Friday, December 29, 2017

On Considering a Different Leadership Model

I was at the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, Kansas in September. Thursday evening, there was a special program so I hung around campus after the final afternoon session. Sitting at one of the patio tables outside the huge building, I tried to work on Sunday's sermon while simultaneously enjoying the lovely autumn afternoon. It all became a bit more challenging when the lawn service people showed up.

I paused to watch them as they worked. Two were maneuvering what looked like industrial-sized weed whackers. Another swung a large leaf blower around like he’d had lots of practice. The two John Deere vehicles seemed like crosses between Segways and riding mowers. Their riders standing on back looked like they were having a blast zipping over curbs and around parking trees, winding this way and that. But the job got done, and – it seemed – with very few extra runs. They were most efficient.

This seems like a perfect example of what we in the church would love to do, but seldom actually achieve. Often we want to do a new thing but in old ways – ways that are inefficient and part of what made the old things ineffective. Or, we mean to do some good thing, but we get lost in the "how-to" details. I don't know about other denominations but United Methodist Churches has been around long enough to have a fair amount of "red tape." Do we really need to run our idea past this committee and that one? Maybe not; if we know what we're doing and what it requires of the church – members, time, money – maybe we only need to ask one and inform the rest. Too often good ministry doesn't happen because too many people are involved, too many can slow down the process, too many can say "no." 

The Accountable Leadership Model seems like an excellent way to revamp our old, comfortable church structures. I attended a workshop last summer and have been reading and considering possibilities since then. In an Accountable Leadership structure. ...

  • All church leaders are selected for their discipleship first. 
  • One group takes the place of all church committees, with the more experienced or knowledgeable ones taking the lead when conversation moves to, say, human relations or stained glass. 
This may seem crazy at first glance but think of the people you know in church who ...
  • Are so busy with committees or ministry teams that they don't have time actually to be involved in a local mission or ministry; or who
  • Believe they're doing enough ministry simply by attending those meetings.
The church needs to help people remember what church is all about. Some get it, but many think it's about Sunday morning and some charity. The church exists so that we can be disciples – by practicing justice, compassion, worship (yes), and personal devotion/prayer  and so that by doing we can invite and welcome others to join us in this activity. Anything other than that is a social organization. They can do good work too but they're not about discipleship which is what Christ calls us to be as the church.

So, anyway, I'm promoting that churches consider whether an accountable leadership model might work for them. It might not work for the largest churches, they may need more structures, but most churches aren't that big. And anything that has the potential to get more of us out outside the church walls and outside our own assumptions ought to be considered. Talk to your (other) church leaders about it.

And blessings in the Christmas season.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ah, peace...

News of him spread even more and huge crowds gathered to listen and to be healed from their illnesses. But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer. Luke 5:15-16

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Mark 1:35

After he had sent the crowds away, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray; and when it was evening, he was there alone. Matthew 14:23

How do you stand it? I mean how do you manage to get anything done with other people around?

I love my family. Don’t get me wrong. I loved spending time with eleven people in that big house in Pennsylvania over Thanksgiving – with all its food and drink and laughter and everyone talking at once and kittens running underfoot.

But I’ve discovered something about myself since Kay moved to campus two years ago. I like my solitude. I need it. And I work better when I have quiet.

I know that’s not the case for everyone. But if you’re like me, how do you deal with it?

Kay’s home with me for part of December. Today’s her birthday and her dad’s here also. Mostly they’ve given me the quiet I need so I can get things done. But once in a while I suddenly wake up to realize that not only are they talking in the room where I’m trying to work but they’re doing it from either side of me!

I grab my hair and massage my scalp and remember that this is all good stuff and I’m glad they’re here and have this time together.

We’re all – each of us – crazy, unique mixes of lively and peaceful, funny and serious, ambitious and relaxed. We each have our own ways.

Last night I got to sit in a big room with about 800 people, most us watching and listening to the others’ gift of music for this season of Advent. I’d been looking forward to that evening for months and it was wonderful. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. (Thank you, A1 music ministry folks!)

Now that my work's almost done, I wouldn’t trade this day either. A cello is playing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on the Sonos. Kay is preparing tea. And Mickey's sitting at the table preparing for his next effort to motivate Kay to leave the house and go out and do something with him.

As I said, we’re all different. I’m learning – ok, I’m slow at some things – that this really is fine and good and, if we let it be, even wonderful.

I love being social – and it’s great to have figured out ways I can “fit in.” (It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t popular in my younger days thought. I’d never have finished anything and I left a great many things unfinished as it was.) I accept that while I can go elsewhere and enjoy that moment with a crowd of people, I’m quiet at home. That quiet if good for me.

I’m getting so much better at accepting others’ ways too. Today, I’ll remind myself that while their ways can be fine (for them), my ways are also equally fine (for me). And if my welcome of their intrusion is somewhat imperfect it’s good enough for today.

Introvert or Extrovert, for this day, for this week, be gentle with yourself. Love yourself as you love others.

John Farrier has posted some great graphs about introverts that seem spot on:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Washing Dishes

Pay attention, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a town. We will stay there a year, buying and selling, and making a profit.”
You don’t really know about tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes. 
James 4:13-14

Oo, too much caffeine! but I'll persevere. 

Today I talk about being present.

I never really thought about mindfulness until five years ago when it suddenly hurt to think. After an injury my ways of processing – reviewing endlessly what had happened and rehearsing what might happen in the future – no longer worked. They probably hadn’t served me well for a long time but a concussion brought this forcefully to my attention.

It was in the early months of constant headache that I learned that washing dishes could be a spiritual practice. I never would have believed it of myself before then. Now as I took each cup or plate the physical motions of wiping, scrubbing and rinsing grounded me. By working to focus only on what I was doing in that moment I felt less pain.

I haven’t had a migraine in over six months (yay!) but the lesson stays with me. I only practice meditation once or twice a week, usually after I realize that I’m losing my center and distraction is taking over. Still, I hope to keep remembering.

I’ve been rereading my 1976 copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness! In it, he shares his own story about washing dishes.
The cup in your hands
In the United States, I have a close friend name Jim Forest. When I first met him eight years ago, he was working with the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we've finished the evening meal, before sitting down and drinking tea with everyone also. One night, Jim asked if he might do the dishes. I said, "Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them." Jim replied, "Come on, you think I don't know how to wash the dishes?" I answered, "There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes." Jim was delighted and said, "I choose the second way -- to wash the dishes to wash the dishes." From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes. I transferred the "responsibility" to him for an entire week.
If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as they were a nuisance, then we are not "washing the dishes to wash the dishes." What's more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either. While of other thing, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus, we are sucked away into the future -- and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.
That part about “If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either” gets me. If I can’t be present while I’m scooping out the clumps in the litter box how can I be really, truly aware when I’m watching everyone laughing and talking together at a family gathering. Or when I’m praying or playing piano or … well, you get the idea.

