Saturday, December 31, 2016

On the seventh day of Christmas...

Last year I went to an ornament exchange with an owl made of twigs and other natural things
I came home with this one. Kay says this must mean something....
I’m on vacation this week, taking some cottage days as Cylia* tells me they call it around here. As I understand, this means I’m vacating the job and not generally available to invitations, but I’m not removing myself geographically. Kay and I are staying put.

I taught in New Mexico for 5 years after I got out of college. 
Chili peppers remind me of a place I love.
(These are ceramic. I found a few pair of them in a thrift store last year. 
I also have three 30-year old stuffed, cloth,ones.)
Still, it’s vacation and I’m taking a computer fast this week. So while you’re thinking “New Year” as you read this, I’m thinking about Christmas just ahead as I write this.

As a lighter – and hopefully easier – posting, I thought I’d share some pictures – just ornaments, nothing fancy – and why they matter to me.

* per my practice, Cylia is not her real name. Nor is Kay.

I bought this at a co-op in La Palma, El Salvador.
Women worked in the room behind the "showroom" painting while
their children played around them, or slept in hammocks.
I feel good that I could help support this family-friendly place with all the gifts I bought there.
This is a relic from a honeymoon visit to Frankenmuth.
The marriage is no more, and I really ought to trash this -
it's only an imprinted plastic coat over a styrofoam ball.
The picture is all crackled now, but I smile each year
when I see the music on it.

Knowing my fondness of all things Central American since my trip to El Salvador,
Kay found this and gave it to me last year.
We have to be sure we don't hang it wear it can spin as her dress is rather like a hospital gown.
We hang bells at the bottom of our tree so we can hear when
our cat Dagger tries to climb the tree or pull of decorations.
He was the terror of the tree when he was young.
I raise a glass hoping that you have seen or read something that made you smile. I'll be back in the new year. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

"Is It Christmas Yet?"

I’ve known people to sniff in disdain over Christmas trees, “Silver Bells”, reindeer, wreathes and ornamentations in general. “Christmas is about Jesus!” they scoff. “Anything else is idolatry.” (Or, distraction, superfluous, missing the point … you get the idea.) I don’t argue with them – it wouldn’t help if I did – but I don’t agree either. While I agree that for Christians, Christmas needs to include Christ, I also see beyond that.

First off, Christmas is an excuse for non-Christians to celebrate. While part of me doesn’t really like their jumping on our holy day as a way to buy and sell and party excessively, I think it’s potentially healthy and good anytime people pause in the daily things and get together with the ones they care about. You may have heard me talk before about this, but I strongly believe that – in general – people are designed to be in relationship. We may not be very good at it, but we’re better together. These days we’ve isolated ourselves in so many ways that almost anytime we create a moment to connect is a good thing.

Secondly, we are embodied creatures. True, the apostle Paul wrote at length about body and soul as if they could and should be separated. But! to put this in context, we need to remember that Paul was a product of his Greco-Roman upbringing. This type of duality was a popular Greek idea but it wasn’t a Jewish one (and so, not one that Jesus promoted.)

Ancient Jewish people seemed to get that, as humans, we’re a complete package. They understood about sin and failing for follow God’s lead as much as anyone. But they didn’t blame it on “the body”. They accepted that they’d grieved God and sought to return to God’s favor, but without that attempt at artificial separation of their “humanity”. This holistic approach seems like a healthy way to do things.

All of that said, this weekend is a time to celebrate God with our entire being. In what ways are you doing this?

I offer the following as snapshots of small things that give me joy during the Christmas season. I’ll be at church most of today and then tomorrow morning as we celebrate again the birth of Jesus. At home in the week following, I’ll listen to an eclectic assortment of Christmas music, eat pumpkin bread and smoked salmon (not at the same sitting), play games, watch George Bailey and Elizabeth Lane, and simply be.

A favorite Christmas Eve read-aloud when my kids were younger was Is It Christmas Yet? I may have even mentioned it before. On Christmas Eve day, Pinky finds family members busily working on pre-Christmas activities, learning along the way more about this special day, and each times asking, “Is it Christmas yet?” until finally hearing, “Yes, now it is Christmas!”

I encourage you to pay attention to what makes up your Christmas as well. If (hopefully) this includes worship, then make time for it. Yet my prayer for you is that whether it’s Christmas worship, gazing at the tree or out the window, singing, or being silly with loved ones that you celebrate by doing and being those things. And giving glory to God.

Blessed Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent 4a – We're Almost There ... And Where Is That Exactly?

Christmas Eve is still seven days away, yet this is part of our lectionary reading this weekend. Since Advent is about preparing – as in “Get ready! He’s almost here!” – I suppose it makes sense. Still what are we to make of this, today?

My thought is that since it takes a bit of effort to wrap our minds around the  Christmas story, let’s start early. I mean, with an angel saying, “You’re going to have God’s son”, the whole virgin getting pregnant thing, and an engagement almost called off but for heavenly intervention... Then, there are foreign visitors following a star, an evil king, genocide, more dreams and angels, and this is only one gospel-writer’s input!

I love Christmas and I love Advent. But I’ve wondered how much of the stories we treasure are products of the gospel-writers’ minds and hearts, as they put their all into  conveying to their readers that Jesus’ life – birth through death, and beyond – was of God. Entirely. 100%.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m Christian – except perhaps by fundamentalists’ standards – and I fully accept that Jesus’ life was dedicated to showing God’s Way to everyone who’d pay attention. And whether or not Jesus was King David’s 28th generation grandson (which seems suspect when Luke claims 42 generations between them and with different names, to boot) …or Mary was a virgin or Jesus looked a lot like Joseph … or magi actually gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh are, while interesting, just not the point.

What matters, what Matthew was trying to communicate, is that Jesus was faithful – in the manner of David and some others in that royal lineage. He came from God, the whole of his life was dedicated to living for God, and he was worthy of being hailed as king. Indeed he is our Lord.

If all the miraculous language works for you, if your Christmas or your faith would be shaken without it, then by all means accept it. Treasure it even. But please practice grace with those others for whom it doesn’t work. Because if we take away the miraculous that for some people is actually a deterrent to faith, we still have One who is worthy of dedicating our lives to follow. We still have our Lord.

