Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Sort-Of Light-Bulb Moment

I know you can do anything;
      no plan of yours can be opposed successfully. Job 42:2

The other night Kay and I were watching Agents of Shield. Now that season 3 has come out on Netflix, we have all sorts of Marvel Comics adventure-drama to look forward to. We’re a comics kind of family, but we only do streaming video so we had to wait.

In the 60s, I watched the original Star Trek series with my dad. I also watched the original Batman series. And, though I don’t like to admit it, we took Jay to see the 1989 movie when he was but 2-years-old. (Yeah, I was too slack on that one.)

I guess all my life, I’ve been under the influence of larger-than-life characters. And there have been so many to choose from. I get the whole thing about the impossibility of anyone solving the problems of the world in 90 minutes or a pair of hours – although Lord of the Rings does a better than average job in a dozen hours. Yet, I feel hopeful somehow when I watch anyone taking on big problems. Empowered even (sometimes).

Anyway, we were watching the show. I don’t remember now what was happening, but it came to me. An epiphany! Even superheroes don’t get it perfect. Even they can’t solve everything. Why do I expect to?

Okay, it’s not really an epiphany. After all, I just made reference to it up above. But it did come to me rather forcefully as I was sitting there mindlessly relaxing. It was like that lightbulb-over-the-head thing. And I did need the reminder. I regularly need it.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with how little success my varied efforts have had. My mother buys honeysuckle and doesn’t know if it’s the kind that’s  a pernicious weed. My sister's inherited one when they bought their house that's more of a “tree” than a vine. My brother uses RoundUp “like water” (to quote another family member) even though it’s a proven neurotoxin along with a host of other nasty things.

Or, to use a churcy-y example, I encourage people to try a study – some are only session long – or to work for an hour or two at a community garden or a homeless shelter, but sometimes I wonder if they avoid me so they don't have to say "no" again.

I could despair, if I didn’t practice not taking it personally!

Still I think of the young man who showed up for a session of The Wired Word on Thursday. Or the seven people who joined me at a local establishment overlooking the Fox River for some conversation about hatred on Wednesday. I remember years ago when my mother first got a compost bin. She and my brother puzzled over whether they could put eggshells in it (well-rinsed, so as not to draw skunks and such). My brother volunteered, “If Jayneann does it [which he knew I did] then it must be okay.” That still makes me smile.

No, I can’t solve the problems of the world. Neither can you. We may seem to have few successes. That's okay. As long as we do our part, we can take comfort that God can do a whole lot with even our small efforts.

Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings.
But all things are possible for God.” Matthew 19:26

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Live from Pennsylvania

Still vacationing with my family after ordination last week. Some games, some laughter, a couple fireside conversations (and lots, elsewhere), a few glasses of wine… Today’s our last day together – tomorrow, Kay & I head back to Wisconsin. 
I’m busy cutting veggies for a picnic in Mother’s backyard. People will be coming in about an hour. Just thought I’d stop to say I haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth. I'll be back to writing next weekend.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bountiful Harvest

I’m at Annual Conference this weekend. Clergy and lay representatives from all over the conference come together to worship and celebrate, to conduct the business of the church (including approving a budget), and a variety of other things. (That's our theme for this year: Bountiful Harvest.)

It can be a great experience coming together each year, greeting old and new friends, singing and worshiping with 800 others, but it can also be quite draining – although maybe this is more the case for introverts like myself. Between that and my migraine, I’m feeling beat and it’s only Friday. In an hour, the clergy will gather and among the other business they will (hopefully) approve nine women, including myself, for ordination on Sunday.

Considering the business of this weekend, I thought I’d include another of my answers from the questions we had to submit before our conversations with the Board of Ordained Ministry. Remember, these are my responses, not those of the Church at large. As any person looks closer at her relationship with God and/or with the Church, as we each consider our theology, we find that although some may have similar beliefs, no two people believe exactly the same thing. When we met with the Board, they were listening for things like… how well the various pieces of our theology fit together. Are there holes? Conflicts?

