Friday, December 28, 2007
One of my birthday gifts from God last night was that a couple I met nearly choked on their appetizers when I told them I am a pastor and their eyes got even wider when I answered their question of "how long" by answering "Eleven years." She commented "you have a very young face."
Thanks be to God.
I must say I am totally surprised at the fact that I am struggling with this age thing. I was raised by parents who both look younger than their years and never paid lots of attention to age. My favorite story about my Dad is the year he turned 50. I was backpacking in Europe with college friends. We had a rotation system for calling home, with each of us taking a turn calling our family, and then the families doing a round robing check in using much cheaper phone rates. On the Friday before my Dad's birthday, it was my turn to call. As I signed off, I said "OK Dad, I'll talk to you on Monday." My mother reported that all weekend, my Dad was muttering "why is she calling on Monday?" When my mother wished him a Happy Birthday on Monday morning, his reply was "THAT'S why Amy is calling again today."
I had always thought I would age in the same way. But I am finding that much of my identity was wrapped up in being "young." I went from being a "young adult" to being "young clergy." Now, I don't qualify for any of those categories... and 40 sounds soooo much younger than it used to! So the adjustment for me has been to shift my own sense of identity, and to embrace who I am now.
And honestly, I am enjoying the adventure. I think now that I have gotten beyond the adjustment to being 35, I can handle things for at least the next handful of years. I am finding that I enjoy adulthood (with no qualifications) quite a bit.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
This has left me with something of a passion for being intentional about sharing methods of prayer. There are so many. I find it is common in the church for the subject of prayer to have a lot of assumptions surrounding it, the boldest assumption being that everyone already knows how to pray.
So I cannot remember how I came across this method, but I find it is mysteriously wonderful. For a long while, several years ago, I was in the habit taking time in silent prayer in which I would ask God "who do I need to pray for?" Very often, the most random of people would come to mind, and I would pray for them.
Here's one of the things I have discovered about prayer: I get bored with the same way of praying. So I change forms to avoid boredom; if I get bored, I will simply stop praying.
The really interesting thing is that this is one technique God has not let me stop using. By that I mean I have learned to trust that when people pop into my mind out of the blue, I pray for them.
And over the course of the past 2 months, on five different Sundays as I have been sitting in silence to prepare for worship, God has brought someone to mind. In each case, that person has been in worship that morning, very often someone who has been away for some reason.
Prayer is indeed a mysterious thing.
Friday, December 21, 2007
The Mary Randall Center, at 401 North St. in Elkton, was purchased by Meeting Ground (by the grace of God). It is commercially zoned, centrally located, and was made possible by a large donation in memory of its namesake. The mission of the Mary Randall Center is to provide a space during the day for people experiencing homelessness or on the brink of becoming homeless, offering life-skills workshops, Bible study, and resources to help people. It would get people off of the streets during the day, and give them the opportunity to put their lives together. It is a gift from God.
However, the Town of Elkton does not seem to agree. Despite the Meeting Ground's careful attention to buying a commercially zoned property, they have ruled that a special variance is required. They have denied all building and occupancy permits. This means that not even a bathroom facility can be completed, and thus the house cannot even be used for office space for Meeting Ground staff.
It looked to me as though more than 100 people turned out for the rally and march. I was especially proud to be pastor of this church family, because at least 15 members of our community of faith were there, including three children (2 mine), two teenagers, and two people who dedicate their vocational life to this mission by working full time for Meeting Ground. People shared testimony. We walked through Elkton. We even had the blessing of a police escort to stop traffic at intersections. We broke bread together at the Community Kitchen.
I don't know what this road ahead will look like, but I am confident of the outcome. God will not let this injustice stand. I am buoyed not only by faith, but by knowledge of the past. Every time Meeting Ground has purchased a facility in Cecil County, they have had to fight in court in order to open. Every time, Meeting Ground has won. (If I were a town of Elkton tax payer, I would be none too happy that my tax dollars might get wasted on a futile effort)
I have sent email letters to the mayor and three of four town council members (one does not appear to have email) I encourage you to do the same. Regardless of where you live, express your opinion as someone who lives in Elkton, shops in Elkton, or as a person in the world beyond Elkton to let them know this is an issue that carries far beyond the boundaries of the town. (Of course, actual town residents who vote will have the most sway... so if you are one, please write)
Mayor Fisona: email@example.com
Mr. Charles Givens: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mrs. MaryJo Jablonksi: email@example.com
Mr. Earl Piner: firstname.lastname@example.org
As I looked around the circle of closing prayer today, I saw God's people, from all walks of life and of varying beliefs, gathered in sacred community. I am grateful to God to be able to witness this, and to be able to share this with my children.
In the Spirit of Advent I say "Come, Lord Jesus."
Friday, December 14, 2007
The news that he has cancer of the esophagus and liver has been with us now for several weeks. Most of the conversations I have with folks in our church family involve tears...mine and theirs. As you would expect from a man of deep faith and discipleship, he is both fully in touch with his mortality and his faith. He keeps hearing the Lord tell him "just trust me" which makes me cry all over again in awe of this trust.
When I first got the news, my reaction was shock. That was almost immediately followed by spending a morning in a tearful heap. Now that has given way to a deeper understanding of the "peace that passes all understanding" from the verses I love so much in Philippians 4:4-7. I really do believe that God will carry us through all of the pain, change, and joy that lies ahead.
Bud has been through one chemo treatment, and has had a port put in. He tolerated the first treatment well, and he is hopeful for the future. It may be stage 4 cancer, but he is not going anywhere soon. I find I am buoyed by his hope.
I just keep thinking about all of the ways he blesses so many in our community...both within the church and beyond. Just today I was talking (and crying) with another woman in the church. She told me a story I had never heard- when she was in financial straits a few years ago, Bud knew she was trying to get a loan to pay off the medical and other bills. He asked her how things were going, and she shared that she had been declined for the loan. His response? He went immediately to the bank and co-signed for her.
I could tell dozens more stories of how Bud has followed Jesus in tangible ways. And I have only known him for 4 1/2 years. His hospital visitation and service as treasurer for administering funds for folks in crisis create stories every week. As time goes on, I expect that I will hear an avalanche of stories of how Bud has blessed person after person in our community and beyond.
I think the most precious gift a pastor receives is the gift of serving in meaningful relationship with folks in the church... folks who give themselves over completely to living the gospel. Bud is such a person. I am so grateful for him, perhaps now more than ever.
It is official. My baking desires have taken over. I love to bake. I have baked cookies Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night this week. I have made sugar cookies; they are in my freezer waiting to be frosted. I have made white chocolate chip shortbread cookies; they are going fast. Last night I had a sudden craving for these cookies (while I was taking a yoga class...I don't think that says good things about my meditative practices...)
Since this is what has been on my mind this week, I am sharing the recipe I made last night. (I don't have the other ones handy at the moment...perhaps I will share those later) I don't use very impressive recipes. I got this from the internet. The white chocolate came from the Toll House bag... you get the idea. I just enjoy baking.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal No Bake Cookies:
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups oatmeal
Mix the sugar and cocoa in a heavy saucepan. Add the butter and milk. Bring to a boil, but do not boil longer than one minute.
