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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Prayer

Lord Jesus, abide with us and in us.
Inspire all our thoughts, pervade our imaginations, suggest all our decisions and order all our doings.
Be with us in our silence, and in our speech.
Guide us in our haste and in our leisure, in company and in solitude.
Awaken and fill us with awareness in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening.
Give us grace at all times humbly to rejoice in your mysterious companionship. Give us courage and energy to cultivate relationships so that the isolated are invited, the wounded are welcomed, and your people made whole in your grace and salvation.
We pray in the name of Jesus our Savior who lives and reigns forever, Amen.

(Half taken from the 1945 Methodist Book of Worship)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Making Friends

Two Sundays ago I did go to worship at a church in the evening but before that I took Gracie to a party for her preschool class- not a birthday party- but a getting to know you party. I was glad I could go to that because I didn't feel I could afford the big splurge of socializing at the local Cox Farms at $9/ person (2 and up)--especially when there are free places. I don't hang around and socialize with the other parents as much as I should on school pick up days... I should. I really should. And sometimes I do - but somedays I have to get somewhere. And some days- I just don't enjoy standing around and chatting when they are in the super cute work out clothes, with what seems like all the time in the world (I acknowledge that is not true... I believe whole heartedly that stay at home moms are amazing- Amazing! And I have my moments of thinking "wouldn't it be great if I could afford that" but then I love love love ministry to- and I do believe comepletely that my call as a mom and as a wife does not conflict with my call as a pastor. I also hate watching and worrying about my kids sticking their heads between these metal bars outside, or falling over bricks that are in the landscaping, or being run over by a car.... I would prefer to chat and have them play in a fenced in area....

ANYWAY- I went to the parent socializing party- and it was fun. I really had a nice time. I didn't completely feel wierd as pastor and working mom. There was at least one other working mom there. And I felt a buddy. I'm always worried I'm going to sound preachy or too churchy.... that I won't be able to be "normal." People started to complain at one point about taxes and I shared about a funeral I did for a woman who worked for the Federal Gov't for 64 years (31 at FBI and 33 at IRS) and I shared how incredible that was and how the people who came I thanked them b/c I realized that folks from the IRS most likely rarely get thanked- Thanks for roads, and schools, and EMTS, and libraries, etc. (seriously- I was not being political- I just thought they work hard and we all work hard and we can enjoy these privileges in our society). The conversation left the negative and that was nice. Hopefuly they didn't think I was too goody goody-- I didn't feel like complaining about the government or taxes... In general I just don't like to be negative...
So maybe they thought I was too Polyanna (wouldn't be the first time I've heard that)

The folks who hosted had a parrot and his name was Wendell. I said, "Oh cool- is it Mr. Wendell?" Everyone had a very blank face- and the owners said, "No." I was like- you know, like the song "Mr. Wendell-- by Arrested Development?" Okay - totally blank faces.
So maybe I'm weird hipster Mom-- or perhaps this is just saying- Beth- you're not in Atlanta or Detroit anymore--- no one got it. Really? Didn't we all grow up hearing "Mr. We-en-dell"? Apparently not.

Its all good though- In the end- my confidance, my understanding of me is stronger than what the others and other parents think of me.

It is hard to make friends as an adult.
Add being a pastor, being a working Mom, and that gets more tricky.

I am friendly- I meet folks at Costco! I met this one Dad recently waiting for pizza and we shared poop and vomit stories! We had just met and we're rolling with laughter over the parent/bodily fluid experiences we endure. I didn't even invite him to church (through conversation I knew he attended another) but I often do invite others to church. Its like I can't turn part of me off- I don't turn off the mom or wife part of me and I can't really turn off the pastor part of me either.

In seminary they say not to be friends with your parishoners. That you can't be pastor and friend. This is somewhat true- but not all true. Yes, you don't want to call them to vent about church or your spouse, whatever. But you can talk about your life, your kids.
You can be real. You can be authentic.

My church is not just the place I serve---my church is also my family--its part of my home.
They have held me through pregnancies, and births, through kids getting sick, and running through church, through my child throwing an all out temper tantrum. I have never felt a sense from folks at my church that "Those are the pastor kids- they shouldn't act that way." I truly haven't. Its pretty amazing. Because I have heard horror stories from other PK's (Preacher Kid's). I am friends with people at my church and especially with the other parents here at my church- I feel a particular bond with them- they have particapted in my children's faith development and my own, all the church made promises at my children's baptisms.