That’s part of the awesomeness of God’s action through Jesus. Even if we strip away the miracles, we’re still left with One who followed God all his days, even to the point of execution, all so that we’d come to realize how very much God cares for us, and how important it is for us to live in God’s hope of wholeness for the earth God loves so much.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent 3a – Hang on, God's Comin'

Christmas happened (and happens) because God loves – loves all of us so much that God will do simply anything to reach us. The desired response is that we pass that same love onto the rest of “the world”. Some people don’t get this. They believe that only those who accept Christ (or Muhammad, or whoever) are “in”. But, speaking to Christians, I challenge you to find anything in John 3:16, that much-referenced-by-conservatives verse, which even hints at exclusivity.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
Look at the second half of the verse, you say? Yes, it does say those who believe are graced. What it doesn’t say, doesn’t even suggest, is that the ones who don’t believe won’t receive similar grace. Not at all! They’re not being mentioned shouldn’t be read as something that’s not there. This is about God loving, people believing, and it working out for all of them. Period.

There are lots of places in scripture where we could totally get off track and go in a wrong direction. Case in point? centuries of people having an image of a punitive God meting out punishment.
Say to those who are panicking:
    “Be strong! Don’t fear!
    Here’s your God,
        coming with vengeance;
         with divine retribution
God will come to save you.” Isaiah 35:4
It’d easy to do, especially when we take verses like this one and pull them apart from what surrounds them. Keeping two things in mind helps:
  1. Much of the Bible, especially the Older Testament, was written by individuals trying to make sense of who or what God was, who they were as a people, and what God wanted from them.
    This wasn’t about God steering pencils as people took heavenly dictation, but about faithful people trying to discern God’s way. And, second,
  2. Context is everything. 
Take the example above. It sounds like God’s taking my side against all comers. But let’s remember that the writers are products of their times. (I say writers because Isaiah was written over a period of 200 years.) By the time they were writing, people'd had some time to grow into the idea of having one God – a crazy-modern concept – but like their contemporaries, they still believed their god was vengeful. All gods were vengeful. And of course, theirs was on their side  when they’re taken into exile. That’s just how gods worked!

Picture God banging their head against a wall. Okay, maybe that’s too weird, but God knows, even if ancient biblical writers didn’t, that this isn’t God's way. So in good time, God has us meet Jesus who works to teach people about God's justice. It was there all along; just look at the verses that follow.
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf will be cleared.
Then the lame will leap like the deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless will sing...
The Lord’s ransomed ones will return and enter Zion with singing,
    with everlasting joy upon their heads.
Happiness and joy will overwhelm them;
    grief and groaning will flee away. 35:5-6a, 10 
This chapter of Isaiah is part of the rotation of texts read during Advent. The writer talks about being exiled and taken far from home. He doesn't mince words. "We've messed up and there are consequence. It'll be hard, but be strong. Hold tight. It will happen. God will take care of us. In the end, it'll all work out.” Only he says it in very old poetic Hebrew. When we read it this way, it makes sense that it's an Advent text.

Where in your life do you need to be strong and hold tight?
Are you questioning how it can possibly work out?

Maybe this week we could each practice resting in confidence that God's seen it all. Maybe we can't imagine being on the other side of our bad situations, but God's on it, and in the end, we will be able to look back and say, "Hallelujah! We made it."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent 2a – Why Not All Year?

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. Isaiah 11:3b-4a

A couple of times this past week, someone mentioned that people are kinder as we approach Christmas. One of those times, another person added that it’s like we’re allowed, and expected, to be more caring. I think she’s right. Each December, we get messages from within and from the world around us to share goodwill.

I’m speculating that “celebrating” Christmas grew concurrently with colonization. Europeans took over much of the rest of the world, purportedly to save native peoples from themselves. As they/we imposed our religion on these nations, colonizers’ customs were, at least in some instances, incorporated into the European practices. Making a long story very short, “the holiday season” roots were planted. And, my, how they’ve flourished. Now besides making a big holiday deal out of Christmas – as opposed to Holy Day – we’ve added Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and likely other December celebrations I’m unaware of.

Celebration is a good thing. We need moments/days/months when we cease our business-as-usual, lift our heads, and glorify our maker. Doing this, we become part of something bigger than ourselves. And by stopping, we face the truths that 1) we can stop and 2) a lot of what we do in our lives is not as important as we believe it is.

Celebrating is good for us, and those around us. We’re more generous in times of celebration. (Think of the prodigal dad roasting a fatted calf when his wayward son came home.) Anticipation and social expectation lead us to share our resources more freely than at any other time of year. Not only that but nonprofits know that many of us still have planning giving to do before year’s end, so our mailboxes overflow with pleas for support.

My question is, why only now? Why not all year?

At our church conference on Monday, we were preparing to vote on whether or not to begin a needed capital campaign. Part of the proposal stated that a certain amount of the money raised would be given to a particular local nonprofit. People asked questions and offered their viewpoints, but Bob’s* question struck me. “If this [giving] is so important, why don’t we have a line in our budget for regular support?” Why, indeed?

Advent, these four weeks before Christmas, are historically a time of repentance (we’ve largely gotten away from that) and preparation. For most people these days, preparation includes decorating, shopping, and music. Only for some is it about self-examination, but that’s the original hope. And that’s what we need more of.

It’s not too late to join a group for some conversation about what you should be noticing this Advent or to do some quiet introspection. Notice, make a plan, then act on it.

Advent blessing.
*Not his real name

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent 1a – Prophets, New Beginnings

From,Cassi Alexandra 
Be vigilant. You have no idea when the Human One is going to show up. Matthew 24:44

Happy New Year!

What? You didn’t know this was the new year? Well, it isn’t on the calendar, of course, but as far as the Church is concerned, today is the first day of the year.

I’ve long been one to celebrate new beginnings – the New Year, the beginning of the school year in September, and this, the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the Christian calendar.

This is a day of new beginnings,
time to remember, and move on,
time to believe what love is bringing,
laying to rest the pain that's gone. [1]

Yes, I like new beginnings. (I regularly make enough mistakes that the idea of fresh starts – each day, even – appeals to me.) I also really like Advent. I not really drawn to the Second Coming of Christ focus that the Church has traditionally used in early Advent. For me, reading and talking about the words of the Hebrew prophets is always a plus, something we need and don’t get enough of today.