Add vanilla, peanut butter and oatmeal. Stir till completely mixed.
Before the mixture cools down, quickly drop spoonfuls on waxed paper to set.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
I read an article a few years ago about this phrase. It made two interesting points. First, it is impossible to find the "saint" in Christian history who supposedly coined the phrase. Second, that this appears no place in Scripture.
The author of the article literally tracked through dozens of books and publications, tracing their footnotes, looking for the original source of this phrase. It had been credited to everyone from St. Augustine of the 5th Century, to John Wesley, the 18th Century founder of Methodism, to John Wesley's mother. All told, the writer found more than 20 different citations citing as many sources for this phrase, none of which turned out to be true!
The author went on to note that a survey of the average American walking down the street would probably be nearly certain that this phrase appears somewhere in the Bible. It does not.
He went on to make an excellent point: if anything, the opposite truth is found in Scripture. God helps those who rely on God. God helps those who cry out for help. God helps those who need grace. I think this is why the writer could not find "God helps those who help themselves" in any writings of saints. They all know that the opposite is true.
I was sharing this in a sermon two weeks ago. There is a family in our community of faith who have been doing amazing things with their elementary school age kids. They are teaching them how to get into worship in a traditional setting. They have begun reading and singing the hymns, and saying the prayers, and listening to the sermon, and even talking about the sermon later. (As you can imagine, this warms my heart and gives me great hope.)
So imagine my joy today when the mother emailed me to say that her daughter came home flustered from having a substitute teacher that day in school. Apparently, her regular teacher encourages students to help one another. (I think this is fabulous. What a great way to encourage team work, shared learning, and generally looking out for one another.) The substitute was not accustomed to this type of goings on in the classroom, and was fussing at one of the students for being helpful. The substitute used the phrase"God helps those who help themselves" in her admonishment.
The daughter came home and said "but Mommy, Pastor Amy said that is not true, didn't she?" And it opened the way for another conversation on the topic.
I visited with a grieving family today. I shared my thoughts on the importance of feeling emotions, and of teaching our children (especially our boys) that it is OK to cry, to feel bad and sad and angry and guilty and all of the things that accompany things like an untimely death. How much better would the world be if we stopped pretending that we humans have no vulnerabilities, that "God helps those who help themselves" and instead live in the truth that God helps those who cry out for help?
Saturday, November 24, 2007
I have just finished reading two books at the same time. This is really not so unusual in the sense that I am part way through several books at any given time. But these two have both been commanding my attention to such a degree that I read them both just about every day.
It struck me today that they represent the balance of Christian life:
loving God and loving and serving other people.
The Covenant Disciple Group movement, which I love so much for the sense of authenticity I see in it, is rooted in this very idea....that to live a balanced life involves being intentional about public worship and justice, and personal devotion and compassion.
Eat, Pray, Love is in one of my favorite genres: personal spiritual autobiography. (Not sure that is an actual name of actual genre...but basically it is Gilbert's personal story of her faith journey.) After a difficult divorce, Gilbert spends 4 months in Italy (eating) and enjoying herself, then four months at an Ashram in India, doing yoga and meditating, then four months in Indonesia (Bali to be exact) learning to integrate pleasure and devotion. She ultimately falls in love with a new man. Her descriptions of experiencing transcendence, of meditating and being transported into God's presence left me longing for that type of experience too.
Irresistible Revolution is more of a theology book, written very accessibly, which is really part autobiography and part Bible study, calling the church to some serious action. If we really believe in loving our enemies, and that God's Kingdom is found on the margins and among unlikely (and generally poor) people, then the church should be practicing these things. Claiborne is one of the founding members of the The Simple Way. This is a community in Philadelphia that lives in a poor section of the city, in solidarity with the neighborhood, trying to love people as Jesus does. They live as simply as possible, and do all kinds of things to bless those around them, with things like a community garden, after school tutoring, food assistance, etc. They are a part of a movement called "new monasticism"
It also strikes me that both of these authors are around my age. This did not really strike me until I had completed both books. I think this is part of the reason I really resonated with both of these authors...we are part of the same tribe. (Note: it is an odd feeling to realize that from now on, more and more authors will be my age. I think I am going to enjoy reading even more, if such a thing is possible.)
These books leave me longing for an even deeper faith life. I want it all (Lord, help me, it's true). I want a prayer life that transports me into the presence of God, and a public life that is dedicated to ministry on the margins of society (a.k.a. the heart of God's Kingdom)
My husband and I have been talking about trying (for a month) to live on minimum wage as a way of being in solidarity with people who work hard and end up with far too little. This feels like a good next step. We are looking at January.
I also want to go and visit some of the new monastic communities...and who knows, perhaps someday, an Ashram! (In the meantime, I think some more intentional yoga is in order.)
What I really want is live the most authentic life of faith that I can...these books have opened doors in my imagination of what is possible.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I like to joke that I never received my magic God wand in the mail. I had hoped it would finally arrive when I was ordained, but alas, it seems to have gotten lost in the mail. I have so many uses for a magic God wand!
In absence of that, I listened, prayed, and tried to love Laura. She tried to figure out how to open herself up to God and learn to trust and to be loved.
She called this morning to say thank you for letting God use me to bless her. She has relocated a bit north. She has accepted her marriage for what it is, and is not. She has accepted her children. Most of all, she has been blessed by her relationship with God. She even landed in my home church. Small world.
As we were studying Scripture this morning, the lectionary gospel lesson is the crucifixion story in Luke 23. Just after Jesus cries out "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing" the guards begin casting lots for his clothing. They don't even register what Jesus has just said. Then someone challenges Jesus to save himself, if he is who he says it is. But that was not the appointed hour. The appointed hour was still three days away, when he would rise, overcoming sin and death. How difficult it must have been to endure the time for what it was, trusting God in the midst of his suffering.
Every time I sit, listen, cry, and pray with someone, I long for God to heal them, to heal me, to end this difficult time. Usually, it is not yet the time. The healing, the resurrection, is coming. But I spend most of my time in the not yet. What a gift to be given another glimpse of God's faithfulness, love, and healing.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
The premise of the book is that she and her family focused for a year on eating almost entirely locally. They did this for multiple reasons. First, out of concern for the environment-so much of our food is shipped from such distances that the fuel alone is hard on creation.
Second, out of a desire to eat really good food, which is best when it is in season and fresh (and of course free of chemicals and pesticides).
Third, out a desire to bless the local economy, believing that if all people ate locally, farmers would be able to make a living with sustainable, organic agriculture. Agribusiness farming practices include horrible animal conditions and producing tomatoes based upon their ability to ship well as opposed to taste good.
Finally, agribusiness farming is leading to a shocking drop of biodiversity on our planet (thousands of plant species that were once raised by farmers around the world are just gone from the planet now) being replaced by genetically modified foods. I do find it a persuasive argument that we could be courting disaster (famine) with genetic modification and limited diversity. It strikes me that playing God is never safe.
Changing my ways...
