Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why do I keep doing that?

stream of crimson liquid
hot cast iron
greens tomatoes
as wine
turns to vapor
dinner is almost ready

Sometimes I do things well. Like eating healthy. Like remembering that we’re all works-in-progress and deserve grace.

Speaking to the former, in the seven years since my diet changed, I’ve eaten vegetables I used to avoid – like cucumber and turnips, parsnips and rutabagas – and tried some I'd never heard of before that. (Pea sprouts were fine. So were mustard greens. Next time, I’ll let the bitter melon set longer after salting.)

As to the latter, I’m more compassionate than I was ten years ago. Well, that and I’ve learned how to convey it better. Experience and friends (thank you, Lynn) have helped me to remember more often that I really don’t know the other person’s story. My way is not the only way, or even the best. (Okay, sometimes it is.) I’m practicing telling myself, “I’m sure [Name] believed that doing [whatever] was the right thing to do/best choice given their options.

Yes, I do well. Except when I don’t. ... Like forgetting that almost everyone is as busy as I am and wondering why some task is left undone. ... Dark chocolate mini peanut butter cups. A dozen of them. (I’ll say no more.) ... Not pausing to choose the right moment to correct someone. ...

Trying to learn the ropes at a new job I haven’t been eating well or enough. Last week I realized that my overindulgences are probably my body sending me a message – rather like when the cat leave a surprise in the middle of the bathroom floor when it’s been too long since you refreshed the litter. I’ve been skipping enough meals that my body sometimes short-circuits my intentions when I come within range of kettle chips, frozen custard or other high-fat food. If I want long term health, I need to see this as a symptom and address the source of the problem.

I’ll work on it. Meanwhile, how are things going with you? Is your body (or mind?) trying to sabotage your best efforts, whether to care for yourself, your family or the world? Has you mind-cat been leaving you unwelcomed gifts? Maybe it’s time to notice. If not now, if you need a safe environment, connect with that safe person at a time that works for both of you. Explore the messages your inner self is sending you.

God wants joy for us even more than we want it for ourselves. Words like "deserve" and "worth” can get in our way. Just for today let’s each say and work on believing, “I’m the perfect ___________ (insert your name) just as I am.” It’ll make it easier to treat ourselves with love – in whatever ways that means for each of us.

I’ll keep trying to remember to think about dinner before heading to work, and to make friends with my crockpot. You do what’s right on your end.

I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do.
Instead, I do the thing that I hate.
Romans 7:15-20

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

One Bite at a Time

I knew when I moved into it that my little 1930’s bungalow-style house needed work. What I didn't realize was that I wouldn’t be putting as much time into it as I’d thought I would. Well, that, and that it would need more work than expected. (For example, somehow, neither the inspector nor the electrician I hired to check that all was in order was concerned with the many light switches that do nothing.)

When the realtor first showed me the house, there was another family looking at the same time. I overheard the two realtors discussing that the previous owner had started so many projects without finishing them. They didn't say this with scorn... just disapproval. I smiled. I've always been one for starting projects and only slowly (if ever) finishing them. He sounded just like me.

So I was okay moving in with a half-done bathroom and no kitchen cabinets. I’ve been fine sleeping on an air mattress until the floors are refinished in November. (For the first time in years, I had no trouble resting on a sleeping pad when Kay and I were tenting last month.)

Gradually though, I realized I was losing sleep over uncertainties, causing more stress than I needed on top of the usual stresses of new job, new town, new home, etc. I decided that after vacation, I'd prioritize. And I'd work on one issue each week.

Still, the uncertainty of whether or not there was asbestos in my kitchen flooring or the glue underneath messed with my sleep. Was I poisoning myself (and the cats)? Were we filling the rest of the house with fibers as we walked about, fibers that could destroy our lungs?

How do you eat an elephant?

Prioritize. Having a fully functional bathroom had always been my first priority, so I made sure to get a contractor in as soon as I sign the papers. That done, what do I need to work on next? Winterizing? After the top priority is removed from the list, I need to reassess. What has first priority now?

Use available resources. Suspecting asbestos, I'd searched for local remediation contractors before moving. What I discovered was that nobody was as concerned as I was. Only weeks later, when my sister mentioned learning about local testing facilities during her OSHA training, did I look again. I found someone within minutes. (No asbestos!) Talking to people and soliciting their feedback has never been a strength for me, but people are assets when we use them well.

Expect surprises. It sounds like an oxymoron, yet surprises are the norm. Whenever I meet with a couple getting married, I warn them that on the wedding day something will go wrong. How they respond to it will determine whether or not it messes with their joy for the day. If they're ready, they can let it go and will probably laugh about it in coming years.

Accept that you'll get tired before you're finished. Work out a plan for what needs to happen, how you'll do it, what help you'll want or need. But. Also. Plan breaks when you let yourself just do nothing. This will save you in the long run.

Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days,
should it also seem impossible to me?  Zechariah 8:6

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shared Humanity

... Love your neighbor as yourself...
“Good morning.” I waved to the man across the street as I stepped out of the car at the church. He was sitting on a porch, smoking. He waved back. “Enjoying the September morning?” He moved in what I interpreted to be a shrug.

I continued into the church, thinking about our exchange. No one in the church’s neighborhood comes to this church that's tried a few outreach ministries into the community but with no long term effect.

A big reason is that mission is built on relationships. It took me a long time to get this as I’m generally task-driven (rather than people-driven), but I’ve seen that it’s so. It was the relationships that connected me with people in my last appointment, both in and out of the church.

So far I’ve been working on in-church relationships as I work to learn their ways and my role here, but I hope to build relationships in other communities as well. When my predecessor and I got together this spring, we went downtown for coffee. I was surprised (and impressed) when he stopped in almost every shop on the way to say “hello” or ask a question. And he called everyone by name. I want to work on this.

Shop people are easy. I can do that. You can do that. Cultivating relationships with people in the rental-properties, high-turnover neighborhood north of the church is harder. But it’s probably more important. First, because here we find underemployed people working multiple jobs while trying to raise their families. Wouldn’t we like them to believe that their neighbors at First Church really are neighbors? Important also because, for many of them, the image they have of church is a bad one – because of youthful experiences or, more likely, because the loudest Christian voices preach a “good news” that only a limited audience can appreciate. For the rest, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

For those few who will someday join a church, what a gift we offer in helping them dismantle that barrier. Whenever we cultivate respectful, compassionate relationships with people, then if or when our faith comes up, they may see Christianity in a better light. Yes, if or when. The goal is the connection. If religion comes up, let it be because we first reflect the love of God.

But back to my neighbor… I know that he’s male, youngish, and smokes. I think he lives there and by his attire that he just got up. Except for getting up in the morning and living in Wausau, so far we have nothing in common. Seeing him this morning, I faced again why it’s so hard to connect with strangers. They're different from us.

Then I think of the words we hear when people attempt religious or political dialog. I don’t know who first said it, but Ernest Gaines’ version is:
“We all have much more in common than we have differences. I would say that about people all over the world. They don't know how much in common that they have.” 
This is where my hope comes in. "We all have much more in common than we have differences." I may not see much in common with a stranger until we get beyond the small talk, but after that, we almost always find more in common with each other than a shared humanity. Even if it takes longer than that, a shared humanity is a fine place to start.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Can One Word Mean Both "Pride" and "Emptiness"?!

All is vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:2b

I’ve misplaced my hairbrush. (I believe it’s in the book bag I carry between home and the church, but I’m not seeing that either.) I don't think I own a comb. So I’ve been finger-combing my hair this week. With my current hairstyle, it works but I don't want to keep it up.

Last month, I started thinking vanity might be a good topic – mostly because of wondering before getting this haircut if it was too young for me. I'm going to take this lost hairbrush as a cue.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary has six definitions for vanity. (I've left off three that concern furnishings.)
  • inflated pride in oneself or one's appearance :  conceit
  • something that is vain, empty, or valueless
  • the quality or fact of being vain
Most of us think of pride and conceit when we think of vanity – like when we say someone spends too much effort on their appearance. But...

I'm clergy and I write intentionally from a faith perspective. So my resources include the bible as well as dictionaries. And what I find there is that most of the biblical references to vanity are of the second variety (per the points above.) Decades ago, when I first read Ecclesiastes, I was so confused. What was the writer saying? How did all these things connect to pride? I knew that vanity and vain share the same root, but ... ? It was only years later that it clicked: Vain as in "In vain" rather than vain as in "Being vain." Ah, I get it! (Language can be confusing sometimes.) 

They're saying: "So much of life is empty. So much of what we do or fuss over just doesn't matter." I'm not necessarily vain, but I'll be disappointed if I expect something to last forever. (Still not very happy or hopeful, but maybe true more often than we care to believe.)

Even in Proverbs 31:30 – the chapter about the "perfect" woman – can be understood this way. Instead of 
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (NRSV)
(Bad me, bad me!) it can be interpreted as:
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (CEB)
Yes, today's culture has gone off the deep end and vanity is of the "Being vain" sort in too many instances. As described in the documentary Culture in Decline: Consumption-Vanity Disorder: "Today we live in an ocean with enormous waves of status obsession, materialism, vanity, ego and consumerism." 

And, yes, it's probably a good idea for us to check in with ourselves now and then to assess our vanity quotient. But for some of us, vanity isn't as much of a problem as we (women, mostly) have been led to believe. I'm comfortable with my haircut. Kay assures me it's fine. No one's laughed at me. And anyway, I'm doing better with that.

I always thought that's what Carly Simon meant when she sang, "You probably think this song is about you." But now I wonder if it was a double entendre, though not an indecent one.

So it really doesn't matter, matter, matter, matter, matter!
Ruddigore by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan

Picture found at Steal Her Style