Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Is it really "All about Trust"?

Those with insight find prosperity;
Happy are those who trust in God.
                                Proverbs 16:20

The United Methodist Church is again in the news as The New York Times reports voting fraud at General Conference 2019.

In reading the article, this doesn't seem to be an issue of deliberate malice. As Germain Unda Mupasa, an unauthorized delegate for East Congo expressed, there are often visa issues, so African conferences have many reserves. These people of faith simply want to make sure that they have their assigned number of delegates voting for what they believe is the faithful response to the question.

Still, trust has clearly become an issue for the Church (and in other settings). The Book of Discipline has nothing in it about voting irregularities because in the past it's never been an issue. “The polity of the United Methodist Church presumes trust," explains Laceye Warner, a professor of Methodist studies at Duke Divinity School. But she adds, “The last several years, the ethos of the denomination has been characterized more by mistrust and misunderstanding.”

Have we been naive? Or is this legitimately a new and modern challenge?

Where do you find yourself in this conundrum? And I don't mean on which side of the divide do you stand regarding the right of clergy persons to marry GLBTQIA+ persons and of the acceptance of these previously, and again, discriminated-against persons to be ordained and to serve as pastors. 

No, what I am asking is:
  • Where is trust in all of this? Is trust truly being violated or are people still acting in what they believe is “good faith”?
  • In whom are we to trust? Of whom shall we be slow or hesitant to trust?
  • Is this voting issue really an issue, as the media has made it out to be? Or does this reporting merely muddy the waters, serving to keep the UMC debacle in the public eye?
  • What are your criteria for trusting someone?
I ask this last with all sincerity. A year ago, I found myself trusting someone... unreservedly. For a period of months, all was good. Yet things have changed. I defend them be reminding myself that we are not static creatures. We change with our experiences – our opinions, our feelings, evolve.

Still, the trust that once seems like an easy choice, I now question. Would I do the same today? I don't know...

Yes, I do. I can blame it on the AS[1], if I like – for good or ill – but I've always been recklessly trusting. This'll never change and I’m not sure I’d want it to.

I choose to trust – and to love – with equal abandon. Individuals and institutions may break my heart (and have) yet I will go on.

(Knowing who you are is a good thing. How would your three sentence self-definition read?)

[1] Asperger’s Syndrome

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Snowshoeing & Self-Care

“Woodland Encounter” by Bev Doolittle

How have you practiced self-care recently? What have you done to remind yourself that you are truly living and that life is good?

Go ahead and think about it. I'll wait.


That's great! Wonderful, even. And how did that feel for you?


This has been a tough few weeks for me – with more hours worked than my mind and body can sustain, with votes at The United Methodist Church's Special General Conference that left me (still) grieving, and with a few other personal and professional challenges as well. I'm not complaining. Life is like that. But all of this has left me sorely in need of sabbath rest and intentional self care.

Thursday evening, a friend let me use their piano while they were out (I know, me without a piano! who'd have thought?) and I played for 90 minutes. It's been ages since I played that long and oh, did it feel good!

Friday morning, I drank tea, ate and napped off and on as Beethoven symphonies played in the background. During an easy snowshoe walk in the afternoon, I was gifted with views of myriad branches against a breathtakingly blue sky. I had to go back.

So today, after sermon work and lunch I returned to Rib Mountain, this time choosing the longer trail. All were shades of gray and I didn't expect the beauty of the day before, so I was taken aback when I looked up. It was like a Bev Doolittle painting (only better) – the birches gray, black and white mottled against the leaden sky and snow. 

Continuing, I followed the red chips that marked the trail until they seemed to be leading back toward the road. “That can’t be right!” I headed in the other direction, recalling the old logging road below. Only, after descending about 30 yards, I conceded that the road wasn't where I thought it was. I heard voices ahead and continued on but soon discovered they came from some crazy downhill skiers who had left the runs in favor of the wilds of this state park. 
Climbing back up this Wisconsin-sized mountain in deep snow left me quite warm (I was on all fours part of the time) yet it was all thrilling. I felt so alive!

Eventually I found the path with its red chips and continued, exhausted yet at the same time energized.

There will be days when accompanying, letting another lead or even surrendering will be victories. For this day, pressing my limits and finding myself up to the challenge was away to remind myself that I am enough just as I am and that life is good.

Monday, March 4, 2019

A Week Later

“If you want to know about wolves and their feeding habits, you have to ask the deer.”[1]
Friday afternoon, I turned to the first page of my (now) gratitude journal to a collection of thoughts and quotes from my first year of seminary, almost 12 years ago. This one – a remnant from Bob Alber’s “Intro to Pastoral Care” class hadn’t particularly touched me since I’d written it, until today, until this week when The United Methodist Church upheld its 1972 ruling that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Church I grew up in, the Church that is in my bones, did this!

