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.