Saturday, June 10, 2017

In the gap between Endings and Beginnings.

"Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. ... So Abram went ... Genesis 12

I had some tough moments this week as I continue my transition from what has been to what will be. This weekend I preach my final message at the church that's been my home for the last three years.

But it hasn't been so much preparing for this last time of worship in Appleton. Rather it was noticing how I was completely in my "business-no-emotions" mode during Wednesday's final worship planning meeting. And then, not being in that mode, having to sit in the bathroom for a few minutes and focus on breathing after the afternoon's Volunteers in Mission team meeting. In both cases, I've worked closely with these people. I've sweated with the VIM team and that always seems to add another layer of intimacy for me.

A few weeks ago, a colleague who's retiring offered a book recommendation that he's finding useful in his own transition – William Bridges' Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes. I bought a used copy. Reading it, I've been finding ways to help make mine a healthy transition. The author writes about three stages that must happen in this order:
  1. Endings. "We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one – not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are." 
  2. The Gap. A time-out when we seem to do nothing, a "moratorium from the conventional activity of [our] everyday existence." This is when we do the inner work that allows us to make a break from the old and embrace the new.
  3. New beginnings. It's endings that make new beginnings possible.
So I've been paying attention to endings – the last meeting, the last rehearsal, etc. – and I've been creating space for doing nothing by limiting my evening screen time and coming in from the gardens earlier than I normally would. Why? As much as I love putzing around in the yard, I find that this can be as much of an avoidance as watching old TV shows. And I need to do the inner work.

We all do, though our culture makes it awkward. Transitions are seen as no more complex than crossing the street. When we try to explain what's going on, why we're going away for a couple days, or aimlessly wandering the park at night, people look at us askance. In looking for pictures to go with this entry, I found one that illustrates our challenge – a person trying to step over a barbed wire fence. Yikes! That's not the transition I want.

Other pictures showed butterflies in their stages of development. Friday, Kay and I went to High Cliff State Park and while we were in the rangers' station, we looked at an aquarium filled with tadpoles. Imagine their conversations..
George: Oh, look at my gorgeous tail. Don't you love it?
Fred: Grand. Mine's just like it. I can swim so fast. 
        ... days later ... 
George: I'm dying! Look at my tail. It's half what it was.
Fred: How will we ever swim? Oh, I miss it already! And these growths on our sides ... Life is so brief. It's been nice knowing you, George.
We may feel like life's ending sometimes, too, but thankfully when we practice gratitude, when we're open to joy, we find that life continues to be good.

You know the changes you're facing. The changes I've heard about this week include:
  • A parent wondering where their baby went now that she's running around and talking;
  • A 90-year-old talking about moving to an assisted living facility;
  • Another parent lamenting about the graduate who's going (too) far away to college;
  • A teen going on a first date...
Right up 'til our last breath, we'll face changes, but we don't have to let them swamp us. To paraphrase Dory, "Just keep breathing." Allow the endings, make time for the emptying, and find joy in the adventures that follow. This is what I'm trusting to.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Love ... yourself

I didn’t realize when I first read, or heard, about loving your neighbor as yourself that Jesus was “quoting” from Leviticus. (I put “quoting” in quotes – no pun intended – because, of course, there were no voice recorders back then. All the red words in those red-letter bibles are merely best guesses a few decades after Jesus’ death or each gospel-writer’s way of hopefully getting his readers to accept the point he’s making.)

Someone asks Jesus which of God’s commandments is the most important. He responds, Love God. And love everyone else. (My paraphrase. If Jesus was around today, I like to think he’d extend it to say, “Love everyone and everything else.” After all, everything is “of God.”)

First, did you notice that the two commandments Jesus references aren’t from “The Ten C…”? Although Jewish people were never stuck on this grouping – they know there are 613 commandments in what we call the Old Testament – Christians have gotten a bit stuck on them. (Funny thing, when Paul says that we’re “not subject to the law” Galatians 5:18).

Next, my point about loving as we love ourselves. I was a teenager when I started reading the bible or paying real attention to sermons. I’ve learned since then that not loving yourself is common for teens. At the time, I only knew I didn’t have much love for myself. How could I when no one liked me, my parents were constantly finding fault, my face was broken out …? I was an odd one already (I now realize) but while I was pretty much able to ignore this in my childhood, by my twelfth year, my not fitting in and not being good enough came crashing down around me. How could I possibly love myself?!

Still, when I found this in scripture, I worked on it. (Who knows? Maybe the practice kept me from being further messed up.) I believed God loved and accepted me, which surely helped.

Another monkey wrench in the path to self-love is that erroneous teaching – more to girls than boys – that humility demands that we abase ourselves. The accompanying “too big for your britches,” and “well, don’t you think a lot of yourself” type comments only reinforce the idea that we’re at about the level of the dirt and the sidewalk.

I’m at a much different place now. (Most of us are able to navigate beyond the pains of our youth though not without scars.) I love. Still, as I was reading BrenĂ© Brown the other day, I was caught by her words, “We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.” (This from a woman with at least ten years research into the topic under her belt.)

God calls us to love all those around us (even our enemies, per Matthew 5 & Luke 6), yet how can we do this if our self-love is lukewarm?

I was doing my yoga practice yesterday, and I caught myself scolding because I kept stepping out of tree pose (vriksasana). My balance just wasn’t there. Now I’ve been practicing compassion for myself and others for a few years; I’m better but with lots of room for improvement. Still, I’d never scold someone for missing a stair or tripping over their feet. Why do I hold myself to such a standard? (I stopped scolding.)