Although Sunday’s three days away, we’re into the Advent season. Find something to practice that will get you closer to the roots of who God knows you can be. Maybe it’ll be meditation, maybe not. That’s okay. Just do something that can help God draw you to Godself (and your best self.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hope, Trust & Longing

It’s a gray, rainy afternoon, brown leaves matted on the wet sidewalks. Outdoor autumn tasks beckon me – raking, cleaning up spent beds, mowing once more, mounting rabbit fence around shrubs those ones seem to find tastiest, putting away yard tools and boxes in the garage so there’s room for the car. I enjoy the work, but physically I can’t bear the cool damp. And with only certain days and hours available to me to do such things, I wonder if my experiment will work.

I live five days a week in one location but return to another for rest. This home is, as my superintendent called it, my “cottage”. For five months I’ve explained to whomever wonders at my keeping two places that I plan to retire here. "If," I joke, "God doesn’t laugh too much at my plan."

One day of the week I spend in a fiercely protected sabbath time. I need that rest. If I only worked five of the remaining days, doing all that needs to be accomplished at home would be easier. But I spend part of that sixth day “at the office” on my sofa or at the dining room table. If I was married, my spouse might be willing to help with some of those much needed chores, in or outside the home. But for now at least, there are no such possibilities (and having traveled that road before, I recognize the very real possibility that this imagined person would not share my interests or concerns.)

Until today, I hadn’t thought about how my brilliant experiment might not work. Maybe it’s that I’m tired. Knowing what lies ahead in the next week, I wasn’t as still yesterday as I needed to be. An hour ago, as I stepped away from my sermon work momentarily, I thought, “I may not be able to keep this up.” Then, in the fleeting sadness that followed, I knew that if I must surrender to something other than what I long for, God won’t be laughing but rather grieving with me. And something else good will come of it.

I hope it doesn’t turn out that way, but it's a comfort to remember that this God I strive to honor and obey truly wants joy and peace and love for each and every one of us.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

At Our Core

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.
When you walk through fire, you won’t be burned
    and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2
A month or so ago I read – I don’t remember where anymore – that within each of us is a core of loneliness. I wondered about this for a couple weeks. Is it really so? But then I forgot – until this week. Thursday I was listening to the notes I recorded on the drive back from the Church of the Resurrection in September. And there it was.

I believe almost all of us have a yearning to connect deeply with others. This yearning leaves us receptive to all sorts of things – some good, some not so much. It opens us to the idea that God loves us and longs to be part of our lives. It leads us to find friends, partners, and spouses. It draws us into community. People sometimes have kids thinking it’ll fill that empty place in them. It leads others into dangerous or abusive relationships – and keeps them there – because they’re afraid they’ll have nothing if they leave.

Are they the same thing – this core of loneliness and this yearning to connect? I don’t think so, but I only know my own story. Does every person live with a core of loneliness? Does the blazing extrovert who recharges in a room full of people and has “never met a stranger”? How about the one who has a twenty minute conversation on the phone, then afterward says, “Wrong number”? I realize that some people don’t explore their own inner workings enough to find what's at their core. And even if some found loneliness, would they acknowledge it?

I only know that it's at my core; I’ve known at least since I was twelve. I always assumed it was just me. I was the shy one with few friends who would be in the corner at just about every gathering, incapable of small talk but secretly longing to be included. Fifteen or twenty years ago, I learned the term Dysthymia when it came along with my mild ADD diagnosis (which I’ve since learned was off just a bit.)

So I’m not a good one to ask. But I am a good one to wonder. After my 2008 interview with the District Committee on Ministry, they suggested I consider going to seminary because – as the chair put it – I have an insatiable curiousity. (He was right.)

Do you have a core of loneliness at your center?

If so, what do you do about it? How do you live with it? And how is what you do working for you? Although loneliness can be unpleasant, it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can lead us out of ourselves and into connection with others. Then maybe we can appreciate the quiet time when we’re alone without feeling like we’re missing out.

If loneliness isn’t part of your core, what is? If it’s a helpful thing, how do you cultivate it? If it seems unhelpful, do you have ways to turn it so it can be more useful to you?

One person’s path is not another’s. We each have our own journey with its own roadblocks and detours. Still, when we have community, we can be there for each other, and I believe that’s our whole purpose. Take care.
Don’t fear, for I am with you;
    don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, I will help you;
    I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. Isaiah 41:10

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why do I keep doing that?

stream of crimson liquid
hot cast iron
greens tomatoes
as wine
turns to vapor
dinner is almost ready

Sometimes I do things well. Like eating healthy. Like remembering that we’re all works-in-progress and deserve grace.

Speaking to the former, in the seven years since my diet changed, I’ve eaten vegetables I used to avoid – like cucumber and turnips, parsnips and rutabagas – and tried some I'd never heard of before that. (Pea sprouts were fine. So were mustard greens. Next time, I’ll let the bitter melon set longer after salting.)

As to the latter, I’m more compassionate than I was ten years ago. Well, that and I’ve learned how to convey it better. Experience and friends (thank you, Lynn) have helped me to remember more often that I really don’t know the other person’s story. My way is not the only way, or even the best. (Okay, sometimes it is.) I’m practicing telling myself, “I’m sure [Name] believed that doing [whatever] was the right thing to do/best choice given their options.

Yes, I do well. Except when I don’t. ... Like forgetting that almost everyone is as busy as I am and wondering why some task is left undone. ... Dark chocolate mini peanut butter cups. A dozen of them. (I’ll say no more.) ... Not pausing to choose the right moment to correct someone. ...

Trying to learn the ropes at a new job I haven’t been eating well or enough. Last week I realized that my overindulgences are probably my body sending me a message – rather like when the cat leave a surprise in the middle of the bathroom floor when it’s been too long since you refreshed the litter. I’ve been skipping enough meals that my body sometimes short-circuits my intentions when I come within range of kettle chips, frozen custard or other high-fat food. If I want long term health, I need to see this as a symptom and address the source of the problem.

I’ll work on it. Meanwhile, how are things going with you? Is your body (or mind?) trying to sabotage your best efforts, whether to care for yourself, your family or the world? Has you mind-cat been leaving you unwelcomed gifts? Maybe it’s time to notice. If not now, if you need a safe environment, connect with that safe person at a time that works for both of you. Explore the messages your inner self is sending you.

God wants joy for us even more than we want it for ourselves. Words like "deserve" and "worth” can get in our way. Just for today let’s each say and work on believing, “I’m the perfect ___________ (insert your name) just as I am.” It’ll make it easier to treat ourselves with love – in whatever ways that means for each of us.

