundup of what’s been happening and what is going to be happening.

  • Car Accident – This happened back on June 20.  As I said before – minor damage and no injuries.  My car has been repaired.  I’m apparently at the beginning of the subrogation process – my insurance company has decided that I’m not at fault and has submitted a claim to the other driver’s company.  The other driver got a ticket for Careless Driving, so it should be an easy decision in my favor.
  • DirecTV – I have two DirecTV DVRs.  One of them developed hard drive problems and was randomly rebooting.  That has since been replaced for what amounts to Free.  It was just a pain, but much less of a pain than expected.
  • Deacon – I perform my first deacon duty this weekend.  I’ll be putting juice and iced tea on the table in Fellowship Hall after the service.  As one other blogger said, “They also serve who stir and pour.”  I’ll be greeting in August, and Officer Training and Installation will be in September.
  • Camp Johnsonburg – I’ve assisted twice with Sunday check-in.  Once I was a medical check person for the “no medication” line, and the other time I managed the medical form paperwork process (an all-paper process that is a bit labor-intensive for 200+ campers).  I was pleasantly surprised to run into one of my youth group members checking into the camp’s Leadership Training Program (a 3-week program that is essentially Counselor training).  I’ll be back again in August for one more Sunday.
  • Youth Group – I drove the youth mission trip to and from Philadelphia where they stayed at and worked with Broad Street Ministries.  By all reports a good time was had by all and several report transformational experiences.  I’ll be going with the youth group trip to Montreat for the Youth Conference (week VI) starting next weekend.  I’m a smidge nervous about that – the last time I did a week road trip with a bunch of youth was my trip to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium in 1986, when I was a youth.  I’m hoping that a mostly out of shape 40-year-old can keep up.
  • Birthday – it was quiet, which is the desired result.  I didn’t ask for much, and the presents that I received were thoughtful.  I got a lot of cards with old people on them for some reason …
  • Ham Radio – I participated in the national Field Day at the end of June.  I was only able to help set up in the morning and operate for a few hours in the afternoon.  This event is when amateur radio clubs and individuals all over the country set up their equipment in the field (we were at Mercer County Park) and demonstrate their ability to operate in an emergency.
  • Home, Wife, Cats – all about as good as usual.

Blogging will be non-existent between July 25 and August 3 or so due to the youth trip.  It may be light until then, unless I think of something compelling to say.

So what’s going on at General Assembly?

June 26, 2008 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

My loyal readers may be wondering why I haven’t posted much about General Assembly.

The truth is that the kerfluffle about my blog and my local congregation has consumed most of my blogging energy.  I am following General Assembly, though this year it’s not with the thought of “I might get there someday” but rather “I’m never gonna get there”.

But I am following it.

So here’s what’s going on.

Sexuality and Ordination

The committees involved (the sexuality question kinda got split between two committees) passed resolutions recommending changes to the Book of Order or Authoritative Interpretations that would essentially allow two things:

  1. Scruples could be declared by an ordained officer at the time of examination.  The examining body (and only that body) would be able to decide whether or not to accept that scruple.  The word Scruple was not used.  This was passed as an Authoritative Interpretation.
  2. To reword G-6.0106b, replacing the famous “marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” with:  Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards. This would essentially allow gay ordination in presbyteries or congregations that allow it.  This resolution also nullifies the 1978 and 1979 Authoritative Interpretations and any such later action that homosexuality is a bar to ordination.  This resolution also requires the examining body to be sure that the person is willing to assent to the ordination vows before approving them.

The committee also turned down an overture that would redefine marriage as between two persons, rather than between a man and a woman.  That committee turned back an attempt to solidify the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, instead commenting that this issue is still in question in our denomination.

Big stuff, eh?  Remember that this is just the committee work – the whole General Assembly votes later.

The General Assembly as a whole passed a resolution to create a sexuality curriculum for youth, choosing NOT to state specifics about what must be included.  This was passed after a lively debate that included a minister from KY (speaking against the curriculum) revealing on the floor of GA that his daughter has or had a sexually transmitted disease.

Christian/Jew/Muslim Relations

The General Assembly last night commended for study the relationships between these religions, calling for tolerance and mutual respect.  The resolution originally included a clause stating that the God of Christians, Jews and Muslim was the same God of Abraham, but that was removed by the General Assembly as a whole.

Membership Vows

The committee passed a resolution calling for a Book of Order amendment that would require that members being received by a method other than Confirmation will also make a public profession of faith.  This replaces the overture that I wrote about previously that would have required specific membership vows.

Form of Government (Book of Order) revision

The committee is recommending that the draft be referred to a new task force consisting of the original task force and members of the Assembly committee considering it.  This group would consult with the presbyteries and bring back a revised recommendation to the next General Assembly.  It’s not quite a punt or ignore, but rather a “still needs work” decision.  This is just the committee decision – we’ll see what GA does but I suspect this will be what happens.

Confessions

The committee recommended that the Heidelberg Confession be amended to return it to a closer translation from the original German, correcting some license taken by the translators in the 1960’s.  This has the effect of removing the wording against homosexuality from the confession, though others claim that the original intent of the passage in question was to mirror 1 Corinthians.

The committee also recommended that a team be created to study the inclusion of the Belhar Confession in the Book of Confessions – to report back at the next General Assembly.

Some little but important stuff

The GA passed a statement that the Catholic and Presbyterian baptism should be recognized by the other denomination, subject to each denomination’s rules.  This means something to me, a Presbyterian married to a Catholic.

The GA passed full recognition and participation in Eucharist between the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church.  We can now take Communion in the other church without question.  This also allows for limited use of ministers from the other denomination and allows further talks on allow integration in the future.

The GA passed a Book of Order amendment that changes part of the definition of the office of deacon – substituting “compassion” for “sympathy”.

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