Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Hiatus?


Yes, it's been a while (months!) since I posted anything. I could make the excuse that working 50 hours a week and composing weekly sermons has depleted my creativity. (It has.) But beyond that, I was finding that the only topic that interested me was one I've already written about and I couldn't revisit it without fresh insights. So I waited, silent. Waited for something else to come to me. Waited, as I read through my list of blog seeds and found nothing that inspired me. Some of you waited too.

In early September, I thought, “Maybe this blog has run its course. Maybe I need to put together one more “Goodbye” entry and end it all.” But that didn’t happen. Again, it could have been the busyness. Or it could have been something else. In the weeks that followed the thought, I pondered that maybe Spirit God knew something I didn’t and I practiced compassion on myself as I continued to wait.


Thursday, I returned from Palestine where I’d joined a group on a Living Stones Pilgrimage (more on that another time). One evening midway through our time there, “First World Problems” popped into my head. I don’t remember in reference to what, but this’s how blog ideas have come to me in the past – as a possible title, a theme or a sentence to be fleshed out. And in that moment, I realized that I’m not finished here.

I have work to do.

I’ll come back to my favorite topic another time. (I already have an entry written and waiting.) I’ll probably write about those first world problems, too. But I expect I’ll also be writing about walls and reservations and apartheid. I may write about Wi’am. Or Tent of Nations. And refugee camps and settlements.

And, in season, gardening, of course...


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Goodness!


Some people object to the phrase, “God is good,” and for good reasons. Others say, “God is good,” whenever something good comes their way, and this works for them.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I remember when Bishop Linda Lee led the Wisconsin Conference and how she would regularly (and often) pull us back to task.
Bishop: “God is good.”
Church: “All the time.”
Bishop: “All the time,”
Church: “God is good.” 
But is God good?

Yes, God is good – in the same sense that life is good and that burping when your stomach is distended is good. Neither example have any inherent goodness about them. Releasing GI pressure brings ease. As long as we don’t do it in an unacceptable space or moment – like during the community prayer at church or during the heart-wrenching death scene at the theatre – all is good. Life is good, as good as we choose to believe it to be with all the death, disease and injustice that abounds.

Yes, God is good. The Source of All that Is leads us to live as fully as we’re able, with a compassion- and justice-focused mindset. The One that is Beyond All Else empowers us to live abundantly, to trust that even with all the bad stuff that life throws at us living is still a gift, something worth doing as well as we can.

So God is good.

But is God really good?

No, not if you mean “good” as we might measure it on our own good/bad scale. We humans are each somewhere on that continuum, some of us more good, some more bad, while others are smack-dab in the middle.

The challenge to God’s goodness comes when we accept that God doesn’t fit on this continuum. God is neither good nor bad – not by any human definition. God is quite other. Not simply larger (tho’ that may be); instead God is different beyond our comprehension. To use an imperfect analogy, we can’t really compare apples, mallard ducks and rose crystal. They each have their merits. Each has its value. But equating one with the other? ... that’s tough.

Then is God good?

When my children were young, I tried to remind them often that they were perfect just as they were. They were exactly as a five- (or seven- or ten-) year-old ought to be. This idea also helped when I might otherwise have been frustrated by students at school. “They’re perfect examples of 7th graders. They’re acting just like 12- and 13-year olds should act.” 

Expecting that nine-year-old to act like a nine-year old and not like a little man is about perspective. It's helpful – for both of us. Not expecting God to act like a finite human being is also about perspective, and is similarly helpful. I honestly believe that God (however you define them) leads us – rocks, blowfish, and humans, all of us – toward a best way, if we will only accept guidance. The blowfish and rocks are better at following but with practice we can get pretty good too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tending & Keeping


I close my eyes and I see weeds. I've spent a couple hours at "The Garden" weeding.

When I moved to Wausau, I made the conscious decision not to plant a garden. I told myself, “With this new job I won’t have the time. And think about resale. You don’t want to have to dig up all your beds and plant grass when the time comes, do you?” (No, I don’t.)

The place I bought has a very small front yard which – it turns out – had no grass but lots of purple coneflower and perennial cornflower (mostly self-seeded) and a pear tree. The first time I saw the house was in early spring so I didn’t know the flowers were there. On closing day, I added some hosta, bleeding heart and such to fill the space.

In full disclosure, I’ve also been cleaning up a pair of nooks on either side of the back entry this spring and filling them with all sorts of other green and flowering plants. But I haven’t dug up any yard. And I won’t.