I’ll keep trying to remember to think about dinner before heading to work, and to make friends with my crockpot. You do what’s right on your end.

I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do.
Instead, I do the thing that I hate.
Romans 7:15-20

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

One Bite at a Time

I knew when I moved into it that my little 1930’s bungalow-style house needed work. What I didn't realize was that I wouldn’t be putting as much time into it as I’d thought I would. Well, that, and that it would need more work than expected. (For example, somehow, neither the inspector nor the electrician I hired to check that all was in order was concerned with the many light switches that do nothing.)

When the realtor first showed me the house, there was another family looking at the same time. I overheard the two realtors discussing that the previous owner had started so many projects without finishing them. They didn't say this with scorn... just disapproval. I smiled. I've always been one for starting projects and only slowly (if ever) finishing them. He sounded just like me.

So I was okay moving in with a half-done bathroom and no kitchen cabinets. I’ve been fine sleeping on an air mattress until the floors are refinished in November. (For the first time in years, I had no trouble resting on a sleeping pad when Kay and I were tenting last month.)

Gradually though, I realized I was losing sleep over uncertainties, causing more stress than I needed on top of the usual stresses of new job, new town, new home, etc. I decided that after vacation, I'd prioritize. And I'd work on one issue each week.

Still, the uncertainty of whether or not there was asbestos in my kitchen flooring or the glue underneath messed with my sleep. Was I poisoning myself (and the cats)? Were we filling the rest of the house with fibers as we walked about, fibers that could destroy our lungs?

How do you eat an elephant?

Prioritize. Having a fully functional bathroom had always been my first priority, so I made sure to get a contractor in as soon as I sign the papers. That done, what do I need to work on next? Winterizing? After the top priority is removed from the list, I need to reassess. What has first priority now?

Use available resources. Suspecting asbestos, I'd searched for local remediation contractors before moving. What I discovered was that nobody was as concerned as I was. Only weeks later, when my sister mentioned learning about local testing facilities during her OSHA training, did I look again. I found someone within minutes. (No asbestos!) Talking to people and soliciting their feedback has never been a strength for me, but people are assets when we use them well.

Expect surprises. It sounds like an oxymoron, yet surprises are the norm. Whenever I meet with a couple getting married, I warn them that on the wedding day something will go wrong. How they respond to it will determine whether or not it messes with their joy for the day. If they're ready, they can let it go and will probably laugh about it in coming years.

Accept that you'll get tired before you're finished. Work out a plan for what needs to happen, how you'll do it, what help you'll want or need. But. Also. Plan breaks when you let yourself just do nothing. This will save you in the long run.

Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days,
should it also seem impossible to me?  Zechariah 8:6

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shared Humanity

... Love your neighbor as yourself...
“Good morning.” I waved to the man across the street as I stepped out of the car at the church. He was sitting on a porch, smoking. He waved back. “Enjoying the September morning?” He moved in what I interpreted to be a shrug.

I continued into the church, thinking about our exchange. No one in the church’s neighborhood comes to this church that's tried a few outreach ministries into the community but with no long term effect.

A big reason is that mission is built on relationships. It took me a long time to get this as I’m generally task-driven (rather than people-driven), but I’ve seen that it’s so. It was the relationships that connected me with people in my last appointment, both in and out of the church.

So far I’ve been working on in-church relationships as I work to learn their ways and my role here, but I hope to build relationships in other communities as well. When my predecessor and I got together this spring, we went downtown for coffee. I was surprised (and impressed) when he stopped in almost every shop on the way to say “hello” or ask a question. And he called everyone by name. I want to work on this.

Shop people are easy. I can do that. You can do that. Cultivating relationships with people in the rental-properties, high-turnover neighborhood north of the church is harder. But it’s probably more important. First, because here we find underemployed people working multiple jobs while trying to raise their families. Wouldn’t we like them to believe that their neighbors at First Church really are neighbors? Important also because, for many of them, the image they have of church is a bad one – because of youthful experiences or, more likely, because the loudest Christian voices preach a “good news” that only a limited audience can appreciate. For the rest, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

For those few who will someday join a church, what a gift we offer in helping them dismantle that barrier. Whenever we cultivate respectful, compassionate relationships with people, then if or when our faith comes up, they may see Christianity in a better light. Yes, if or when. The goal is the connection. If religion comes up, let it be because we first reflect the love of God.

But back to my neighbor… I know that he’s male, youngish, and smokes. I think he lives there and by his attire that he just got up. Except for getting up in the morning and living in Wausau, so far we have nothing in common. Seeing him this morning, I faced again why it’s so hard to connect with strangers. They're different from us.

Then I think of the words we hear when people attempt religious or political dialog. I don’t know who first said it, but Ernest Gaines’ version is:
“We all have much more in common than we have differences. I would say that about people all over the world. They don't know how much in common that they have.” 
This is where my hope comes in. "We all have much more in common than we have differences." I may not see much in common with a stranger until we get beyond the small talk, but after that, we almost always find more in common with each other than a shared humanity. Even if it takes longer than that, a shared humanity is a fine place to start.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Can One Word Mean Both "Pride" and "Emptiness"?!

All is vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:2b

I’ve misplaced my hairbrush. (I believe it’s in the book bag I carry between home and the church, but I’m not seeing that either.) I don't think I own a comb. So I’ve been finger-combing my hair this week. With my current hairstyle, it works but I don't want to keep it up.

Last month, I started thinking vanity might be a good topic – mostly because of wondering before getting this haircut if it was too young for me. I'm going to take this lost hairbrush as a cue.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary has six definitions for vanity. (I've left off three that concern furnishings.)
  • inflated pride in oneself or one's appearance :  conceit
  • something that is vain, empty, or valueless
  • the quality or fact of being vain
Most of us think of pride and conceit when we think of vanity – like when we say someone spends too much effort on their appearance. But...

I'm clergy and I write intentionally from a faith perspective. So my resources include the bible as well as dictionaries. And what I find there is that most of the biblical references to vanity are of the second variety (per the points above.) Decades ago, when I first read Ecclesiastes, I was so confused. What was the writer saying? How did all these things connect to pride? I knew that vanity and vain share the same root, but ... ? It was only years later that it clicked: Vain as in "In vain" rather than vain as in "Being vain." Ah, I get it! (Language can be confusing sometimes.) 

They're saying: "So much of life is empty. So much of what we do or fuss over just doesn't matter." I'm not necessarily vain, but I'll be disappointed if I expect something to last forever. (Still not very happy or hopeful, but maybe true more often than we care to believe.)

