Sunday, August 13, 2017

What makes you you

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

A couple Sundays ago, Gwen* asked what books I’ve been reading. My mind was not on books and, stumped, I stumbled through, saying I’d read The Help after finishing my M.Div. (But that was 5 years ago.) The conversation moved on to another topic but the question stayed with me.

Back at the house that afternoon, I sat on one of the two estate sale lawnchairs that, along with a small coffee table I’d picked up at St. Vinny’s, are my living room furnishings (until the floors are refinished in November.) On the chair opposite me was a stack of books – yes, I do read – a pair by BrenĂ© Brown (I’ve mentioned reading her books); The Peoples' Bible, the book I use for morning prayers, and a 42-year-old copy of Barkley's Romans; Living the Questions which I hope to begin soon; and some things by Richard Rohr. While sabbathing last Thursday (I had an obligation Friday) I reread half of M.M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess. (Kay* came home and said she’d been wondering what read-aloud we’d use for our car travels next week. We put that one at the top of the list. It’s been years since we read it.)

I've been puzzling over not having titles to share when a congregant asked. I can think of two possible reasons for this. The first, that my memory is a bit more Swiss-cheesy than usual I could understand given the changes of recent months. The second reason may be less likely but it’s deeper, so I want to explore it.

Was I assuming that Gwen meant fiction? Yes. That’s okay, but even so, why didn't I tell her about Brown or Rohr? As I sit here on my balance ball trying to understand, I realize that this is part of who I am. I answer questions directly. I sometimes wish I didn’t and have worked on doing differently. A friend of mine regularly unsettles me by asking surprising questions. I fumble to answer, but often leave without having said what I wanted to say. Other people can answer around questions or respond by redirecting the conversation. I can only do this with great intentionality.

(I thought this post would be going in a different direction, but I tend to go with what comes. A novelist friend of mine – okay, it’s Kay – says this happens with her characters and her story lines regularly and that it’s normal.)

Most of us have personal traits we’re not fond of. This answering thing isn’t even the big one that bothers me. As we mature, we grow used to these ways we have, but we can still be hard on ourselves. You know what bugs you – and, I don’t mean “nose” or “feet” or anything like that – do you love that part about yourself? I don’t, but until this moment, I’d never thought about loving it. Maybe I’ll try. 

My straightforward style is not a world problem. I doubt it troubles anyone but me. God knows I came this way. I’ve probably even learned to use it to my advantage. Maybe love is the answer…

Maybe we could both work on loving our own ways. What do you think? Are you game?

* I seldom use people’s actual names. Kay is my pseudonym for my daughter.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What's your personal theology?

Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, 2 Timothy 3:16 (CEB)
I’ve been thinking about sermon series for future months. A member of a United Methodist clergy group on Facebook asked what people’s favorite series were. Some were old ideas, some new. One I liked started from the “I AM” scriptures. She said that when she comes to a new appointment she does an “I AM” sermon talking about her personal theology, something they like to hear about.

Wow! How perfect since I’ve just started at Wausau UMC. I could talk one week about my own theology, then a couple or three weeks on some of the various I AM statements in the Old and New Testaments. Weaving through this could be invitations for people to consider their own theologies.

I really like asking people what they believe. Sometimes they’re so surprised. They’ve never been invited to articulate their own theology; it’s a new idea for them. On one side, I feel sad that the church has such a (deserved) reputation for telling consumers what to believe instead of educating and inviting disciples into dialog. On the other hand, it’s really cool to listen and watch as people take up the invitation, telling about what’s always troubled them, what resonates within them, and what they’ve always gravitated toward and why.

So. what's your personal theology? What do you believe about:
  • God? Is God a he/she/they/it? Is God eternal? Good? Omniscient? Omnipresent? Does God control events, get involved in our messes, or guide us and let us accept the consequences? (Does God open a parking spot just for you?) 
  • Jesus? Divine? Only begotten son? Healer? Resurrected? Ascended? Sits at God’s right hand? In Heaven? (And what about heaven…?) 
  • The Bible? Is this collection of writings inspired by God? Holy dictation? Human efforts to make sense of the holy, and our part in all of this? Is it all important, and if so, to what extent? 
  • People? Are we all God’s children? Or just some of us?
Then, of course, there’s Grace, Salvation, Heaven, Holy Spirit, Trinity, Creation, and oh, so many more.

Having a particular lens – or frame, like looking through a window – that shapes all our understandings can be quite helpful. Is God’s Love, Faithfulness, or Justice at the core of what you believe, shaping how you understand bible texts as well as how you live out your faith in the world? This seems like a more sensible way to live and eat and vote than picking a topic like capital punishment, global warming, abortion, or a living wage (any of which would be affected by a core belief in… Life or Love or Justice.)

People who view everything through a lens of God’s preferential option for the poor will have a radically different understanding from those who believe that a personal relationship with God – strictly God & me – is the end goal, and nothing else matters. In fact, they may not be even be able to talk to each other!

One woman I know interprets everything in the bible – from Genesis on – in light of God’s love. Does the genocide of The Book of Joshua fit within that frame of Love? No? Then she interprets this as a human attempt to remake God in our image. The same with slavery, the oppression of women, racism, and the views that have lead to Christian persecution of Jewish people.

What do you believe? What don’t you believe? Either question could be a starting place. Think about it. Pray about it. Write it down or draw pictures. I'd love to hear from you.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    don’t rely on your own intelligence. Proverbs 3:5 (CEB)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Did I say that?

