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Friday, October 11, 2013

Stop Complaining Start Engaging



It's my day off and I should be paying bills and cleaning my house, but as I was wasting time on Facebook I got myself a little worked up.  

One of my greatest pet peeves -- is the complaining I hear so very often in the church.  I get it. Seriously- I do.  And I know I'm Pollyanna and all that, but I understand the need to let off steam.  Yet what really bothers me is that we-- mainly clergy- complain about the same things -- all the time.  Have we prayed about it as much as we've complained? Have we offered to productively and effectively engage in helpful ways as much as we have complained?  Have we considered the hard work and intentionality of those who are working behind the scenes who we are often taking for granted?  

I guess this is striking a chord for me today- because of the shutdown and I have heard so many people say things like "The shut down really isn't affecting anyone" or "those folks in Washington don't really do anything."  For me- - those folk aren't bureaucrats who do nothing-- they are my friends and former parishioners who serve, protect, and care deeply about their country and her citizenry. Its easy to complain when you don' t know the people personally.  But they are people who work hard and care passionately.  

So-- perhaps my ability to let one more clergy ranting on FB go is kind of soaked up by the last 10 days of the shutdown.

When clergy get together -we have to let out stem-- that is good and important- our time together should be renewing, life giving, and give us energy for the call we share.  I especially feel this way when I gather with clergy women friends, covenant and prayer groups- there is laughter and joy and it is spiritually uplifting.  

Yet there are several times when I gather with clergy and I hear complaining- lots of complaining- that leads no where usually about -- the ordination process or boards, agencies, and apportionments.... 

And this where I am am just done. 

Stop complaining and get engaged.  

We are Methodist- like it or not- and well-- I pretty much love it most of the time.

 I love our ecclesiology and our connection and I love that there is an ordination process that cares deeply about the clergy person and the churches where they get sent.  I love that we are not alone.  There is no parachute.  You are not left alone unless you choose to be.  Your church cannot fire you.  The Church invests in you deeply.  If things aren't going well there are resources to help.  The ordination process reveals this care and concern and commitment.  Residency Events and workshops, and papers, and process are not hoops to jump through they are opportunities to grow as a clergyperson so you can do all that God has called you to do.  The Church- the Conference- the Connection does not have to care this much-- but they do.  They are paying for you to do all of this.  (yeah you pay for a lot too-- but that reveals your commitment.... trust me I've paid for a good bit of psychological tests... yes I'm still paying student loans... yes we've got to work on that part)..... 

 Yet in the midst of it all-- this is a vocation where God chooses and calls you and choose back.... enjoy and get all you can out of these opportunities.  When we're wounded- (too often by our churches) we need each other and we have a Church Connection that is here to love us and help us through it. 

Do we lose good people because of our system and polity- Yes.  Is it perfect?  No.  

Does the "system" wound people-- yes it can be wounding... it can be hard.  Is that the intention?  No.  
 
Is healing and moving through to a stronger place possible?  Always.
Does our system and polity and ordination process need valued, caring, theologically astute, passionate people to engage and be part of making this better?  Absolutely.  

Is it moving and changing fast enough? Not always.  Because trying to work together with this many people is really really hard work.  But I think it's worth it.

Today I was on FB and saw discussions and complaints about how "boards and agencies are irrelevant" and they "just suck up apportionment dollars."  
Instead of thinking about how boards and agencies suck away apportionments- how about utilizing them more fully in our contexts? 

As a former GBGM missionary and as someone who has traveled to Mozambique, stayed at Cambine to help build the school there (through a service-learning trip with the Methodist college I attended)  visited the Methodist Hospital in Chicuque and experienced seeing the comparison of the other hospital (government hospital had nothing--no separate quarters for HIV/ or TB no separate wards for women and children- no beds, no meds-- compared to UMC hospital where they had supplies, beds, separate wards and even lovely kid- friendly decorations). 