The idea of buying locally, organic, and free range seems so obvious now. I am surrounded by great opportunities. I just need to take advantage of them. There is Locust Point Farm which is less than 2 miles from my home, as well as Nickerson's Meats a few miles in the other direction, and Rumbleway farm on the other side of the county that is certified organic. (If you click on the Locust Point farm link, you'll see them all listed along with others.)
At Locust Point, I can get eggs fresh off of the farm, organic milk and cheese from free range cows brought from Chambersburg PA (not exactly local, but certainly better), and fresh free range chicken they raise, as well as local beef, pork, etc.
Detwilers Farmers Market is on the same road (Locust Point, just down from Baker's Restaurant). They offer fresh local produce from spring through fall, along with baked goods, eggs, jelly, etc.
Then there is the farmers market that opened in Middletown, the farmers market on Kirkwood Hwy. in Newark, and the market in New Castle on Route 13. (I am not sure about the one in Elkton. I didn't find anything local or organic at that one.) Granted, not all of these are offering all local goods, but I have a much better chance there.
And my best year round option for local, fresh, organic food is at Newark Natural Foods Co-Op. They have a real live farmers market with local farmers Spring, Summer, and Fall on Sundays from 10-2. In addition, the co-op is a year round great source of just about everything.
Finally, I discovered Calvert Farm which offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription. They offer farm fresh produce, delivered weekly to many locations, including the Newark Co-op. So I am finally going to subscribe to one (I have contemplated in the past).
I have also been inspired to begin using my bread machine again, using organic flour and such.
Last but not least, I want to learn to make cheese. Yes, that is typed correctly. I want to learn to make cheese. In the book, Kingsolver has a recipe for mozzarella in 30 minutes. Who knew making cheese is about as simple as having milk, the right cultures, and a few other ingredients! I am hoping to receive the cookbook for Christmas (if I can wait that long).
I have to confess, though, that a big part of the book was about their garden. Ray and I have tried a garden for the past four summers. We are just not good gardeners. So the jury is still out as to whether will again be trying to be produce food as local as our back yard.
I recommend the book. It is as entertaining as it is interesting and informative. Regardless of whether you read it or not, I invite you to join with me in eating more locally and in season. It's good for people and good for creation.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
As I was making dinner preparations, Ray was doing a great job of leading the cleaning brigade. Jacob is able to push the vacuum cleaner, which he loves. Shannon was into polishing the dining room chairs. Ray sprayed on the wood polish, and Shannon dusted her little heart out.
We even got out the china, which we have not done in more than a year, I am sure. I was embarrassed to discover that some of the dishes still have sale stickers on them. Mind you, we have been married for 12 years.
As we were all going about our tasks, Shannon paused and said "this is the difference between having cousins over for dinner and other people over for dinner."
We all had a good laugh. My daughter sure is an observant 5 year old.
Friday, November 02, 2007
As soon as the meeting was over, I went out for a walk. I was entirely enchanted with Chesapeake City. I try not to shop unless I need things (too tempting to buy things that I do not need), but since I was without my wallet, it was fairly safe. I browsed through several gift shops. I went into Vulcan's Rest, where people can learn to knit, crotchet, weave, make baskets, quilt, and do other things I have never heard of. I thought to myself how many people have such an amazing store like this in walking distance? Here I serve in this beautiful little town, full of lovely shops, restaurants, B&Bs, that is all on the water...and how often do I get out and just enjoy it?
As I walked around town, I thought about how much I am enjoying life (especially since I have given up feeling overwhelmed!) and how I really should just enjoy every day more. Then I went to lunch with six other people from church and had a lovely time.
Then, I started feeling guilty. Shouldn't I be concerned about feeling complacent and comfortable? Shouldn't I feel a sense of urgency? Shouldn't I be suffering for the sake of the gospel?
And I wonder why it is so difficult to just enjoy the life God has given me.
So, perhaps I need to add "give up feeling guilty for enjoying myself" to my list of things to give up...
Friday, October 26, 2007
My pledge is rooted in having spent time hearing stories (mostly from other clergy) who have shut down emotionally because they are tired of being hurt and disappointed. One of the choices that a person can make after loving, trusting, or otherwise being in relationship and then experiencing something that hurts is to stop taking some of the risks of relationship. This happens greater or lesser degrees, depending upon the person.
One of my personal convictions is that God did not give us emotions so we could pretend that we do not have the difficult ones (i.e. anger, pain, grief, disappointment, fear). So often humans respond to pain and hurt as if it should not be a part of life. I have not discovered any evidence or orthodox Christian teaching that supports this notion.
So I have determined that I would prefer to be fully alive, which includes all of the pain, rather than shut down. Appropriate boundaries are vital. Healthy relationships, with good, realistic expectations are important.
But here's the thing, and there is no getting around this: relationships are risky and people sin. Given a choice between opening my heart, and being optimistic, followed by later experiencing pain or not opening my heart at all, I believe in relationship.
I think part of my effectiveness as a pastor is rooted in my ability to be in healthy relationship. I also think that the "negative" emotions (like anger, disappointment, pain) are the ones that have the power to motivate change.
So I'm hurt, disappointed, grieving... and that's life.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I used an image I read in a book by Steve Manskar. The image of grace- prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying- can be analogous to the front porch, doorway, and main rooms of a house. The front porch is prevenient grace- the grace into which we are born, before we even know there is grace. This is the grace that comes before, the grace that leads us to faith, the grace that is at work before we even recognize it is there. It is by God's prevenient grace that we discover the doorway to the household of faith- this is justifying grace. Justifying grace is when we walk through the door, and are set right with God. This is how we enter into relationship with Christ. It may a moment of walking through a door, or it may be like a long hallway (like me). Then sanctifying grace is the grace that makes us more holy, more like Christ, and allows us to grow into the person God intends for us to be.
As I was sharing this talk, I wove in some of my personal experiences of Grace. I talked about how I had questions that kept me from faith while I was in college. These included some of the biggies, like "if Christianity is the 'right' religion, then why does every human community in history and in the present have its own religious system, all claiming authority?" and "if God is so good and so powerful, why does God allow such things as the Holocaust to happen?"
For me, a big part of grace was realizing that I could experience being loved by God's people, and glimpse God's love for me, even with my questions intact. I shared that I still have questions about faith, and that this is OK. I am not God.
During the feedback time, every group commented that my honesty about still having questions was a really good thing, something they appreciated hearing, and expect that the folks on the weekend will resonate with. One woman even commented that the three-fold grace finally clicked for her (thanks Steve Manskar)
I left there reminded of how important it is to be honest about the walk of faith. This was the sole advice of a teacher I once had. "Amy, just be honest with people." I think this is why I struggle so much with fundamentalist expressions of faith. There seems little room for questions.
I was talking about this with a friend of mine. She commented about someone she is acquainted with who rubs her the wrong way because she finds him arrogant. (He is very theologically conservative.) I had this flash of thought: it requires a certain amount of arrogance to claim so much certainty about God.
I think this is why, every week, I have a certain amount of trepidation about preaching. God help me if I seem to have all of the answers- only God does. And it is my experience thus far that there are all kinds of questions for which we have not been given clear answers. I have become comfortable with that; I think mystery is preferable to any alternative. In mystery, there is plenty of love, which is all I really need (most days).