These spaces could probably keep my down time full as I water and weed (plus mow the backyard) but in February I made a marvelous discovery. I’d heard about the various sites of interest in Wausau since before arriving in July. Not surprisingly, the one with Gardens in its name caught my attention.

Monk Botanical Gardens is a private garden space that’s open to the public year round, dawn to dusk. One cold winter day after being indoors entirely too long, I drove there just to look– it’s only a mile from my house – and the rest is history. I go at least twice a week. I feel a sense of peace sitting in the meditation garden after a long week or having received bad news. Walking around the pond or through the Wildflower Woods, I look eagerly for what's changed since the last time. Are there swifts in the chimney the birders donated?

Now, in June, I still feel that peace. I still find beauty but even more than that I notice the scents and the unique warmth and living presence one feels when one is connected with nature.

A friend suggested I ought to sign up to volunteer  which I did. Now I don’t take as many meandering walks instead I kneel (or sit) and weed. I like weeding – it’s so satisfying. And even with the dozens of volunteers that help there, I can always find work to do.

Someone asked me Saturday how I came to gardening. I don't know. It's been a growing thing (no pun intended). My dad gardened and I helped. I started growing parsley, sage and thyme next to their back door when I was about 15. My mother said recently that I always prefered working outside to doing indoor chores. I hadn't realized.

For me, tending and keeping is about looking after all the ones who are smaller or weaker or who have little or no voice. It's also about doing what I can to ensure that when I leave, my tiny piece of planet earth is no worse than I found it, and maybe a little better.

What does it mean for you?
There’s a season for everything
    and a time for every matter under the heavens... Ecclesiastes 3
A time for weeding at the gardens, a time for tending my own lawn, and a time for indoor chores (ugh).

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Communing

I'm vacating this week this week – taking a staycation (or cottage days). Jennifer Johnson, from First Church, shared this story with me last month, then graciously gave me permission to include it in this blog as a vacation post. Thank you, Jen!

My curly hair boy and I deliver communion for people who are not able to come to church. We have an elderly woman with whom we meet. She lives in a memory care facility with her cat. Pearl (not her real name) always remembers us—especially my son. They have such a sweet friendship. The facility where she lives also has a cat that lives on the premises and he often visits Pearl and her kitty. It was a sunny afternoon that we found Pearl sitting in her chair, with the building kitty snuggled down in her lap sleeping. Her own cat sleeping soundly on her bed. In her small room we pulled chairs around her. The sun was shining through the window as we all sat close together.

The communion kit was all ready for us. Bread and grape juice that had been blessed by our minister the previous Sunday. A small communion reading and a prayer written out on a card. My son was eager to lead in the communion and with Pearl’s permission he began. I could see the seriousness on his face as he read what was written on the card. Stumbling over some words he didn’t recognize as I helped him out. Pearl patiently waited and smiled at him in a way that encouraged him to continue. He then served us the bread and juice and I served him. Afterward, we prayed together and then sang some Country Western songs. The kitty on her lap sleeping through it all.

In those moments, our chairs smashed in the small area around Pearl, with sleeping kitties, and a 10-year-old curly hair boy so seriously reading the card and serving us the elements I felt such a deep connection with our Creator. We were there caring for her by providing communion and friendship. She was there caring for us by patiently listening to my son read and encouraging him with her smile. Helping him to grow in his faith and understanding of connectedness. Helping me as well. I grew up believing that God is Love. That Jesus is the great teacher of this love. In that sunny room, draped with sleeping kitties, in that small circle that we formed, listening to the curly hair boy reading the words of our faith, Love was indeed present. We were indeed in communion with the Almighty.

I think about ways that God is in communion with us as we go about life. If I have enough mindfulness as I go through the day, I find Him in many places. My husband, son and I recently went to a Willie Nelson concert. There were various other bands before him and it was going to be a great show. I looked around the packed auditorium and marveled at all the different people there. Young people and elderly. People with all types of beliefs, ideas, and hopes. And then the music started. A whole group of strangers connected through music. There wasn’t any negativity. People were not fighting. Singing and joy could be heard. And I thought about how God is present in such a moment. Teaching us through the music of the artists. Showing us how we are more alike than different. Even with our differences there are things we agree on. We have common ground.

And then I look around and God can be found everywhere and in communion with us. In the budding tree of spring time. In the old dog happily groaning in his sleep. In the sink full of dirty dishes. In sadness and tears that are shed and the fight for justice. In the sing-song voice of a boy calling me “mom”. In the echo of voices that will never be heard again. And at the beginning of a new day with birds singing their ancient songs. As Mies van de Rohe says, “God is in the details”. Albert Einstein says “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle”. God is in the miracle of the ordinary. He is the Love in the room that communes us together.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Radical


Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 (NLT) 

Living in love is a radical concept. It was radical when Jesus practiced it two thousand years ago; it’s radical when we do it today.