Now just to clarify, Hebrew prophets weren’t seers or oracles. Their job wasn’t to foretell anything, although we Christians have worked hard to co-opt as much as we could from their prophecies. I don’t mean these prophetic words have no place in our Christian understanding. It's just that when we spend so much effort pointing them at Jesus, we can miss the point of what the prophet was initially conveying. And we need to hear that, today as much as at anytime in history.

Hebrew prophets spoke God’s hard word to a people who weren’t interested in hearing it. I say “hard word” because so much of what they conveyed was, "You people need to shape up – or else!" Who wants to hear that, especially if the current system works for you? (This is why the prophet's life was/is so tough.)

And while
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6 NKJV
seems like it was written for an event 700 years later, we might wonder what the original meaning was.

If we had an old-time prophet here in Appleton, or in the place where you live, what would they have to say about the ways people are living today? (And yes, I’m using “they” on purpose. I’ve long had issue with the overuse of male pronouns. Now that some people are identifying as “they” we finally have a non-gendered way to speak of unknown individuals, or – dare I say it? – God.) But, back to my question, what “hard word” might an early-21st century prophet have to say to us?

Wait, we do! Some of them are individuals, maybe Bono, maybe Jean Vanier. Some of them are groups, maybe Futures Without Violence, maybe the folks at Standing Rock.

Are we listening?

[1] Brian Wren, “This Is a Day of New Beginnings”

Saturday, November 19, 2016

rock or sand?

Built on the Drina River, Serbia in 1968. 

The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house.
It fell and was completely destroyed.” Matthew 7:27 CEB

This fall, I had my gutters cleaned and gutter guards installed. With all the rain this summer, I've had plenty of opportunity to notice that they were clogged. I'm hoping the basement will be drier after this. It's an old house, and this's only a hope, but it'd be nice.

I've known that verse (above) most of my life. And I've worked to "build my life" on God and God's precepts. But today I was struck, maybe for the first time, by an earlier phrase: "Everybody who hears my words and puts them into practice..."

This parable about builders –  one who built their house on solid rock, the other on sand – concludes what we commonly call The Sermon on the Mount, a whole string of Jesus' teachings that begin with "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." then go on to include:
  • Being salt & light
  • "You've heard it said" sayings
    • You've heard "Don't murder," but I say, "Don't even think, 'You, fool!'"
    • You've heard "An eye for an eye," but I say, "Give to whoever begs"
    • You've heard "Hate your enemy," but I say, ""Love everyone"
  • Don't be a hypocrite
  • No one can serve two masters
  • Don't worry ... Don't judge ... Don't give what's precious to those who can't appreciate it
  • Trees are known by their fruit
  • Build on solid foundations
  • and more...
Gee, talk about a winding sermon! In truth, this's probably a compilation of wise saying and teachings that the person we call Matthew put together from what he'd learned about Jesus. After all, he was writing decades after Jesus' execution and there were no recording devices back then. (So much for our Red-Letter bibles.) Not that I mean to devalue the ideas. It's all good stuff; it's just that it didn't happen while everyone was sitting on a hill having a picnic. And that part about building on a solid foundation ... maybe Jesus didn't say it at the end of a long speech, but whenever he said it, we can trust it was because we need to hear it. 

I've noticed though that sometimes when people sing or preach this story, seldom is any attention given to the "act on them" phrase. Granted, some of us – many, actually – do practice living out parts of scripture, but we often do so without considering the meta-story.

What was the over-arching message Jesus worked to communicate? Maybe you respond, Love, without even having to think about it. And, while that's a good answer, I suggest that maybe it's more than that. 

I'm still working on this, but I'm pretty sure that in addition to communicating God's love for all of creation and God's eagerness to connect with us, Jesus was trying to get through to us that God intends for us to turn the world (or maybe the "world" as we understand it) upside-down. This is something very few of us are really interested in. (In fact, it's what got Jesus killed.) And, yet, so much of what Jesus conveys is presented over-against what the folks back then understood as religion, as community, as leadership, as, faith, as life. Or what we understand to be those things.

That's the message I find. That's the message we're supposed to be practicing ... in our conversations, in our politics, in our jobs... well, you get the idea. 

May God bless you as you ponder the ways you live out your faith.

“Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock..." Matthew 7:24 CEB

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Safely Pinned

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God… those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. 1 John 4:7, 21

Emotions are close to the surface this weekend. Yesterday, I was reading Anne Lamott’s little book Help Thanks Wow. I burst out laughing when I read her story of talking to her 3-year-old grandson about their cat’s impending death, telling him “that the angels were going to take her from us. I tried to make it sound like rather happy news—after all, vultures aren’t coming for her, or snakes…” I don’t know if I’d usually laugh about that – I have cats – but I laughed uproariously for a few seconds, then began to sob like I haven’t cried in a long time.

Today I was reading poems on hope. Halfway through Abeyance, a river of tears came again. In the years since leaving my marriage barely a hint of moisture has touched my eyes, yet this week I’ve shed hot tears. I grieve.

Before I go on though, I want to spell out that this is NOT about an election. It’s about justice and it’s about looking out for each other. I will support leaders who support justice, our president-elect included, but I hope not to support any movement toward injustice. Now to continue.

So many people – particularly sister and brothers of color – are living in fear. I grieve over “hatred being applauded... and violence and abuse becoming mainstream through the endorsement and election of a man who justifies and dismisses all of these things.” (from my post to Facebook this week)

I’ve been thinking about our visit to Salisbury Methodist Church during the Wesley Pilgrimage last summer. David Hookins talked to us about a newer piece to his daily attire – a safety pin. He said that since Brexit, hatred against immigrants and Muslims had gone public. So people – mostly white, I’m guessing – started wearing safety pins in solidarity. They announce without a word being spoken, “I’m a safe person” – safe to approach, safe to talk to if someone feels nervous…

Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34 (CEB)

Brexit may eventually be overturned, but unless the electoral college does the heretofore unheard of and 10% of the Republican electors vote outside their party, many, many people face unconscionable hardship. (And again, our president-elect did not create the problem, he merely brought it to the light such that we can no longer ignore its presence.) I’m not even talking about this week’s escalation of violent words and actions. They may pass as tempers cool. No, my concern – already voiced by others – is that more would-be political-minded people will use the newly-mainstream practices of our president-elect in their own bids for power. My fear is that this is only the beginning.’

I’d wanted to promote the Safety Pin idea as soon as I came home from England in July (I’d been wearing one there) but there seemed to be no immediate need. Life pressed on me and the idea was shelved. Today I take it down again.