 If we are not seeing the relevance of these boards and agencies - if people don't see the value of apportionments and connectionalism -- perhaps its because our leadership isn't helping make that connection for them-- and we are missing a vital part of our ecclesiology

Take a group to NY, DC and do a seminar--educate our congregations about the missions that are possible- the lives that are changed-- the difference we make - all because of apportionments. 

 I was able to serve as a US-2 Missionary because of apportionments - where 500 homeless folks were served meals, connected with resources, and empowered.  Churches throughout the area were engaged and brought into mission through this work as they were empowered and equipped to bring lunches, and come into relationship with those who are homeless to know more than a face- a name- a person- a sister/brother in Christ.  Because of apportionments we come together as the Body of Christ to do awesome work of the kingdom.  

There are US-2's, Mission Interns, Mission trips, seminars, agencies who serve the poor, colleges and universities,  all in your own area - who exist and do the work of the kingdom all because your own church exists-- that you likely don't know about and aren't teaching your churches about.  The local church is the most significant place where disciple making occurs-- and these board of agencies are the most significant ways we are sending disciples into the world in engaging, powerful, ways that change lives. 

 Is your church not engaging the community to become more diverse-- perhaps the Commission on Race and Religion has resources for you?

Seeking to empower women- to educate and connect women in your community with women in the world-- perhaps work through UMW and COSROW

Wonder why our faith calls us to engage in the world around us? Wondering what our faith says about ---- anything?  Read and learn the Social Principles- Do a bible study on them- take a group to GBCS-- learn and grow.  Do you have people in your church criticizing the "liberal" GBCS-- listen thoughtfully and and engage them compassionately.  Find where they are passionate and help them live into that passion to serve Christ.

Equip your Worship Team with GBOD resources, attend the School for Congregational Development, engage your Evangelism/ Welcome team with resources.

Visit New York and take a a tour of the UN and attend a seminar, visit the chapel there that is across from the UN building.   Read and prayer the UMW Prayer Calendar and send notes and prayer for missionaries.  Invite a missionary to speak at your church-- local, national, international.  Take your Youth Group to visit and help a mission.  Teach your youth about the US-2 and Mission Intern program.

Hit by a natural disaster- or helping people who are/ were-- connect and engage and participate through UMCOR. 

Name anything that is happening of any significance in the world and the Methodist church is there.
The World is our parish.

Do we have a perfect system?  No-- but it is not irrelevant- and it is powerful.  As United Methodist we have a particular way of understanding grace, doing church, and living mission in the world.  It doesn't mean that its the best way-- or the only way- but for many of us it is where we have been called and where we feel led to passionately serve Christ and His Kingdom.

I am certainly not advocating some "if you don't like it - leave" way of thinking.  I'm just tired of complaining that goes no where productive. We all need to vent- and we all need to share our ideas to make things better.  But rather than constantly criticizing and complaining, perhaps we should try engaging, asking questions, learning about what we do and why and we can be part of it and part of making it better.

Yeah- I'm Pollyanna-- and I still think there's  a lot to be glad about - and if not-- we should try to find a way to help- work together- and get glad.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Night PK



Around 8 Tonight my daughter Gracie broke down crying because, “Mommy!   I just want to serve and I’m too little to do anything! Everyone at church says, “No you’re too young.  I don’t want to be a kid anymore- you don’t get to do anything!”  We began talking about how tomorrow we start planning our revamp of Children’s Church.  We will have a rotation of volunteers and a rotation of children taking turns leading different things (just like at school- line leader, etc.)-- she excitedly began planning-- "Yes Mommy- one week someone can read scripture, another person can give a short sermon, someone can be an usher,  another person be the musician….AND  we’ll have our own bulletins!”   We already have the coloring children’s bulletins in service- but we’re going to be making a basic bulletin with pictures to go with each section (Prayer, offering, Song, etc.) and laminate them for weekly use.  She went on, “And we’ll have our own computer with a screen….. but Mommy!  We don’t have candles!”  Me- “We’ll make a little chapel area with an altar and candles and everything.”  “Awesome!!!” she said.  She was then so excited she decided she would “prepare” by practicing in her room.  She turned her dresser into her own “altar” and put a picture of Jesus (the laughing Jesus picture) and sat her “Jesus books” all up around the dresser. 

