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…