Please join me and others in publicizing, sharing, tweeting, and generally encouraging this act of solidarity. Dig into the back of a drawer, find a safety pin and put it on. And keep it on.

What good is it…if you say you have faith but do not have works? James 2:14-17

Saturday, October 29, 2016

“You don’t need to worry about us”

As was the custom, I’d offered a pastoral report to our church council on a Tuesday a few months ago. Sometimes, I tend to ramble or leave out important details. When someone then asks for clarification, I'd feel foolish. This time, trying to be more effective in my role, I prepared an outline of sorts.

My plan was to celebrate some of the ways we as a church had been growing in discipleship in recent months, in terms of participation in adult studies and small groups. Then I’d ask the council for feedback. How can we reach some of the less connected people? How might we get more people involved overall?

I say “tried” because it didn’t turn out as I’d hoped. What I planned to be an affirmation of people’s participation came out way weaker than I’d intended – no doubt tied to my introverted, understated, “don’t say more than needed” ways of the past. And after that reserved (not-quite-absent) affirmation, it was only reasonable that some folks might have taken my question about how to get people more involved a bit personally, maybe even getting a little defensive.

Maybe they didn’t and weren’t, but it was tense. And having shared all this you might agree that it's not surprising given the circumstances. Even so, through our conversation I got some good suggestions. And later, I gained another useful bit of perspective.

The day after the meeting, someone took me aside and told me he’d been offended. He spoke respectfully and I listened, not asking any questions. About a week later, after we’d each had time to distance ourselves from the experience, I approached him to ask what in particular had offended him. Thankfully, he was open to my question and explained. And as he finished, he said, “You don’t need to worry about us, you know.”

I’ve been giving that sentence a lot of thought in the months since then, how I worry about the people in my care. In a way it makes sense to be concerned, but in another way it’s totally unneeded and gets in the way of what I'm trying to do.

As one of the pastors in this church, I stand on the shoulders of all those who have gone before me. They blazed the trail that I now continue for a time. When my appointment here ends, another will continue after me. It’s a relay race. I don’t do it myself. All any of us can do, or need to do, is our own part.

The people of this church are good and faithful people, living out that faith in fear and trembling (just like me.) They've been at it a long time – their whole lives, many of them. They too stand on the shoulders of the ones who once filled their pews. Eventually, others will take their places.

All Saints Day is Tuesday. Maybe this is a good time to remember some of those who made our churches, our homes, and our communities what they are today. Maybe it’s a good time to assess the good we’re doing now, asking ourselves what will people say about us when we’re gone?

So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.  Hebrews 12:1f

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Yoga & Morning Prayers

(Thursday.) Today was my third day in a row getting back into my practice of yoga and prayer each morning, only I realized as I drove down Water Street on my way to the church that I’d forgotten to do the prayer part. (Yes, I pray – just about every morning, evening, and throughout the day – but for this prayer time I use a book from Iona I picked up at Sarum College last summer and include psalm and gospel readings.)

I’ve been learning that I do better in most facets of my life when I have routine. I can veer from it without problem, but if I don’t have the practice in place, I tend to wander  I’m less effective at work, my house goes into CHAOS, I lose connection with people close to me. People use A.D.D., O,C,D., and the like too often to describe “inappropriate” or "goofy" behaviors, which is a shame and is actually disrespectful of those who truly have the disorder or disease. That said, my A.D.D.  yes, I have the diagnosis.  shows up more when I’m stressed or disorganized.

An aside: My daughter looked over my shoulder at my computer screen one day last month and asked, “Does it help you to keep your calendar this full?” I was taken aback at first. My first thought was, “Doesn’t it help everyone?” (I laugh now as I write this. Of course it doesn’t, but it helps me.)

Anyway, when I got to church, I pulled The Inclusive Psalms off the shelf and went into the sanctuary. I love our sanctuary. On Sunday morning, it's full of people and music, hopes and longings. Yet even on a Thursday morning it's wonderful  silent and spacious, filled still with God's present-ness. I slid onto a pew. I would rest in that presence and read the next psalm.

Remembering that yesterday's was psalm 118. I opened to 119.

Oh... yes. Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem: the first word of each stanza begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (aleph, beth, ghimel... taw) The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters.

I was in that space soaking up the peace for a good while as I read aloud one stanza, then another, pausing between each pair. Yet it felt good. By the 18th stanza or so, I was tripping over my words a bit, but since this wasn't a performance I continued. It'd been a long time since I'd read this aloud. It's not something I'd want to do each day, still, as I said, it felt good.

When it comes to our discipleship, having practices in place – both personal and communal – help us follow Christ more fully. Whether it’s serving at Loaves & Fishes, intentionally listening to others, participating in worship each week, or yoga & morning prayers, we’re going to be better for using whatever spiritual disciplines. And by allowing ourselves to be stretched with practices in all four quadrants of the cross diagram, we become more rounded in our following.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Two E Words - Elections & Ethics

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. Galatians 6:7
My heart’s racing and my head aches. I enjoyed a cup of delicious coffee and a delightful gluten free chocolate treat at the farmer’s market. Now I’m paying the price.

Nationally, I think we’re paying a price as well, although it may be our hearts that are aching rather than our heads. Earlier this year people on both sides of the political divide were rallying to political outsiders in an effort to express dissatisfaction with the little-to-no-business-as-usual partisanship in Washington. They made their point. But now we are left with a choice between an insider – a woman! – and an outsider – who frankly scares many both within our nation and beyond.

Still, the phrase that rests on my heart is that what goes around, comes around. Or to say it in Bible-speak:
They will eat from the fruit of their way,
   and they’ll be full of their own schemes. Proverbs 1:31 CEB
A couple of my more learned friends this week shared on Facebook an article by Stephen Mattson that appeared last winter in Sojourners magazine, “History Will Judge Today's Christians According to These 4 Questions”. I’d seen the article before, but this time it’s sticking with me.

Mattson reminds us that “during some of the world’s darkest moments” we can easily notice where Christians have failed to follow Jesus’ example and teachings. And, without calling our present moment one of those darkest times, he reminds us that we too will be judged by our actions.