Even in Proverbs 31:30 – the chapter about the "perfect" woman – can be understood this way. Instead of 
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (NRSV)
(Bad me, bad me!) it can be interpreted as:
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (CEB)
Yes, today's culture has gone off the deep end and vanity is of the "Being vain" sort in too many instances. As described in the documentary Culture in Decline: Consumption-Vanity Disorder: "Today we live in an ocean with enormous waves of status obsession, materialism, vanity, ego and consumerism." 

And, yes, it's probably a good idea for us to check in with ourselves now and then to assess our vanity quotient. But for some of us, vanity isn't as much of a problem as we (women, mostly) have been led to believe. I'm comfortable with my haircut. Kay assures me it's fine. No one's laughed at me. And anyway, I'm doing better with that.

I always thought that's what Carly Simon meant when she sang, "You probably think this song is about you." But now I wonder if it was a double entendre, though not an indecent one.

So it really doesn't matter, matter, matter, matter, matter!
Ruddigore by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan

Picture found at Steal Her Style

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Vacation choice

Last week, Kay and I took our summer vacation. We wedged a week away between our various work commitments. It was both wonderful and terrible. And during more than one of our long drives, I contemplated my choice as to which I'll hold onto – the good or the bad.

Months earlier, Kay'd asked if we could go somewhere to experience a total eclipse. This doesn’t happen everyday (I’d never seen one) so, sure. Before going further, I want to tell you that the eclipse was incredible. I didn’t know what to expect – and really didn’t expect much – but it was beyond anything I have witnessed in a long, long time. I’m so glad Kay suggested it. However…

This inconveniently scheduled astronomical phenomenon fell on a Monday, roughly midway between the two Fridays that contained our available time. So we had bags of time to enjoy Irish Fest and Ren Faire over the weekend, then had to race to cover the rest. Still, having years of experience planning itineraries, I trusted this could be done. I was mistaken.

Among that basic human needs are water, food, sleep, and shelter, all of which were challenged this last week. The biggest obstacle, which led to other challenges, is that Google maps fibbed (Kay’s word) about travel times. Every leg of the journey took longer than anticipated. This led to constantly running late. We cut two National Parks from our itinerary and still had minimal time to tour. Every night was a late night, with us arriving at the motel or camp long after dark. (Setting up a tent in the dark is not particularly fun but it can be done.) The one night we were doing well time-wise, we stopped for dinner – fast food, but at least we were out of the car. Then we got to town and couldn’t find the motel through all the construction. No one answered our repeated calls to the motel. When we finally found it, the office was closed and dark.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. We couldn’t see the eclipse through the eclipse glasses NASA said were safe. ...We got to spend only 45 minutes at Arches National Park because the park was closing early for construction. ...The night we camped at Mesa Verde, the wind was so strong it alternately lifted legs and head, leaving us sleep deprived the next day. ... We almost pulled a Wild Hogs by running out of gas in the middle of nowhere (at night). ... We didn’t have time to stop and eat..Good thing I packed car snacks as we practically lived on them. (I came home a pound lighter than I left.) ... Trying to keep my electrolytes balanced, I ate pinches of my Celtic sea salt, but at the Grand Canyon I could tell I needed more. Without going into detail, I’ll say that James Bond’s use of salt to remove  poison from his system works. ... Tired, tired, tired...

During my driving shifts, exhausted, it was too easy to dwell on the bad stuff. So I rehearsed the good stuff, like:
  • The clouds clearing just before the eclipse. In spite of surprising traffic in eastern Nebraska, we got far enough to witness the full eclipse.
  • Walking through alpine tundra, and snow (in August), at Rocky Mountain Nation Park and ...
  • Driving above the tree line and even the soaring hawks.
  • Spotting three moose, for a total of five animals.
  • Elk at Grand Canyon NP (“There are babies! They have spots! I though that was only a deer thing.”). Also, a turkey vulture.
  • Mule deer, I don’t remember where.
  • Kay visited four new states. 
  • Watching from a distance as she took pictures at the Grand Canyon.
  • Re-experiencing what I treasure about the high desert.
  • Learning that Butch Cassidy’s Hideout has Wi-Fi.
  • Seeing Arches NP during the golden hour.
  • Watching distant western lightning while we drove.
  • Tsebetai (Shiprock) seen from Mesa Verde.
  • Scanning cliffs for ancient houses.
  • Three days at fairs.
  • Turtles in the pond at Ren Faire.
  • Getting home a day early to recuperate.
  • Spending time together with my best girl while driving.
Yes, I'm still tired. Dehydration effects linger. But water and sleep will cure these. I choose to remember the good stuff.

I know that there’s nothing better for them but to enjoy themselves and do what’s good while they live. Moreover, this is the gift of God: that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 CEB

Friday, August 18, 2017

We Need That Light

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not, will not, overcome it. John 1:5. adapted

I came home to a flooded basement this afternoon. I knew the floor drain was having issues. Last week, I went down there about 15 minutes after drained my bath and found a brown puddle. Yuck. This morning I'd finally Googled possible issues and solutions, and determined that I needed rent a power snake to deal with the problem. I'm glad I didn't rent one today. The pond surrounding the drain would have deterred me from using any electrical devices in the vicinity. Apparently I hadn't made sure the toilet shut off this morning, and water had been running since then. The waste of water is bad enough when everything’s functioning well. For a compromised drain, the situation's worse.

The water's gone down quite a bit already; by morning, it may be only damp downstairs but this did throw a monkey wrench into my plans for the evening. On the way home, I’d picked up an outside corner tool and was going to finish drywalling the bathroom. As it is, I watched some TV episodes I’d downloaded onto my tablet. Oh, and weeded a bit after the rain

I remember in the movie Forrest Gump, in one of its nods to cultural phenomena, it dealt with “Sh*t happens.” It seems lately that it's been happening more often than usual. Sewage in the basement, possible asbestos-containing kitchen flooring that I can’t decide what to do with, a handyman that keeps so busy with his prior jobs that he only occasionally makes time to work here, shards of glass that shows up mysteriously in the middle of the living room floor.

Yet none of this is of any significance when compared to the hatred, racism, and white supremacy displayed in Charlotteviille last week. Or our nation’s chief executive blustering with South Korea in what seems to be a bid for war.

What are we to do?

For some years, I played the ostrich, burying my head in the sand. Though there’re still plenty of people doing this, at ease with there ignorance, this no longer works for me. But, again, what to do? I wish I had an answer.

My hope rests in God, yet I have no expectation that God's going to help us out of the messes we’ve made. A god who would interfere with international politics is also a god that might arbitrary decide which ones survive the mudslide or bus crash, which people deserve to find easy parking spaces so they’ll be on time to their meetings. This is not a god I recognize.

