Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Year of Contra-dancing: Ten Things I've Learned

It’s been a year since I started contra dancing. Back in November I wrote a blog about it: “Why Can’t Churches Be More Like Contra-dances?” and most of what I said at that time I would still say. But, after a year of lining up for “hands four”, I’m reflecting on how my life has changed because I contra-dance.

1. I’ve discovered all kinds of dancing metaphors for deep, profound truths in life. Like, if your shoes fit, dance. If they don’t fit, find some that do or stop dancing. (Translation: If what you’re doing is making you miserable, continuing to do it will only make you more miserable.)

2. Timing is pert near everything. Experience has taught me that the direction my life journey takes is ultimately dependent on timing. This past year, contra taught me the importance of timing over technique. Knowing what to do is pointless if you don’t know when to do it.

3. I’ve changed my perspective on some absolute truths that I have held hard and fast for 50+ years about highly critical issues, like… men in skirts. They have gone from silly to sexy in my book. (And, yes, I’m talking about straight people whose gender identity is male.)

4. I am not a multi-tasker. Okay, I already knew that, but contra-dancing has convinced me of it, once and for all. There are definitely different rooms in my brain for different tasks and I can only be in one room at a time. For example, it is impossible for me to dance while I’m carrying on a conversation with any meaningful content, or even unmeaningful content, for that matter. (Yeah, I know. So, shut up and dance, Nancy. How many times have I heard that in the past year?)

5. I’ve developed some new routines. Spinning around in the dressing room to see how my clothes swish and swirl has become a regular part of my shopping experience. (Last week I caught myself doing it when I tried on a pair of jeans. I learned they don’t twirl.)

6. I have had a growing awareness that people who don’t identify exclusively with one particular gender have a lot more fun in life. Really. In contra this means that if you can partner with either a man or a woman, you have twice as many opportunities to dance.

7. The folly of first impressions has been reinforced for me. Sometimes the people I find myself avoiding, for one reason or another, in the beginning, end up becoming the ones I most enjoy dancing time with.

8. I’ve realized that there’s more to life than avoiding mistakes. Everybody screws up. Get over it and move on.

9. My understanding of community has deepened. From contra I’ve learned that being part of a community means that other people can count on you to be where you need to be when you need to be there. (I can’t think of a better definition of community than that.)

10. I smile a whole lot more.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Vacations: Is it just me?

Vacations seem to be a lot like Christmas for me. So much preparation goes into them and they are anticipated with excitement bordering on giddiness. They are surrounded with high expectations. Then, when they finally arrive, I am so exhausted from getting ready for them that I want to sleep and sleep and sleep. And then there’s the melancholy that accompanies both Christmases and vacations. What’s that about?

When I vacation it feels like my life comes to a grinding halt and I’m suddenly uprooted and plopped down into a strange place doing things that I don’t normally do with people I don’t normally do them with. It’s more than just a change of scenery. In some ways I feel stripped of my day-to-day identity. No one calls me “pastor.” I’m away from my own bed and my pets and the people I usually share my days with. And I start asking myself questions like, “Who the heck am I?” “What am I doing with my life?” “Am I really happy with my life?” “Where am I going to live when I retire?”-- the really big questions that I’m too preoccupied to ponder for long when I’m busy mowing the lawn and walking the dog and writing sermons. It seems that when I’ve divested myself of the outside distractions of my life, I’ve no place left to go but inside. My frantic doing is replaced with a time of introspective being. Scary!

Even when I'm still quite busy on my vacation, I’m busy with different stuff and that takes my spirit to a different place. I always find myself in some way transformed by a vacation, and transformation is hard work. I wonder if that’s one of the reasons why I’ve spent the better part of a year avoiding my vacation time.

And then there’s something unsettling about returning to my old life once again after my vacation is over. How can I feel renewed and transformed and then slip back into my old life? The transition is always difficult for me. It’s like realizing that the shoes I’ve been wearing no longer fit me and I have to break them in all over again.

Am I the only one who feels this way about vacations?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More Important Than Being Right

A woman was walking across a bridge one day, and she saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So she ran over and said, "Stop! Don't do it!"
"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.
"Well, there's so much to live for," she said.
"Like what?"
"Well, are you religious?"
He said yes.
She said, "Me, too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
"Me, too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
"Me, too! Are you Baptist or Lutheran?" she asked.
"Wow, me, too! Are you Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod or Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?"
“Evangelical Lutheran Church in America!"
“Me too! Was your predecessor church body the American Lutheran Church or the Lutheran Church in America?”
“The American Lutheran Church.”
“Me too! Do you believe in ordaining women?”
“Me too! Do you believe in ordaining gay people?”
“Me too! Do you use the old green worship book or the new red worship book?”
"The old green book."
"Die, heretic!" she said as she pushed him off the bridge.

We have ways of separating the people who have the truth from the people who don’t. If you think at all critically, there’s this little monitor you carry around inside where you’re always evaluating the things people say. Is this person lying to me? Is this person a little crazy? Most importantly, is this person right?

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s really important to be right. And if I think someone is wrong, it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut. I suspect I may not be alone on that. A little phrase from 1 Corinthians 8 that has come to mean a lot to me is, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” For me that translates: “It’s more important to be loving than it is to be right.”

Now, this isn’t an excuse for all us conflict-avoiders to escape confrontation in our lives. We still have to stand up for what’s right. Especially when other people are being harmed. Silence is never an option when other people are being treated unjustly. That’s not okay, and we have to confront it. But on so much of the other stuff, being right isn’t nearly as important as we’d like to think it is. And, in fact, a know-it-all approach with other people only serves to block any love that we might show them.

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
• Knowledge may tell a landlord that he or she technically should evict someone, but love says that if they do, that person will be out on the streets.
• Knowledge may tell us that we have no legal responsibility for the poor in our community, but love says they need our help.
• Knowledge may tell us that we are justified in raising our voice in an argument with a family member, but love says, stop talking and listen.
• Knowledge may tell us that international law justifies a declaration of war, but love declares something very different.

Can you think of things in your own life that your head says you have a right to do, but your heart says wouldn’t be loving? Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. It’s the difference between puffing ourselves up for the sake of asserting our superiority to others and swallowing our pride for the sake of love. Yes, there are more important things in life than being right.