Watching her was overwhelming and powerful.  And I could see myself—overcome with passion and frustrated that I can’t always do all my heart yearns to. 

9- She’s been restless…unable to go to sleep because she wants to play music – (she got a recorder at the church yard sale) and wanted to play it in church tomorrow – “Mommy, I just want to play it to praise God.”
No I told her—you can play something in church when you’ve practiced.

9:30 She walked into my room- picked up the hymnal and said—“I’ll just read these hymns then! And it will be like a lullaby to go to bed.” 

That didn't work--She started reading the Psalter and shouted! "Mommy - I know this!  We read this in church!  We could use this when we plan our Children's Worship!" 

I'm sitting here- desperately needing to finish my sermon.  

Begging her- "Please Gracie- you really need to go to bed now. Your eyes are getting purple underneath. I know you want to be at your best tomorrow and you can only do that if you are well rested.  (I'm talking to myself there too!)

(Her Daddy is with the other daughter getting her down.) 

Lord, Thank you for my beautiful, wise, grace-filled, deep daughters.  Thank you for their passion, joy, and precocious sense of wonder.   Give me energy and strength and motivation to bring the word you've placed on my heart and head and which I am seeking to still get down on paper this evening.  May you be glorified in all I do, Amen. 



 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Holy Moments

Holy moments- tonight Gracie handed me her bible and asked for a story.
We recently got her the "Jesus Calling Bible Storybook" 

As I was searching through to pick one she said, "Can you tell a bible story that is like a lesson you taught us today?"  It took me awhile to figure out what she was asking and she was getting frustrated but we stayed with it.

And I finally got it and said, "YES! We talked about patience earlier-- and not rushing through your work, but taking your time.


She said, "Yes MOM!  So is there a bible story about that?"

This children's bible included the story of "Patient Job"

So I read this story to the girls.  (This is my version)  Much of this is paraphrased in my Mommy Storytelling. 

Job loved God.
Job had lots of awesome stuff.
He had a big family.
Land, animals, and everything he wanted.
He praised God.

The Bad stuff in the world said to God, "Job only loves you because he has lots of stuff."

Gracie shouted-- "That's not true!  He does love God!"

Job lost all his fancy stuff.
His land, big house, all the cool things he had.
He even lost his family.
Things weren't so good.
But Job still loved God and he praised God.

Job's friends were not helpful.
They said- "You must have done something bad to lose everything."

Gracie shouted-- "No!  He didn't!"
 Me-- "That's right.  He didn't do anything.  Sometimes bad things happen.  Sometimes life is hard.  And its not because God doesn't love us or because we did anything.  Sometimes bad things just happen."

Well.  Things didn't get better for Job.
He even got sick.  He felt really bad.
He did not like being sick.  He was sad.
He prayed to God.
-------------------At this point Sophia says, "Mommy, hold on - I want to pray to God now."
                           We stop and she prays, "Thank you God for this day.  Thank you God for our food.   Thank you God for Mommy letting us sleep on the floor tonight.  Help us to sleep great and have a good day tomorrow and sleep good tomorrow too."  Then she just looks at me and I whisper "Amen" and she said, "Yes! Amen!"


And Back to story----(my poor husband- how hard it is to be a parent and be ADD!) 
His wife said, "Why do you even still believe in God? Believing in God isn't doing anything for you?  Just give up!"

Gracie sat up-- "That's not a good thing to say!" God still loves him!"

Me-- "You're right Gracie- she wasn't being encouraging there, was she?"

Gracie- shaking her head no.  (finally getting a little tired-- Sophia is listening and looking at other books in the corner).

Finally God spoke and reminded Job of all God had created.
God scolded Job's friends for their bad advice.  (stopped to discuss what "scolded means")
 God reminded Job of how God always loves and his always with us even when times are hard.
Because of Job's faithfulness God gave Job all that he had lost and more
Job lived a very long life and praised God every day!