God is the one we turned too, run to, flee to, when stuff happens. God is the one that gives us strength and courage to face our own and other people’s messes. God is the one we can cry with, complain to, scream at when we can't bear what faces us.

Right now maybe you feel like screaming. Or running away and never coming back. So, open that conversation. Tell God how fed up you are. Or scared or spent ir angry or uncertain. When you're done, when you've given voice to every bit of the moment’s emotional load, linger a while. Rest in the company of the creator of all that is. Let yourself rest in that presence. Accept that it's not all on you.

Then, when morning comes, a bit refreshed, face the world. Shake your fist at the powers that be. Stand tall. Declare that you, that we, are not defeated. Then, pick one thing you can do to help fill the hole in the world and start shoveling. And trust that you won’t be alone.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What makes you you

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

A couple Sundays ago, Gwen* asked what books I’ve been reading. My mind was not on books and, stumped, I stumbled through, saying I’d read The Help after finishing my M.Div. (But that was 5 years ago.) The conversation moved on to another topic but the question stayed with me.

Back at the house that afternoon, I sat on one of the two estate sale lawnchairs that, along with a small coffee table I’d picked up at St. Vinny’s, are my living room furnishings (until the floors are refinished in November.) On the chair opposite me was a stack of books – yes, I do read – a pair by Brené Brown (I’ve mentioned reading her books); The Peoples' Bible, the book I use for morning prayers, and a 42-year-old copy of Barkley's Romans; Living the Questions which I hope to begin soon; and some things by Richard Rohr. While sabbathing last Thursday (I had an obligation Friday) I reread half of M.M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess. (Kay* came home and said she’d been wondering what read-aloud we’d use for our car travels next week. We put that one at the top of the list. It’s been years since we read it.)

I've been puzzling over not having titles to share when a congregant asked. I can think of two possible reasons for this. The first, that my memory is a bit more Swiss-cheesy than usual I could understand given the changes of recent months. The second reason may be less likely but it’s deeper, so I want to explore it.

Was I assuming that Gwen meant fiction? Yes. That’s okay, but even so, why didn't I tell her about Brown or Rohr? As I sit here on my balance ball trying to understand, I realize that this is part of who I am. I answer questions directly. I sometimes wish I didn’t and have worked on doing differently. A friend of mine regularly unsettles me by asking surprising questions. I fumble to answer, but often leave without having said what I wanted to say. Other people can answer around questions or respond by redirecting the conversation. I can only do this with great intentionality.

(I thought this post would be going in a different direction, but I tend to go with what comes. A novelist friend of mine – okay, it’s Kay – says this happens with her characters and her story lines regularly and that it’s normal.)

Most of us have personal traits we’re not fond of. This answering thing isn’t even the big one that bothers me. As we mature, we grow used to these ways we have, but we can still be hard on ourselves. You know what bugs you – and, I don’t mean “nose” or “feet” or anything like that – do you love that part about yourself? I don’t, but until this moment, I’d never thought about loving it. Maybe I’ll try. 

My straightforward style is not a world problem. I doubt it troubles anyone but me. God knows I came this way. I’ve probably even learned to use it to my advantage. Maybe love is the answer…

Maybe we could both work on loving our own ways. What do you think? Are you game?

* I seldom use people’s actual names. Kay is my pseudonym for my daughter.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What's your personal theology?

Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, 2 Timothy 3:16 (CEB)
I’ve been thinking about sermon series for future months. A member of a United Methodist clergy group on Facebook asked what people’s favorite series were. Some were old ideas, some new. One I liked started from the “I AM” scriptures. She said that when she comes to a new appointment she does an “I AM” sermon talking about her personal theology, something they like to hear about.

Wow! How perfect since I’ve just started at Wausau UMC. I could talk one week about my own theology, then a couple or three weeks on some of the various I AM statements in the Old and New Testaments. Weaving through this could be invitations for people to consider their own theologies.

I really like asking people what they believe. Sometimes they’re so surprised. They’ve never been invited to articulate their own theology; it’s a new idea for them. On one side, I feel sad that the church has such a (deserved) reputation for telling consumers what to believe instead of educating and inviting disciples into dialog. On the other hand, it’s really cool to listen and watch as people take up the invitation, telling about what’s always troubled them, what resonates within them, and what they’ve always gravitated toward and why.

So. what's your personal theology? What do you believe about:
  • God? Is God a he/she/they/it? Is God eternal? Good? Omniscient? Omnipresent? Does God control events, get involved in our messes, or guide us and let us accept the consequences? (Does God open a parking spot just for you?) 
  • Jesus? Divine? Only begotten son? Healer? Resurrected? Ascended? Sits at God’s right hand? In Heaven? (And what about heaven…?) 
  • The Bible? Is this collection of writings inspired by God? Holy dictation? Human efforts to make sense of the holy, and our part in all of this? Is it all important, and if so, to what extent? 
  • People? Are we all God’s children? Or just some of us?
Then, of course, there’s Grace, Salvation, Heaven, Holy Spirit, Trinity, Creation, and oh, so many more.

Having a particular lens – or frame, like looking through a window – that shapes all our understandings can be quite helpful. Is God’s Love, Faithfulness, or Justice at the core of what you believe, shaping how you understand bible texts as well as how you live out your faith in the world? This seems like a more sensible way to live and eat and vote than picking a topic like capital punishment, global warming, abortion, or a living wage (any of which would be affected by a core belief in… Life or Love or Justice.)

People who view everything through a lens of God’s preferential option for the poor will have a radically different understanding from those who believe that a personal relationship with God – strictly God & me – is the end goal, and nothing else matters. In fact, they may not be even be able to talk to each other!

One woman I know interprets everything in the bible – from Genesis on – in light of God’s love. Does the genocide of The Book of Joshua fit within that frame of Love? No? Then she interprets this as a human attempt to remake God in our image. The same with slavery, the oppression of women, racism, and the views that have lead to Christian persecution of Jewish people.

What do you believe? What don’t you believe? Either question could be a starting place. Think about it. Pray about it. Write it down or draw pictures. I'd love to hear from you.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    don’t rely on your own intelligence. Proverbs 3:5 (CEB)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Did I say that?

“I’m stupid,” I said as I pointed to the closet door in my office that was now stuck shut (again) due to summer humidity and the slight shifting that sometimes occurs in older buildings. Yes, I said that. Me, Jayneann.

Expressions like this were common at home as I was growing up. But since then, I’ve worked hard to leave behind such disparaging speech – both to others and to myself. While my practice is certainly imperfect, my saying this brought me up short.

I could make a case for saying it. I felt foolish about closing the door when less than two weeks ago, I’d shut it and had to ask for help getting it open. I should have known better!

