Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Day After Christmas

For this second day of Christmas, I thought I'd share a poem, three actually.

A couple weeks ago, I was planning out my next few blog entries. Spending 10 and more hours a day on church stuff for too many days, I knew I'd want to take it easy today. (It occurred to me this week that Kay's been home nearly a month and I'd spent almost no time just sitting around with her. So Wednesday I did, and yesterday, and I hope to again today.)

My plan was that I'd try my hand at writing a diamante poem, then include another poem I've read that speaks to me. I'd never heard of diamante until my kids were writing them in school. Maybe in third grade? Each time, I thought, "that's a cool pattern for a poem." I may've even tried it, though I don't remember now.

Anyway, Thursday morning after I was sure I'd done everything I could possibly need to do to be ready for Christmas Eve services (yes, I missed something), I called Kay and invited her to write with me. She was game, so we both sat down at our keyboards. 

Via email we shared our process,though I asked for feedback more than she did. She pretty much just wrote 'til she was done, then shared the finished project. Anyway, here they are – I'll leave you to guess whose is whose – followed by Walter Brueggemann's "Christmas ... Very Next Day" from his Prayers for a Privileged Peoplea great collection I thoroughly recommend.


jesus
human divine
teaching caring challenging
born in obscurity, known throughout time
empowering inspiring liberating
expectant eternal
christ


ice
cold, exquisite 
freezing, adorning, bedazzling
frost, rime, solstice, celebration
quieting, sleeping, changing
long, dark 
winter


Christmas ...
Very Next Day

Had we the chance, we would have rushed
       to Bethlehem
             to see this thing that had come to pass.

Had we been a day later,
      we would have found the manger empty
            and the family departed.

We would have learned that they fled to Egypt,
      warned that the baby was endangered,
      sought by the establishment of the day
            that understood how his very life
                  threatened the way things are.

We would have paused at the empty stall
      and pondered how this baby
            from the very beginning was under threat.

The powers understood that his grace threatened all our
      coercions;
they understood that his truth challenged all our lies;
they understood that his power to heal
      nullified our many pathologies;
they understood that his power to forgive
      vetoed the power of guilt and
            the drama of debt among us.

From day one they pursued him,
      and schemed and conspired
      until finally… on a gray Friday…
            they got him!

      No wonder the family fled, in order to give him time
            for his life.

We could still pause at the empty barn—
      and ponder that all our babies are under threat, all the
            vulnerable who stand at risk
                  before predators,
      our babies who face the slow erosion of consumerism,
      our babies who face the reach of sexual exploitation,
      our babies who face the call to war,
            placed as we say, “in harm’s way,”
      our babies, elsewhere in the world,
            who know of cold steel against soft arms
            and distended bellies from lack of food;
      our babies everywhere who are caught in the fearful display
            of ruthless adult power.

We ponder how peculiar this baby at Bethlehem is,
            summoned to save the world, 
                  and yet
we know, how like every child, this one also was at risk.
      The manger is empty a day later…
            the father warned in a dream.
Our world is so at risk, and yet we seek after and wait for
            this child named “Emmanuel.”
      Come be with us, you who are called “God with us.”


Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People

Saturday, December 19, 2015

December Light

As I drove across the Oneida Street bridge over the Fox River Wednesday, on my way to visit someone at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. I found delight in a bank of clouds. This bridge arches high above the river and offers some great views. On this afternoon, the clouds which had given us so much rain earlier in the week had rolled away to the southeast. It was one of the few times all week we’d had sunshine; and from that bridge, I could see the departing clouds, a billowy fringe on the horizon, looking, oh, so beautiful.

These clouds had left rainwater in many basements, my own included. Green Bay, 30 miles to the north, had gotten even more. (To those of you who’re used to heavy rains and wonder what the fuss is about, I can only offer that Wisconsinites are used to having a foot – or more – of snow this time of year. Rain just seems out of place. )
Green Bay, Wisconsin, December 2015
Looking at that wide ribbon of cloud, I thought of the rains that had caused sewers to back up, and of parents who had hidden presents in their basements, only to have them ruined. Sometimes the most innocuous things, like rain, can lead to devastation.
Sao Paulo, Brazil after the 2011 rains, floods, and mudslides
Of course, disasters don’t need to be this catastrophic to rock our world. Between us, we know quite a few people who haven’t made it to the end of the year. Some of us have lost jobs. Others have lost homes. We’ve suffered disappointments and dashed hopes.

December has been difficult for me in that we’ve had more cloudy days than usual; and with no snow to bounce back that occasional sunlight, it’s been a dark month. I thought of this as I drove over the bridge during those moments of brightness before the sun set (at 4:15!)

Each of us live life as best we can; yet sometimes we endure things that just lay a pall over everything, like a too-early sunset. I remember the lament in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Always winter but never Christmas.” Lewis realized that we could all connect with the heartache that seems as if it’ll never end, the hope that continues to elude us.

The winter solstice arrives Tuesday. The shortest day. Even if the sun shines, there’re be less of it that day than any other in the year.

With some many, sometimes loudly, cheerful people around us, with holiday music blaring from every store or restaurant speaker, the next week will be a difficult one for many people. Some of our friends are in those difficult, dark places; maybe you are yourself. If so, find a way to worship the holy this week, just as you are. I’ll be leading a Longest Night service Monday at First Church. Sometimes they’re called Blue Christmas. These services are a lot more prolific than they were even eight years ago. Find one and be enveloped in the love of God for you and all of creation.

If you’re not in that place this year, then you can be part of a solution. When we’re not stressed, we can practice a calm that may help others. We can practice being present with the person in front of us, listening as if she’s the only one in the world. If I – if we – make time for those things that nourish our being, then we can “be with” that other person more fully than we could if we gave in to the busyness and didn’t feed our souls.

So I’ll play piano after I post this. What does the deepest part of you call out for? … Make time for it.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

December Hospitality


It’s the season of Advent, and I’m trying to live in the moment, preparing – doing a bit more contemplating and meditating. Still, I realize that for most of the people around me, it’s the “Christmas season,” supposedly joy-filled but also “a mad rush.”

Since I only use my TV for streaming, I haven’t been besieged by all the ads to buy-buy-buy. Maybe this has helped me not feel guilty about putting only a couple presents under the tree for each of the young adults in my life, then put the rest of what I might have spent into charitable gifts in their names. (I admit this was a hard call; I checked with Kay to see how she’d be with it.) Don’t think by this that I’m immune to buying; I bought a couple decorations at a resale shop yesterday. But I’m trying.

Besides the shopping frenzy that can be a part of this month, the food, and the music (I’m enjoying the Chieftains‘ “St. Stephens Day Murders” as I write), there’s the socializing and the expectation that one will be smiling and festive. I’ve been invited to two Christmas gatherings (a record for me!) and I look forward to attending. Maybe I’ll meet some people!

BUT… having gone through much of my life with a mediocre self-image and having seldom received invitations to anything, I think of the people who, like Charlie Brown calling into an empty mailbox, wait in vain for someone to reach out to them. How can we welcome them? I think of the ones who can’t believe that others really want their company; “They’re just being nice.” What can we do or say to assure them that we truly value them just as they are?

