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Thursday, April 15, 2010

The downside of Passion


I am passionate.
I'm passionate about Jesus and sharing his love and helping others to see, know, experience, and share His love.
So- I'm passionate about the kinds of things that help me to do that!

We have a new website we have launched and I'm passionate about that because it helps us to share the power of Christ and how God's transformed our lives, given us grace, and blessed us with more than we can imagine. I want people to see the community of contagious joy that is so prevalent at Messiah and this new site will help us do that more effectively, and so I'm passionate about it. It isn't just a website- its a venue to those seeking real community, real, change, real life that is more worth living than they've ever imagined! Life is so much more...palpable, real, sacred... The great hymn "He Lives" says "And life is worth living just because He lives!" Its hard to understand that for some people, but they can see it in our lives, experience in our love, and see, know, experience God's love too!

I'm passionate about the new organ we are getting! We have a loaner organ now that does 30% of what the new organ will do. I am not a musician, or a singer (really) I love to sing (but not alone in front of people!-however I will if called to). I love to sing and praise God! I can make a joyful noise! I even sang in the Gospel Ensemble at my home church in Detroit- Central UMC. I actually had my own "Sister Act" moment when my choir director got a sound out of me that sounded amazing!
For me the new organ is not just an organ- it's part of our mission to share God's love and joy with the world. I am in awe of our Music Ministry - we have over 200 people actively involved in our Music Ministry and our community concerts reach over 1000 people a year! Just last night in our P.o.L.O's (Parents of Little One's) Small Group one woman shared how the part of her faith that brings her the most joy is sharing her faith through music- when she plays in the orchestra, hand bells, etc. We've raised $125,000 so far for the organ fun- and we are a third of the way to fully funding this important part of our ministry!

I'm passionate about the upcoming Women's Retreat, about holding people when they are going through cancer, guiding a couple as they begin he journey to marriage, celebrating a new child in the world, holding and crying with someone when they have lost their son and helping them to celebrate his life...

I'm most passionate about my beautiful girls and the joy they bring me! Today Gracie offered a "Princess Prayer" for lunch: "Dear God, thank you for princesses, for Easter, and candy, and eggs, and for me, and Sophia, and Mommy, and Daddy, and Lucy (our dog), and for loving me, and food. AMEN!" We ate princess soup... I love that I get a whole day with them on Thursdays just me and them.

So what's the downside to passion?
Exhaustion, having to get all the other stuff done (laundry, bills, grocery shopping, all the paper that has to be filed!!)
But that's really nothing compared to the biggest downside of being passionate--
A lot of times people seem to be passionate, excited, intrigued, ignited to want to know more when I share what I'm passionate by.... and that is awesome! But sometimes they aren't. Sometimes I am met with indifference. Sometimes I see apathy. And that is really tough. I don't run into it a lot (and I'm very blessed by that). But when I see it does get me down. It doesn't take away my passion... no-- but it does frustrate me, it does test my patience.

Let me be clear- apathy and indifference isn't the same thing as people who disagree with me- no I love them (and I love the indifferent people too...it just requires extra grace). And maybe sometimes its not a fully blown indifference.... Part of me struggles knowing that I have high expectations and that I can be a perfectionist (clearly not about everything if you've seen my house!) But about the important things... I want things done right (that doesn't mean things have to be done my way) but I want things to glorify God!

I want things to invite people in- I want my life and how I live, and I want the church to be a place of invitation, welcome, a space for peace to come, for anxiety to be lifted, and for Christ's light to reveal beauty, and the Holy Spirit to guide, equip, and transform people to live in and into the kingdom of God. Now I know that I can't always do that- not alone-- I need God to nudge me when I need to rest, retreat, and when I need to be pushed and I need the Body of Christ through my faith community to do that too. I have wonderful people who kind of serve as "protectors" and they see me when I'm getting exhausted and remind me to rest... But they can't protect me from encountering those downsides to passion.

The website is an example-- we're not able to do everything I'd like it to do- or we don't have all the pictures I'd like to have up...or whatever-- I have to be patient. That's hard because I'm passionate about.

When you're really really passionate about something-- part of that is because you have this deep deep belief that there is something at stake!

This is important--for a reason-- and it just burns in you- you have a fire in you! For me that fire is the Holy Spirit just flaming - just wanting to love people and love em' really love em' - to love them like Jesus loves them. And I just want people to see it, know it, hear it, and experience it.

What's at stake? People feeling the isolation, alienation, separation, lonliness, fear, darkness, chaos, distress, shame, hurt, ...and so much more of not experience recognizing, seeing, knowing, experiencing God's presence in their lives.