I would note here that even if you don’t hold a God-as-judge theology, we are still judged – everyday, by all those around us – for how well we follow, or don’t follow, that example. And though many of us could make a case for following Christ with our personal lives, and many of our churches work at it as well, when we look at the bigger picture – and God clearly calls us to consider the big picture – our claim seems weak indeed.

I encourage you to read the article, if you haven’t already. Mattson’s questions are not new; I’ve tried to challenge people about these issues for years from my tiny soap box. With election day less than a month away, I invite you to consider his fourth question …

Why do we crave martial, economic, and political power when God has warned (again and again) against putting faith in such things?
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of anger will fail. Proverbs 22:8
Judging by bumper stickers I’ve seen in recent years, there are people who focus on just one ethical question as they approach the ballot box. It’s seldom this one, but perhaps it should be.

When we are so tied to our own comfortable existence that we will do anything (and we are) to protect it, then we are giving a lie to our Christian words of faith. The two cannot coexist. (Yes, God’s grace abounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to continually take advantage of it.)

As you approach election day – hey, as you approach any choice in your life – be sure you ask yourself the right questions. And though it’s not scriptural, I offer one more (favorite) quote…

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Rainy Day Rumination

God makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.
                                                  Matthew 5:45b Common English Bible
I’ve always liked rainy days. I like the shades of the clouds and the way the light draws my attention to things I hadn’t noticed when the sun was shining. I like the patterns of water on the sidewalk,  the circles of wetness, then the shiny, full-of-water places which contrast with the dull gray, wet but not satiated spots.

I saw my first Van Gogh a couple years ago when I was visiting family and we went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
This isn't a great picture.. The colors of the original were amazing.
I could have stood in front of his painting Rain indefinitely. While my nephew Joss’s patience was impressive as I lingered at a Monet or Cassatt (our group had split into pairs for browsing) more than a few moments probably would have been unreasonable. Still, it was incredible!

There’s something about rainy days. They’re nice when you can curl up with an afghan, some tea, and a book. Not so nice when the cracks in the basement start seeping. Still, with a roof overhead and no place to go, they offer us gifts.

I used to say that these days allowed me to give in to my melancholy nature. But I’ve rethought that. Melancholy is a feeling of pensive sadness, often with no clear reason. I’m not generally sad when I’m this way but I am pensive.

If you read the Harry Potter stories, you’re familiar with the “Pensieve” as an object, a bowl. The author gives the word substance rather than defining it. Which was fitting for the story, but I still like definition and clarity.

When I’m pensive, I’m contemplative – reflective, musing, meditative, introspective. (If you’re an extrovert, this may seem a little foreign, or maybe not. As we grow, we tend to get in touch with other aspects of ourselves. Form myself, I’ve learned to talk with people and sometimes even think out loud.)

Today, it’s raining. And it’s the first day of fall. A perfect day to spend reflecting on one’s life and the world around us. Your thoughts and questions would, of course, be different from mine which tend to be prayerful as I open myself up to what God would reveal. They’re questions about purpose and hopes, longings and maybe some regrets. What is my direction? Am I missing something? Am I on my best path? Who around me could I notice more? Or less?

I have plenty of other questions. One that crops up regularly is, how do I do what has to be done and still have time for –––? (fill in the blank) But this question doesn’t come up so much when I’m in my pensive place.

Where, or when, do you let yourself just "be", opening yourself to your heart’s questions?

Many people are uncomfortable with questions and work very quickly to provide answers and ease their distress. If you’re like this, that’s okay. Accept it as a starting place but don’t stay there. Questions have so much to offer us when we don’t rush to close them.

Instead, adventure briefly into unfamiliar waters by sitting with the questions. If it’s too uncomfortable, set a timer. Tell yourself that for five minutes you won’t try to answer; you’ll just be present with whatever offers itself. You can do this. And after you try it a few times, I’m guessing you’ll come to see the value of questions.

Happy Autumn! (Or, to you folks on the top-side of my upside-down globe, Happy Spring!)
Pour down, you heavens above,    and let the clouds flow with righteousness.Let the earth open for salvation to bear fruit;    let righteousness sprout as well.    I, the Lord, have created these things.                                             Isaiah 45:8 CEB

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Second Violin

I’ve been surprised that almost no one’s asked why I started playing violin this year. True, I was a band and choir teacher. My mind and my ear know music. But my playing violin is rather like a shop teacher constructing a viola (I know one that did), or a painter deciding to work in marble. It can be done, but only with a lot of retooling.

Maybe no one’s surprised by my choice because they know others who’ve done similar things. I remember almost 35 years ao when Granddad told me he was learning Spanish. He and Grandma had moved to Florida. He’d noticed the many Spanish speakers around him and decided to take up the language.

Maybe my trying New Horizons Orchestra – or you doing whatever you’re trying – helps others to believe they can become more than they are. In The Lord of the Rings movies (I don’t remember if it’s in the books) Frodo tries to explain to Sam why he treats Gollum with compassion. 
Frodo: Why do you do that? … Call him names, run him down all the time.
Sam: Because... because that's what he is, Mr. Frodo. There's naught left in him but lies and deceit. It's the ring he wants; it's all he cares about.
Frodo: You have no idea what it did to him... what it's still doing to him. I want to help him, Sam.
Sam: Why?
Frodo: Because I have to believe he can come back.
The same burden that slowly destroyed Gollum’s humanity, is slowly taking Frodo’s as well. He fervently hopes that Gollum can be saved, because then, there’s hope for him as well.

Tolkien’s story suggests that only by reaching beyond our own comfortable place in the world, only by connecting with others – even the most despised – can we find our own humanity. We see this in the leaders of at least some religions – Jesus being the one I’m most familiar with. We see it in those most human ones of our recent past – Dorothy Day, Pope Francis, Nelson Mandela – and in certain people around us, the ones who are not content with the half-life that we lead when we’re focused only on our own day-to-day affairs.

Few people realize when they start out that they’re doing a great thing. They simply do something because it needs to be done. We call them courageous, but I’ve come to understand that this kind of courage is simply a realization that the alternative action (or inaction) is too awful to be born.

Yes, I was nervous at the orchestra first rehearsal. I was scared my first day at seminary, too. And I’ve trembled when I said things I felt led to say. But, not to have spoken? Or, to have missed the seminary experience, and this great adventure of pastoral ministry? Never try orchestra? In each case, the risk was preferable to not having tried.
I started playing second violin in a community orchestra as a self-care practice, doing something I love (making music with others who share that love.) I’m not doing any great thing that I can recognize. My hope is that by taking the time for this I will be more ready to do other things that can make a difference, guiding others to connect with their humanity. And I count that as a good thing.

