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