I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by theologian Jurgen Moltmann, who writes about unsatisfying answers to the "theodicy" question...this is the fancy term for "why do bad things happen to good people?" also known as "if God is good and powerful, why do things like the Holocaust happen?"
He writes this:“It is the real task of faith and theology to make it possible for us to survive, to go on living, with this open wound. The person who believes will not rest content with any slickly explanatory answer to the theodicy question. And he will also resist any attempts to soften the question down. The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering in the world and the more passionately he asks about God and the new creation”
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Whenever it became clear that one of us would need to have a difficult and potentially painful conversation with a member of the church, our professor would call it "a prayer meeting." Others in our group would refer to this as a "come to Jesus meeting." Our convener also gave us a great barometer for whether to actually have such a conversation or let it go. He advised us that if were looking forward to having this conversation, we probably should not be having it. But if we were dreading the conversation, it probably needed to happen. I have to say, I have had very few of these types of conversations with church folks, and probably need to have had more... but confrontation is not something I seek out.
I have found, though, that God seems to have these conversations with me on occasion. And the terms "prayer meeting" and "come to Jesus meeting" feel entirely appropriate. I remember the first time I felt scolded by God. It was during my first serving Town Point and Trinity. I have always had a nagging question as to whether I should more fully live out my passion for mission and social justice by committing to full time ministry in these areas, rather than be a generalist as a pastor. I was driving to Town Point one morning, asking God if I should be leaving the pulpit and seeking other expressions of ministry. What I heard spoken to my heart was "you'll be a pastor until I tell you stop, and not before." I have not had quite a sense before or since.
More often, I have a moment of insight or clarity from God. This came this morning. I found myself feeling overwhelmed by the stewardship campaign. I was disheartened and overwhelmed that I/we are so behind in preparations for mailings, sermons, presentations, etc. Then I became discouraged by feeling overwhelmed...AGAIN. I am tired of feeling perpetually overwhelmed. "I just got finished feeling overwhelmed by Blended Ministry Parish preparations and voting" was my lament. When overwhelmed, my thoughts always turn to "there must be an easier way for me to earn a living." These were the same thoughts I was having on Sunday morning as I struggled to preach; it is always more difficult after being away for a week.
Thankfully, Lori Goldsmith, who has been serving in the office for the month of October with grace and distinction, came in prayed with me. I felt a lightening of my spirit. As I drove to covenant group, I came to what I hope is a turning point. I realized that being a pastor is it- this is the life I am called to, this is the life I have been equipped for, and this is the life I expect I will be living for the next 30 years. And I just cannot bear the thought of being perpetually overwhelmed for the next 30 years. So either I trust that God is in the midst of all of this, and that giving my best is all that God asks, or I don't. And if I really trust it, than feeling overwhelmed doesn't do any good or make any sense.
So I am giving it up- no more overwhelm. Just steady effort, giving God my best, and trusting the results in God's time. Hopefully, plenty more "come to Jesus" moments will keep me on track. It's a hard thing, this staying on track stuff....thank God for grace...otherwise it would simply be impossible!
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I went to Starbucks this morning to meet a friend for coffee. I am not a regular customer of their admittedly delicious coffee Starbucks for two reasons: I am frugal, and I try to drink only Fair Trade coffee. I was looking forward to this meeting, both because of my friend and because I had read that Starbucks has begun serving some Fair Trade coffee.
When I asked for Fair Trade coffee, I got a quite unexpected answer from the barista: we only brew Fair Trade on the 20th of the month. I found this quite amusing, in a cynical kind of way. Some Starbucks executive must have figured out that the business return on being able to say "we buy Fair Trade coffee" and then serving it once per month was a good business model!
I am reminded of why liberal talk radio failed when broadcast between Rush Limbaugh and Don Imus. I am thinking of why "blended worship" music, encompassing both traditional music and praise music, so often fails. The reasons are the same: nobody is happy. In the case of radio, it's like having an opera station with one hour of rock and roll per day. That one hour is going to anger the opera lovers, and not enough rock and roll listeners will know which hour to tune in. In blended worship music, no body gets the kind of worship experience they crave. So it is, I think, with serving Fair Trade coffee. For people who care about this issue, one day per month is laughable. For people who don't care about this issue, it makes no difference in their loyalty. I don't know- perhaps Starbucks has discovered people who sort of care of Fair Trade and are glad to hear that on some level, Starbucks buys some Fair Trade Coffee.
I suppose the barista did not hear me say "decaf" when I asked for it. I actually thought of going back and verifying that it was decaf, but for whatever reason, I did not. Well, I should have listened to that voice. I have been all jitters ever since. Talk about a high! I haven't had caffeine like that in more than five years. I cannot believe I did not get sick to my stomach (one of the many reasons I stopped). I have been flying all morning...and well into this afternoon, I am still going. No wonder folks love this stuff. I have to confess, I am half tempted to begin drinking it again!
As I was sitting there, drinking my coffee, and waiting for my friend, the barista came by and asked where we knew each other. We worked out that members of her family are a part of our community of faith. She then came back and gave me a free bag of Fair Trade coffee...a gift of grace. (Sadly, it is caffeinated, but it will make a great gift.)
So thanks be to God for caffeine, Fair Trade, and baristas who know me. What a way to start the day!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
A quick update on how things have developed since that fateful day. The churches have pulled together to create a Rotating Homeless Shelter, which is heading into its second year. The town has been sued for its treatment of these folks. They have also had struck down an attempted ordinance to ban "loitering" aka homeless people walking down the street. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is working. Finally, the Meeting Ground, which has been spearheading all of this, has purchased a commercially zoned home that is perfect for a day center in Elkton. It is the Mary Randall Center.
I read an article yesterday that gave me pause. It was about the growing opposition to the Mary Randall Center. I am not linking the article here because I don't want to single out anyone. Instead, I want to reflect upon one of the ten commandments and its general disregard (as I see it).
The article opened by quoting someone who is opposed to this center opening in his/her neighborhood. The opposition was framed by using the context of saying that s/he has volunteered at another local shelter, but they just don't want it HERE. The implication, of course, is "I have been in relationship with homeless folks, so I know what I am talking about, and I can say this with authority."
I was reminded of another time I heard someone oppose having a shelter near them, and the person used as justification their volunteer work experience in the past to claim authority to speak and opine.
This does not sit well with me. It just feels wrong, but I couldn't quite clarify my thinking as to why. I was venting to a clergy friend, and he put it in words that rang true. He said simply "it's bearing false witness."
It is breaking the 9th commandment.
I know it is false witness, because I too have spent time with folks who need the Mary Randall Center, who need the services it will provide. I have shared meals with them, spent nights in a church building with them, celebrated as some of them have gotten their lives more together, and grieved over one of their untimely deaths. And I am not an authority on this subject by any stretch of the imagination. There are many, many more faithful servants around our county who are in much deeper relationship with the folks who will be helped by the Mary Randall Center.