What do you love doing? Where’s your passion? Do you make time for it? I had to make mine a priority, making choices that not everyone at work may have been happy with. It may be that way for you.

Even in my sleep deprived state, I can tell that this entry doesn’t hold together well, but I will lay it out there anyway. May you find something in the reading that feeds you.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Third, Stay in Love with God

In 1739 a double handful of people approached John Wesley for spiritual guidance. Would he advise them on how to live in ways pleasing to God? The first Methodist Societies were born out of that request. This post concludes my series on the General Rules created for these small groups, looking today at the third rule.*
Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are: the public worship of God; the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord; family and private prayer; searching the Scriptures; fasting or abstinence.
I've had trouble with this Rule – partly because I couldn't understand what it was saying. Reuben Job's book Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living made Wesley's Rule much simpler. "Stay in love with God." Oh. I get it. I can do that!

Yet, Job's simplification creates new problems, as some friends discussed during the Wesley Pilgrimage this summer. If I read "Stay in love with God" and then proceed to say I love God while doing as I've always done, I'm missing the point. Before I continue, read the Rule again.
Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are: the public worship of God; the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord; family and private prayer; searching the Scriptures; fasting or abstinence.
First off, Mr. Wesley isn't talking about loving God in an emotional sense. He's talking about drawing closer to God through our practices – things we do over and over in order to get better at them (or in this case, at something related to it). 

I used to practice piano every day. For more than ten years, I played scales and worked through assigned pieces. Weekly, my efforts were critiqued by my instructor. I grew proficient. This proficiency helped when I picked up other instruments.

Later, as a teacher, I worked with bands and choirs and generally loved it, but I didn't enjoy giving private lessons because few students practiced. And most of those few simply played through things.

Practice is work. It takes commitment and perseverance to do boring exercises, repeat a phrase thirty times, learn fingerings, keep tempi consistent... It takes practice and instruction just to learn how to practice. (Most youngsters "play" rather than "practice".)

A cello teacher once told my son that each time we play something right it's like putting a blue chip in a jar. Playing it wrong adds a white chip. We need to work on putting in enough blue chips that we can (eventually) pull out blue chips consistently. This is true for music, sports, and discipleship.

Okay. The second problem. Some people read "Stay in love with God" and assume they can do it on their own. How often have we heard, "my faith is between me and God"?

Some practices, like fasting, we can do alone; others must be done in community. Worship is a group activity. If you try to do it alone, it's study or devotions, not worship. Besides practicing our discipleship alone, we also need to practice with other people who are working on theirs.

On this cross, you can see personal practices on the left side while public ones are on the right. Look further and you see that worship and devotion are only on the bottom half. The top reminds us that faith needs to be lived out – personally and publicly. God compels us to work on all of this if we are to grow as Christian disciples.

* You can find earlier posts from this series here, here, and here.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Some things are worth the effort .. but NOT everything!

This coneflower is thriving...
I transplanted some coneflowers this morning. If you’re a gardener, might you know that coneflowers don’t like to be disturbed. Yet as I was watering the newly planted ninebark, I happened to turn around. And there they were, looking so sad. Rabbits are cute and I’ve pretty much made my peace with them as you may have read (here). But... gee!

I’d planted them next to the garage, thinking they’d look better than those white rocks I’m slowly removing, piling in the driveway, and listing “Free” on craigslist. But while the daisies and bee balm are doing well there (along with a bush thing that just won’t die), the coneflowers grew only smallish leaves and few flowers, unlike the one at the top of the page.
If I was going to offer an analogy, I’d talk about the things that seem nice… until we get to know them close up. As a youth I liked the rabbits in our yard and didn’t understand all the fuss when a small one got in the garden. How much could they eat?

Like those cute rodents, we will let something into our lives – the gas-guzzling vehicle we wish we’d left on the lot, a friend or partner who leaves us cursing our rose-colored glasses, that lovely plant that proceeds to take over the yard. Some things we can put up with. We can adapt. We grow as we learn life lessons. Sometimes more drastic measures are needed. Porcelain vine and dame’s rocket both look nice, yet they’re pernicious weeds, illegal for transit or sale some places. Sometimes, the best thing may be to grab a shovel and remove the offender.

Closer to home, I ended my marriage. I’d read that one person can make it work, usually in “Christian” self-help books. I believed, maybe because I wanted to believe. For 25 years, I tried. And each time I failed, I called myself every sort of name. Finally, I accepted this was something I’d no longer live with. We brought out the worst in each other. The stress was making me sick. I wanted my daughter to have a better example – of a strong woman, one who believed she deserved a joy-filled life and would work to make that happen. So I ended it.

I practice joy. I laugh. 

I’m sharing this only to reach out to… anyone who’s in a similar place. Maybe it’s your relationship with your brother or a friend. Maybe it’s a job that, though once fulfilling, now leaves you cold. I think on those old Smoky Bear ads, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

Only you can make the change you might need to make.

And I remember how, week after week, we used to sing in church:

“You shall go out with joy and be let forth with peace,
The mountains and the hills will break forth before you.
There'll be shouts of joy and the trees of the fields
will clap, will clap their hands."
Isaiah 55:12 in "Trees of the Field" in The Faith We Sing, 2279

I’m sure the prophet had another topic in mind. Yet, God does want joy for us. 

When things are difficult, trust in that. And act!

Saturday, August 27, 2016


This summer marks the 20th anniversary of my coming to Wisconsin. It doesn’t seem like all that many years ago that my then-husband followed a job and all things greener back to the land of his birth., but Kay was born in Green Bay and she turns 20 this fall.

In those 20 years, I’ve grown up, grown stronger. I’ve shed what could not be mended, lived through situations I’d always hoped to avoid, and followed the Holy in ways I never dreamed I would. Through this, I’ve fallen in love with about a thousand treasured people, and even taken up the violin. (It’s okay to laugh at that last one.)

I was thinking about this as I drove to my appointment with my spiritual director yesterday. It took a long time for Wisconsin to feel like a place I’d want to stay. I came here out of duty, and after the divorce, my heart kept pointing west. When I moved to New Mexico after college, I found I loved the high mountain desert and I would have stayed indefinitely.