Hospitality is something I never thought I was any good at. If you come to visit me, I’ll offer you a glass of water, then hand it to you and say, pointing, “The glasses are in here,” because I know I’ll forget to offer anything later.

So I was surprised, when I went to seminary, to learn that hospitality isn’t about hosting and offering drinks at all! It’s about welcoming people in a way that allows (and invites) them to be, just as they are, however they are. “Wow!” I thought. “I can do that!”

A Charlie Brown Christmas is my hands-down favorite cartoon event. It’s so real. “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” or “... I killed it! Everything I touch gets ruined!”

Haven’t we each felt this? What wouldn’t I give to prevent one more person from going through it?

(“The Rebel Jesus” is playing now. J )

I am out of words. No solutions, just thoughts for us to consider. Some people are not in a place where they can be jolly this month. Many are worried about money; will they have to go further into debt to put something under the tree? Many are grieving; how can they paste smiles on their faces?

May God give me the sense, or compassion, or whatever it is I might be missing, to accept people where they are this Christmas season, to include them where I can, and to allow them space as they need it. And, may God grant you the same.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

No More!



‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me… when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ Matthew 25 CEB

So much bad news. I read this week that there’ve been more mass shootings in 2015 than there have been days. And that doesn’t include the single acts of violence, the bombings, or the other acts of war or oppression.

We hear people say, “Where is God in all of this?” Indeed, it’s a very good question – much better than the question, “Why doesn’t God do something?” But I get ahead of myself. First things first.

Where is God in all of this?

God is (if you’ll pardon the anthropotheism) ... crying along with the rest of us.

God is … in you, when you speak out in favor of gun control … or of helping refugees. God is … in any of us, when we welcome the one who struggles with addiction or depression into our circles … and the person who is housing-challenged into our church … and the family who arrived (without correct papers) into our neighborhood … and yes, when we accept the one who doesn’t get how narrow her vision is when she says, “They should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps; like we did.”

There, in that moment, in that place, is God – with us, present, absolutely!

And, to the other question ... Why doesn’t God do something?

God already has.

Through the person of Jesus the Christ (see above)

Through Martin Luther King, Jr: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Through Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, Ginetta Sagan: “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.”

Through Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentors, not the tormented. Wherever anyone is persecuted for their race or political views, that place must become the center of the universe.”

And, through any of us, each time we stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims of whatever “-ism,” or horror one human has visited upon another that day.

Because that’s a key. It’s not God that causes the violence, the oppression, or the hatefulness. It’s us.

I’ve been the bully (much to my shame) and the bullied. So have you. We need to admit it, instead of hiding our secret shame. We need to let God heal us. Then we need to take the strength God offers us and shout out, “No More!”

We need to welcome those who preach good news to the poor AND the ones who are poor, the ones who proclaim release to the prisoners AND those imprisoned, the ones who work to recover sight AND those who refuse to see, the ones who work to liberate the oppressed AND the ones who are oppressed, AND (yes, this is a hard one for me) the ones who keep the poor in that state, the ones who imprison and the ones who oppress.

This is the call for all of us, regardless of how we name our God or celebrate our faith.

Honor the holiness in each of us. Love as we are loved.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent – a few somewhat unconnected thoughts


The Christian calendar turns over tomorrow. Each year, we begin our year with the first Sunday of Advent. I’ve wondered why this is, but never really researched it. So, what follows is not a theological discourse.

Ages ago, Christmas was set in December as a way to weaken the hold of “pagan” celebrations during the winter solstice. In recent years, I’ve wondered if this did any good, even at the time it was first initiated. Our oh-so-commercial Christmas season has almost entirely buried the holy. We talk about this as if it is a recent problem, but is it really? Or has embracing the holy perhaps always been a challenge?

The idea of starting our calendar with a celebration of the birth of the One through whom our religion was created makes sense to me. But how did these four weeks leading up to Christmas become the season of Advent?

I was talking to Kay about this the other day. She hypothesized that since Christ is the Light, and that since November is statistically the grayest, cloudiest month of the year, at least where we’ve lived, that Advent is a journey into the light. Probably not quite theologically accurate, but I like this. If I take that thread a little further, once the snow arrives, as it almost always does during Advent in northern Wisconsin, this journeying into the light is compounded, brightened even. (Maybe that’s part of the reason Kay doesn’t like a gray/green Christmas?)

Dictionary.com defines advent firstly as: “a coming into place, view, or being; arrival.” The word comes from the Latin, advenire, which The Latin Dictionary tells us means “To come upon, find.” Some of us like to sing, Veni, Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come Emmanuel) during this season.

I get that the advent of spring is a coming into being (from our human perspective, anyway.) Spring’s arrival is something I very much anticipate. Still, I don’t think of Advent (with a capital A, again) as something I anticipate so much.

Advent is time of preparation. Songs and stories tell us to use these weeks as a time to prepare our minds and hearts for Christ’s coming. Or maybe rather than preparing ourselves, Advent is a season to open ourselves – intentionally and purposefully – to the activity of God as Spirit, so that she can work in our lives*, preparing us. (In other words, it’s not us doing the preparation, but rather our being available so that we can be prepared.) Just a thought.

In what ways does Advent speak to you? Share your thoughts below.

Let’s help each other to prepare, or to open ourselves to being prepared, so that God can do great things in us and through us.

* When I heard John Bell speak this summer, he regularly used the feminine pronoun for the Spirit, each time telling his listeners that – in Hebrew – the word for Spirit, ruach, is feminine.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

We Each Have A Story




You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. 

Matthew 5:14 The Message

You may have noticed that I talk a lot about myself in my blog. I thought maybe I ought to explain why I do this. I mean, most of the time, when somebody’s always talking about herself, we think she’s self-absorbed.

I might as well admit that I am somewhat self-involved, but in my defense, I think we all are. I don’t mean in the  I-don’t-like-myself-so-I-need-to-focus-on-me kind of way. Or the I-really-only-care-about-myself way. 

What I do mean is that I like myself enough to believe my story has some merit, that my ideas are as potentially valuable as anyone’s, and that I’m good enough just as I am.

I didn’t always believe this way; most of my life I thought I had to prove my worth. It’s been a long road out of this hole that I don’t need to go into; I just mention it to explain that this is a piece of my story. From my own brokenness, I try to connect with people in their struggles and broken places. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it misses the mark. When that happens, I remind myself that we can only ever connect with each other through our own stories. This is my story.

What is yours?

On the Myers-Briggs personality test, I’m an IN, an Introvert-Intuitive. We tend to do a lot of navel-gazing. That's always been my reality. It took me a while to get that not everyone spends time thinking about their own story. Some are just busy living it. (Well done, you!)

Yet, knowing our own story can help us plot a course for the future. (Can’t know where you’re going ‘til you know where you’ve been.) It helps us to see patterns in our lives.
  • Do I tend to help others to the point of ignoring my own needs?
  • Do I crave adventure?
  • Are the best times of my life the ones I’ve spent with friends?
If you were to sit down and list all your most significant memories – the good, the bad, and the indifferent – just writing them down without evaluating them, what patterns would you see? 