I’ve been a practicing Christian all my life (expect maybe for a few young adult years when I was inactive). So living into last month's commitment to “live in love” should have been easy, right?

Babies love. They don’t know any better. They receive love and they return it. They're accepted and they accept. Only as they grow and face the hard reality that not everyone accepts them and that even the loving ones in their lives don’t accept everyone do these children learn to withhold love.

I like to think of myself as a loving person yet I was not always loving to my ex-husband. Nor have I always treated family or strangers with love. I could blame it on the ways we’re brought up but at some point we’re each responsible for how we live – now. I haven't always been loving. I want to change that. I don’t believe that old dogs can’t learn new tricks. New tricks are what keep us alive.

I’ve been working on this goal for a month, when I remember. Like most new practices, I’ve had successes and missed opportunities. Successes, like when young Fran asked one Sunday morning who my favorite person at church is. "I don't really have a favorite, Fran, but I really like you!"

Missed, like when a man was driving through the park last week calling out, “Happy Mothers Day” to random females. I just nodded and focused on locating the trailhead. Later I remembered seeing someone in the passenger seat. My imagination suggests that maybe the driver was being strangely friendly in order to bring joy to that other person. Is her family too far away? Are they estranged? Is she sick and he was hoping to lift her spirits as the people he greeted shared greetings in return? I’ll never know. But I’d rather err on the side of love next time.

Things like this didn’t used to concern me. If someone gave dreadful service at a restaurant or store, I was bothered. I expected better. I still expect better, but now I expect it of myself. Does she have a sick child? Did his girlfriend just dump him? When I meet each person as a child of God, I don’t need to know their story; I just need to love them.

I’ve been surprised at how easy it is. Sometimes. I hadn’t expected this. I mean I’d been working on Mercy practices as part of my Covenant Discipleship (CD) for three years – finding ways to practice compassion and justice. That was very much a work-in-progress but going okay. Yet I'm finding more success with this “living in love.” What gives? 

The one difference I come up with is motivation. I worked on acts of mercy because I was committed to the CD group idea. Practicing compassion and justice is important – for the ones I practiced on and for my own spiritual growth. While I was in the group, others helped me hold myself accountable. And during our weekly meeting, I could usually come up with a story to describe how I'd practiced each.

No one is helping me to live in love. Well, no one except the Holy. And yet I feel I’m doing ... well. Is it only because I’m being loving simply to be loving, simply to reflect the love God shares with me?

I don’t have answers today but I thought I'd let you know where I was.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Decisions, Decisions


I’ve been contemplating a choice I had to make. As you can guess, it wasn’t an easy choice. For the last month, I’d been trying to think of more options to consider and I’d made it to five. But I didn’t like any of them.

They include: running away from the problem (in my mind, to Tahiti, actually); giving up on an idea I’ve long felt strongly about and thereby surrendering something of value; pretense and subterfuge (lying and hiding); and doing the deed anyway while feigning ignorance. (Yes, you counted right. I didn’t name the fifth.) During my admittedly scarce free time, I wracked my brain. Surely there must be some better alternative.

Finally, one evening in desperation I asked God to send me an idea as I slept. (Why did I wait so long?!) My sleep had been disturbed lately, because of this puzzle and because of spring’s longer days bringing daylight through the bedroom blinds much earlier. Yet on this night, I slept easily.

In the morning, I didn’t remember I’d asked the favor. It was actually a few days until I realized that I had a measure of peace. And an answer – of sorts.

The word integrity had been rolling around the edges of my mind since the previous Thursday when I’d weed my library and seen To Walk in Integrity. (Now that I’d like to see it again, I can’t find the book– in the stacks or the boxes. I want to discover what truths it would reveal to me ten years after my first reading.)

Anyway, in the peace I'd discovered, I found that I was walking in one of those previously untenable alternates, now repackaged. I’m living fully where the Spirit leads me in spite of what might come. I am not feigning ignorance. I'm aware of possible consequences. Yet, to walk in integrity has been a goal of mine since I first read the book, so I’ll proceed in this best, most right path.

When Martin Luther stood before the Diet of Worms, he told those who would excommunicate him from the Roman Catholic Church that he could not and would not recant anything “for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” He continued with, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Short term, his was a painful experience to live through. Long term, it was for the best.