Still, my point today isn’t that I unthinkingly reverted to a speech pattern I thought I’d left behind. It’s that this slip let me know I’d been pushing myself too hard. Earlier this month, I moved to a new (old, really) house in a different town and started a new job. The job’s fabulous. I’m enjoying it, but it’s also taking a fair amount of mental energy. And, when I’m not at church, I’ve been working on my new digs – mudding and caulking, cleaning, buying painting supplies, etc.

Mowing the backyard was the only time I spent outside last week which – for me – is a crying shame. In July, I’d almost prefer gardening to eating. And, speaking of eating, I didn’t do that well either.

Besides the “stupid” incident, last week I had the hiccups three times, eye twitches twice, and a few other twitchy moments. My body as well as my mouth were clearly sending me a message. And that message? Stop! Slow down! 

The stressors may not be bad ones, but they’re still stressors. At a time when a person needs to practice better self-care, I’d been giving myself less time. A friend once described this idea as a lot of straws stuck in a glass, all of them sucking out the water (or whatever). What had I been doing to make sure I didn’t run out? Not much.

So, Friday (my sabbath) I worked hard at doing less. I asked Kay to set up the hammock frame for me because every time I stepped outside to do it, I found tasks that distracted me. (Thank you, Kay!) As soon as I stretched out on the red and orange striped canvas, I realized how very tired I was. How do we not realize when when we’re in this state?!

This week’s calendar looks at least as full as last week’s. But I’ve been reminded that I’m not superwoman. I’m one small person with finite mental and physical resources. I still have to mud and paint, but this week I’ll make a point of eating regularly. I’ll sit outside and read in the evening once or twice instead of watching reruns on my tablet. I’ll drink plenty of water.

Maybe this isn’t the week when you need to focus on such things, but your time will come. Practice taking care of yourself now so that when it does, your mouth doesn’t get you in trouble and your body doesn’t have to complain in order to get your attention. You’ll be better for it and you’ll be better for those around you.
Be careful what you think,    because your thoughts run your life. Proverbs 4:23 (NCV)

Sunday, July 23, 2017


You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. Matthew 5:13

For years, I avoided salt. I took the medical establishment at its word, believing it was bad for me. I baked with minimal salt, didn’t put a salt shaker on the table, and I did all right – mostly. I found most prepared foods to be excessively salty (things like pickles being the exception.) I’d also had low blood pressure for as long as I can remember, which tended to make me lightheaded and make everything go dark when I’d stand up.

A few years ago, a blood test came back with a low aldosterone level. Aldosterone? What’s that? My doctor seemed unconcerned (disinterested?) so I did some research on my own. It turns out aldosterone’s an adrenal hormone whose chief task is to “regulate salt and water in the body, thus having an effect on blood pressure.” Click! With more research, I figured out that just as I’d probably been sabotaging my body with my decades on a lowfat, whole grain (wheat) diet, I’d followed the wrong advice about salt.

I’m a salty person now, but I only use higher quality sea salt. (I get my iodine separately, but that’s another story.) The sea salt keeps my electrolytes balanced and I hardly ever feel the need to put my head between my knees anymore. (Working in the yard this weekend, I had to eat – yes, eat – extra to compensate for all the sweating that happened.) It may not be a perfect solution, but it works better than what I was doing before. Oh, and the sea salt tastes loads better than the other stuff!

Onto the theological...

I’m a rather practical person. And Jesus’ words about salt losing its flavor always puzzled me. How does salt lose its flavor? It’s salt – sodium cloride, NaCl – unless combined with something else like sulfuric acid (NaCl + H2SO4 = Na2SO4 + HCl).

Years later, I have other, bigger concerns to occupy my mind than wondering about a saltiness metaphor. But I also realize that contextually, it could have happened. In some places in ages past, the available “salt” would have contained plenty of other things – organic and inorganic. If it got wet, the salt could leach out leaving flavorless stuff that wasn’t good for much of anything. I’m glad I didn’t have to use that salt. (Dentistry is another reason I’m glad I live in this century.)

Of course, Jesus wasn’t offering a chemistry lesson. Maybe he was suggesting that we, the “salt of the earth,” aren’t going to lose our passion for following God any more than salt, true salt, is going to lose its saltiness. (Rather like Randy Travis’ old song, “Forever and Ever, Amen.”) Or maybe he's encouraging us, as in, “You don’t want to become a flavorless shadow of yourself. Keep loving God. And keep showing it by the ways to take care of the others.”

I’ve liked one exchange from Hook ever since I heard it. Maybe it’ll work for you.
Peter Banning: Now I want you to take care of everything that's smaller than you.
Thud Butt: Okay.
Too Small: Then who do I look after?
Peter Banning: Neverbugs - little ones.
May you be a blessing to all the Neverbugs in your life; and may you remain salty.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Practicing (and practicing) Grace

From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. John 1:16

The other day, I was sitting down at the kitchen table when, out the window, I noticed a woman on the sidewalk turn and scold the preteen boy following her. “Don’t!” Looking closer, I noticed that he had just picked a stalk from one of the daylilies in my yard. Unfazed, he stepped onto the walk up to the house so that he could reach the daisies and picked one of those. As he walked away I saw that he was also holding a stem of red bee balm.

In that moment as they continued down the street, I had two thoughts. First, that he must have liked my flowers. This gave me pleasure as I’ve put many hours into turning my front yard (previously grass) into a garden. It’s still a work in progress, but I like how it’s looking and I want passersby to enjoy it. My second thought was on the order of “How dare he?!” Not so much, how dare he pick some flowers as how dare he pull out the entire stalk of daylilies. (If you’re not a gardener, let me explain. Each daylily blooms for only one day, but each stalk has at least a week’s worth of buds on it. When he picked the stalk, he removed more than the day’s flowers, but a few days’ worth of beauty.)

I didn’t stay in that place, didn’t dwell on it, just when about my business. But I had occasion to remember this feeling that evening. You see, in July and August, I sometimes go through the yard and snap off that day’s daylilies. Since they'll be spent by morning, I take them indoors to add color and fragrance to my evening. I have about ten varieties, so it can be quite a “bouquet” on the tray. Only this evening, as I carefully snapped off the flowers, I wasn’t careful enough, and at two different plants, I snapped off hands of buds. Oh! the tragedy!

And in those moments, I remembered the boy and how incensed I’d been at his carelessness. I remembered when Jay had picked flowers for me as a child, not always as I would have liked; and how I (thankfully) had practiced grace and thanked him with a big smile.

I thought of how this boy might have given his mother the flowers when they returned home and hoped that if he did, she too would smile and just say thank you.