I don't know a single person who has spent any real time with these folks who isn't touched and changed by the experience. I find that every person has a story, a life, is cherished by God, and every person is deserving of a chance to make things better. And there is no perfect place to do such ministry because there is no place where fear of the unknown and of the outcast does not have a foothold.
I have preached repeatedly that I think the fourth commandment, to keep the Sabbath, is the most often disregarded of the 10 commandments. The 9th Commandment-"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16)- would seem a close second.
I am planning to be at the zoning hearing on Thursday October 18 at 7 p.m. at 100 Railroad Avenue in Elkton. I invite you to come and bear faithful witness, and stand in solidarity with God's most precious ones.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Anne Lamott has a wonderful chapter on this in her new book, Grace (Eventually) that I am currently enjoying. She talks about the eyes being the window the soul...about how beauty is something that is believed and therefore evidenced in our eyes... regardless of what our appearance looks like as compared to fashion magazines.
But our culture is so appearance focused, that I dread the day that my daughter stops believing me when I say she looks great running out of school in a formal dress, with ripped stockings, and elastic head band sun glasses pushing half of her bangs off of her forehead. Truly, she looks so beautiful, so full of life and abandon. Is there anything more precious a sight than my daughter running toward me a smile of joy?
We try to keep our kids away from as much media garbage as possible, without total deprivation. We do this by allowing them to watch Public Television and Food TV. Disney channel only on the weekends, when Public TV doesn't run kids programs.
On Sunday morning, I was sitting in my office, printing my last draft of my sermon (my usual routine that I go over it one more time, then print). My freshly awake daughter was next to me on the sofa watching "The Wiggles" (after protesting she is much too old for the Wiggles now that she is 5...she agreed to suffer through it for a few more minutes). There was an entire segment about "General GoodBloke" who was coming for a visit. They listed off all of the reasons why General GoodBloke is such a good bloke. All of them had to do with his appearance! He has a coat with shiny buttons, shiny shoes, etc. I hardly remembered all that they said.
So I turned to my daughter and said "isn't that silly? How could they know if he is a good person by what he is wearing?" She giggled at the silliness, and heartily agreed with me.
As I sat there, I thought about how many more messages she must encounter in the course of the average week that tell her that appearances make all the difference. I am sure I counteracted just one of thousands she has already received.
I hope that a few counteractions make up for a few hundred of these messages. And I pray that my kids will know that no matter what, they are beautiful.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Anne Lamott is the kind of writer who made me want to blog. I want to be the kind of insightful, faithful, witty writer that she is when it comes to matters of faith. Clearly, I am nowhere close to that bar. Lately, I have not had my muse for blogging. Not quite sure what that is about. Perhaps reading this book will help me. I will either be inspired to continue with renewed vigor or give it up as a lost cause!
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I knew this day was coming. It came even earlier with my first snuggle bug. Jacob is going to be 3 on Saturday. Shannon was 2 when she began arching her back and pointing to her crib when I would sit down to rock her.
We always talk about how fast these days go, when our children are small. I have done my best to heed these words of wisdom and treasure every snuggle, every moment in a rocking chair with my child's head resting just below my shoulder. And still I find myself with tears in my eyes as I write this. In 9 days time my five year old daughter will be climbing on a school bus and going to all day Kindergarten.
I have always tried to keep a right perspective on raising children. It will occupy about 20 years of my life. If I live to be 80, that is only one quarter of my days spent focused upon raising my kids, and there are many other ways of living and being that God calls me to, in addition to being a parent. My true identity is found in Christ, and my identity as a mother is one aspect of who God has called me to be.
But no matter how much perspective I try to claim, there is no denying the special sacredness that comes with being a mother of young children.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
I learned many valuable lessons from these summers and I have lots of very happy memories. I wouldn't change it.
But, this has also had a few negative consequences. One is that I have poor tolerance for a cloudy or poorly maintained swimming pool- public or private. The other is that I greatly prefer large, public sized pools to back yard pools, because in my mind, these are the only ones that are any fun. Isn't this awful? On top of this, I am serving in a county with no similar services. Even the YMCA has only an indoor pool.
So I have been adjusting to life without a swimming pool to which I am accustomed. And guess what I have discovered? The virtues of an inflatable back yard swimming pool.
As I write this, my children, ages 5 and 3, are playing happily and safely in an inflatable pool in my back yard. There are several advantages to this situation:
1. They can run all they want to and we don't have to tell them to stop
2. The water is nice and cold on a HOT summer day- it comes from our well and has not been sitting in the pool all summer
3. It is nice and clean- it 's easy to maintain without any chemicals!
4. I don't have to put on a bathing suit if I don't want to
5. If I do put on a suit, I don't have to be seen by anyone
6. The kids have fun jumping out of the pool, onto the swing set, and back again
7. The kids can leap and splash and not bother anyone else.
8. Inflatable = cheap (like $20 on sale cheap)
9. When the kids get tired, they can come right in, eat lunch, take a nap, whatever. And they get good and tired!
10. No real risk of drowning (slight, slight)... the adult on duty can do other things like hang out laundry or even sit in the AC and watch out the window.
So I say hooray for no access to a large swimming pool and the invention of the inflatable back yard pool. I think life really is a lot simpler than I let it be sometimes.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
For me, it was also a week full of reading Harry Potter. I re-read the 5th and 6th books in the series in preparation for the new release. I have not typically been much of a re-reader, but I found that I really enjoyed it. Perhaps my reading habits will change a bit.
I finished the final book in the series last night. It was excellent. I was talking with a friend here in church, and she mentioned that there have been several local folks writing into the newspaper proclaiming that Rowling is going to hell, and generally decrying Harry Potter.
(Note: while I am not giving away the ending here, I am commenting on the themes, which could give you some pretty good guesses. If you have not yet read the book and plan to, you may not want to read the following paragraphs.)
I find this positively baffling. My suspicion (verified by some experience) is that many folks who "oppose" Harry Potter have not read any of the books. The series is full of Christian themes. These include serving others, sacrificing for the greater good, eschewing materialism, caring most about relationships with others, being willing to lay down your life for your friends, and battling sin and evil. In this last book, the references to the afterlife in heaven as well as sacrificial death are especially strong. Willingly dying so that others may live is at the heart of the gospel...there is no gospel without it. This theme is also at the heart of the Harry Potter book. There is no Harry Potter without it.
My befuddlement increases when I wonder why The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia (also chock full of Christian themes) get embraced by most Christians, while Harry Potter is shunned by so many. My fear is it is because too many of us are too easily led. If media hype and some key Christian voices give their blessing, it must be OK. If the opposite occurs, it must be bad.
At the heart of the Christian Reformation, which flowed out of the Enlightenment, was a rejection of the Church thinking for people. The Reformation championed several important ideas, two of which I find relevant now. First is reading the Scripture for oneself (sola scriptura) which says that Scripture is the foundation of Christian interpretation, and should be read and interpreted by the faithful in their native language. Second, there is the priesthood of all believers which says that we all have a direct line to the Spirit, no intermediate priest required.
