Saturday, August 27, 2016

Home


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