While not meaning to compare my experience with his, we each face times when we have to make decisions whose consequences may be distinctly unpleasant. I encourage all of us to err toward integrity.

I don’t know how my decision will play out. But I do know that for now, at least, it’s the right thing to do.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Big Reveal


I’ve been waiting since July to bring up this topic. Waiting until the people at my church had gotten to know me and (hopefully) trust me enough to hear it with compassion.

In February I came up with a plan for when and how to break my news. I'd do it from the pulpit so many would hear it all at once with no one left out, on the first Sunday of the month because attendance is usually better on "Communion Sundays." I actually created a sermon series around this one event. For weeks, I'd write out in my mind what I wanted to say, alway when I was supposed to be doing something else – until finally, just after Easter, I wrote a draft. After that, I could work on what I needed to do in that moment.

The message came together surprisingly easily. I hadn’t expected that. And I believe it had some impact even though attendance was low. (It was the first lovely weekend weather of the season.) I usually print 15 copies of the sermon. This week I’ve had to reprint twice; we’re into the third dozen. (Maybe someone’s just swooping them up and tossing them, though. Who knows?)

The message is about acceptance, something I’ve too often felt was absent in my own story. Here’s part of what I presented:
Jill never realized she was different. It didn’t show like it does when someone’s accompanied by a guide dog or has trouble walking or speaking.

Jill grew up doing all the things children did. She didn’t have many friends but as she grew older she chalked it up to being a quiet person. After graduating from college, she got a job and started a family. Jill was a fairly well adjusted person, so she expected to have a good life.

But there were snags along the way that made it harder than she expected. Little things, like laughing at the story only to find the others around her looking at her curiously. Or having to look at the floor or out the window when she talked about something close to her. Big things, too, like missing all the nonverbal stuff in any conversation. And without ever meaning to, regularly offend people with her words. She misinterpreted friendliness for true friendship or romantic interest, and, because of this, she was, as one person put it, the frequent victim of other people’s social weaknesses.

Jill followed rules, but by studying other people, she learned that there are many shades of gray. Only newspapers or Dalmatians are black and white.

She came to accept that she was odd. She acted as if it didn’t matter. But her friendless state was her secret shame. Jill longed for close connections, but as she looked back, even in school, her closest friends always had other best friends.

God makes us for relationship. We are hard-wired to be in connection with not only the Holy, but with each other and our world. We deny this at our own peril.

Jill’s story is my story. It was simply easier to tell it in the third person. Three years ago, I found out that I have Asperger’s Syndrome.
I have no doubt that God loves me, as God loves you and the man who lives under the bridge. We all need to work on accepting whoever's hard for us to accept. April was Autism Awareness Month. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This seemed like a good time for a reminder.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Gratitude .. Let Me Count the Ways


A couple years ago I was privileged to share in a study at church with a group of women (that I didn’t have to lead myself!) Although I couldn’t connect with the theology of the woman on the video – or her style of speaking – her key idea stayed with me.

She spoke about noticing the gifts all around us and of her own journey as she took committedly began journaling about them each day. Would you commit to recording five things each day that you’re grateful for? I’m all for gratitude. And being an on-and-off-again journaling person I had a few notebooks laying around so I took the challenge.

Now right away I’ll admit that I’m only on number three-hundred-something and, like I said, the study was two years ago. So clearly this doesn’t happen every day.

Since moving to Wausau my practice suffered even more. But a couple months ago I found my little spiral notebook in a stack of journals – some full, some not so full. I set it on the kitchen table along with my pens – I alternate colors, which is about as artsy as I get – and on my weekends, however many mornings that is, I sit and record gratitudes as my Sabbath station plays on the Sonos.

The next monkey wrench is that now that I’m getting back into my practice, I miss it during those weekends when I stay over in Wausau. (My notebook is in Appleton.) This should be an easy fix, I know, but I don’t want to start in one of the beat-up theme books that litter my little house and I haven’t yet gotten one I can love. (I’ll work on this.) So until I find a notebook, I collect thankful moments in my mind before sleep. That helps me remember that my life is full and rich.

How do you celebrate thankfulness? Or remind yourself that, even in the midst of the crummy stuff, God is still present and active and that life is still good?

After playing society’s game of chasing shadow wealth, Laura Tong writes about her discovery of true wealth:
... with no idea where to go from there, I found an empty journal and started a record of the True Riches In My Life. For each year of my adult life, I jotted down every experience, achievement, adventure, friendship won or lost, and every decision I could remember making.