The biggest struggle with it all is when others don't see the value or importance of something that I see value and importance in. It will always happen- and part of me loves this challenge and part of me struggles deeply with it. And it happens all them time- with websites, organs, being in a small group, having faith at all...but the worst thing is when people don't see the value and importance of one another or themselves.

That's the hardest- because God sees it- and God is really passionate about loving us and seeing us the way God created us- in His image.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Theological Education

Obviously, I have not written in a while-- mainly a lot has happened since October-- The biggest being I wrote my Ordination Papers, went before the Board of Ordination and have been recommended for Ordination- June 14!! And then there was Lent and Holy Week!!
SO I'm back-- and hopefully will be more active.

Lately- I've felt the need to reflect on theological education.

Theological Education is a gift.
I am thankful for my theological education-- I glean from it in my everyday life.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God equips in ministry and works through this education-- so that I may keep working to equip others in the work of ministry.

I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to experience this, throughout my experience in seminary I kept thinking, "I wish everyone got to do this!"
Of course- not everyone does- nor would everyone want to read Cyprian, Luther, or Kierkegaard. At least- they might not think they want to-- but perhaps when shared they would be surprised to learn, hear, experience, the power of these words, concepts, and experiences of God.

I love my Disciple Bible Study class and we are having a great time together! They are reading sermons of John Wesley, asking tough questions, but more importantly-- they are sharing-- and doing so in a way that reveals they want to know more, seek to grow further, and depend on one another in deeper ways. I am thankful for the ways they teach me and the ways we learn together.

I feel frustrated when people use their theological education in ways that shame others, condescend to them, rather than use it to share, to equip, to ignite passion for Christ. I am annoyed with people use their education to boost their own sense of power rather than to empower others.

Last summer, Kevin and I attended a worship service on vacation where the Youth Pastor (who was in seminary at the time) used a slew of theological terms including Theotokos - a term for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Just threw it out there, like theological name dropping. Kevin and I looked at one another and rolled our eyes, the people in front of us whispered, and family sitting next to us checked out. For me this feels like a lack of humility on one's behalf and lack of respect for one's parishioners.

Lately, I feel like when I witness this kind of behavior it makes me angry-- because it feels so belittling. Our congregants are smart, faithful, incredible people. There is a failure in theological education when we become too cocooned in "theological elitism" that we can't or don't or refuse to relate to "normal" folks. DO we forget that we're normal? That we aren't special just because we've attended seminary, been licensed, commissioned, or ordained? Set apart and called doesn't mean better.

It is wonderful that we have been given the gift of study, that some of us have gifts of biblical and language studies. I love that I'm dorky enough to enjoy reading Wesley's sermons- that I love checking out reading 22 books on Job (and suffering the library fines that comes with)-- but just because everyone doesn't enjoy that doesn't mean I'm smarter, or more ... closer to God.

Gnosis- is the Greek word for knowledge--- people were called Gnostics who believed they had special knowledge. So often, it seems that sometimes we (all people) act, talk as if they are Gnostics. But the Gospel is not hidden-- we are not preaching the Gospel if in doing so those who hear it feel stupid, ashamed, limited, unworthy of being able to know the Gospel. We are all limited- we are all in need of learning more. My chaplain, Rev. Stuart Jackson at Birmingham-Southern used to say, "In Christianity, we're all in first grade." But sometimes I think we don't act that way...I love the story from Acts chapter 8 where Phillip goes and meets the Ethiopian Eunuch who is reading the bible and Phillip talks with him and helps him to understand what he is reading. They come by some water and the eunuch says, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?"And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing." Why shouldn't I be baptized? The salvation of Christ is not open just for some, but all- the ability to know God is not limited to only certain people- there is no sign that says, "You must have this masters degree, or know the original Greek/Hebrew..." These are good things, and they are able to help equip ourselves and others to know, experience, and share the Gospel. But we do a disservice when we act as if it is a requirement to know God, to have faith, or to be considered smart.

It is my job to interpret this kind of stuff and to make it accessible to others. Its my job to demystify, to help people know they can understand God's Word, they can experience a relationship with Christ, they can read the Bible and understand, they can think deeply.

Its my job to help people understand they are part of a "priesthood of all believers"-- to experience that they needn't be an "expert" to think theologically.

Its my job to teach my congregation to think and reflect theologically on their lives, their faith, and to learn to be gleaners of God-experiences-- to be theologians in their own right and to be empowered to know, share, and teach among people in their communities sound theology.

If they don't understand in some way--I've not succeeded. Not everyone is going to have the same reaction and have the same passion- some will be fascinated by the Wesley's sermons, or Biblical Criticism, or want to learn more about the archeology surrounding Jerusalem, or they may doubt and ask more questions-no mater what-- my hope is that they will be ignited in passion, that they will grow deeper, and that they will pass this on to others in inviting, approachable, ways that meet others where they are and love them.