Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day Snowstorm

The thing about snow is that so often it comes quietly in the night. They may say that it's coming on the news, but I never quite believe it; then I open my eyes the next morning, and the world outside my window is a white, frigid, silent wasteland. Often if I sleep a little late the first clue I have that it has snowed at all is the sound of the snowplow clearing the street in front of my house. (I live just across the street from the town's elementary school, so my street is typically one of the first to be plowed...unless, of course, the snow has caused school to be canceled all together). Snow is great...on the first day. Until you have to go out in it. Until you have to shovel it. Until it starts to melt, and turns to slush and mud.

I grew up in a land of perpetual rain. I love the sound of raindrops against my roof and windows; they're such a tangible, audible reminder that even though Baby it's cold outside, I'm safe and dry indoors. The perils of rain are familiar ones (at least for me): sure, sometimes the roads are slick, sometimes you get water places you don't want it, sometimes (and yes, this has actually happened to me), a tree whose roots have grown loose in the rainsoaked soil blows over and falls on a corner of your house. A rainstorm can be LOUD, especially when accompanied by thunder and lightening; and when the wind gets roaring in behind it, it can literally shriek in intensity. Snowstorms such pussycats in comparison. Snowflakes just keep on piling up and piling up, until finally they stop accumulating and you walk out into it to see for yourself just how much there really is.

I suppose if I had grown up differently, I might feel just the opposite. I might fear earthquakes instead hurricanes, and better appreciate the freshness and purity of the newly-fallen snow. It's not that I'm insensitive to charms of winter in New England -- those Currier and Ives, snowdome landscapes which trick you into thinking that you are living in simpler times, when people really did travel over the river and through the woods in a one-horse open sleigh. And at the end of the day, when you have a fire going on the hearth and a mug of hot tea, a good book to read or the right person to snuggle with, I guess it really doesn't matter what the weather is. And I suppose that when the power goes out and you are left alone in the cold and the dark... well, that's pretty much the same deal too. So here's hoping that today finds you warm and dry and and snug and cozy, instead of cold and wet and shivering in the dark. No matter what the weather is where you live....

Monday, February 12, 2007

Not Ready to Make Nice

OK, I'll confess -- I pay even less attention to the Grammys than I do to the Oscars. But I also have to admit, it's kinda nice to see the Chicks from Texas do so well. Good On Ya Girls! The spirit of Ann Richards and Molly Ivins sings out strong. And you can dance to it....

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Coffee Wisdom

Watching a member of the Coffee Committee prepare the communal pot for Sunday morning, I noticed the formula was very simple: one full urn of cold water, and one full bag of Organic, Fairly Traded Equal Exchange coffee. I asked him about it, and his response got me thinking. "You can always water down strong coffee, but weak coffee is a lost cause right from the start."

Lotsa wisdom there. Think about it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Evangelical is NOT a four letter word....

I just received an e-mail from our District Administrator recruiting for the "Mystery Worshiper" program, and it immediately brought back a flood of memories from the days when I worked as a retail bookseller for the Barnes & Noble corporation, and my store was shopped quarterly by "Secret Shoppers" who evaluated our customer service according to a standard checklist of criteria generated by B & N's corporate customer service experts in New York. I remember the criteria very well, because I worked very hard to train my staff to follow them, and thus my store routinely received a perfect score. Greet the Customer personally as they enter the store, and ask them if they are looking for anything in particular. Take them to the section, put the book in their hand, and offer them an opportunity to purchase our discount card as you ring the transaction. I can remember THAT pitch practically word for word: "Are you a member of our Booksavers Club? Barnes & Noble offers a discount card which saves you 10% on everything you buy. It's good for a year; it costs $10 to sign up, and today it would save you $_____, which means that the actual cost of the card is only $_____. Do you think you'll be buying another $_____ worth of books in the next twelve months?" A little quick arithmetic produced a yes or no answer, and either sold the card or didn't. But I personally had the best card sale to transaction ratio in our entire district.

I've often wondered why our churches can't do as good a job of greeting people as your typical retail bookstore or restaurant. It's just a matter of common courtesy; it's not as if we're "selling" anything. Churches basically do three simple things for newcomers: we offer them hospitality; we provide them with certain services (including, of course, our Worship Service); we invite them into an authentic relationship, through which they gain the opportunity to become our partners in "doing unto others as we would have others do unto us." What's so terrible and scary about any of this? Why can't we show as much enthusiasm for what WE have to offer as our "server" does for the daily specials, or a bookseller for the latest Oprah-endorsed diet book?

An evangelist is merely a bearer of Good News. And if we aren't willing to share our good news with others, what's the point? It's not as if we have to be obnoxious about it. Hospitality. Service. Relationship. It's really just that simple. And it all begins by greeting people as they enter the door, and asking what brought them here today....

Monday, February 05, 2007

Some Days I Feel Too Dumb For Words....

I relearned kind of an important lesson yesterday about communication, which is that if you want to make certain that people understand what you mean, you'd better first be sure that they know what you're talking about.

Next Saturday our congregation will be holding a six hour All-Church "Visioning Event," focused on the theme of "Bring Your Passion, Create a Plan." The event will be facilitated by our District Executive, who will be using a format called "Open Space Technology" which (as I understand it) begins by creating a "Marketplace of Ideas" where people come to "pitch" their idea, and then are assigned a time and a place where others can come to help them develop their notion into a full-blown plan.

So yesterday, as part of the publicity for this event, I stood up in church and described MY idea -- which is to give a knit stocking cap with an embroidered image of the Meetinghouse on it to every kid in our Sunday School. (I'd also like to get ball caps on the heads of all the grown-ups too, but I'm starting with the kids because they appreciate it so much more). I was even wearing one of the hats at the time, but what I didn't understand is that people couldn't really see the embroidered image, so they were also a little confused about what in the world I was so excited about.

Eventually someone brought this to my attention, so I was able to walk through the Sanctuary and give everyone there a good look at the top of my head, and thus figure out what was actually on my mind. And I was reminded once again that just because something is right before our eyes, it doesn't mean that everyone else sees it too. As painful as it may seem, it never really hurts to point out the obvious. It's better to be thought too dumb for words, than to let your own silence contribute to mutual misunderstanding....