 We all have problems and there is lots of stuff in this life that will make us turn away from God- especially when we're hurting.  The best praise you can give God is to trust in Jesus when you're having a hard time.  God is always here for you to talk to about your problems and God will help you with them always.  Jesus always wants to give you peace.

Then we talked about examples of being patient.
How could we be patient with things-- like school work, toys, etc.?
How could we be patient at school?
How could we be patient with our family?
-----------this was the best part-- talking about ways we could all work on being more patient with each other.  Waiting to brush teeth -- (i.e. not pushing your sister off the stool).  Sharing toys.  Patiently listening for folks to share their story at the dinner table.
When I ask Daddy to to something - like take out the trash- I have to wait until he has time.  (that was my example- that sometimes he's in the middle of something else and I need to wait.)
Kevin was so sweet and said, "Mommy does a lot of things for us that we don't ever notice.  So we can show patience by thanking her and waiting for what we want, speaking kindly rather than whining."  

They kept raising their hands and thinking of ways they can work on patience.

We had such great discussion.

I am so thankful for these moments.  For holy conversations that will lead to more conversations.
For moments that build foundations of faith.

Here they are- asleep on the floor-- (how is that supposed to be fun?  If I were 5 or 6 I would remember)


 




Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Psalm for Ministry


Almighty God,
You gave me this call and you filled me with passion and you set me on fire.
Make me strong Lord, that I can withstand whatever comes.

Guard my heart and hold me.
May I be courageous like the prophets and strong like the apostles.

Let me not waver in the path you have set me.

Give me openness to hear and strength to love.

I yearn too much for the love of your people.  
I pour out my heart.
I want so much for them.

Burn pride away from me.
Let me be content.
Even within the urgency, the passion, the purpose, the joy, the excitement I feel in ministry--
Let me be patient and content.

I see so much.
The urgency of mission drives me.
Let your love continue to burn with passion
And let your patience soothe me

Wash away the pain of ministry.
I am broken for you and I feel the brokenness of your world.
I seek to build up the kingdom so all may know your love, your grace, your unending joy....

There are days when ministry hurts.
And all I can do is cry out for you.
Heal me Lord Jesus.
I am not whole without you.
I will lean on you.

My strength is in you Lord.
My hope is in you Lord.
My joy is in you Lord.

I am who I am.
And I am yours.

Its seems like everyone thinks being an extrovert is easy
- bubbly, joyful, friendly, outgoing---

The hard part about being an extrovert is so much of your energy comes from those around you-
it doesn't mean that you don't have confidence on your own, it doesn't mean that you're needy, it does mean that you put your heart out there- it does mean that you are vulnerable and exposed.

I suck at being guarded.
And it hurts.
But this is who I am.

Lord, I have always been intense.
  I've always been passionate.
And It's always been "too much" for some folks.
Or not enough for others. 
 Let me be okay with that.

Because no matter what-- I'm just right for you.

Lord, You called me and chose me and you set me on fire.
Nothing will quench your fire within me.

Let me burn brighter for you.
You are the reason I am here.
You are the reason I serve.
You are the One I adore.

Nothing stops your love for me or for anyone else.

Pour your love down on me.
Let a mighty epeklesis fall.
Your Spirit guides, protects, forms, and fans the flame.

I will not burn, I will shine. 
I will not perish, I will live in the resurrection.
I am  hard pressed, but I will never be crushed,
I am confused and  perplexed,
 I do not always understand your people 
and I allow too much of it to hurt...
free me despair and defeat;  
I am not abandoned by God and I will not abandon my call.
 When I am struck down, I will get back up. 
I am not destroyed.

Christ has Died. 
Christ has Risen. 
Christ will come Again. 

These words of mystery are my hope. 
Because Christ lives I will live.  
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. 
I can live out this call. 
Because You go before and behind me. 
Equip me, Lord. 
So that I may equip your people for this powerful and passionate life of ministry!



Amen.  



Friday, April 26, 2013

Inch by Inch

This week I have been surrounded by inch worms and I think God is telling me something.
The weather has been nice and I have catapulted myself outside Tuesday and Thursday afternoon of this week and today.