In the years after leaving the Southwest, nothing felt like home. Some places were fine, but they didn’t connect with me. They weren’t home. Neither were the Wisconsin places I’d lived in … until about four years ago. I was driving to one of the United Methodist Camps in the south central part of the state for a workshop. And as I drove, I realized that, at long last, I was home.

The feeling of "home" was a long time coming. First, there were dashed hopes, friendships betrayed, tears shed, lessons learned – many painful moments. Still, I'm in a good place now, and I'm grateful. 

I think of the Exodus story in the Hebrew Bible. An ethnos of the Ancient Middle East cried out in their captivity. Through God’s grace they were led to freedom and shaped into a people. Were they grateful after their years in the Wilderness?

The Exodus story has been claimed by African Americans, and maybe other peoples, who find in it a reflection of their own experience. Yet I believe it can also be a personal story, as long we don’t claim that’s all it is. 

It’s my story. Maybe it’s yours. Maybe you’ve found yourself in a situation you can’t fix or can’t seem to escape. Knowing that I’m beloved of G-d is what gave me the courage finally to make changes that were long overdue. 

Down deep, in your bones, do you believe that you are beloved of G-d? (You are.) Some women and men find other catalysts or motivations that lead them to become what they were made to be. Of course. But for me it was that love.

“If G-d loves me, I’m worth being –– “
How would you finish that sentence?
Who is like you among the gods, Lord?
    Who is like you, foremost in holiness,
    worthy of highest praise, doing awesome deeds? Exodus 15:11 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Truly Methodist

Thanks to Clark Atkins, Bob (John Wesley Bobble-head)
traveled with us on the Wesley Pilgrimage through England last month.
The General Rules
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind… 
Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all…
Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are: The public worship of God; The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; The Supper of the Lord; Family and private prayer; Searching the Scriptures; Fasting or abstinence.
These are the General Rules of our societies; all of which we are taught of God to observe.   The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church
“Maybe I should just go to the Lutheran Church!” This from the leader of a particular tiny church I once served. Jon was offended that our bishop, and The United Methodist Church in general, would find it appropriate to support collective bargaining. And, he wasn’t pleased that I supported the bishop.

“Maybe you should.” No, I didn’t say it, but I thought it. I actually didn’t say much at all; I was so taken aback by the fierceness of his anger. Still, I explained calmly that this was part of our denomination’s social principals. I don't think he heard me. Jon didn’t seem ready to hear anything outside his own perspective. And I didn’t have the tools then to speak out – to tell him the truth in love.

Jon had voiced more than once that “they” should just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, like he had. No one had ever given him a handout! This man had attended a Methodist Church all his life, but he wasn’t Methodist.

Methodists are people who make it a point not only to attend church as regularly as they can for worship, but also to
  • Study their bible, pray, and actively work to grow spiritually
  • Practice compassion in their day-to-day, through their words and actions; and 
  • Notice the injustices around them and work actively to alleviate what they can of it.
It’s a tall order, yes, but as Christ-followers, we’re supposed to grow in holiness, moving toward sanctification. To say it another way, becoming Christian is a lifelong process. We accept God’s grace, and maybe say the words, then we get down to the hard work of actually growing into being the people that God knows we can be, that God expects us to be.

At least that’s how we Methodists see it, if we’re really Methodists.

Charles and John Wesley, and other leaders of the early Methodist movement realized that the church of their time and place (a.k.a. The Church of England in the 1700s) wasn’t equipping and empowering people to work toward holiness. And they believed strongly that people needed the tools and the practice. That’s how the Methodist movement began.

It was an add-on to what people were already doing. They were going to church, but they felt (rightly, imho) that this wasn’t enough. They needed help. 

Enter the leaders of the Methodist movement. Some of them had been meeting weekly as what we now call the Holiness Club. They would listen to, challenge, and support each other as each gave an account of how they were daily living out their faith – hence, the word “accountability”.
When some others approached John Wesley for help with their own faith walk, he provided the General Rules (which I’ve referenced herehere, and here) for those attending class (small group) meetings. There is only one condition for those who desire entrance into these societies: "a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins. (Yeah, this language doesn’t exactly work for me either. Still, this was nearly 300 years ago. Times change.)

Any person who wanted to continue attending one of these groups was expected to observe three areas of weekly discipline:  Doing no harm by avoiding all evil; Doing good towards others; and Attending all the means of grace (worship, communion, prayer, scriptures, fasting). And they did, in amazing numbers.

More about this particular Jerusalem cross another day.
I was floored during my first United Methodist History class in seminary to learn how much this movement grew, and how much it shaped people’s lives, and even nations. AND, that it was only when attendance in societies became optional that the Methodist Church’s momentum began to slow.

It makes a case for small groups where we give our account – holding the others, and being held, in turn, to a higher standard – wouldn’t you say?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Thing of Beauty

David Sees Bathsheba Washing and Invites Her to His Palace
from The Story of David, Brussels, ca 1526–28
First off, apologies to those of you who look for something here each week. I’ve been working to reenergize after last month’s wonderful, but also energy-depleting, Wesley Pilgrimage. And – this may be the larger part – I’ve been struggling with my perfectionism which has left me dissatisfied with whatever I might have posted.

I’m a One on the Enneagram. I knew I was a perfectionist long before I heard of that tool. Then, in seminary we took an Enneagram test which said that – no surprise here – I really am one. The test was useful though as it helped me understand that like any character trait, this one has its good and its bad aspects. It only gets really gets in the way when I let it be in charge, instead of using what it can tell me as a reference point.

There are nine character types on the Enneagram and it’s interesting to read about them. I’d surely steer you wrong if I tried to say more, but there are lots of good resources, if you want to learn about it. I only bring it up to say that we all have a certain way that we interact with the world. Each way can be helpful as we work to make sense of all that is happening in our lives. And each can interfere when we let it be in the driver’s seat.

For me, as a One, it’s about expecting too much of myself. Words like critical, resentful and self-judging are often used to describe my “type”.  We take ourselves too seriously and we're 
disappointed a lot. I can obsess about my writing, my piano playing, or even the look of my desktop. (We’re the ones who know there’s a right way to fold laundry.)

On the plus side, we’re conscientious, responsible, self-disciplined. We work at being the best we can be and bringing out the best in other people. We have a high ethics that we generally can’t compromise, so we work hard to make the world a better place.