Rhaynen[2] can talk about it at least somewhat dispassionately since she doesnt value church. But what about Amy, J, D, B, J, B & K, D, R and all the rest? 

Actually, as Rhaynen discovered, the Book of Discipline (so far) says nothing about transgender persons. Only sexuality is addressed. Guess it wasn’t on people’s radar in 1972. Maybe those who’re quite anti-gay don’t realize that gender and sexuality are not on the same spectrum. 

How could they do this?! I mean, I get it. I can easily understand that many faithful people arent there yet. But wed hoped that the One Church plan would allay their fears about anyone trying to change “their” church while also affirming the acceptance and full inclusion that many others practice, or long to practice. 

I truly hadnt realized that the One Church plan would be so distasteful to them. As a friend asked Tuesday evening, “Were we so naive?” I hadnt thought so.

I grew up in a bubble and it pretty much lasted until I began my seminary experience twelve years ago. “How do I view GLBT?” is the question that became real during seminary. It was easily resolved as I sat in classes with and learned from fabulous, faith-filled, Spirit-led gay and lesbian persons. The question (now with a few more initials) became personal eighteen months ago. I love Rhaynen. I dont know her well but her welfare, her fears and sorrows matter to me as much as my other three kids. I marvel at her courage in choosing the path that will, I pray, lead her to wholeness. 

I pray for all of us, but particularly for those wounded yet again by the Church. When someone says this isnt a big deal, I think of the deer. Im a wolf. Its easy for me and my fellow wolves to think this isnt important. But were not deer. We havent been chewed up by the institution that is supposed to represent God in the world.

Bishops and other leaders within the Connection counsel us to practice caution and patience. Yes, dont decide anything rash. We humans tend not to think rationally when we’re grieving. Wait. Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Wait also for the Judicial Council which gather April 23-25 to decide the constitutionality of the Conservative plan.

Still, I wonder, with many of you, “What will I do?”

God knows, but I do not. I’ll take one day at a time. I’ll listen. I’ll pray. I’ll offer people safe space to share their feelings. And one day when I’m feeling more prepared and less fragile, I trust I’ll know what to do. 

[1] I can find no validation for the reference I was given in 2007. Then we were told: Ruben Alvarez, 1979, Faith, Science, Future, World Council of Churches.
[2] Not her real name.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Iris & Mindfulness


It’s Saturday morning. I drink my second cup of coffee, chew walnuts and let chocolate chips dissolve on my tongue – a treat for my mindfulness practice. I'm not very good at this mindfulness thing. I've been practicing forever but it usually only lasts a few seconds. Still I try. 

Sip the coffee. Chew a small piece of nut. Notice the dry papery bit. Savor the taste. Pop a chocolate chip in my mouth and chew. Oops! Missed that time!

I try again, focusing my attention on sensations. Take the chocolate between the teeth. Notice its shape. Now on the tongue, notice the sweetness, the … experience of chocolate that I can't describe. Savor its liquid goodness as it slowly dissolves. Sip the cooling coffee. 

My relaxed gaze wanders the print on the living room wall as I practice. I've loved Vincent van Gogh's work since I first noticed to it. (Not an artistic type, that was probably college.) I love his vibrant use of color. 

The longer my eyes roam over the print, the more I see. Irises toward the background that I'd never noticed become visible. Is that one on the right really white and blue? I ponder those orange flowers. My mind says “calendula” but my calendula never had that many leaves.

Some people suggest that van Gogh was colorblind. I don't say anything when I hear it but I have my doubts. His perfection in capturing the irises is amazing. The delicate softness of the petals, the strappy green leaves. Yes, they're full of grays, greens, blues and yellows, but to my mind, it’s as if he captures the essence of what's there, breaking down the colors to their essential elements.

I look at the soil beneath the leaves and wonder, “Was this the color of the dirt there? Or was it some good gardener’s mulch?”

What does this painting tell me about Vincent? Every creative endeavor contains some of its creator. Is this too a self-portrait? Vincent’s was not a happy life. What would he want us to see?

In Disney's Aladdin, the young protagonist sings, “If only they'd look closer. Would they see a poor boy? ... They'd find out there's so much more to me.”

There's more to any of us than meets the eye. We can know someone intimately, spend decades with them, and still only scratch the surface of who they are. If we fail to go deeply, we can get lulled into believing we know all there is to know. How often do I assume I know what this one is thinking or that one will say? How often I'm surprised when I finally include them in the conversation. (“Wow, they listened better than I’d hoped.” Or “I never would have thought of it that way.”)

Thank you, Vincent. This is a good lesson for me to remember.

I pick up a chocolate chip and munch. Oh well, mindfulness as a practice not an immediate experience, right?