“I’m stupid,” I said as I pointed to the closet door in my office that was now stuck shut (again) due to summer humidity and the slight shifting that sometimes occurs in older buildings. Yes, I said that. Me, Jayneann.

Expressions like this were common at home as I was growing up. But since then, I’ve worked hard to leave behind such disparaging speech – both to others and to myself. While my practice is certainly imperfect, my saying this brought me up short.

I could make a case for saying it. I felt foolish about closing the door when less than two weeks ago, I’d shut it and had to ask for help getting it open. I should have known better!

Still, my point today isn’t that I unthinkingly reverted to a speech pattern I thought I’d left behind. It’s that this slip let me know I’d been pushing myself too hard. Earlier this month, I moved to a new (old, really) house in a different town and started a new job. The job’s fabulous. I’m enjoying it, but it’s also taking a fair amount of mental energy. And, when I’m not at church, I’ve been working on my new digs – mudding and caulking, cleaning, buying painting supplies, etc.

Mowing the backyard was the only time I spent outside last week which – for me – is a crying shame. In July, I’d almost prefer gardening to eating. And, speaking of eating, I didn’t do that well either.

Besides the “stupid” incident, last week I had the hiccups three times, eye twitches twice, and a few other twitchy moments. My body as well as my mouth were clearly sending me a message. And that message? Stop! Slow down! 

The stressors may not be bad ones, but they’re still stressors. At a time when a person needs to practice better self-care, I’d been giving myself less time. A friend once described this idea as a lot of straws stuck in a glass, all of them sucking out the water (or whatever). What had I been doing to make sure I didn’t run out? Not much.

So, Friday (my sabbath) I worked hard at doing less. I asked Kay to set up the hammock frame for me because every time I stepped outside to do it, I found tasks that distracted me. (Thank you, Kay!) As soon as I stretched out on the red and orange striped canvas, I realized how very tired I was. How do we not realize when when we’re in this state?!

This week’s calendar looks at least as full as last week’s. But I’ve been reminded that I’m not superwoman. I’m one small person with finite mental and physical resources. I still have to mud and paint, but this week I’ll make a point of eating regularly. I’ll sit outside and read in the evening once or twice instead of watching reruns on my tablet. I’ll drink plenty of water.

Maybe this isn’t the week when you need to focus on such things, but your time will come. Practice taking care of yourself now so that when it does, your mouth doesn’t get you in trouble and your body doesn’t have to complain in order to get your attention. You’ll be better for it and you’ll be better for those around you.
Be careful what you think,    because your thoughts run your life. Proverbs 4:23 (NCV)

Sunday, July 23, 2017


You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. Matthew 5:13

For years, I avoided salt. I took the medical establishment at its word, believing it was bad for me. I baked with minimal salt, didn’t put a salt shaker on the table, and I did all right – mostly. I found most prepared foods to be excessively salty (things like pickles being the exception.) I’d also had low blood pressure for as long as I can remember, which tended to make me lightheaded and make everything go dark when I’d stand up.

A few years ago, a blood test came back with a low aldosterone level. Aldosterone? What’s that? My doctor seemed unconcerned (disinterested?) so I did some research on my own. It turns out aldosterone’s an adrenal hormone whose chief task is to “regulate salt and water in the body, thus having an effect on blood pressure.” Click! With more research, I figured out that just as I’d probably been sabotaging my body with my decades on a lowfat, whole grain (wheat) diet, I’d followed the wrong advice about salt.

I’m a salty person now, but I only use higher quality sea salt. (I get my iodine separately, but that’s another story.) The sea salt keeps my electrolytes balanced and I hardly ever feel the need to put my head between my knees anymore. (Working in the yard this weekend, I had to eat – yes, eat – extra to compensate for all the sweating that happened.) It may not be a perfect solution, but it works better than what I was doing before. Oh, and the sea salt tastes loads better than the other stuff!

Onto the theological...

I’m a rather practical person. And Jesus’ words about salt losing its flavor always puzzled me. How does salt lose its flavor? It’s salt – sodium cloride, NaCl – unless combined with something else like sulfuric acid (NaCl + H2SO4 = Na2SO4 + HCl).

Years later, I have other, bigger concerns to occupy my mind than wondering about a saltiness metaphor. But I also realize that contextually, it could have happened. In some places in ages past, the available “salt” would have contained plenty of other things – organic and inorganic. If it got wet, the salt could leach out leaving flavorless stuff that wasn’t good for much of anything. I’m glad I didn’t have to use that salt. (Dentistry is another reason I’m glad I live in this century.)

Of course, Jesus wasn’t offering a chemistry lesson. Maybe he was suggesting that we, the “salt of the earth,” aren’t going to lose our passion for following God any more than salt, true salt, is going to lose its saltiness. (Rather like Randy Travis’ old song, “Forever and Ever, Amen.”) Or maybe he's encouraging us, as in, “You don’t want to become a flavorless shadow of yourself. Keep loving God. And keep showing it by the ways to take care of the others.”

I’ve liked one exchange from Hook ever since I heard it. Maybe it’ll work for you.
Peter Banning: Now I want you to take care of everything that's smaller than you.
Thud Butt: Okay.
Too Small: Then who do I look after?
Peter Banning: Neverbugs - little ones.
May you be a blessing to all the Neverbugs in your life; and may you remain salty.