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.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Is it the doorway effect?

“Hi, Jayneann!”

I looked up from checking the ingredients on the coconut milk to see a familiar face next to me at the dairy case. She wore a friendly smile as she pushed her cart full of groceries, not just picnic items. I comment on this and she tells me that they'll be having a cookout tomorrow. How about us? she asks. Are we doing anything?

We talked for another moment before going our separate ways, wishing each other a good weekend.

She and her family regularly attend First Church, and we’ve been on a committee together this year.

I keep saying “she” because, in that moment, I couldn’t remember her name. It was only after she mentioned that Seth and Emma were stocking up on something elsewhere in the store that it came to me: Keira, yes.

I used to think it was just me, that I was terrible at names. Okay, I was pretty bad. But I’ve also come to realize that context is everything. (That was actually a phrase that came up again and again in seminary.) And when it comes to remembering names – for me – context matters more than I would've ever thought possible. Whether I know someone peripherally or quite well, there’s a good chance that if I meet them in a different context – like if I know someone from church then see them at the supermarket – I’m going to be at a loss, at least temporarily.

I've felt so bad so many times. I've mentally kicked myself for this forgetfulness. And I still wish I'd have remembered "Keira" as soon as I saw her face (or Lianne, the last time it happened). I like calling people by their names. I once read that a person's favorite word to hear is... their name. 

But I'm gentler with myself now. I've learned that it isn’t just me. It’s not that I’m sloppy or don’t really try or just don’t care enough to remember. There’s psychology at work here. (Psychology is fascinating, but then I like most sciences.)

A few years ago, I was thrilled to read about why walking through a door can cause us to forget. We’ve all experienced it. You get up and head to the next room on a mission. But by some strange circumstance, you’ve totally forgotten what you came for once you go through the doorway. Look it up! It turns out there really is a “doorway effect” that has little to do with whether you pay attention or how hard you try. As I understand it, our minds are hardwired to purge what it thinks we won’t need any more. 

Our memories are contextual. Maybe that’s part of the reason I can’t speak much Spanish, but when I’m at a Latino/Latina Festival, I can understand enough to smile as a youngster tries to wheedle his mother into giving in on something or when a couple of teenage girls comment on a passerby.

I don’t have any theologically profound thoughts to attach to this. (Maybe my mind is tired.) I’ll leave it to you to puzzle over. Let me know what you come up with.