You might want to try this. You’d likely be surprised by some of what you'd see. You might notice all sorts of things.
  • Am I being true to myself, to the person God knows I can be?
  • Do I really like ––? Or am I doing what I think I’m supposed to do? Or behaving how I think others expect me to behave?
  • Am I really still making the same mistakes I’ve always been making?
  • Is this the life I love?
What does your story say about you? If you haven’t considered it, I encourage you to give it a go. It takes some courage to look at ourselves closely, yet the results can be so worth it. 

Live your own best story.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Making Disciples


During the last General Conference (in 2012) a new requirement was added to the ordination application process. In ¶335.7 we’re called to present “a project that demonstrates fruitfulness in carrying out the church’s mission of ‘Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.’” 

Since I’ve been working rather feverishly on application paperwork this month, I thought I’d share part of what I’m writing. It’s only the first bit of a 5 – 8 page document, but in case I haven’t communicated what I’m about with this blog, maybe it’ll help …



And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:18-20a

A number years ago, I began to speak to the people at the church I was pastoring about what seemed to be a common, but incomplete, understanding of “making disciples.” Many of them seemed to believe that it was all about bringing people into Christian faith through conversion. It’s easy to suppose that this is the task when we read Matthew 28, for most of us have already been baptized and have learned about Jesus’ teachings, haven’t we?

I worked to persuade them that while leading others to Christ is a part of the meaning of this text, “making disciples” refers at least as much to our own growth in discipleship. Hence, the need to worship, pray and study together, and to work individually on other spiritual practices.

I never studied Greek, but at least some translate the “disciple” in the above text not as “make disciples” so much as “disciple.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “You, Disciple!”

When Jesus refers to the Shema when asked, ‘Which commandment is the first …?”, when he tells stories about laborers in a vineyard, or laying a foundation for a tower, or loving others more than him, he is teaching whoever will listen about discipleship.

When we remember that, for this ancient context, believing was about the way one lived out something rather than simply what someone affirmed, then we can better understand John 14:12 – doing Christ’s works in our own context is doing great works. As the children’s choir here sang recently, “Christ has no hands but ours.”

In my preparations upon being appointed to First Church, I was convicted both that this church needed a broader electronic presence, and that a pastoral blog might be part of this. I’ve never blogged, but I enjoy writing and believe my voice and message can be valuable. Knowing that I needed to learn about the faith community first, I filed the idea in the back of my mind. During some sabbath time after Christmas, I realized both that I needed another creative outlet and that I knew the community enough to begin the project.

I didn’t think about this being my “Making Disciples” project, so my goals were a bit different than they might have been otherwise. The intended vision for this blog was to draw people to see the possibilities within their everyday ministry field, and to affirm the ways they’re living that they might not think of as ministry. To that end, my purpose for the blog was twofold: to connect with and support people, encouraging, challenging and educating; and to do so as authentically as I can, thereby encouraging my “audience” to be equally true to the persons God intends them to be…

Shalom!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Half-Full or Half-Empty?

         
          All things are wearisome;
              more than one can express;
          the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
              or the ear filled with hearing.
          What has been is what will be,
              and what has been done is what will be done;
              there is nothing new under the sun.  Ecclesiastes 1:8-9


I’m tired. I just got home from the Twin Cities where, this morning, I had a 3-hour psychological evaluation. (No, I’m quite sane, and fairly well adjusted.) I went there and had this evaluation, because... well, I’m not sure if I’d mentioned it before, but I’m applying for ordination next year. And the psych eval is a part of the application process.

I always like learning new things, even about myself. But in all honesty, I hadn’t been looking forward to this meeting, partly because because of the drive and partly because I wasn’t expecting to learn anything new. (I’d taken this evaluation twice already. I figured I kind of knew what the assessments were going to say.) The bigger reason, though, that I wasn’t looking forward to it was that I hadn’t really felt good after those other interviews.

But today was different.

I’d assumed it was me before, or maybe the whole psych eval process. After all, they can get pretty deep. There’s a certain amount of vulnerability involved. But now, I suspect there’s something else at work.

At today’s meeting, the psychologist, I’ll call him Jack, asked all kinds of questions – about my ministry, my previous work as a teacher, my family of origin, my marriage and divorce, my health, my ministry strengths and growing edges (only he call those something else) and so forth. After that, we went over the results of the battery of assessments I had taken last month.

When we had finished, it was about noon. I was tired, but I felt pretty good. I remembered that hadn’t felt this way the other times. The last two times I’d taken this evaluation, the psychologist, who I’ll call Jill, had done what I’m confident was a fine job. But I’d left the building feeling as if she saw me as “less than”, in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. Now, having worked with Jack all morning, I could.

After my time with Jill, I’d felt like she saw me in a glass-half-empty kind of way. The written report I received weeks later had the same feel to it. Although I have no idea how the report on today’s meeting will look, I left the meeting feeling as if Jack saw me in a glass-half-full way.

The report from today's meeting, which will be sent to the Board of Ordained Ministry in preparation for interview this winter, may only be a little bit different from the previous ones. There will be some changes. I’ve grown – I’m more “me” than I was a few years ago. But even it there was no change, I’d still look back on this day as preferable to the other “testing days”.

Having been on the receiving end of both a glass-half-empty outlook and a glass-half-full outlook, I can say that, in my opinion, it makes a world of difference.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Saints

Lisa lives and works in the city, a good hour from the small town where she grew up. But every weekend she'd drive home so she could take her mother to church. After that, she'd pick up the dozen or so printed sermons waiting for her; and the two of them would drive to the Golden Age nursing home to see her father. 

None of this is so surprising, but besides seeing Louie, the two women would also visit every other resident who's from our church, then move on to the other local nursing home, and the senior apartments – visiting each person, reading aloud the sermon, talking, then saying the Lord ’s Prayer together.

She'd leave manuscripts at some of the nurses’ stations, at their request. And, if she didn't get to the memory unit soon enough, workers would come looking for her, because the expectant residents became unsettled if it was read to them as usual. Lastly, Lori would mail sermons to those shut-ins who lived in their homes a ways out of town.

Every week, barring a major ice storm, Lisa continued this ministry. When I’d ask about it, she'd say, “I figure since I’m seeing my Dad anyway...” but after he died a few years ago, she kept right on going, saying she thought about stopping, but people counted on it.

I marveled at Lisa’s commitment. In most ways, she’s an ordinary person – mid-50s, single, likes her cat, loves her mother. She’s been through some tough times, as most of us have. But Lori’s also extraordinary – traveling 70 miles to attend church weekly when many who live across town can’t make it, living her faith in unstinting service. Lisa is truly a saint.

For United Methodists, November 1st can come with some confusion. We don’t have saints, do we? Well, we don’t have any system of electing to sainthood. And, no, we don’t pray to saints. Yet, we recognize that there are saints. “United Methodists call people ‘saints’ because they exemplified the Christian life. In this sense, every Christian can be considered a saint” (umc.org) Saints are all the faithful people – the ones from long ago, last year, and even in the present. Maybe you're one. 

Me, too… maybe. There’re times I feel I’m being the person God intends, but… sometimes I'm a jerk.

I don’t mean like the time I missed the voicemail, then got bothered no one told me I'd forgotten an important email attachment. Okay, maybe then, too. But I was thinking about the time I got on my soapbox about a certain to-be-unnamed superstore with a terrible record of human abuses – both employees and suppliers. Speaking up wasn’t the problem, in and of itself. But in my enthusiasm, I ignored the sensibilities of the other people in the room, some of whom work hard to stretch their finances, which includes choosing to shop there.