What an epiphany!

I realized my life had been full of riches long before I started chasing financial wealth and material gain. I realized most of the truest riches in my life actually came when I didn't have all that much money.
Laura then writes about some of these real riches. Acceptance, curiosity, forgiveness aren’t surprising but I was intrigued to see vulnerability on the list. I’m going to think about that one. You might want to check out her blog and notice what catches your attention.

Just recently I had an epiphany of sorts myself. It’s still too close to me to speak of in any depth, but after being reminded about how many people’s lives are shaped by fear, and how easily my own can sometimes dive that direction, I decided that I was going to live in love – with everyone and everything I encountered. If this brought me to where I wanted to be, fabulous! Wonderful! If not, well, I would still be in a better place than if I didn’t do it.

Okay, no big surprise there, but somehow, sometimes, when we face ourselves in the mirror for the tenth or ten-thousandth time, we find that we notice things we’ve known all along in whole new ways. And as we continue our journey, our lives become fuller and richer for having paused enough to notice.

What words speak to you about the preciousness of this life? Here are a couple more that resonate with me:

Sunday, April 8, 2018

You Matter; I Matter


We welcomed two people into our church family today at Wausau: First. One of them is only months old and their name isn’t even in our church registry yet. (We’ll have to fix that!) We welcomed this beloved child of God through baptism. Family gathered from all over to witness the event. We spoke ancient words and spoke of “water and the Spirit.” An older brother and sister watched proudly and shyly. A delighted grandfather walked the little one up and down the center aisle as a member of our United Methodist Women told the parents of a gift they will make in honor of their child’s baptism. This event was a wonderful addition to our 10 a.m. worship time.

Yet the 8 a.m. worship service also celebrated a joining today. This one, another of God’s beloved children, is more old than young. He has already been a part of this church for twenty years (less than a quarter of his lifetime) yet over Lent he decided to make it official. No friends or family came from far away to witness the event, though it was no less special to me (or hopefully him.) We spoke words of “prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.”

His partner had secretly been in communication with the church office to have a magnetic nametag made for him. As everyone applauded, she handed it to him with a few quiet words. (Later she said with a gentle smile, “It's about time.”) We all stood in the aisle and shook hands with each other, and saying “Welcome” to this new addition.

It was a good morning. (Of course, both have been a part of God's family all along. Only churches are fussy about membership and such.) All present were hopefully reminded that we are each invaluable to all the others with whom we worship. Each of us is special, unique and beloved. We needed this, I believe, especially after learning last month that one of our community had ended his life.

Too often we lose track of how very many people value us and of all who would feel our absence keenly were we to disappear. In my longtime favorite flick, one person gets a chance to experience this but it’s something we seldom get to do. And we need to know that we are valued. They need to know that they are valued. This month, maybe you could make a point of raising people’s awareness. Tell the folks – some of whom might never hear it – that they make your day a little brighter. Tell them about how they have wormed into your heart. Or about how you smile when you think of them. Or ... (well, you get the idea...)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Speaking & Silence


Today is Palm Sunday for many Christians around the world. (Orthodox Christians celebrate Holy Week and Easter a week later than we do this year.) Our worship at Wausau: First included a heavy dose of Mark’s gospel account as we first read Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem then, after a brief reflection, read of Jesus’ last night and day – two chapters interspersed with hymns and some silence.

It seemed to go over well. People spoke of how moving the service was. Since I plan such services with more time and energy than perhaps I ought, I’m glad it worked for people. I enjoyed it as well. Three people read at one service, four at the other. Hearing them with only an hour between, I was able to notice how differently each person read. Bonnie and Will read the same passage, yet Will emphasized certain words or phrases while Bonnie stressed others. All were quite effective.

Words are important. I once knew someone who was not careful with their words – not even when they knew that what they said could cause pain or conflict. “It’s up to you to hear my words the way I mean them.” I get that taking time to consider one’s words is work but how are listeners to know how the speaker means them? (For the record, I’ve historically been bad at this myself – though without the declaration.)

Yes, words are important. So is their delivery. I had to share the sad news this morning that a younger member of our congregation had died earlier this month. The death was unexpected. I was distressed when I first heard and I’d never met this person. How much more would people feel who had worshiped, ushered, broken bread and laughed together with this family? There is no good way to share such news. I could only hope and pray I didn’t do it badly. I prayed, the day I heard the news, yesterday and frequently in the time between.