If Protestants (those Christians who are not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox) are to remain faithful to who we are, then we must take seriously our identity as people who study and discern the will of God together, believing the Holy Spirit is guiding us if we study in faith together. To be true to who we are, we must study the Scripture ourselves (together in community and alone...not just alone), and use our God given reason, experience, and our tradition, to come to conclusions. Simply taking the word of another without our own study and reflection does not bring us closer to God or into clearer understanding.
I think Christians have an opportunity to use Harry Potter as a way to study, grow, and reach out. It saddens me to think it will instead be used as an opportunity to condemn, shun, and generally turn people away from the love of Christ.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Some recent highlights of his learning to talk have included:
1. saying "bye bye my home" whenever Daddy pulls out of the driveway with the kids
2. spontaneously saying "nice day" after a fun day that concluded with dinner at his grandparents' home
3. receiving his Dad's compliment on how good he looked in his new Blue Rocks baseball cap by saying "oh yeah baby" (as he hears Emeril on FoodTV!)
4. and this morning, coming up with "nice home, Mommy" which he said several times this morning.
It is a nice home. We are blessed to live here. As I begin my fifth year of service in Chesapeake City, I can feel my roots growing stronger and deeper. I have now served here longer than any other church family. I keep telling folks that I hope to make it to double digits in number of years served.
I often hear God through repetition. When one theme presents itself multiple times from various sources, I try to pay attention. Lately, the idea of loving wherever I am, wholeheartedly, because God is here, has been speaking to my heart.
And so I say with my son Jacob: Nice home.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
On Wednesday, the passage for the day was from the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. It is the passage where Jesus talks about loving your enemies, blessing those who curse you... one of the hard ones. One girl literally exclaimed out loud as she was reading. (She was awake!) It is shocking stuff to those who have never read it before.
Naturally, my attempt to keep them awake involved trying to relate the Scripture to every day life. The Campers were a fairly diverse lot; since the Civil Rights movement had this text at the backbone of the movement, I figured this was the way to go.
For the majority of kids, the Civil Rights movement was as relevant as WW2! I was shocked. You would have thought this was arcane history I was referring to. They tried valiantly to recall some details. Mostly, they succeeded in remembering Rosa Park and the bus boycott. Once that was on the table, the march on Washington came to mind. Then sometimes, they would know about the marches, beatings, fire hoses, and jail cells. But not always.
I still cry when I heard the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching, especially the "I Have a Dream" sermon. For years, I had the text of this sermon posted on my refrigerator (although lately children's art work has crowded it out). I think of how the Civil Rights movement to contributes to the lexicon of our society, our politics, our court decisions, our lives. Musical artists I love, most notably U2, have used the Civil Rights Movement as inspiration for lyrics. For me, it is living, breathing stuff. And I was not alive during the movement. I was born in 1971.
So I was shocked to learn that for these kids, it is just a chapter in history. As I think about the timing, I guess they are chronologically about as far away from the Civil Rights movement as I am from the Second World War. And that war always seemed like history that happened well before my time.
I am recovering from my shock, now that it has been a few days. And I am trying to convince myself that this has an upside. After all, the idea that segregation and racism are not a divisive, hate inspiring issue is progress. I remember as a child a local African American broadcaster giving an editorial and making the claim that once color is no longer an issue, and no longer in need of conversation and court decisions, we will have finally made it to the Promise Land. But we're not there yet, by any stretch of the imagination. I witness too many instances of racism to think otherwise. Honestly, I am hoping that by the time I am a grandmother we may be there. Time will tell.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Last night, I was at the hospital with a family and a friend of a woman who had nearly succeeded in her suicide attempt. After I got home around 11:15, I sat on the sofa with munchies watching TV, winding down. I did not get to sleep until after midnight. After a somewhat sleepless, allergy filled night, I awoke this morning to several hours of catching up on email work. By lunchtime, I was tired!
So, I treated myself to a nap. I got into bed and slept for two hours. It was heavenly.
God bless my children- they just want to be around me. My oldest is able to contain herself when she knows that I am asleep. Not so for my son. The minute Ray got on the telephone, he took advantage of his opportunity. He dashed into the bedroom...and began throwing up on me. Apparently, his mad dashing caused him to choke on a wheat thin. He flung open the door, ran over to me, and began wretching. Poor guy. He was sobbing. My sheets needed washing. I needed washing. He only needed a new shirt. Neat little guy he is.
So off we went to the bathroom. I just got into the tub because that was about all I had in me. Ray came in, fresh off the telephone, to report another tragedy. Yet as we sat there, in the bathtub, with me covered in regurgitated wheat thins, and my son in my lap, all I could do was laugh! God works in mysterious ways.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Then it is time for Annual Conference at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (no beach there, unfortunately). Every June, pastors and other church folks from every church in our geographic region (Conference) get together for worship, ministry reporting, planning, and voting. This year has an added once in four years bonus- we will be voting for our delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. General Conference is the international body that sets all of our "laws" and social stances, meeting in 2008 in Texas this time. Jurisdictional Conference is where Bishops are elected. All of the women Bishops in our Northeastern Jurisdiction (Maryland to New England) will be retiring this year; it will be a pivotal Conference. But then I guess they all are.
I'm really praying that Conference will be a blessing, and truly a time of "Holy Conferencing" as we Methodists like to talk about it.
Until next week....
Saturday, June 02, 2007
1. On Friday, as I was choosing to do other tasks instead of finishing my sermon, I became aware of one of my subconscious thoughts. "I know if I put off my sermon, it will still get done." So I think that my putting off finishing until the last minute is something of a warped attempt to put hours into the week!
2. I have decided to try, try, try to accept the reality that this seems to be part of my creative process. As I let it percolate all week, its brewing. It would seem that I need the time to let it simmer until it is forced out of me by a deadline. I am trying very hard to love this side of my creative process, but truth be told, I loathe it. Why, O why, is this process so impervious to my attempts to finish sooner?
3. I am so grateful to work with folks who are as comfortable as I am with last minute preparations. I am surrounded by such folks. Thanks be to God. As I was going over tech details with the tech lead for Jacob's Well tomorrow (that would be about 13 hours from now) she asked me about plan B if plan A for getting her the file via a two person delivery process doesn't flow. I told her I have a back up file here at the house, and my husband will bring it in the morning. Then she pointed out that plan B is usually me filling in, in some completely unplanned way, and we had a good laugh. I thought about the Sunday several months ago where I arrived to Jacob's Well to find the power in all of the Chesapeake City area was out. God took care of things just fine. I even received a note from someone who said how blessed they had been by that service in the dark with acoustic music and no visuals. God has such a sense of humor.
So here's to plan B. As I preach on Trinity Sunday, I do with the deep suspicion that the Holy Spirit is more about plan B than plan A anyway.
Friday, June 01, 2007
I notice this particularly in my favorite kind of colloquialisms- the kind my father uses. He uses expressions like:
I haven't seen one of those in a month of Sundays!
Tube steaks and whistle berries (referring to hot dogs and baked beans)
Take the old shoe leather express
Close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades
Seeing through rose colored glasses
You let the cat out of the bag!