When I finally realized what I was doing, I shut up, but the silence in the room wasn’t a friendly silence. I need to apologize.

Still, I remind myself. being a saint isn’t about being perfect. If it was, there'd be no saints at all. Being a saint is about following God as best we can. It’s about: Doing no harm; Doing good; and Staying in love with God. It’s about stepping up or speaking up when it’s the right thing, and stepping back or remaining silent when that’s the right thing. And, it’s about seeking forgiveness when we mess up, which we will (a lot.)

Saints are any who exemplify a Christian life. Go ahead and share (in a Comment) about a saint you have known.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Coincidence?


I was going to write about being a FlyBaby last week. But something else wanted to be written so I went with it. Then Monday at a retreat at Pine Lake, I asked our presenter, the Rev. Dr. Dawn Jeffers Ramstad, for suggestions on how to make time for the writing we’re required to submit with ordination applications. Referencing her experience in writing her doctoral thesis, Dawn brought up Marla Cilley and FlyLady.

Talk about coincidence! I’d never heard anyone talk about FlyLady – outside myself and Kay – in the 14 years since I started Flying. Only, I don’t believe in coincidence – or rather, I view “coincidence” as a word people use when they haven’t yet accepted the workings of God as Spirit in our lives. (Don't believe me? Albert Einstein once said. "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.")

We’ve all had moments we, or others, called coincidence, but the ones I’m thinking of are when a certain idea or name is brought up a few times in a surprisingly short period of time. When this happens, my attention perks up, because I’ve come to realize there’s something going on that I need to notice.

So, about Flying…

One January when Kay was still toddling around, I was surfing the ‘net, trying to find something that would help me to get a handle the clutter in my home. I knew it was about me; I didn’t put the effort I should into cleaning my home. I had no excuses; I ought to be doing better!

That evening, I stumbled on FlyLady, and in the months that followed, my life began to change.

Marla Cilley, the original FlyLady , talked about FLYing (Finally Loving Yourself) and CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome). She spoke frankly of her own experience – of negative self-images, an abusive relationship, and of the long road away from believing that she deserved her situation – and I heard myself in her story.

I became a FlyBaby, setting up practices that would help me succeed. I jumped in where I was, and as weeks and months passed, I began to lose my Stinkin’ Thinkin’ and to hope life could be better. I began to understand that the physical clutter of my beloved old farmhouse was a symptom of my internal clutter – belief systems I had to clean up before I could make lasting change.

And I wanted change badly enough that I kept at it. I practiced my Home Blessing Hour – 60-minute aerobic housecleaning – which along with the Detailed Cleaning routine, kept my house looking better than ever.

I came to believe that I could do anything for 15 minutes. I shined my sink, made my bed every morning, learned to plan meals and follow thru. I tried Friday Date Nights and other relationship suggestions, and when that didn’t help, I came to accept the idea that a toxic marriage relationship might be something I'd have to leave behind so that I could really grow into the person God knew I could be.

And… it wasn’t long after I began FLYing that I noticed God’s call (finally) which has led me through the last 14 years, and to asking how to make time for completing ordination application questions.

It started with Finally Loving Myself  – taking someone else’s word for it that God really loves me (and I need to do it, too.) Coincidence? I think not.

          The human mind may devise many plans,
              but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established. Proverbs 19:21

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Idolatry

Apologies if this entry makes less sense than usual. It’s past my turning-into-a-pumpkin time and my mind isn’t firing on all cylinders. But a colleague I respect, who also blogs, told me last spring that I need to publish every week. Every week. And I already missed once last month.

Have you ever thought about idolatry? I mean, outside of your junior high Sunday school class. I remember when I was twelve, Mrs. McLaughlin told us that she’d treat anybody who memorized the Ten Commandments to an ice cream sundae. She didn’t have to pay out. I meant to learn them, really I did, but the week got away from me; and before I knew it, it was Sunday again.

I can usually stumble through nine easily enough, but getting all ten is trickier. Speaking of which… did you know there’re two listings of the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Bible? In Exodus 20, and again in Deuteronomy 5.

Before I knew anything about grace, before I learned of Martin Luther’s understanding, that the Law was there so we’d know how much we need grace, because we just can’t do it all right on our own, I tried to keep those rules. That’s how I thought of them – as God’s Rules.

I still try to keep them, but differently now. Jesus’ words that thinking someone harm was the same as murder made me realize how impossibly high the bar really is. I need God’s grace – love freely given – because I’m not able to earn it on my own.

Still, I think about those commandments. This week it was the one about idols. It happened this way…

Sunday, during one of the unison prayers, instead of praying along with everyone else, I stopped and listened to … (well, never mind what I listened to.) I listened, and when I realized I was listening, I kept on listening ‘til the end of the prayer. The word “idol” flashed through my mind; and I accepted it as something I’d want to think about later.

Monday, during my morning prayers, I gave the word some space. I prayed and came away feeling that what I got to listen to on Sunday was a gift. Unusual, perhaps, but a gift. I’d want to be aware since doing this sort of thing regularly could be a problem, but for now, I need only accept and value it.

A couple days later, I asked my spiritual director how she defines the word “idol.” After thinking a moment, she related a story, the crux of which is: an idol is what you think about at the red light when you could be thinking about God. I thanked her, and told her my story and my belief that I’d received a gift.

What do you think about at a red light?

I usually think about all the things I have to do – at church, at home, somewhere else. It seems like I’m on a never-ending merry-go-round of busyness. And until writing this paragraph, it’d never occurred to me that this was my idol.

I’ll have to think more about this, and pray. But maybe not tonight. I need to get some sleep.

You shall not make for yourself an idol. Exodus 20:4a

Friday, October 9, 2015

thankless?

It’s Wednesday of a week-long mission trip. After working in Twice Blessed Monday and part of Tuesday, I decided to listen to my knee and stop going (up and) down so many stairs.

For the last twelve hours, I’d been thinking about the floor of the large common room (formerly known as the church basement.) We’d all noticed how sticky it was. I’m going to mop that floor! That’s a good thankless job. 

My goal on this trip has been to do thankless tasks. Well, that, and not to complain.

(That's Brian, the youth director, during a youth mission this summer.)

On past trips, I echoed others’ in their desire to do things that made a tangible difference – like building a wheelchair ramp or mending a wall. Something one could look at, and say, “We accomplished something.” And I usually got my wish.

We arrived at the mission and people headed upstairs to sort clothes,
 
or to the dorms to paint,

or to the hallway to work on drywall.

I stayed and, after moving some things, dry mopped a wide strip between the first bank of tables and the wall. Then I got a string mop and bucket of water. The bucket was one of those industrial types school custodians use, with the wringer resting on back. You lift the dripping mop head into the hopper, and lean into its handle so the water is squeezed back into the bucket. I smiled, remembering all those school custodians I ever saw using similar mops, bucket in tow.

The floor was truly awful, andI suspected most of the grunge would outlive my efforts. I was right. As I reached the end of the wall “row” I came to the first “spot” I knowingly washed away. (In the course of the entire experience, I would find nine such spots.)

After dipping the mop into the water twice, I couldn’t see the bottom of the bucket. Two or three dips later, the water had turned to a thick-ish gray yuck and I headed for the sink to reboot.