Oh, God, thank you for the grace you show me in accepting me as I am, my gifts, and my shortcomings. Help me as I keep practicing grace. Maybe, someday, I’ll be able to skip the part about being offended, and just love the person, like you do. Amen.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Centered and in a Good Place

from "How to Meditate in 5 Simple Steps"
It’s only 2 p.m. but it’s been a glorious day so far. I got to lead worship at my new appointment where I was welcomed warmly, both during the services and with a meal afterward. I’m tired but it’s a good tired.

I used the story of Noah and the Ark (Genesis 7) to talk about the in-between time that’s part of healthy transitioning. That was one hefty neutral time! My transition pales in comparison, but I suppose that’s part of its purpose. We all have transitions from one thing that’s ended to something we hope’ll be good (and is sometimes even better) and we often lament that leaving the old and then waiting for the new is terrible. Sometimes it is. Only a cataclysmic event – like a 40 day deluge – could possibly compare with some of the ways that our lives have been broken. Hence, the story.

For the last two months, I’ve been anticipating, and dreading, my move. I knew it would be wonderful, but saying goodbye to all the folks I’ve come to love at the last place was harder than I’d expected.

For some weeks, I’d been counting on my meditation practice to help me sleep. I’d watch a show with Kay, brush my teeth; then I’d sit on the yoga mat in my bedroom for twenty or forty minutes quieting my mind. (If my mind has an “off” switch, I’ve never found it. Even as a child, I’d lay in bed processing the day … rehearsing future conversations … thinking …)

Anyway, last month, I had an epiphany of sorts – the good kind, not the kind where I fall and give myself a concussion J. Kay and I were in the kitchen. I’d said something that hadn’t set well with her and she needed me to understand her perspective. A fair request. But I wanted to fix dinner. The kitchen was messy – a stressor for me. Feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to get into an argument, I asked her rather passionately to go somewhere for a bit. We could talk later.

As background, my mother and brother had left that morning after a three-day visit. We’d had a good visit, but as soon as they left my inner-critic had reminded me of how much I still needed to do. I’d spend the day working in the yard, pressured to get the gardens to a point where they could maintain themselves when I left for Wausau. I was tired, dehydrated, stressed by my self-imposed timeline, and hungry.

My lovely daughter persevered. And I sat there on the kitchen stool trying not to explode. (After all, it wasn’t her fault I was in this place.) Using my meditation practice to help, I focused on my breathing and also closed my eyes whenever a wave of stress threatened to swamp me.

Amazingly, a few minutes into the conversation, I realized that I was doing better. I was actually hearing Kay through the noise of my frazzled state. I kept breathing slowly. Out. In. Eyes closed, I remembered where my center is. Eyes open, I focused on her plight. Out. In.

“Wow!” I though, “this meditation stuff really does work!” Halfway through our dialog, I was definitely in a better place. I could tell Kay that I understood where she was coming from. We made dinner and enjoyed the rest of our evening. Maybe I’m getting this human relations thing (finally!)

I guess I’m going to have to keep up this meditation practice…

Monday, June 26, 2017

Happy Birthday!

Do you remember the last time you had one of those days when nothing exactly went wrong but you were still "off"?

For me, today was one of those days. Partly it was the weather. Cloudy, rainy summer days happen. I get that. But a summer day when the temperature barely reaches 60°? In a string of gray days that only rarely reach 70°? (I don’t like it when the Raynaud’s leaves my fingertips blue-white in June. It’s just not right.)

In honesty, it’s also my birthday and, lots of well-wishers notwithstanding, the number that marks my age today seems a lot bigger than the number that marked my age yesterday. I know it’s all in my head – I’m still the same me – but there it is.

Still, I tried to make the best of it even if I wasn’t inspired to work out in the yard in the wind. I went to a local big-box store to look at tile and faucets and shower heads. Then I went for a free frozen custard sundae (I’m on an email list) even though every ingredient except the nuts is on my no-no list. As I spooned bites of custard, pecans, hot fudge, and candy bits into my mouth, I learned that an overly sweet frozen dessert is not as much fun to eat by myself as it is when I share it with someone. Still I ate it. I didn’t feel guilty about ordering it, but I wish I’d stopped when I realized I wasn’t enjoying it.

Now I sit here with the cats, watching Mama Mia. (Kay’s helping her brother and sister-in-law get ready for their business’s grand opening on Friday.) Taking a break to wash up some dishes I wondered – in keeping with the movie theme – what unexpected turns my life might take in the next year.

We’re only experts about ourselves, so though I don’t know about others, I accept that some days are like this for me. Some days I have reasons for feeling low (as Alexander’s mother explains, “Some days are like that. Even in Australia.”) and some days I don’t really have a reason. Like today.

On the plus, I know that God Is. I accept that life is generally good. I acknowledge that I lead a life of privilege. (That hot bath felt delightful this afternoon.) I have much to feel gratitude for.

To the negative, my tummy hasn’t felt good since my afternoon splurge. I’ve felt guilty and a bit foolish. Reading a bit of Brené Brown I realized I was dealing with some shame. Surprisingly, just knowing this helped me to feel better.

It’s nearly 9 p.m. I’m going to let myself off the hook. “After all,” borrowing this time from Margaret Mitchell ’s character, “tomorrow is another day!”

May you too let yourself off the hook when you find yourself hanging by your overly high self-expectations.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

In the gap between Endings and Beginnings.

"Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. ... So Abram went ... Genesis 12

I had some tough moments this week as I continue my transition from what has been to what will be. This weekend I preach my final message at the church that's been my home for the last three years.

But it hasn't been so much preparing for this last time of worship in Appleton. Rather it was noticing how I was completely in my "business-no-emotions" mode during Wednesday's final worship planning meeting. And then, not being in that mode, having to sit in the bathroom for a few minutes and focus on breathing after the afternoon's Volunteers in Mission team meeting. In both cases, I've worked closely with these people. I've sweated with the VIM team and that always seems to add another layer of intimacy for me.

A few weeks ago, a colleague who's retiring offered a book recommendation that he's finding useful in his own transition – William Bridges' Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes. I bought a used copy. Reading it, I've been finding ways to help make mine a healthy transition. The author writes about three stages that must happen in this order:
  1. Endings. "We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one – not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are." 
  2. The Gap. A time-out when we seem to do nothing, a "moratorium from the conventional activity of [our] everyday existence." This is when we do the inner work that allows us to make a break from the old and embrace the new.
  3. New beginnings. It's endings that make new beginnings possible.
So I've been paying attention to endings – the last meeting, the last rehearsal, etc. – and I've been creating space for doing nothing by limiting my evening screen time and coming in from the gardens earlier than I normally would. Why? As much as I love putzing around in the yard, I find that this can be as much of an avoidance as watching old TV shows. And I need to do the inner work.