Tuesday night after we had a family hike, Kevin was pulling inch worms off of me.

Today- I sat with my sweet Sophia in the "castle" of our playset.  She played with an inchworm and I sat and read for sermon prep, but mostly watched her marvel at the inch worm and then saw several around me.  I became drawn in by the inchworms, spiders, and ants that surrounded on the rickety and loved playset.

They just hung around me by threads.

There is so much that is unknown.

In two months our lives are changing.  My amazing husband is taking a leave of absence from ministry. He is not giving up on ministry, but stepping back to answer another call or perhaps it is the same call with another branch... He feels called to teach and is pursuing this call.  He'll need to go back to school, he's taking tests, filling out applications, submitting resumes and trying to secure a job all while still caring for his congregation.
I am in awe of him.

I am in awe of God who I know has gone ahead of us in this.  I know we are not going haphazardly into the unknown, its charted by my Maker-- I just don't know the way yet.

Most days I'm good.  I don't really ever feel confidant--- but I feel assurance.
Today I felt super overwhelmed.
And I think that is why God made me be still and see all the inch worms.
Sophia picked them up and they went way off track by this crazy giant girl.  And then she sets them down and they keep on plugging away, inching away.  They hang there by this thread seemingly hanging in space and they just inch on.

I realized today that I hadn't made a few calls or done a visit I had hoped to do.
Every day-- there is more and more and more I could do and should have done and didn't get to.

I have always struggled with enough ness--- but talking with a clergywoman friend this week I wonder if its even more as a pastor.  I feel such a compulsion to do so much.... Its as if I see need everywhere and I cannot relieve it fast enough.

I have much to learn from inch worms.

I walk past the bulletin board in the church and see that I haven't gotten around to changing nor have I developed a team to do so yet... I remember that I haven't yet organized this meeting, or built up this leadership here or there, or remembered to call and check on this family, or followed up with that family, I haven't sent the thank you notes that I want to do, I can go on and on and on... and sometimes I will write "what I did" list.. and that's all well and good.....

The laundry had piled, and yet I'm thankful that I spent some time to just play with my girls, that I fell asleep reading to Gracie the other night, that I've had time to make my family dinner every night...

I have a lot to learn from inch worms.... and I need to read some Annie Dillard again.

I have no idea what is coming.  I have no idea how we will make it on just my salary.  I have no idea what life will look like.  Kevin is applying for various teaching positions and hoping to have something and be going to school too.... we hang by this thread inching along.  The thread is strong.  God holds us.

On our trip home recently from visiting family in Florida-- we got off the interstate and took a more enjoyable route.  We knew it added a bit more time-- but it was so lovely. We needed some enjoyable quality time just us.
I said something to Kevin about how I didn't worry about the destination or getting home "on time"
we had everything we needed.  How lovely just to drive, share conversation, see beauty and enjoy the ride.

So much of my personality and call is about being on fire.  I often feel just sparked alive with passion and propelled forward.  I feel as though I am being led and pulled, I too often feel as though heaping coals of vision are dumped on my heart and I have thousands of flames ignited and I am not yet sure of what they will catch on to.  Too many visions... so many dreams... ideas after idea....

And while that is so true... this week I have just felt set down.
I've felt humbled and observant.
 somewhat paralyzed.


And perhaps I've just needed to watch inchworms.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Praying with the News

You've heard that Karl Barth said to "read the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other."

That has been so very true.
And never more true than today.
I feel like every day I am pelted with bad news.
 A young life born able to breathe a day, Stabbings, killings, bombings, blow ups...

And today I learned that a woman I went to college with was murdered yesterday by her husband.       I didn't know her well- but I remember her.  She has a two year old daughter.  My heart breaks.

Every since I saw this my heart and my mind cannot move forward - so I stop and I pray.

I open by bible and flip straight to Psalms.  And I read until God speaks to my pain.

Psalm 4

Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
    How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.
Tremble and do not sin;
    when you are on your beds,
    search your hearts and be silent.
Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
    and trust in the Lord.
Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
    Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy
    when their grain and new wine abound.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.
As I read I start crying.  Images of happy families who are now broken, images of smoke and destruction, pain and sadness just flood my heart.