I love. You do too. My hope is for us each to love our beloved ones with every fiber of our being. It seems that in order to do that, we need to love ourselves similarly. I know I’m not there; I’m guessing you’re not either.

What one thing can you do this week (or this year) to grow in love with yourself? 

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
Leviticus 19:18 also referenced in Mark 12:31

Friday, May 26, 2017

My heart swells

Where can I go
from your spirit, O God?
Opening Prayer and ThanksgivingI awake this morning
In the presence
of the holy angels of God.
May heaven open wide before me
Above me and around me
That I may see
the Christ of my love
And his sunlit company
In all the things of earth this day.
        J. Philip Newell, Each Day & Each Night
It’s Friday morning and I usually wouldn’t write on Friday morning – it’s my sabbath – but the words came upon me with the desire to put them down. So here I am.

I drink some water and set my tea to steep. Planning to do morning prayers and yoga, I’m inspired by the rabbit I spot nibbling on red creeping thyme to take my mug and do walkabout . What beauty I find. The sun is warn, the grass wet from last night’s shower. The peony blossoms still have some life in them.

Joe Pye is a native that will grow to 5 feet.
Wild Ginger is a native groundcover.
I pick a stalk of rhubarb to add the ones I didn’t use last night. They’ll make a nice something for supper. I talk to the brunnera, the Joe Pye weed, the rabbit. Oh, and the rose. It was eaten to a nub but is coming back nicely now that I’ve stacked bricks around it.

The iris are beginning to bloom. Lovely. The white sage refuses to give up though I keep digging out whatever sprouts appear. The hostas in the corner seem to be thriving in spite of their munching neighbors.

Full of the beauty of God’s creation I come in, pour more tea and head toward my prayer chair – a rocker that fits my smaller frame (so many are too big) but I stop by the lilacs in a vase. (May is the only month I use this vase as it’s too large for anything but a mess of lilacs.) I tell myself I’ll need to dump these on the compost today but then I smell them and decide to wait. The lilac fragrance is still in them. One more day they will bless my home with their fading beauty.
There are even spider's lines on it...
I sit in the rocker, full to overflowing with the beauty I find around me. As I open my pray book and read the verse from Psalm 139 (a different on each morning) I thank God and realize I need to share this. I continue to read first – first an opening prayer, then a psalm and a bit of scripture, more prayer, intercessions, and closing prayer.

May you be open this day to the beauty that is around you. Though you may not be blessed with gardens to walk through or the time to savor them, allow yourself to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, whatever is part of your day’s experience and know God’s presentness in all of it.
Closing Prayer
The love and affection
of the angels be with me.
The love and affection
of the saints be with me.
The love and affection
of the heaven be with me,
to lead me and to cherish me
this day.
        J. Philip Newell, Each Day & Each Night

Monday, May 22, 2017

Good enough

New Horizons Orchestra, Spring 2017

“Remember, this is just another rehearsal.” This from Rachel, the director of New Horizons Orchestra, a local amateur ensemble of those who once played and those who want to learn. “The people in the audience are friends and family. They’re here to support you.”

I started with the group a year and a half ago. I was surprised at our first performance how nervous I was. After all, I used to lead high school bands and choirs; I’ve played in more concerts than I could possibly remember. But I was unsettled. I walked into the library conference room, looked around and said a little uncertainly, “The chairs aren’t set up like they are at rehearsal.” A passing musician – who'd probably helped set up – responded, “They’re not nailed down.” Oh, yes, right. I breathed a little easier.

I’ve written before about my challenge with perfectionism and expectations. I’ve struggled with a belief that "I’m not good enough" for most of my life. I never enjoyed playing solos because I’d invariably mess up – not because I didn’t know the part but because my inner critic was so stridently vocal that I didn’t believe I could succeed. Funny thing that I’m now a pastor who speaks in front of people every week.

Three years ago, after working with a counselor for a period of months, I announced in our closing session, “I am good enough!” He jumped in, saying that if he had his way I’d paper the walls of every room with those words.

I began reading a couple of BrenĂ© Brown’s books last weekend and was reminded of how debilitating the “I’m not ______ enough” lie can be (insert your word – thin, rich, old, young, smart…) If you’re unfamiliar with her work, you might listen to her TED Talk. She’s a researcher; her primary topic: shame. (Her writing’s accessible and so on-target about something most of us live with, often without knowing it.)

Anyway… Last month at a clergy gathering, I offered an impromptu devotion on
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1
We probably all know this psalm as an expression of comfort after a loss. And, it is, yet how about another take on it?

Since God is our shepherd, we won’t want for more. We don't need any more. With God by our side, we have enough. We don’t need more clothes or money or friends (although more friends would be nice.)
“I shall not want.”
Trusting that God’s always near, we can also trust that we’re enough, just as we are. We’re exactly as we need to be in this moment. When someone doesn’t like what we say, or what we leave undone, we are enough. I might like it if my memory was less spotty, but I’m enough. You might like to be taller or healthier or more fun-loving (or serious), yet when we trust that God’s with us – right now and right here – we can choose to exclaim, “I am enough.”

You’re enough! Absolutely. (Don’t excuse yourself from being the person God needs you to be. Keep practicing loving everyone and everything, but also:) Practice telling yourself, “I’m ______ enough.” Keep breathing it, speaking it and dancing to its rhythm until that critic inside you packs up and leaves.