Strike while the iron is hot
Happier than a pig in mud
Take 40 winks
Uglier than a mud fence
The elevator doesn't go all the way to top
A few sandwiches short of a picnic
Dead as a door nail
There's more than one way to skin a cat
It seems to me that these sorts of expressions are a dying art, which makes me cherish them.
I have also been thinking about the power to remember great one liners. I would really like to add to my lexicon several great theological colloquialisms. I think pastors who are especially gifted at championing vision and mission in a local church tend to have this skill down. They have a set of phrases that repeatedly and effectively express fundamental truths.
So, I am compiling a list of great one-liners that I want to use often. Here goes:
1. God does not call the qualified. God qualifies the called.
2. There is no such thing as a perfect church...b/c churches are full of imperfect people
3. God did not create emotions so we can pretend like we don't have them. (I think that is my only original composition)
4. Grace received and not passed on loses its power (that's John Wesley, except he says "efficacy" instead of power)
5. Our fundamental Christian identity is "I am a baptized child of God"
6. The role of the pastor and leaders is to "equip the saints for the works of ministry" (Eph.4:12)
7. "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2Cor.12:9)
8. There can be no resurrection without death
That is my starting point. I would be interested to hear from others about favorite phrases that encapsulate Christian belief/doctrine/practice into a phrase that's easily heard and understood.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
As we were leaving service #2 this past week, Shannon was asking me again about calling. She asked me if being a pastor is what God told me to do. I said (again) that this is what God has called me to do. Then she asked if I had to decide also. I told her yes, figuring out the path God wants for your life also means deciding to follow the path. I told her it's a process called "discernment" when a person tries to figure out what God wants them to do with their life, and then doing it.
As we got to the car she said "Mommy, I am glad you're a pastor." These words have been ringing in my heart ever since.
I asked her "because it's fun?" Shannon replied, "yes, it's fun. I think I want to be a pastor too."
This from the girl who last week asked me why I couldn't just stay home and please stop working.
I think most (perhaps all) pastors have a special anxiety about raising kids in the context of the local church. Pastor's Kids (PKs) are renowned throughout the generations for being rebellious, poorly adjusted kids who wither in the spotlight that is their life. Ok, this is a slight exaggeration. But the spotlight part does cause anxiety.
I was talking with a PK who is now a pastor around a dinner table a few weeks ago, and someone asked her for advice about raising children in the church. Her reply was that her parents rule was that church folks were not allowed to expect anything of the pastor's children that they would not expect of their own children. I think that is great advice, and I am planning to tuck it away for future teenage year use.
For now, I am basking in the fact that my daughter enjoys having a pastor for a mommy.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
In some cases, I am opening a door for a man and he is completely thrown off by my actions. I don't think about the "rules of chivalry" calling for the opposite unless the man is clearly feeling awkward. Otherwise, I just don't think about who opens a door for whom. I guess in my subconscious it's just the person with the easiest access to the door who opens it, and doors are only opened for others when it makes logistical sense. Otherwise, I think I operate under the assumption that everyone opens their own doors. Nor do I give much conscious thought to which gender proceeds through a doorway first. Again, it's a matter of happenstance and logistics.
I hold doors for folks behind me, and expect likewise, regardless of gender, if the distance between me and the other person would mean that someone would have a door closing in their face if it were not being held.
In other cases, I find myself feeling awkward when a stranger, or someone I have perhaps just been introduced to, opens a door for me. I do project onto these folks a sense of distance and condescension. This is not because I consciously believe that is what is intended. I am just so accustomed to doing my own thing, and I guess somewhere along the way, I have internalized a message that men holding doors for women is rooted in the belief that women need such assistance.
The exception to all of this is that my husband holds doors for me, especially if we are out by ourselves on anything resembling a date. I have to think hard about it, but I am pretty sure my father holds doors for me too.
So here is my conclusion: I am uncomfortable with people holding doors for me unless the person is my husband or father. I think this is mostly because this is what I am used to, and so now, holding a door open feels to me like an intimate action.
Otherwise, I don't want doors opened or held for me unless it would be rude not to hold the door. I don't like anyone else going out of their way to open a door for me- it just doesn't feel right.
I have never had conscious thought about this until recently, and I can't even remember what sparked this. It's not that I have consciously made decisions based on "women's lib" conversations that pre-date me. I think it's just the sense I developed without giving it much thought (until now).
I wonder what the rest of the world thinks about such things (or if it is worth any brain power at all!)
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Case in point: I received an email from a member of our community who also teaches at our Preschool. Her son goes to the nearby Middle School and requires transportation to attend this school, because it is outside of his home district.
Our youth director picked him up from school and brought him to church to be helpful to the mom. As they were driving home, the mom commented to her son "that I felt really blessed to have people that are so generous with their time and energy that benefits me."
The son replied "You mean our church family?"
Mom's comment was "yeah, I guess that sounds kind of hokey, doesn't it?"
And the son said, "well, they certainly do ACT like family"
The mom told me it made her smile. It made me smile too.
I am preparing to preach on Acts 2 this Sunday. It is Pentecost Sunday and it is time to hear the story of the Holy Spirit forming the early believers into the early church. The book of Acts has community that acts like family as a central theme. As one of my friends recently commented this book in the Bible is titled "Acts of the Apostles" but it would be more appropriate to title it "Acts of the Holy Spirit."
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
But Tuesday, my thoughts turn to my unending to do list. As I said, I am still living into Sabbath. One of the things I am still trying to do is keep from being a work-a-holic the rest of the week. After all, I'm not really trusting God if I only trust for one day, and then work the rest of the week like everything is up to me. Clearly, it is not!
At the conference in Indianapolis last week, one pastor had reflected, "like the poor, to do lists are always with us." Yesterday felt especially draining. I went home at 4:30 to spend time with my family because I was out of energy and had a 6:30 meeting. As I sat in my chair at 6:10, I found myself wondering if I was getting sick. That set off a new stream of thought and mild anxiety about my to do list.
But then we had our meeting. It happened to be a Jacob' s Well leadership team meeting. We laughed- a lot. As we discussed the items on our agenda, laughter seemed to fill us at every turn.
By the time the meeting was over, my headache was gone, and the weight of exhaustion had lifted. What a gift.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I have always thought of journey language as a great way to describe the spiritual life because it puts emphasis on the present moment, and the process, rather than upon arriving somewhere. When I say the life of faith is a journey, I mean that I expect it will always be a journey with Christ.
The other person in the conversation interprets journey language in the opposite way- since a journey implies a destination, she hears it as implying that right now is not so important and arriving somewhere else is what life is all about....which is of course not what the life of faith is all about. And I agree.
Interesting how we both largely agree that emphasizing arriving somewhere else devalues the spiritual life... and yet use different language to emphasize this. Language is such tricky and important stuff.
We also realized that part of our difference does stem from our different faith traditions. Her Lutheran tradition emphasizes justifying grace- the grace that brings us to faith in Christ. My Wesleyan/Methodist heritage emphasizes sanctifying grace as much or more than justifying grace.
In fact, the emphasis on sanctifying grace, also known as Christian Perfection, is one of the significant contributions of Methodism to the Christian conversation. This is the doctrine that teaches that it as least possible for God to so sanctify a disciple so that the disciple becomes able to love as Christ loves...to be made perfect in love.