When I was growing up I learned not to express anger; acting or speaking in anger was discouraged. When I married, I found that in my (now-former) husband’s family loud was fine and normal. So was anger. My Pandora’s box was opened and I struggled through the ensuing decades unsuccessfully trying to get the lid shut again. 

I can’t undo any of that. But I work each day at watching and hearing the person across from me. What do they hear? What do they notice? I’m again practicing silence – at least once in a while. Seldom do we do harm with that. (Methodist friends: Did you notice the General Rule reference?)
The Ecclesiastes writer mentions, “a time for tearing and a time for repairing, a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking” (3:7). I, for one, would be wise to continue practicing this.

If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. James 1:26

Monday, March 12, 2018

Keeping Pets and Partners


Watching an old episode of Enterprise, I’m slowly getting warmer. I'd draped a throw over the electric heater like a tent and am curled underneath. The space between the blanket and my neck create a chimney where lovely warm air wafts past my face. And I’m starting to feel cozy when Asriel shows up and drapes herself across my lap, flattening the blanket.

I now have a cat on my lap and this is a wonderful thing. But my feet are cold and the rest of me is cool. She's stretched out along the crease between my trunk and my bent knees. And I'd pet her except that then my hand would freeze in the cold room. Besides it's so seldom that this youngster is still when she's awake that I hate to disturb her.

During a break in the action on the screen, I occurs to me that this experience is rather like being partnered. It's a give-and-take. You need to watch your iron intake; they want beef all the time. Yet you (both, hopefully!) care enough  that either you sometimes eat beef and they sometimes eat chicken, or you prepare two separate meals. (A simplistic example.)

How do we ever manage? And am I truly interested in going back to such an arrangement, should the opportunity ever present itself? I think of 25 years of sleepless night time hours because of someone's snoring. Now I sleep easily and well. If you're partnered, you can surely make a list of all the things that annoy you or make your life challenging.

The lone individuals are divided between those who love using the whole bed and squeezing the toothpaste any which way and those who grieve their aloneness, longing, if not for the annoyances then at least, the companionship of someone to share their days.

The apostle Paul gets some things wrong in his letters – even in this chapter of Romans – but he’s right that “singleness might well be the best thing” for some who are living alone (7:8 Msg). Some.

Yes, singleness can be a good thing, but it’s hard. So is marriage. (And we can experience loneliness, which I'm not writing about today, in either state.)

Where does this leave us? I guess we just keep working at it – whatever “it” is for us, whatever our situation. For myself, I’ve been practicing contentment since leaving my marriage. I’m not brilliant by a long stretch, but I’ve gotten better. If I’m alone except for cats for the rest of my days, I intend to practice finding and creating joy and peace. If this aloneness ends and I'm again partnered, I'll make it my life’s practice to live in acceptance and contentment. And I’ll work to know joy (and peace) each day.

Shalom! (May you know God's peace.)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Extended Family

Denise brought string & sticks – the latter no doubt pruned from her property – paper & scissors, Mod Podge & jars. Now, children of varied ages, women and some men are working on the evening’s craft projects – folding and cutting snowflakes, large and small, to either hang by strings on the branches to make winter mobiles or to stick them onto jars.

After songs and story time, Denise had given directions on how to attach the snowflakes onto the jars (whether or not people were listening, who knows?). Now everyone was doing something.

Paul applies too much goo to his jar but it’ll still be great addition to his desk, or maybe the kitchen windowsill. Sophie, the youngest cousin has attached her 8-inch snowflake to a stick. Now she and Adrienne are working to see if she can cast it like a fishing rod. But it seems to lack the weight needed.

Two uncles stand off to one side, talking money. A couple of grandfathers sit in relative peace of the living room discussing who-knows-what and laughing occasionally. Meanwhile the kitchen crew has finished setting out the food and is sitting down so they have time to eat before they it’s time to clean up again. Soon the rest will join them for food and more fellowship. . .

Last Wednesday, about 25 of us got together in the church’s Fellowship Hall for Messy Church and a meal. (Wednesday meals are a usual part of our week through the program year.
The Messy Church happens about quarterly.) After I did my part – some story time on the big rug trying to connect the uniqueness of snowflakes with our own inner beauty and distinctiveness (thanks to Genesis 1 and Psalm 139) as well as illustrating our interconnectedness – I made one snowflake then I wandered around watching and listening. I observed how much like a family we all were, laughing and enjoying each other’s’ company, the odd petty squabble. I remembered how some of the dads and uncles  had visit and stood in solidarity as we assembled, how grandmothers and mothers had at the gathering space, while young friends danced and played in the excitement of just being alive. 