I continued through the room in strips, moving chairs first one way then another. Although I assured people that walking across this floor wouldn’t matter, everyone tried to find different paths. “I can just hear my mother’s voice,” Bill responded.

The job took a couple hours (okay, I’m slow) and I didn’t even do the whole room. I avoided where one crew was cutting drywall and under the food tables where someone would soon be setting out food. I mopped right- and left- handed and still got a blister.

The whole while I saw almost no difference, but once the floor dried, I conceded that others were right: my efforts had borne some fruit. No one would want to eat off that floor, but if Carol tried downward dog again, it wouldn’t feel quite so nasty.

In the end, it was hard work, but not thankless. Plenty of people praised my efforts. And, just as when building casitas with a team in Rio Bravo, I felt a weary sense of accomplishment.

I had wanted my efforts to go unnoticed, but that wasn’t possible. Being the pastor surely had something to do with it, but I believe something else was at work here. Some of you have no doubt experienced it yourselves.

While Oscar Wilde famously shared, “No good deed goes unpunished,” I believe the opposite is true. Sometimes maybe we can get away with an unobserved good deed, but I’ve watched as strangers stop and thank someone they’ve never met for some seemingly unimportant thing. And except on our worst days, I suspect most of us have done the same thing. We certainly praise the efforts of the people we know. Even if it’s making a filthy floor just a little less dirty.

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love. 
Saint Basil

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Journaling

During one of my monthly conversations with my spiritual director, she asks about what practices I have to nurture myself. Among other things I mentioned, I brought up that I’ve recently gotten into journaling. We went on to talk about other things. But it struck me that some of my story might connect with some of yours.

When I was a girl, it seemed everyone had diaries except me. I’d visit friends, see theirs, and think I was missing out on something. I wanted one of those little books with the tiny lock and key. I’d put it on my Christmas list, but did no more than that.

As a teen, I still hadn’t gotten a cute little diary, so I took a spiral-bound notebook that still had lots of empty pages and I started writing. I quickly found out that I don’t have the … interest in writing about my life every day. As has often been the case, I had “better” things to do than whatever practice I thought I wanted to begin. I believed I had failed at yet another thing. (Yes, there were quite a few.) Still, I kept writing occasionally when I needed the outlet.

I didn’t know I was journaling, but I guess I was. I wrote on and off, junior high through college – about school experiences, life at home, my near-nonexistence social life – and about my own responses to what was, or wasn’t, happening. I wrote poems and the beginning of a story. After college, I forgot about writing except when I’d find that notebook. I wrote rarely and only in extreme need.

Until, a few years ago when I read a New Year’s blog about journaling, and had two thoughts: "That’s what I used to do!" and "I need to do that!" I told Kay – the real writer of the family – and she decorated a nice notebook she was no longer using, gave it to me, and said she’d get me another when I filled that one.

I’ve been writing ever since, sporadically at first, but when I set a practice to write Sunday afternoons, it became much more regular.
Yes, practice – that’s another thing I’ve learned about myself. Although I never did the daily writing, it’s because it wasn’t important to me to do it. When something’s been important, like reading my bible each evening as a teen, or cleaning the litter box, I’ve generally made time for it. (Disclaimer: Although I read the bible for work, I’d gotten away from spiritual reading the last few years, and am only just getting back into it.)

I am not a failure, which I suppose was the reason I wrote this entry, so that I could assure you that you’re not a failure either. We can each take so many knocks in this life that it would be easy to conclude that there is something wrong with us. There’s not. We just need to keep at it, trusting that the One who made us “doesn’t make junk” (as a favorite toddler-sized t-shirt declares.)

Keep being the person you were made to be. And trust that the things that are important will get done, reassessing now and again if you need to, to make sure they really are the important things.

And may God bless you.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

to complain or not to complain

In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing so that no one can speak a word against you.  Philippians 2:14f 

What do you do when you feel oh-so tired? I mean besides sleeping eventually? Hopefully your list doesn’t include running a red light, burning dinner, or tripping on your way down the stairs, but what do you do?

A few days ago, I read a blog in which the author wrote about her experience fasting from complaining. She discovered that her biggest topic of complaint was her lack of sleep. As I read, I thought to myself, that’s what I do!

In a not-so-wonderful coincidence, that night I missed the middle three or four hours of my sleep. So the next day – remembering her words – I was able to observe how often I would normally have told people about being tired. How often, you ask? I didn’t count, but it would have been a big number. And this is after actively working – for years – to stem my complaints. I think I complain less than I once did, but it’s still too much.

I mean, really, what do I have to complain about? My amazingly talented daughter is beginning her higher education at a great school. My son – also wonderfully talented – is marrying an equally wonderful woman in two days. (Okay, enough with the superlatives!) I have a house I love and two goofy cats to keep me company. Plenty to eat, drink, and wear. I get to do work I’m passionate about.

Yes, I’m tired. This week has had more than the usual busyness. I wish I was healthier. I’d like more companionship. I really don’t want to mow the lawn. But these are first-world problems!

So… I’m making a decision. I’m going to get back to doing what I tried a few years ago, that I still kind of do, but have gotten rather lazy about. I’m going to practice gratitude – being thankful for every little thing. Because I really do believe that even the so-called obstacles are gifts. I just haven’t figured out how to deal with them yet.

Yes, I’m probably in danger of putting on my Pollyanna hat again. But, after all, life is going to be what it is, regardless of how I deal with it. And I’ve learned from previous experience that practicing gratitude doesn’t cost anything and my outlook is always better for having done it.


Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances...  1 Thessalonians 5:16f

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Grace

“The undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit.” 
From The United Methodist Book of Discipline, “Distinctive Wesleyan Emphases”

This morning, six of us sat around a table, preparing for their membership into First Church. One of our topics, grace, seems like a timely focus for my writing. I’d wanted to bring it up earlier; it’s so central to my theology – and Methodism – it’s a wonder I made it this long.

Grace is God’s active presence in our lives. It’s the love and mercy God offers each of us just because God chooses to do it. Though many would be more comfortable working for God’s grace, it doesn’t work this way. We can’t do anything to earn it; it’s God’s gift, freely given. We can choose only to accept it… or not.

Although grace is a key piece of Christian faith and living, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, offered a new three-part way to understand grace:
  • Prevenient grace is the grace that “goes before.” That precedes human action. It’s God reaching out to us before we even know it. God’s prevenient grace stays with us the whole time before we accept a relationship with God.
  • Justifying grace brings a change in our relation with God as we come to accept the restored relationship God offers.
    “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Godself” 2 Corinthians 5:19
    That is, through Christ, our relationship with God is restored. Then, 
  • Sanctifying grace is God working within us, aligning us with God’s intention. This grace stays with us through our lives, so that we gradually become so full of God, so attuned to God’s ways that our intentions are pure in our love of God and all of God’s children (everybody).
Prevenient grace is God seeking our attention. Justifying grace starts our relationship with God. Sanctifying grace is the process of living that relationship out.

