Transitioning Between Tasks In Ministry

Darlings, I found an old post that addresses one of the aspects of ministry I find particularly challenging in recent years, and especially since the Lord of Chaos took over the White House:

Let’s talk about this some more.
I know we have in the recent past but I know I can’t be the only one whose prayer life is steadily evolving from peaceful listening for God’s wisdom more to desperate petition to not spin out and lose my shit. My head burbles and bubbles with fear and worry and I don’t know if that is a function of having moved to an urban environment where I am not sheltered from the realities that were much more conceptual when I lived in the suburbs, or of age and diminishing mental and physical energy, or the rapid rise of fascism in America or WHAT.

Don’t try to answer that: I know it’s all of those things.

And I don’t feel totally desperate all the time, but I most certainly find that I cannot pivot swiftly between ministerial functions as I once did.

I cannot zip from a pastoral visit to administrative work. I work on worship (ALWAYS a joy, always a source of inspiration unless the Holy Spirit blows me off during sermon preparation) and then I just cannot shift gears to organize my board report. I get my thoughts together to meet with staff and then find myself mentally befuddled at the social justice organizing meeting an hour later.

The only thing I know to do about this is to get enough rest, have fair expectations of myself, carefully guard thinking and prayer time, and maybe eat more salmon? No, really, are there any brain foods or supplements that work for you? I used to hear a lot of good things about flax seed oil. I’m going to get some. I took it a long time ago and it certainly can’t hurt.

One thing that helps immensely is a good long walk in fresh air — two things I haven’t had much lately due to a bad season of health, a strained groin muscle (slipped on the ice), and Arctic temps.

Connecting with beloved and respected colleagues is hugely beneficial, too. And I’m talking about a select group of people whose judgment and wisdom and ministerial gifts I trust.

And — we don’t talk about this nearly often enough and it makes me crazy that we don’t — I am held steady by my lay leaders whose vision and courage and intelligence and humor help me to stay clear. We are doing a lot right now institutionally and they’re holding the road map firm and we’re all up front in the driver’s seat going, “Don’t miss that turn! Okay, let’s stop for snacks!”

I’d love to hear how you’re doing moving with grace (or not) between the many functions of the modern ministry. Got any hot tips?

Speaking Is An Art Form

I skimmed a long thread on a friend’s Facebook page this morning, pre-coffee, and I see (without noting specific names) that there’s a hearty debate going on about vocal fry and “policing” young women’s voices.

Like I said, I just woke up, I have an Advent Order of Service to get to my Music Director and Director of Community Life and Learning, breakfast to eat and a dog to walk and square away within the next hour, so I’ll keep this brief:

Vocal fry is an affectation and a misuse of the vocal apparatus. As preachers, we are using our voices the same way singers do: to communicate our art. To reduce vocal sound to an issue of personal freedom is like saying that expecting opera singers or dancers to practice is oppressive.

Vocal production is both natural and cultural. We learn how to use our voices by gurgling as babies and then learning language at whatever rate and way we do as we develop. Along the way, speakers learn how certain sounds and timbres endear us to adults upon whom we rely for food, comfort and protection. Our voices may be formed by trauma or illness: in response to pain or abuse, we may swallow sound, learn to hold our breath while speaking, develop permanent baby talk, or have some of our ability to support a full sound from the diaphragm disrupted or destroyed.

Not all people choose speaking as their primary mode of communication. I am thinking of the Deaf community, but there are others. But I am speaking to speakers.

For most preachers, the voice is the instrument of communication and means by which we share our art. Preaching is an ancient art form. Vocal affectations that arise as a result of fads whose origins can be traced and tracked (as can vocal fry) and easily analyzed are not sacrosanct. Every 21st century preacher has audio and video recording available to them and can listen to and analyze how well they are using their vocal apparatus to communicate their message. Analyzing the voice this way is not sexist or oppressive, it is standard professional practice among all those who go before the public in the hopes of being effective.

Actors have directors to guide them and to inform them of their effectiveness. Singers have teachers who train them in art, the safe use of the vocal apparati, and musicianship. Athletes have coaches. Young women athletes who train hard to use their instruments to the very best of their ability would not consider critique of the way they are using their bodies in their sport to be oppressive, silencing or policing.

Vocal fry is an affectation that communicates elaborate hipness and insouciance. It is used by Garrison Keillor as an intimacy-creating storytelling device (the listeners both have to lean closer in to hear him, and the gravelly sound signals folksy warmth). It is used by radio personalities to (probably unintentionally) reveal generational, class and culture identity that differentiate them from old school radio voices. It is used as a kind of lingua franca among young, white women to communicate jaded sophistication. That is why it is so easily mocked. The fact that vocal fry is a technique that actually harms the vocal apparati is what makes it so difficult to listen to, just as it is difficult for discerning ears to sit through a production of “Annie” when the cast is full of little girl actors belting musical numbers in a way that strains and damages their developing vocal chords.

Upspeak is another component of poor speaking that I saw referenced in the same thread, so I’ll address it here: upspeak is not natural, it is learned. It is learned by women living in patriarchy to diminish the impact of what they are saying in order to be less of a threat to men. Upspeak at the ends of phrases undermines the impact of a sentence exactly the same way that swallowing volume at the end of a phrase does. Vocally implying that everything one says is a question is confusing, and undermining. A good coach can help. So may a therapist or spiritual director.

Voices are not as organic and “natural” as some argue. “He just talks that way” is far less accurate than “he learned young to lower his force his vocal register unnaturally low for his age and size to compensate for insecurity about being sufficiently masculine in a household full of macho men” or “she learned in childhood to hold back her breath and diminish her volume so as not to anger her exhausted mother.” We learn; we can unlearn, or strengthen, or change aspects of our vocal production in order to be more effective communicators.

I wrote more about the dreaded vocal fry here.

And here.

Now for coffee!