Monthly Archives: September 2011

A heapin’ helpin’ of mammon

O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches and verily I hope to get my meaty mitts on some of them. (Psalm 104:24, Revised Smartass Version)

Today’s blog is about financing a seminary education.

Two days into the official “inquiry” phase of my sojourn toward ordination and suddenly, everyone is keenly interested in my finances.  Understandably, neither the church nor the seminary wants you defaulting on any student loans and they certainly don’t want you applying your scholarship money toward a vacation in the Cayman Islands, not even if you put a missionary spin on it.

“I feel the Lord calling me to evangelize to the miserable sinners diving the coral reef…”

So, I’m pulling together detailed financial information for the Presbytery.  They want to know how much money we pay for things like telecommunications, health insurance, housing, clothes, food, vehicle maintenance, and some mysterious catch-all category called “incidentals.”  Since there are no other obvious lines for this sort of information, the extravagant costs of keeping our cats in the style to which they’ve become accustomed appear in “incidentals,” which exposes my husband and me as the childless cat freaks we are.

The Presbytery also wants to know the value of all of our assets and details about our indebtedness.  Upon earnest inquiry into these matters, I’m pleased to say that although we won’t be moving back in with my parents any time soon, I should also qualify nicely for a little “pity pot” of gold. 

Seminary hasn’t asked for anything so specific.  They cut to brass tacks with a line on the application form that basically says, “How the hell do you intend to pay for this?”  Being a gal who likes to cover her bases, I offered two options:

Plan A

  • Use savings to pay for first semester of school and my share of living expenses through next June
  • Secure student employment at school – or – find a part-time job in the Presbytery
  • Request financial help from session, the Presbytery, and PCUSA
  • Apply for FAFSA student loans
  • Apply for scholarships/financial aid from seminary

Plan B

  • Cash out my IRA to finance bartending college which will allow me to work nights, attend class during the day, and apply my tips to tuition and fees
  • Collect love offerings for mowing lawns and shovelling sidewalks of session elders and deacons
  • Pray for the winning Lotto numbers

Which gets me to thinking that seminaries should offer paid internships at local pubs.  It would be terrific training for parish ministry.  I mean, first off, bartenders get style points for serving drinks that ministers just don’t get for preparing the elements.  This is an evangelism issue.  I bet we’d get a lot more people in the pews if Communion looked more like Cocktail.  And then there’s the pastoral aspect of bartending.  People in their cups pour out their hearts to bartenders, so tending bar would provide lots of opportunities to liberally dispense godly counsel. 

And since I’m a Presbyterian, I could also honor the faith’s ancient Scottish roots by liberally dispensing Glenlivet.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011

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Bickering with the burning bush

The Bible is chock full of rousing tales of patriarchs, sovereigns, and prophets “answering the call” with grace, obedience, and good humor.  At least, that’s what the writers would have you believe.  Frankly, I’m skeptical and I don’t think it’s just because Jonah’s been my professional spiritual role model for the last 25 years.

Let’s take Moses.  Definitely one of the Big Ten heavy hitters in “the call” department.  (Don’t ask me who the other nine are…I just made that up.)  Sunday schoolers and Scripture wonks know the story, as do The Ten Commandments fans who watch the movie every Easter with a religiosity worthy of any saint.  Moses stumbles across the burning bush, decides it warrants a closer look, and finds himself face-to-face with the Almighty and a commission for which Moses turns out to be uniquely qualified — tooling around for years in the desert with a bunch of sheep.

Moses has understandable reservations, which I suspect were downplayed in the official account*.  For your consideration, here is an excerpt from a recently recovered fragment**:

Thus, the Lord said, “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.”

And Moses said, “HAHAHAHA!  Good one, Lord!” 

The Lord didn’t reply. 

Moses said, “What…seriously?”

And the birds chirped and the bush burned and the Lord still didn’t reply.

And Moses said, “Holy CRAP!  You’re not kidding.  What the heck do you want to send ME in there for?”

And the Lord said, “Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.”

And Moses said, “Yeah, that’ll go over GREAT with Pharaoh.  Not that I’m refusing or anything, but I was just thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to drop a name or two while I’m in there.  So, exactly who should I say I’m working for?”

And God said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.  Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”

Moses said, “Well, that clarifies it” 

“I will stretch out mine hand,” God continued,” and smite Egypt with all the wonders which I will do there.”

“Oh,” Moses said.  “Well, a good smiting’s always an effective marketing technique.”

“And not only that,” the Lord said, “but thou wilt despoil the Egyptians.” 

At this point, Moses decided to shift gears.  He said, “You know, ninety percent of all people surveyed say they dread public speaking more than death and I’M ONE OF THEM!”

“Lo,” said the Lord, “I shall turn thy staff into a snake and thy hand into a mushy white mess.  If they will not believe these two signs, pour water from the Nile onto the ground and it will turn to blood.”

“But, but, but…I can never think of anything to say in public!”

“Who hath made man’s mouth?” God yelled.  “Who maketh him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  The Lord thy God, that’s who!”

Moses wailed, “Nooooo!!!  Make somebody else do it!!!”