I’ve been listening to Les Miserables as I write this. Seems fitting. Can you spot the parallels?
  • Before Valjean changes his ways, the bishop tells him, “God has brought you out of darkness. I have bought your soul for God.” 
  • Years go by. Valjean can choose to let another go to prison in his stead. God “gave me hope when hope was gone. He gave me strength to journey on.”
  • Still later, well on his way toward sanctification, he prays, “In my need, you have always been there… You can take; you can give… If I die, let me die. Let him live.”

Saturday, August 22, 2015

a slightly leaky tent

We’re back from one last camping trip before Kay starts college next month. We had a fine time, even with repeated evening rains and days cool enough that the mosquitoes weren’t out.

One afternoon as it grew dark, we took our food and games into the tent. Through the next few hours as the rain alternated between hard and harder, we played gin rummy, ate, laughed and talked. But Kay would regularly look at the screening above her sleeping bag to see if water had started leaking in.

You see, I'd used our new tent during a conference event in June. I'd been thankful it assembled easily, but then forgot about it, using it only as a place to sleep and prepare for the day. Until I took it down. Then I saw a small hole on the fly and a streaking snag with a couple pinholes in it.

For all you non-tenters, the fly is the cloth piece that attaches over the tent to protect it and us – hopefully – from the weather. Looking around on the ground – and finding a 6-inch pine cone – I realized that pitching the tent under this particular pine tree wasn’t my best idea.

I haven’t made the effort to order patching since then. So this rain was a test. The results were good – not perfect, but good. The washcloth placed under the hole got only a bit damp despite hours of rain. I still need to buy patching material, but at least we didn’t get wet.

Do you practice not taking it personally when someone offers harsh critique or criticism, or speaks thoughtlessly? I’ve been trying to let it go “like water off a duck’s back” the last few years. Whatever we do, though we can get better at it, sometime the words – like water in a leaky tent – still get through.

Do you have a plan for when that happens? Sometimes a few slow breaths right then works for me. But even when a person thinks she’s let it go, the sting can linger, adding to the pack of cares we all carry around. Some things that can help include:
  • Laughter. Especially with a youngster, but with anyone really. Watching a funny movie can help; my favorite is The Gold Rush.
  • Meditation. In spite of all the directions on how to do it, there’s no one right way. Sit tall. Put yourself into a calm place. Breathe evenly, focusing on the in and out. Even a few breaths can help.
  • Prayer. Sometimes I do a Review kind of prayer. I ask Go
    d to join me as I go back over the day. I seek forgiveness for things I shouldn’t have said. I ask help in understanding, or even letting go without understanding, what someone else did or said. As I pray, I just surrender the whole lot to God. I don’t use this prayer often, but I’ve noticed that I sleep easily after I’ve done it.
I’d love to hear what you practice to help let go of such things!

Blessings,

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Down a rabbit hole

I’m sitting on the deck in the backyard, laptop at the ready. I was going to write about grace today. And I was looking at The United Methodist website to remind myself and make sure I didn’t write anything too far off target. But I looked up and my mind wandered as I noticed my surroundings.

There’s one of those nasty chipmunks that likes to take bites out of the tomatoes on the vine. Then, finding the green orb not to his taste, he buries it next to the chard. A young cardinal perches in the overgrown shrub across the fence in the neighbor’s yard. A chickadee flies in its unique swooping way and lands on the shepherd’s hook that holds the feeders. What looks from here like a cabbage white moth lands on a marigold.

I’ve been trying to follow the Spirit’s leadings in the last few years. And I’ve gotten into the habit of questioning myself when I think my path is pointed in one direction, but my attention is leading me in another. So right now, I’m wondering where this blog entry is going to go.

I said nasty chipmunk earlier. Our yard has an abundance of those and squirrels and rabbits. Last fall, I think I momentarily astonished Kay when I said I hoped the hawks would eat well that winter. As a somewhat passionate gardener, I’m discouraged by the many rodent taste-testers we have in the neighborhood.

… There’s a young goldfinch. I haven’t seen many of those this year….

But I had a bit of a conversion in June. I was again sitting on the deck. It was evening. As I watched, a rabbit hopped into the yard and for the next ten minutes (at least) I observed her as she hopped a few steps at a time, from one spot on the buffet to another. Here some tall grass that was beginning to flower, there to eat all the leaves and flower stalks of a rather large dandelion. Not once during that time did this critter eat any of my favorites. I sat still and silent, within ten feet of her as she ate that dandelion. I studied her features, her eyes, the way she moved, how she ate.

And I came to care as I hadn’t cared before, to see her as a beloved part of God’s creation.

I learned this spring that rabbits can eat their weight in plant matter in the course of one night. Considering what I know about the thousands of mosquitoes one bat can eat, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Still I will tell you that I look at rabbits a little differently since that night. I still won’t like it when they decimate a garden planting, but I hope that I’ll be able to hold onto the idea that they and I all deserve to live the lives God hopes for us.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Connected

While at the Washington Island Forum in June, I had what was for me a novel experience. I consider myself to be fairly computer literate. But until recently I’ve connected only through that, no cell. Having a cell, I’m strictly a leave-it-on-the-counter-when-I’m-at-home type. So it took me by surprise on the island how often I checked for messages that weren’t there.

Having read ahead of time that Washington Island is only thinly connected, I’d told church staff before I left that I’d check email when I could. Knowing that for some “when I could” means hourly (I’m not one of them) I figured I’d check at least daily. I didn’t want to seem negligent.

So, after Tuesday morning’s session, I went to the Lutheran Church. We’d been told Monday evening that it’s always open and we’re welcome to take advantage of their wireless. Being an island with a small population that ebbs and flows with the seasons, this church has taken on the ministry of being the church of the people. No matter their affiliation off-island (or lack thereof) any- and everyone seems to participate in this “community church.”

When I got there Tuesday, I first used their microwave to warm some water. The place I was staying at was scenic, with birds outside the window, and the aurora borealis in the northern sky on at least two mornings (which I slept through), but there was no way to make my morning tea. (And unlike John Bell, I didn’t pack a kettle in my luggage.)

That done, I entered their password into phone and laptop as my jasmine green tea steeped. I double-checked, but neither device seemed to notice the available Wi-Fi. Hm, maybe I won’t be checking in with Kay after all.

I recorded some observations about the morning’s session. But I had to catch myself every time I wanted to look online for a reference or a quote. I continued to check the phone through the day… nothing.

Wednesday, I returned to the church. I could now connect on the computer, but the phone was still a puzzle. No texts. No voice messages. The few calls I’d attempted since coming to the island had been long, vacant silences.

Then, randomly, when I checked again for messages, there was one! Though I had done nothing different.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12.2

That week marks the point when I realized I had truly entered the 21st century. I still leave my phone on the counter at home. I may not notice a text for hours after it comes. But I’m using my cell more each month. And the time will probably come when I assess my connectedness and realize I need to take a fast and unplug for a few days.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Spinach in my Teeth

With the eating regimen I’m on, I don’t get oatmeal for breakfast, or eggs, or pancakes, or cereal. Most days, I eat vegetables. I’ll throw together ‘most any variety. And whatever the mix, it almost always includes spinach, collards, or kale.

When it comes to dental hygiene, although I do floss most evenings, I’ve never gotten into the practice of brushing more than once a day. Yes, I know. I could do better, but then there are lots of things I could do better. It is what it is.