We all do, though our culture makes it awkward. Transitions are seen as no more complex than crossing the street. When we try to explain what's going on, why we're going away for a couple days, or aimlessly wandering the park at night, people look at us askance. In looking for pictures to go with this entry, I found one that illustrates our challenge – a person trying to step over a barbed wire fence. Yikes! That's not the transition I want.

Other pictures showed butterflies in their stages of development. Friday, Kay and I went to High Cliff State Park and while we were in the rangers' station, we looked at an aquarium filled with tadpoles. Imagine their conversations..
George: Oh, look at my gorgeous tail. Don't you love it?
Fred: Grand. Mine's just like it. I can swim so fast. 
        ... days later ... 
George: I'm dying! Look at my tail. It's half what it was.
Fred: How will we ever swim? Oh, I miss it already! And these growths on our sides ... Life is so brief. It's been nice knowing you, George.
We may feel like life's ending sometimes, too, but thankfully when we practice gratitude, when we're open to joy, we find that life continues to be good.

You know the changes you're facing. The changes I've heard about this week include:
  • A parent wondering where their baby went now that she's running around and talking;
  • A 90-year-old talking about moving to an assisted living facility;
  • Another parent lamenting about the graduate who's going (too) far away to college;
  • A teen going on a first date...
Right up 'til our last breath, we'll face changes, but we don't have to let them swamp us. To paraphrase Dory, "Just keep breathing." Allow the endings, make time for the emptying, and find joy in the adventures that follow. This is what I'm trusting to.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Love ... yourself

I didn’t realize when I first read, or heard, about loving your neighbor as yourself that Jesus was “quoting” from Leviticus. (I put “quoting” in quotes – no pun intended – because, of course, there were no voice recorders back then. All the red words in those red-letter bibles are merely best guesses a few decades after Jesus’ death or each gospel-writer’s way of hopefully getting his readers to accept the point he’s making.)

Someone asks Jesus which of God’s commandments is the most important. He responds, Love God. And love everyone else. (My paraphrase. If Jesus was around today, I like to think he’d extend it to say, “Love everyone and everything else.” After all, everything is “of God.”)

First, did you notice that the two commandments Jesus references aren’t from “The Ten C…”? Although Jewish people were never stuck on this grouping – they know there are 613 commandments in what we call the Old Testament – Christians have gotten a bit stuck on them. (Funny thing, when Paul says that we’re “not subject to the law” Galatians 5:18).

Next, my point about loving as we love ourselves. I was a teenager when I started reading the bible or paying real attention to sermons. I’ve learned since then that not loving yourself is common for teens. At the time, I only knew I didn’t have much love for myself. How could I when no one liked me, my parents were constantly finding fault, my face was broken out …? I was an odd one already (I now realize) but while I was pretty much able to ignore this in my childhood, by my twelfth year, my not fitting in and not being good enough came crashing down around me. How could I possibly love myself?!

Still, when I found this in scripture, I worked on it. (Who knows? Maybe the practice kept me from being further messed up.) I believed God loved and accepted me, which surely helped.

Another monkey wrench in the path to self-love is that erroneous teaching – more to girls than boys – that humility demands that we abase ourselves. The accompanying “too big for your britches,” and “well, don’t you think a lot of yourself” type comments only reinforce the idea that we’re at about the level of the dirt and the sidewalk.

I’m at a much different place now. (Most of us are able to navigate beyond the pains of our youth though not without scars.) I love. Still, as I was reading Brené Brown the other day, I was caught by her words, “We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.” (This from a woman with at least ten years research into the topic under her belt.)

God calls us to love all those around us (even our enemies, per Matthew 5 & Luke 6), yet how can we do this if our self-love is lukewarm?

I was doing my yoga practice yesterday, and I caught myself scolding because I kept stepping out of tree pose (vriksasana). My balance just wasn’t there. Now I’ve been practicing compassion for myself and others for a few years; I’m better but with lots of room for improvement. Still, I’d never scold someone for missing a stair or tripping over their feet. Why do I hold myself to such a standard? (I stopped scolding.)

I love. You do too. My hope is for us each to love our beloved ones with every fiber of our being. It seems that in order to do that, we need to love ourselves similarly. I know I’m not there; I’m guessing you’re not either.

What one thing can you do this week (or this year) to grow in love with yourself? 

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
Leviticus 19:18 also referenced in Mark 12:31

Friday, May 26, 2017

My heart swells

Where can I go
from your spirit, O God?
Opening Prayer and ThanksgivingI awake this morning
In the presence
of the holy angels of God.
May heaven open wide before me
Above me and around me
That I may see
the Christ of my love
And his sunlit company
In all the things of earth this day.
        J. Philip Newell, Each Day & Each Night
It’s Friday morning and I usually wouldn’t write on Friday morning – it’s my sabbath – but the words came upon me with the desire to put them down. So here I am.

I drink some water and set my tea to steep. Planning to do morning prayers and yoga, I’m inspired by the rabbit I spot nibbling on red creeping thyme to take my mug and do walkabout . What beauty I find. The sun is warn, the grass wet from last night’s shower. The peony blossoms still have some life in them.

Joe Pye is a native that will grow to 5 feet.
Wild Ginger is a native groundcover.
I pick a stalk of rhubarb to add the ones I didn’t use last night. They’ll make a nice something for supper. I talk to the brunnera, the Joe Pye weed, the rabbit. Oh, and the rose. It was eaten to a nub but is coming back nicely now that I’ve stacked bricks around it.

The iris are beginning to bloom. Lovely. The white sage refuses to give up though I keep digging out whatever sprouts appear. The hostas in the corner seem to be thriving in spite of their munching neighbors.

Full of the beauty of God’s creation I come in, pour more tea and head toward my prayer chair – a rocker that fits my smaller frame (so many are too big) but I stop by the lilacs in a vase. (May is the only month I use this vase as it’s too large for anything but a mess of lilacs.) I tell myself I’ll need to dump these on the compost today but then I smell them and decide to wait. The lilac fragrance is still in them. One more day they will bless my home with their fading beauty.
There are even spider's lines on it...
I sit in the rocker, full to overflowing with the beauty I find around me. As I open my pray book and read the verse from Psalm 139 (a different on each morning) I thank God and realize I need to share this. I continue to read first – first an opening prayer, then a psalm and a bit of scripture, more prayer, intercessions, and closing prayer.

May you be open this day to the beauty that is around you. Though you may not be blessed with gardens to walk through or the time to savor them, allow yourself to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, whatever is part of your day’s experience and know God’s presentness in all of it.
Closing Prayer
The love and affection
of the angels be with me.
The love and affection
of the saints be with me.
The love and affection
of the heaven be with me,
to lead me and to cherish me
this day.
        J. Philip Newell, Each Day & Each Night