“FINE!” the Lord said, abandoning the Queen’s English for some punchy vernacular.  “Your freakin’ brother can do the talking and you can be the special effects guy.  Now get your whiny ass to Egypt.”

The point of all of this is that God always has a snappy comeback. 

Moses spends a fair amount of his time in Egypt trying to persuade God of some sort of serious lapse in judgment where hiring him was concerned.  In Exodus 6:12 and 6:30, he returns to his public-speaking argument.  “I stutter when I get nervous.  Nobody’s going to listen to me!”  To which God says, “GEEEEEEZ!  I’ve made you a rock star around here and your brother’s doing all the talking anyway!” 

In Exodus 5:22, Moses wails, “Why did you send me here???”  In return, he gets a brilliant pep talk:

“Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the LORD.'” (Exodus 6:6-8)

The pep talk doesn’t really make a lasting impression on Moses.  In Exodus 17:4, he wails, “What am I supposed to do with these people?  They’re going to STONE me!”  To which God replies, “Oh, CRIMINY!  Go up to Horeb.  I’ll freakin’ meet you there.  Strike the rock and water will come out of it.  Will THAT satisfy you???  You’ll be so busy shaking hands and getting pats on the back, you’ll probably totally forget who you even work for.”***

So, if Moses’ experience is typical, a true calling is something you’ll keep coming back to over and over and over and try your best to weasel out of.  But, no matter how many ways you can think of to say no, God always comes back with something along the lines of, “Thank you for sharing your concerns.  Yes, yes, I’ll take them under advisement.  Now get to work.” 

That God.  S/he’s a very persuasive individual.

* See Exodus 3:7-4:14 for the conventional account

** The fragment was found in a hermetically sealed jar, originally intended to hold congealed olive oil, buried under what appears to be an Iron Age bookseller’s veranda which lintel is inscribed with the letters “FWCo.”

*** Ooh.  Good foreshadowing, Lord.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011


Consider the lilies…

“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Mainly because he was a Spring and Springs look like hell in white.”  (Matthew 6:28-29, Dead Sea Gen-X contemporary interpretive edition)

In cultivating my shameless “vestments fixation” over the last few years, I’ve come to an important conclusion about looking SO GOOD at the pulpit.

The Presbyterian Church’s liturgical colors were not selected with “Springs” and “Autumns” in mind. 

I mean, honestly – white, red, green and purple over black robes.  While Summers and Winters are up there looking positively luminous, Springs and Autumns wind up looking like Lazarus before he came forth.  Spring and Autumn Presbyterian ministers don’t stand a chance of looking good in full regalia.  Therefore, I think it’s entirely justifiable (speaking as a concerned Spring) we make a few moderate adjustments to the liturgical color concept.

Green – this represents ordinary time.  Of course, there are so many holy days in the liturgical calendar, “ordinary time” comes out to about three weekends a year.  Green is a fine color for Springs and Autumns, as long as you stay away from the emerald green that looks so great on Summers and Winters.  Spring ministers should opt for a nice sage or lime color.  Autumns should zero in on olive green, although, in a pinch, army green will do.  Personally, I plan to go with sage so that I can blend in with the paint in my bathroom and it will look like my head is floating in midair.

Purple – the liturgical color of feeling guilty and waiting around for something to happen.*  Royal purple is a radiant color that should be avoided by Springs and Autumns at all costs.  Royal purple only looks good on Summers, Winters, royal people, and Keith Richards.  Springs, I advise you stay on the lavender end of the spectrum.  Autumns, one word: aubergine.

Red – this is where the Catholics and Anglicans have it all over the Orthodox and Protestants.  They wear red vestments all over the place.  All the really bloody holy days, like the Feast of the Martyred Saints, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and Good Friday warrant the red vestments.  Presbyterians wear red on Pentecost.  That’s it.  The one color that all four seasons can carry off and the Presbyterians get one shot at it every year.  So my advice is to honor Pentecost by taking a fashion cue from Tom Baker’s Doctor Who incarnation.  Wear 15-foot long red vestments that you have to wrap several times around your neck.  It’s a sporty and slenderizing look that projects an image of Time Lord trendiness.

White – this color pops up on Presbyterian pastors the way red does on everybody else.  Which is unfortunate.  Because the one color sure to make a Spring or Autumn Presbyterian pastor look like he or she thoroughly misspent Saturday night is white.  And there’s absolutely no fudging on this one – no ecru or ivory for you sad seasons out there.  I’ve heard that the Presbyterian Liturgical Color Enforcement Agency will come to your church halfway through your sermon and forcibly remove your crappy off-white vestments, grind them into a powder, sprinkle them in your latte, and make you drink them.

This is an ageless spiritual conundrum – how to serve the Lord in joyful humility while you look like someone who’s been avoiding God’s wrath under a rock for three and a half years?  I’m hoping seminary will answer this question.  In the meantime, I’m going to Darque Tan to cultivate that “burnished bronze” look that’s so popular with archangels and Malibu Barbie.

* Otherwise known as Lent and Advent

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011


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