That said, here's the question and my response.

How has the practice of ministry informed your understanding of the nature and mission of the Church? What are its primary challenges today?
Because The United Methodist Church is worldwide in nature, we are led to consider how people do church in widely varied contexts. We seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, while recognizing that this happens locally, within each community’s context. The question we must ask is, how are we to be in ministry in our context, to the glory of God. As a Church we must ask similarly, how we are to honor the uniqueness of varied contexts, and their varied understandings of God, Christ, humanity, and the world. How are we to be in ministry together?

Ministry practice brings home to me that while many church leaders recognize the mission of the Church, for others, an overarching mission is irrelevant. While I see value in the Church’s connectional nature, some see only hierarchical expectations. More than this challenge though, I see the Church’s primary challenge as many churches’ willingness to accept “easy membership.” I believe that our nation’s sense of individualism and our consumer culture are tied to the apathy, hopelessness, and despair which so many feel. Our churches’ willingness to cultivate a parallel culture allowing people to “do church their way” exacerbates the problem. People have historically looked to the church as a foil for society, but today often find this is no longer so. In setting expectations low, discipleship will always lose to comfort and inaction. People accurately assess that their church expects nothing from them, other than financial support and occasional passive attendance. Telling potential members up front that we take our vows seriously, and then do so, is respectful of all persons and honors our God. Although it is unpopular, I encourage confirmands to think deeply before joining their church, for while they are confirming baptismal vows, they may not yet be ready, or able, to keep membership vows. As churches, we have ceased to be demanding for fear that people will take their resources elsewhere. Expecting little, we cripple discipleship and leave leadership culpable for not fulfilling our (God’s) mission.
I believe in God's Church. I believe in the UMC as a part of God's hope for the world. Just thought I ought to add this, so you don't come away from this thinking I'm despairing. Quite the contrary, I'm full of Fierce Hope & Joy.

Shalom, my friend.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Second, Do Good

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 1 John 3:16-17

Late in 1739, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was approached by a group of people seeking his guidance. They were seekers “deeply convinced of sin” who were hoping he’d advise them. How were they to “flee from the wrath to come”?

Wesley set up weekly meetings when they could come together, to support each other, share wisdom, and pray. This was the beginning of the United Society – “a company of men [sic] having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.”[1]

It was expected that everyone who was a part of one of these small groups (for tho’ it started with only one, the idea – and so, the number of groups – grew exponentially) would “continue to evidence their desire of salvation,

First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind …
      (I talked about this in previous entries here and here.)

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 men (sic).

Thirdly: By… (wait! that’s for another installment)

I’ve heard people say that they’re not vocal about their faith because Christianity has gotten such a bad reputation. Supposed Christians spout their faith, but turn away from the needs around them, taking care of themselves but not really paying more than lip service to other people or to the world.

I’ve read that a major reason young adults aren’t interested in church is that we’re such a collection of hypocrites. Too many churchgoers are concerned about what happens in their bibles or in their church buildings, but never notice what’s beyond those walls.

And, though I don’t like that it's true, I admit that it is. And it’s not just “them;” too often it’s us, too.

Now Wesley did not write the following, although he may certainly have inspired it.
“Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
to all the people you can,
as long as ever you can.”
So do I give a bill to the woman with the sign on the street corner, or do I drive on, telling myself that she probably just works that corner, and has a nice set-up. I don’t know. What I do know is about the time, I believe my better self stepped in.

I was alone in my car after picking up a few things in the store. I was putting on my seatbelt when a light tapping on the window made me look up. A man neither old nor young, but dressed in a raggedly hoodie and jacket apologized for approaching me, but said he was hungry. Did I have something I could share?

When I gave him the bag of bagels I’d just bought for myself, his gratitude was immense.

 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Mark 12:30-31
[1] From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church — 2012 as found at