One of the questions asked of me when I was ordained was "do you believe that you are going onto perfection?" and my reply was "by the grace of God, I do so believe."
So even though I am loathe to devalue the present moment, for that is the only moment in which God is present to me right now, I do have a sense of growing and changing along the way. I do earnestly look forward to being more like Christ, and try to match my will to God's through spiritual practices.
I would never want to devalue the present for a "grass is always greener" mentality that is so much a part of the consumerist culture.
Yet for me, journey language accomplishes both the task of communicating that life is a daily experience to cherish and a process of growing and changing along the way.
Friday, May 11, 2007
I thought a lot about relationships, friendships, colleagues, etc. One of foundational assumptions of the group is that clergy need to establish healthful, supportive groups of folks beyond the local church. I'm told this makes a huge difference in the health and effectiveness of clergy.
I spent time agonizing over whether I have enough friends, and whether there is something wrong with me that my friends always seem to come in seasons. I don't maintain friendships that last from high school or college (despite my efforts in the past). I have one friend I try keep in contact with from Seminary. We have good years and bad years. After two years of gathering with a cohort of clergy in the Lewis Fellowship (which is why I was at this most recent conference- as a followup to that program) I don't know how many of these relationships will last for the long term either. We are all over the country.
I discovered that I was being rather closed to the experience of meeting folks at this conference because I doubt whether it's worth the effort.
Then, at closing worship, I realized something really important. I am not trusting God enough to provide for my relational needs. If I need friends beyond the local church in order to be effective in the local church, then surely God will (continue to) provide such relationships! This seems really obvious to write, but it was hugely empowering to recognize. So, hopefully, I can stop grieving my apparent inability to maintain friendships over years and distances, and start looking for how God is working in my life and friendships now.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Last week, I met a woman who had been the pastor of a new church start in Miami. When she arrived, it had been struggling for its first five years of existence. In the two years in which she served as pastor, it became a recovery ministry, reaching people struggling with addiction. Through this ministry, lives were literally and spiritually saved- people have been transformed. But because of its history and funding circumstances, it could not become a self supporting church in the two years she served. So it is being grafted together with another church family. It has been a work of the Spirit for all involved. The receiving church has been re-energized and the new church folks continue to be in vital recovery ministry.
She commented to me that in traditional terms, the new church was considered a "failure". I told her I struggle with that concept. Who is to say that a ministry which touches lives so deeply is a failure because it does not fit a standard definition?
Later the same week, I made a presentation about how God is working in our church family, especially as it relates to Jacob's Well. I commented that during launch and continuing to the present, I often feel unsure of how to accomplish things. I trust completely in the Spirit and in our gathered team to accomplish what God set before us, while being as informed and faithful as I know how to be. But it never feels like enough. This keeps me clear about who is really doing all of this- God.
One of the people there commented to me afterwards that this was the most encouraging thing I said- it was a relief to know I was no "expert" but someone striving and learning faithfully. (As a side note, I think this is why church workshops can be so discouraging. The presenters always come off as always having everything together and on the ball. Surely that cannot be true for the vast majority of us?)
Then I had a conversation with a friend on Saturday. I talked about how I spend most of my time feeling like we are teetering on the edge of a cliff. The Spirit has not let us fall yet. I also talked about how I think "failures" (world's definition) have been the fertile soil of God's most significant work. She commented she was very relieved to hear that.
If our church family had not had a Saturday night service that lasted a few years, and then a Sunday night prayer and praise service for a few years, I don't think Jacob's Well would have been launched. It was in the soil of those ministries in which Jacob's Well took root. They were not failures, but rather ministries that lasted a season. They were one of the many ways the soil was prepared for new growth.
In 2004, our church family went through the process of trying to buy land on Route 213. The seller refused to sell to us because of the amount of time it would take for perk tests and zoning requests. I know now that it was not God's timing to buy that parcel. Within six months of the sale falling through, God raised up a person who owns more land on 213. She would find total joy in selling us her land. I pray that God will bring this to fruition sometime in the future.
Also, we are now beginning conversation about having a Blended Parish Ministry structure for Town Point, Trinity, and Jacob's Well. If this is how God is moving, we would become unified in membership, administrative structure, and finances....one church with three locations. Some of the seeds of these possibilities were planted in the "failure" to acquire the land in 2004.
Finally, I think about how we voted at Town Point to not host the rotating homeless shelter there. God then used so many of us across the Charge, on all sides of the issue, to serve the homeless in other ways...at the Generation Station, at St. Paul's, at Trinity, and in relationship with folks regardless of where the shelter was hosted on a given week. In the seeds of that very difficult time, God nurtured existing seeds and planted new seeds for tremendous ministry among the homeless.
I don't yet know what the future will bring. I am certain that whatever the outcome, God will use it for God's purpose.
I am reminded of a phrase that was on our front sign for a few weeks: "Nothing that is done for God is ever lost."
I am also reminded of one of my favorite passages from the books of Acts, which came up in the lectionary a few weeks ago. It is the account of the apostles being brought before the council and persecuted for preaching about Jesus. The council was debating how to proceed, and one of their leaders said this:
But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, ‘Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Hind sight being what it is, I have found myself wishing I had been there for that part of the discussion. I agree with the person asking the question: our hymns have much better theology than most (though not all) praise music. As one of my friends said later, there is a reason it is called "7-11" music: it is 7 words repeated 11 times. But he and I both still love it.
I come out of a contemporary church and I have come to deeply love traditional music too. But when it comes to sheer emotion, experiencing the joy of singing my heart out to God, praise music is what makes my heart sing most often.
I don't think this has anything to do with the inherent nature of praise music in a rock style, or classical music of many hymns. It is simply about the style I have listened to most. Because for me that happens to be praise/rock style, I am more likely to experience soaring joy while singing the style of music with which I am most familiar. (I also experience it singing many hymns.)
I am thinking about a boy I dated in High School. He loved Led Zepplin. I was less than enthused. He shared with me his theory that any human being could come to love any style of music, if they listened to it frequently enough. I think he is right! Led Zepplin grew on me and to this day I like it. Had I not dated him and listened to it just about every moment we were together, I don't think that would be the case. A similar thing has happened for me with hymns- many of them I adore because they help me feel God's presence.
Worship music is about connecting with God on an experiential level. It does also accomplish theological teaching, but that is not why people love to sing. People love to sing because it is a window into the Divine. I don't think that aspect of music should be under valued for the sake of theology because there are other ways to teach theology.
That said, couldn't we have our cake and eat it too? I am United Methodist, so Charles Wesley is the premier hymn writer of my tradition. His hymns, both the ones in the hymnal and the hundreds more not published there but otherwise available, were often set to the contemporary music of his day: bar tunes. This was done to accomplish the same goal of contemporary worship- to help people experience God by speaking in the language of the people. And the theology is truly outstanding.
Couldn't we find a gifted musician to set Charles Wesley hymn texts, perhaps somewhat adapted, to modern rock music? I think it could be awesome.