Some mornings, I remember to check out my smile in the rear view mirror on the way to the church. Or if I eat there, I can pick up the beautiful little mirror my desk – the one with the hand-carved back that I bought from a free-trade exhibit at a conference a couple years ago. 

But some days I forget to check, or else eating at my desk I think of something to ask our administrative assistant. I walk down the hall and have already started talking when it hits me. I cover my mouth and mumble, “I hope I don’t have spinach in my teeth.”

Some of you no doubt have toothbrushes in your desks. But others will understand walking out of the room straight to a mirror, smiling, and then groaning.

I’d like for people to tell me when I have something in my teeth — or on my face — that doesn’t belong there. I’d like someone to let me know when my fly’s down. And some do. But not everyone.

Two weeks ago, I talked in my sermon about how often we’re nice when we ought to be kind or honest. Nice is easier. It takes less effort. And since it’s expected by the people around us, it’s even rewarded sometimes.

Have you ever gotten that verbal slap because you were kind or truthful, when what the other person wanted was “nice”? Yeah, me too.

When I was at seminary in the Twin Cities, conversation would occasionally include frustration about “Minnesota Nice” – that artificial caring that some residents seem to have perfected. Those of us from further afield nodded but countered that this characteristic is not unique to Minnesota.

Even though niceness is the way of our day, maybe it’s one of those things we ought to grow out of. Maybe too much “nice” is like too many marshmallows. Too much of either one can leave us feeling a little ill. 

So how about you and I make a pact? We’ll each work on being honest and kind (remember to practice them together, Jayneann, to avoid hurt feelings!), and we’ll try to leave off of the niceness, at least most of the time.

What do you say?

We can be proud of our clear conscience. We have always lived honestly and sincerely, especially when we were with you. And we were guided by God’s wonderful kindness instead of by the wisdom of this world. 2 Corinthians 1:12 CEV

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Busyness

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 
Matthew 6:27

It's Saturday morning. “Do you think you could wash some silverware, before you eat and head out?” I ask as I point at the mess of utensils next to the sink.“I have to get to the farmers market, then go to the laundromat. Then home again by 10:30 when John comes to drop off the horn.”

Yes, laundromat. I have a washer, but if I use it, I have to wring the clothes out afterward. I’ll be getting a new one after the plumber does some other work for the house. As for the horn, Kay’s played a school instrument for eight years. Now that she’s off to college, we’re looking for a double horn that won’t break the bank.

I continue: “Then I have to get my blog written. And if it’s not too hot after that, work in the yard … And it’s 8:15 now. I don’t know if I’ll have time to hit the market and the laundromat.” After Kay suggests that I could do one or the other after collecting the horn, “I don’t want to make multiple trips if I don’t have to.” I bustle out the door, bags and egg cartons in hand.

A little frantic? I feel tired just writing it.

It’s 11:45 now. Bags of veggies are on the floor by the fridge. The horn is in the living room. And the laundry is clean, even if it's still in the car. I'm at the laptop, but my blog entry won’t be posted by noon this week.

I’ve been practicing yoga and meditation for 2½ years. I tell people they’re the only things that gave me relief after my concussion; and they were. I’ve gained strength and flexibility from the yoga. But I don’t think I’m any better at meditation than when I started. I realize that your sense of expectation goes up as you get better at something, but I really feel I’m about where I started. I grin as I remember Liz Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love when she spent some months at an Ashram in India: “I can’t seem to get my mind to hold still. I mentioned this once to an Indian monk, and he said, ‘It’s a pity you’re the only person in the history of the world who ever had this problem.’” I guess my concern isn't unique.

What do you do when the pressures of life threaten to swamp you?

My default is to go a little crazy. I’m not pleasant to be around. No doubt, this has played havoc on my relationship maintenance. I need meditation even if I never do it well. I need to lie in the hammock and watch the clouds. I need to remember that the world doesn’t require much, if anything, from me. I need to breathe, do my own part, and then stop.

The stopping is hard. But it’s necessary.

Be still, and know that I am God!  Psalm 46:10

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lodged

      The rain to the wind said,
      'You push and I'll pelt.'
      They so smote the garden bed
      That the flowers actually knelt,
      And lay lodged - though not dead.
      I know how the flowers felt.

I can’t locate a date for when Robert Frost wrote this poem, but it’s been part of my psyche since I first read it in high school. I committed it to memory, not because it was assigned but, because the poem reflected how I felt in my life. I’ve felt pushed and pelted pretty regularly, and I suspect some of you have, too.

We moved to an old farmhouse just before Kay was born. In the years we lived there, I was the one tuned in for nighttime storms so I could shut the windows so the sills wouldn’t rot any more than they had already. I was the one who stressed about the roof leaks (after replacing the roof, I might add.) Maybe it was because I resented the loss of sleep. Maybe it was just my overly responsible self, but I came NOT to love those nights.

I’m trying to remember how I felt when I used to sing “I love a rainy night” along with Eddie Rabbitt. “… Puts a song in this heart of mine, Puts a smile on my face every time, 'Cause I love a rainy night …” Whenever it rains, I’m practicing happy thought and feelings, and encouraging myself to go back to sleep. (It works… sometimes.)


And while we all know that flowers love the rain (notice that rough transition!), recent summer rains have taken a toll on the daisies in my front bed. When I do my morning walk-about, I find them leaning – on the peony, or kale, or whatever is nearby.


 A couple weeks ago I cut some Crazy Daisies after one storm. While they looked cheery in the vase on my counter, most of their heads were hanging down.


A funny thing happened though. After a few days, most of them perked up. You could see their bright yellow centers again.


And I thought to myself, that happens to us, too. Life beats us down, but caring attention, and a bit of time, do wonders for us. And soon, we can be back showing off our bright centers as well.

Then the Lord will cover the whole city and its meeting places with a thick cloud each day and with a flaming fire each night. God’s own glory will be like a huge tent that covers everything. t will provide shade from the heat of the sun and a place of shelter and protection from storms and rain.
Isaiah 4:5-6 Contemporary English Version

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Why is God banging her head against that tree?

I’ve loved musicals most of my life – My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, most of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s, Godspell, Hello Dolly! More recently I’ve enjoyed Phantom, Joseph and his… Coat, Into the Woods, Les Mis.

Another I like is You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, which, like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, combines two favorites, Charles Schultz’s Peanuts and music theater. My favorite song is “The Book Report,” a quartet of four characters writing (or not writing) a report on Peter Rabbit. Wonderful!

But, I digress. It’s the song “Little Known Facts” where Lucy explains amazing “facts” of nature to her little brother that got me thinking about this week’s entry.

(Lucy) Do you see that tree?
            it is a Fir tree.
            It's called a Fir tree because it gives us fur,
            For coats,
            It also gives us wool in the wintertime.

(Linus) I never knew that before, Lucy. That's very interesting.

(Lucy) This is an elm tree.
            It's very little.
            But it will grow up into a giant tree,
            An oak.
            You can tell how old it is by counting it's leaves.

As the song continues, Charlie Brown tries to correct some of the misinformation, but as usual, Lucy’s louder. Finally, Linus asks, “Lucy, why is Charlie Brown banging his head against that tree?”

“To loosen the bark to make the tree grow faster.”

What does this have to do with theology? It’s my opinion that sometimes God may feel the same way as Charlie Brown.

