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?) 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…


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.