I was glad Jan got out her phone and took some pictures – how often do we forget that! . . .

I made one more circuit of the gathering space watching and listening, and also making a few goodbyes before I headed to Rib Falls for my next adventure. It’s been a good hour.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Practices to Grow in the Holy


Jesus told them, "When you're celebrating a wedding, you don't skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now." Matthew 9:14-17 The Message

It’s happened again. This time, a Christian blogger – to be unnamed – denounced yoga as something designed to cause a demonic trance. No more said on that bit, but this seems like a good moment to write about three of my spiritual practices. 

First off, I’m a Christian. I have a seminary education (MDiv) and have pastored a variety of United Methodist congregations these last ten years. Yes, I’m progressive in my theology, but I have one; I know what it is and it’s generally sound. 

During my final year in seminary, we had an assignment to read a chapter a week from a book on spiritual disciplines (“practices” and “disciplines” being used interchangeably here), practice said discipline however briefly and write a page on the experience. As we approached the last week of class, I emailed both instructors. “Could I write on a difference practice?” I’d still read the chapter, but I wanted to write on something I’d been practicing a l-o-n-g time. After some emails back and forth, I received the go-ahead to write about music. 

I started piano lessons 49 years ago but I've been playing (and singing) forever. I can play a variety of instruments (badly, anymore). I listen to “Alexander's Entry Into Pskov” from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky (I witnessed a live performance in Philadelphia years ago) and I still get goosebumps. How can anyone listen to music – or witness any great art – and question God’s presentness among us?! 

Still, why would I consider this a spiritual practice? 

My mind has always been one that goes in three directions at once, usually at top speeds. Most of my life I had trouble shutting it down so I could sleep. Music helps me to be present. 

We only get one “now” and it makes sense to live into it fully. Yet for much of my life, most of my attention was spent considering the future and reviewing the past. How many “todays” did I miss? 

No more! (Well, not so much...) I will live in the present, today, now! 

Although it’s a very imperfect fix, music helps me to be present. When I’m playing with the New Horizons Orchestra (miss you guys) I’m focused on the page in front of me, my fingers and bow, the sounds around me... oh, yeah, and the director <grin>. I’m present. When I sit at the piano, I attune to my fingers and listen. Again, I’m present. It’s imperfect, yes, because though I have a lot of practice in  I also have a lot of practice at thinking over top of whatever I’m doing. Still this helps. 

Two other spiritual disciplines I practice are meditation (Buddhist-style) and yoga. Horrors! But just as I don’t believe that Christians don’t have a corner on G-d’s word for us – G-d can connect with whomever G-d chooses – I believe people of other faiths (and some non-faiths) have things to teach us. 

Yoga and meditation both help me get out of the way so I have a better chance to notice the holy. I can get so caught up in my own woes that I forget to celebrate what I have. Anything that pauses the navel-gazing so that G-d can reach me is all to the good. 

Now I also pray, read the bible, participate in worship, tithe, give to those in difficult situations, and use my voice to speak out against injustice, but these other disciplines are equally valid and some days more so. When I haven’t taken time to sit with G-d in silence in meditation or made time to pray with my body through yoga, my service to G-d and others suffers.

I know some people have strict notions about what we should do to grow in G-d. But I question those who are so sure; how can they know? And I’m no longer convinced by other people’s “shoulds” (though I’m still working on my own).

Love G-d and love all the others around you. And practice drawing closer to the Source of All-that-is in the ways that best serve you for that purpose.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Epiphanies and Other Learnings


e·piph·a·ny/ əˈpifənē/
noun
3 a (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
I'd intended to write this entry before year's end. Some event had caught my attention, making me think about epiphanies. I thought I wrote it down to work on later and I asked Facebook friends to share epiphanies they'd experienced, or any learning they'd noticed in the last year. When I went back to what I’d written I couldn’t find it. I looked on both laptops at the house. I never did find it so this idea went onto the back burner to be revisited another day. Today's that day.

I never did remember what prompted me to think this would be a good idea. Never found my notes. But I regularly experience epiphanies. Do you? Times when that "Ahhh!" or "Ah-ha" pops out of your mouth (or at least into your head)?

This past summer one epiphany came as I was settling into my new church appointment and was reminded that different churches have different styles. I'd learned this right away in pastoral ministry as I worked with three churches at once and found that each one had their own story, their own ways, their own hopes and fears and joys. Here at Wausau, we all worship the same God, but we do it in ways that reflect our own context.