When I was researching my “type” a couple years ago, I found that besides “Perfectionist” we can also be called “Reformer”. I like that. It describes what is inside me in a positive way and I’ve tried to own it.

My question for you is: what is your go-to way of being? At your best, how do you respond to the world? And at your worst, what is your automatic setting? Have you allowed yourself to embrace all of that?

Each of us is like a tapestry, or maybe like that cross-stitch I labored at years ago. 
It would have looked something like this if I'd ever finished it.
We each have the presentable side we want to show the world. Then if we flip it over, we see all the messy work that went into making us who we are. Lots of us get this idea that we need to hide the messy side, or worse, pretend it doesn’t exist. But without it we wouldn’t be who we are, any more than that tapestry could be a thing of beauty.

Your task this week – should you choose to accept it – is to work at seeing who you are, both aspects, as a thing of beauty. I keep remembering that onesie I once saw on a toddler, “God doesn’t make junk.”

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. Psalm 139:13-18

Saturday, July 23, 2016

First thoughts from a pilgrim returned home

Wesley Chapel, London.
Last Thursday, as one of the pilgrims on the Wesley Pilgrimage, I had the privilege of hearing the Rev. Dr. Phil Meadows (Senior Research Fellow, Nazarene Theological College) speak at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire. For about three hours he shared with us his passionately held views about discipleship.

He started off with a discussion question – “What is the grand stumbling block that keeps people from hearing the gospel?”

It really didn’t take long for all of us to come up with a similar answer – “The lives of the Christians.”

What follows are some personal reflections, partly on Phil’s lecture, but also other lectures, lessons, and experience.

Most missional movements throughout history have been about plugging back into the connecting love of God through love of neighbor. This is what we find when we study our Methodist heritage. When Charles and John Wesley were preaching all over England, the people who worshiped at the Methodist Chapel in London called The Foundry were also busy…
  • Educating boys and girls
  • Engaging in prison ministry at Newgate 
  • Offering micro-finance loans to help people get out of debt or as venture capital (who knew?)
  • Providing health services to those who couldn’t afford doctor or pharmacy services. 
  • Teaching reading
  • Feeding the hungry (and the pastors were instructed to eat with the “guests.”)
  • … (no doubt there was more)
The Christian Church is called to mission and spirituality – with good reason. We need both of these for ourselves. And the ones we would serve need for us to have them both. But we get lost. Instead of working to maintain a balance with a healthy dose of each, we come to lean one way or the other, toward mission or spirituality.

But… Mission without Spirituality is Powerless. 
And, Spirituality without Mission is Pointless.

Think about it. We can get so involved in mission (and I have) that we “don’t have time” for spirituality. We’re so busy doing great things that we don’t nurture what led us to want to be in mission in the first place – our connection with God, and God’s caring for us.

Mission without spirituality is a recipe for burn-out. You’ve felt it, haven’t you? There’s so much that needs to change, yet we stall out. We lose our motivation. We quit.

And, while the flip side of this is a little outside my personal experience, spirituality without mission is equally devastating. We get so into our own personal “me & Jesus” bubble that we pretty well tune out the needs around us. I’ve seen this more among conservative Christians, but it can happen anywhere.

Spirituality without mission has no purpose. (Truly. Absolutely.) While mission without spirituality leads to burn-out, spirituality without mission leads to rust-out.

Do you see yourself in this at all? Do you see your church?

We need to practice a both/and here. Contrary to what we might prefer, and contrary to what some churches – or their churchy people – might tell you, this is not optional.

In order to be faithful disciples, in order to be the people God creates us to be, we need to keep connecting with God, and receiving spiritually food. And, having received this fine sustenance, we need to be actively engaged in mission.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Almost ready!

Most of my items are packed in my backpack and I’m nearly ready to go.

I had everything into that perfectly sized - 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels – travel suitcase that I’d picked up second-hand a couple months ago. And I had room to spare, even with the food I pack. But last night I couldn’t sleep. My gut was all in an uproar, probably something I ate but also due to nerves. So many “Should I take this?” or “What if I forget --?” questions assailing my mind.

So after midnight I finally gave up pretending that sleep was coming. I pulled out the other skirt and sweater I’d thought of, tried on the skirt, and decided to make the change. Then I repacked everything into my travel backpack (also with wheels and handle.) After that, I sat on the bed and tried a little meditation – very little – until things settled down internally enough that I could sleep.

Every time any big event comes around – every trip, every interview – and even plenty of smaller ones, I get anxious. I don’t like it, but there it is. I’ve worried my daughter this week, because every day after work I’ve come home in a state – picky, unreasonable and generally not pleasant to be around (that last bit is my take).

I remind myself that by Saturday evening, all this will be behind me. I’ll be on the plane. I remind myself that even when (not if) I forget something, how bad could it be? I tell myself to leave it in God’s hands. This helps… momentarily. When I’m focused on “work” I’m fine, but at home, I’m a bit of a mess.

Oh, I haven’t told you yet… I’m going to be part of the Wesley Pilgrimage in England, for 10 days of walking, learning, touring and experiencing. (I’d give you the Facebook page, but it’s a secret group.) We’ll visit a number of sites that were important to John and/or Charles Wesley’s faith journey, and so a part of our Wesleyan heritage as Methodists. We’ll hear lectures about Covenant Discipleship and Wesleyan small groups, among other things.

People speak of anticipatory pleasure as they prepare for an event. I’ve felt that, but not so often of late. I’m just eager for this bit to be over. I think I’m actually looking forward to motion sickness, since I’ll be actively into the excursion then. (I’ve packed my crystalized ginger!)

By now you’re wondering, why did I write all this (if you haven’t given up entirely)? Well, here it is…

There are plenty of times in life when we’re given well-meaning advise on how to deal with our troubles, whatever they are.
“Talk to your friends.”
“If you trusted God enough… (I’m not even going to finish that one).”
“Give it time.”
“Take a walk.”
“Give it over to God.”
Except for the second one – which you should throw out entirely – any of it could be helpful. But the problem doesn’t go away after we do any or all of these. It doesn’t go away until we’re done with it – until we’ve grieved long enough, made peace with it, forgiven, gotten on the plane…

Don’t let anyone else tell you different.

Until next time, which might be in two weeks rather than next Saturday, may God bless you and motivate you to do what you need in order to take care of yourself and all God's other beloved.