Consider Jephthah who makes a vow before God and everyone that if he’s victorious in battle, he’ll offer a burnt-offering of whatever comes out his front door when he gets home. (How could he have thought this was a good idea?) Anyway, he’s victorious. He goes home and his daughter runs out to meet him. 

You can see where this is going. No mention of Mrs. Jephthah who would surely have had something to say about this. No mention of God saying, “I hold you to this deal!” either. (Abraham was given an out when he thought he’d have to offer up his son.)

A few weeks ago, I heard John Bell at the Washington Island Forum. “I’m so glad that’s in the bible,” he’d say after reading one of its more difficult stories. He’d go on. These stories are here for a reason. It's our job to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with them, giving them time to unfold their meanings within us. It’s not about whether or not they’re historically accurate, but about finding what truth they offer.

A literal reading of some bible stories makes us think, Eew! Thankfully, we’re not supposed to take them literally. They weren’t written to be taken that way. But nor are we supposed to dismiss them.

When you come to one of these stories, be uncomfortable with it. Wait longer than you think you should have to. Days … weeks … years. 

What bible text makes you go, Eew? What could God be hoping you’d take away from it? (You, not some theologically-trained other person.) What is God's message for you?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Guilty as Charged

A few weeks ago, I was driving down Highway 15, and just as I left Greenville behind, I saw a yellow traffic sign that read "Centerline Rumble Strips." Only I read it as "Combustible Rumble Strips."

That would certainly get one’s attention! Needless to say, I took a second look and read more carefully.

This experience got me thinking about how we sometimes do things, and wonder afterward… how could I have done that? Or, how could I have thought this was a good idea?
  • Why, oh why, did I steal that pack of gum when my 9-years-old self was frustrated with the clerk who (I thought) was ignoring me?
  • How did I ever believe she’d be a good fit as secretary? (This was years ago.)
  • What possessed me to go tent camping in Wisconsin in June again? 
  • Did I really think we’d eat all those grapes before they went bad?
Maybe for you it’s not about composting fuzzy grapes or going home early from a cold, wet vacation, but we’ve all made bad choices. And experienced living with the consequences.
  • I still remember waiting by the counter in that shop, sweaty from riding my bike, while the clerk left me standing there. I wish I hadn’t taken the gum. I’m sure it didn’t taste right to my young, “lawful-good” self.
  • That secretary didn’t last. 
  • Would you believe I went camping in Bayfield in June just two years ago? Lots of rain and nighttime temps in the 30s! (One of the others in the mission team took pity on me and loaned me a blanket to lay over my sleeping bag.) 
  • I consider composting a great invention. It keeps me from feeling quite so guilty when something in the fridge gets forgotten.
But… Guilt. That’s where I was going with this. How are we to handle it?
What do you do? How’s that working for you?

There are some actions that demand restitution, but, really, most of them are over and done with right away, or at least soon afterward. It’s only our own sense of guilt that makes us relive them. I read once that guilt is helpful only if it lasts no more than five seconds. That makes a lot of sense.

What to do after you’ve said or done something stupid or wrong or unfortunate…
  1. Admit what you did, without redirecting or avoiding responsibility.
  2. If it helps, go ahead and feel guilty.
  3. Seek forgiveness and make amends. (Forgive yourself!)
  4. Decide how you’ll handle things differently next time.
  5. Now stop feeling guilty, and get back to living (and enjoying) your life.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

"Here I am, Lord"

There’s a hymn I love to sing: “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night…”

What have you been hearing?
How are you answering?

(long silent pause…)


I suspect this song’s a favorite with people who’ve begun to answer God’s call in their lives. Do you believe God has some purpose for you? Right now where you are, doing what you’re doing?

The last few months, I’ve been puzzling this question. What’s my purpose? Now, in this community, in this church? Obviously, I’m supposed to preach and teach and all the other things a pastor does. But that’s what any pastor would do. In what ways am I called to share the gift of who I am – not just my faith and seminary training, but my experience… my joys, pains & sorrows… my broken places?

God shapes us through our day-to-day living, through the ways we respond to the people and events in our lives, and through our reflecting back on them. What is God’s expectation for me now? Here? With them and with you?

These are deep questions and some would rather not go deep. But it’s my belief that you can’t know if you’re following God’s lead unless you ask the tough questions once in a while, and wrestle with the answers. So I’ve been wrestling.

What I’ve come up with is that I need to be open to using all the ways life has shaped me – good & bad – to shepherd, lead, or encourage whoever needs to hear these things from me. This might not be advisable – or even possible – for some people, but I’m a 50-something woman, come late to ministry, with no expectations or aspirations to progress in the institution called the Church. That being the case, I might as well be open if that openness might help anther person.

It seems there’s to be a lot less “private” me and a lot more “public” me.

I don’t mean to seem like a saint. I’m not. This is scary stuff. We humans are hardwired with a desire to be known, yes, but also with a need to protect ourselves from perceived threats. Vulnerability is hard for us. We crave it and fear it at the same time. Still, I’m pretty sure this is God’s call for me until further notice. Time to step out of my comfort zone – again.

One thing we don’t realize when we first answer God’s call is that God keeps at it – sometimes tweaking, other times changing our call entirely. Have you experienced this yet? What was it like for you?

“But, God, I’ve already turned my life around for you once (twice, three times).” Having listened to people’s stories, I suspect that after we’ve answered a couple times, we kind of come to expect it.

Clearly, God isn’t finished with us yet.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Wondering

“The following message has been prerecorded.” 
Remember when we used to hear that on TV? (Am I dating myself here?!)

During June, I will be in and out for one thing and another. Just to make sure I have something to publish each week, I’m writing a few entries ahead of time. This is one of them.




A dream died yesterday. I’m okay with it having died; it was time. Still, it was a good dream.

It might have ended sooner except for some accidents of fate. What do you think of coincidences? I’ve often agreed with people who said  God works within those moments drawing us closer to God’s way. But when things fall apart, even after that chance happening you thought sure was God-at-work, you might wonder.

Still, when I go to the hospital to visit someone, only to find out he’s been released, I'm glad for him, but I hope some good came out of my trip. That may be God is active within it all. Maybe my talking with that woman in the elevator was more important than I realized. (Still, when the “just-missed-them” thing happens twice in one day, as it did today, I do wonder.)

One possible coincidence is my having chosen Jeremiah 29:11 as this month’s memory verse: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

This verse reminds me that God’s intentions are plans, not dreams. Dreams are ephemeral, meant to be with us only briefly, then gone. Plans, on the other hand, are the objects of continuing effort. They’re the kinds of things God is after doing in our lives, and in the life of the world. Plans that, while they may be nothing like what we envision, are just what we, or somebody else, really need.

This verse gives me something to hold onto when a dream dies, or the work overwhelms me, or the diagnosis of someone I care about turns sour. If I just keep doing my part, I can trust God to keep plugging away whenever any of us leaves an opening.

I remember the poster from high school: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Without going into my philosophy about why we don’t see that truism much anymore, I suggest that God takes all the messes that we – you, me, the whole world – make of our lives, and God creates something good out of it.

I don’t mean to be Pollyanna-ish. We both know that sometimes life just sucks. (Sorry, but it does.) But somehow (read: through faith) I trust. And because of this I can choose to live in hope.