Another epiphany came just a few weeks ago. As background, I've been regularly praying for a friend for a couple years. They're a great person; I love them. But I suspect that fear is keeping them from moving forward and living as fully as they can. So anyway, one night in January as I was finally trying to get back into my meditation practice, I was reflecting on this friend and the fear I notice. Maybe it was what I'd been reading (Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love) but as I lifted up my friend, I realized that fear has – still – been getting in the way of living my own life.

Wow! I hadn't realized! I've been thinking about this off and on since then, asking myself about this fear and what I need to do both to honor it and to step away from it some more so that I can live more fully. Okay, with me so far? Then on Thursday I was rereading some old journal entries from two years ago (another practice I really need to get back to – journalling, that is) and there in black ink from my G-2 pen I had written about this same fear! I don't know about you, but I clearly need reminders about what's important, what I need to remember and revisit.

This message isn't at all what I thought it would be about when I sent out the call asking friends to share learnings or epiphanies they'd had. Still here are some things they shared. I'd love it if you'd share your own, maybe below as a comment, or on Facebook.

Happy reading.
  • Bad grades aren't the end of the world.
  • I was commissioned to paint four posters for my brother's business. Though I completed them all to specification, I was never fully satisfied with one of them, but that is his favorite. This happened a few times.
    Sometimes other people see value in things that I don't, especially in my own work.
  • During the past year I have been intentionally working to connect more with people on a casual, day-to-day basis. I have a simple goal of making eye contact and smiling to at least three people every time I enter a store, a meeting, or place of business. (Yeah, I know this bar is pretty low, but I am trying to form a habit that doesn’t come naturally to me!) I do notice how much happier I feel after doing this and hope the people I connected with feel the same way. Just this last week, I was reading an essay by Richard Rohr in which he was discussing the importance of connection. He made the statement—“God resides in the connection with others.” This stopped me cold in my reading tracks! I have given much thought to this over the past few days and have noticed that the actions we label as positive, or Christian, rely on connection. Love, compassion, support, helpfulness, unity, acceptance----the list goes on and on. If we look at the actions we label as negative, or unchristian, we could name exclusion, greed, anger, selfishness, hatred, mockery; actions that separate our connections with others. A simple concept, but life-changing for me: God resides in the connections with others.
  • I really don't know ... I mean, I've had a bunch of realizations ... cars aren't supposed to be exciting, they are a tool; I don't think I can get paid to do really meaningful work ... I think you have to earn your money elsewhere and volunteer to do that when the time comes.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Practicing and Failing


Since September I’ve been doing pretty well practicing my morning devotions. I took off during my staycation between Christmas and the New Year, but got right back into it in January. Then Thursday as I got ready for my day, I looked at my chair with the bible, study and prayer books and glasses on the table next to it and thought, “I’m not going to do that today.” I didn’t have any good reason except that I wanted to get to church while the men’s group was still meeting. I told myself since I hadn’t left the church until 8:30 last night, I’d be breaking my twelve-hour rule (staying away from there for 12 hours) but I persevered in my choice. 

Skipping devotions and breakfast, I made it to church around 7:25. I putzed around my office, putting things back in order after moving the desks yesterday. Looking around I liked what I’d done. It was almost 8 when I headed to the parlor. Six men sat in a circle, a round coffee table at their center. I recognized some of them also noting a couple of absences. A seventh chair sat vacant; they invited me to sit.

“We lost Matt.”

For the next twenty minutes, I sat with them as they took turns sharing thoughts and feelings about how Matt had influenced their lives, how he’d shaped their group, how they still had much to learn from his calm, centered example. We spent three minutes in meditation, something Matt had led in the past but which Steve led today. Two cell phones announced their presence during that time, and afterward we joked about that being a real test to being present to our meditation. Soon after, I excused myself.


When I decided to skip my morning practice, I thought I was just being lazy or something. I need regular prayer and meditation to help me stay centered. And if I skip even one day, it’s easy to skip the next. (That’s how my yoga practice fell apart, something I’m still working to reinstate.)

I need practices and didn’t think well of myself for choosing to skip out on this one. How could I have known that veering from my pattern was exactly the right thing for that morning? Only by showing up did I realize this was what I was supposed to do.

When night comes and you examine your day, hold it gently. Assume that you did what you could. Reflect on the lives you touched. And if you find yourself mentally scolding, dig a bit deeper. Notice what good thing might have come out of that choice. Whose day might have been better? Whose load a little lighter? Might creation have cheered for some little thing you did? If you need to, remind yourself of something you can work to do better. Then thank God and let it go. Rest in the confidence that your day was as it needed to be.