I call my husband.  And we pray together.
I love that on Mondays we have chosen to work from home.  (It is nice to slow down on Monday after Sunday and focus on scripture, prayer, study, and the next Sunday's bulletin and message).

His strong arm wraps around me warm, comforting, secure and he prays.

We rise.


There are things to get done and we can go on with God.

The world holds so much destruction. God Creates.
God is our Creator still creating.
And today is Earth Day.


This morning I met with a man who lost his wife yesterday.
He has over 100 varieties of azalea's.  His home is a museum of Native American art and artifacts. I gathered with the family this morning to plan the Celebration of his wife's life.  I loved being them.  He showed me his treasures.  We walked in the beauty of his garden.


After preschool, I pushed my daughter on the swing.  The wind blew, birds sang, everything was alive around me. 
My heart rejoiced at the beauty of God's presence and my heart ached thinking of a young woman my age who has been robbed of the joy of being with her daughter.

There is so much bad news. It comes and goes and there is a 24hr news cycle that will tell you every detail.  There are smart phone updates that ding and give me bullet points of the brokenness.

I cling to the Gospel.  It is Good News.

I pray and I pray.  I read this Good News.  I hug my children closer.

 The other night I read to the girls about Margaret Mead.  It was from my favorite series of books when I was growing up.  I said to Kevin something about how it would be cool to live in intentional community, to constantly teach our children about love and truth and peace and justice.  Once I made Kevin watch a documentary about Intentional Communities when we were in seminary.  My wonderful introverted husband was not up for it.  I think I daydream sometimes in a grass greener way that if we did life that way we'd have more time, we'd be more intentionally focused on peace.  There would be less destruction… I admire the work of intentional communities…yet I think living in the regular (for lack of a better word) world takes  a lot of courage.

 I love how Rev. Lillian Daniel says, “These people are always informing you that they find God in the sunsets. Well, excuse me, as if people who go to church didn’t see God in a sunset. You know, my take is that any idiot can find God in the sunset. What is remarkable is finding God in the context of flawed human community, and a tradition bigger than you, and with people who may not reflect God back to you in your own image.

I know that in the midst of destruction, we have a Creator God.
In the midst of sadness, death, and heartbreak- I have a Savior whose heart longs for me and who died for us all and who is the architect of hope.
In the midst of all this pain for God’s people, the Spirit pours over a comfort  over the earth.


Almighty God,
Thank you for hope.
Thank you Lord for your love.
As the news rolls in, as we scroll the updates and laugh at cat pictures, we see happy families, and mouth water at recipes gaurd our hearts when we hit the bad news.
We know the reality.
We are not dreamers.  
We are believers.
We do know reality.
We know a reality which proclaims
that love wins, peace pours, and justice rolls down like waters.
We know a reality of Hope.
We pray we will live in and into your kingdom.
May we usher in this hope in every moment.
May your light crack open our dark pain.
We pray in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Saturday Night Preacher Prayer

Help me Lord.
O Help me, help me, help me.
Help me preach tomorrow.
Help me hold them tomorrow.
Help me help us to lay it at all your feet.
Help me to help us see you and know you and hope in you.
Help us to welcome your presence and give you these burdens.
Help me to to help us give thanks even though we are so angry and sad and angry and fearful and overwhelmed with vengence and pain and confusion.
Help me pastor and love them.
Help me usher in your hope and presence.
Help me proclaim the truth that your kingdom will and is coming.
Help me speak the truth and reality of your love , presence, and protection.
Help me be the pastor and the preacher they need and you want me to be.
Help our hearts to dwell in your heart and your heart invade our hearts.
Give me strength.
Hold me up.
Speak in and through me.
Sustain me by the power of your Holy Spirit.
I am yours.
Thank you Lord.
Thank you for your never failing love.
I cling to you and I will not let you go.
Hold tight to me.
Hold us tight.
In you everlasting never-failing love,
Amen.