If and when I invite folks to church it is only because I want them to also experience this kind of joy and wholeness of having a community that cares. Yes, sometimes the church fails- sometimes people fall through the cracks- sometimes it doesn't work out -- but sometimes and I venture to say most times- there is an opportunity for real authentic friendship with others in Christ.

Somtimes I feel that so much- that it is hard to make friends outside of church. Not impossible, but hard. I still think its important. And its something I need to be better at.

I have a real heart for the unchurched-- I miss being out in the community more. And I want to be better at doing that. This is what church planters must do each day- they don't have a building to insulate themselve in- they must be out there. And I love that- I can talk to anyone anywhere -- usually-- but why- why is it hard to make small talk at preschool pick up? Its not hard so much as I don't always feel I fit in maybe...

They know I'm the pastor.... but that shouldn't make it hard...
Sometimes I think people hear "pastor" and automatically put certain labels on those of us who are clergy.
If you are a pastor you must be___ you have to _____etc. I have suffered this before. And lost a friend.

Those friends you have before you became a pastor are awesome. They know you- accept you- and sometimes are surprised---sometimes they say, "This makes sense." But they love you.

Or there may be those folks who knew you (not friends/ acquatinces, or even family) and then you go through seminary, etc. and they're like "who do you think you are? I knew you when..." Great stories on this in Mitch Albom's book "Have a Little Faith."
This may be true for others in other vocations too.

Either way-- no matter what- making friends as an adult is harder than when we were kids. Remember conversations like, "Do you like Spider man/Barbie/ He-Man? Me too- cool- we're BFF!"

College was the same. I met friends my first day at college in the cafeteria b/c we all ended up sitting down and having a long conversation around "Saved by the Bell" We could all relate...then there was rush-- but before we were all the same- all new- and all understood certain sacred things- like a crush on Zack Morris.

Today- you meet a friend and it can be more complicated. But not impossible.

At the core people want to be loved, wanted, affirmed, known, seen, and appreciated. We may not come together around the toys, tv, or shows we like (although we may) but we can come together around the fact that we are each made in the Image of God to love and be loved. We all want that and need that- crave it! We put up good fronts- but deep down that is our basic need- as much as food and shelter.

When they meet me they may think I'm a Polyanna- that I'm too bubbly- or that I have strange music tastes(a white girl who loves old school rap?)... those are true statments most likely-- but I'm also more than that. One of my best friends first thought, "Whoa- she is way too southern bubbly bouncy! But she loves me-- she even loves the optimism in me."

It is scary to put yourself out there- but you're worth it. You're loved.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Barnes & Noble

Last night my husband and I went out for a date!! A date! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! (this may sound like an over-reaction...and probably normal for some folks...and some day I hope it is more normal for us....) But for now- it was just so so wonderful!!! We do fun things a lot as a family, but some times it is rare for us to get out. (lol I sound like I'm breaking out of jail!!!)

Anyway- I wanted a free- relatively free date for us. And great friends gave wonderful suggestions. We attempted to make the free concert at the Kennedy Center- (it would have been cool)but kids, traffic, parking [yes if we were smart we would have used metro] were difficult-(and the point wasn't the concert- but time together) if we were really smart we would have taken the metro.... but still we managed to find wonderful free parking by the basin across from the Jefferson Memorial. Other couples were also doing the same thing-- having picnics outside...We had bought pizza fixings so the kids and grandparents (Hallelujah for grandparents!!!) could have fun making pizza and I asked Kev to make one for us earlier and we could take it with us. (I planned this date- so he had no clue other than- make a pizza)

We had a very nice picnic-- there was one couple near us that was very passionate- and I had this moment (if you've not seen the movie "Date Night" do- it is very funny) where I thought---"hmm.... I hope they're not having an affair....or there's no way they're married..." they were like teenagers! In some ways I guess that's sad that this is what I assume (and of course we all know we shouldn't assume...) We did not display similar antics, but we did have a very very good time. In fact I laughed a lot and it felt like the longest time since we'd had a chance to just sit and share w/o being interrupted. Ahh Quality time!! It was so so renewing!

We finished up and walked hand in hand around the Washington Monument where other couples and families and runners were about. Some nice running guys stopped to take our picture for us and we had fun leaning against the monument and seeing our shadows cast by the lights.

We brought our chess board and thought it would be fun to play a game. I had placed a book on hold at Barnes & Noble and so off we ventured. (Seriously, How wild are we? :) Walking into Barnes & Noble without children is a whole different experience. You're not chasing and you don't have the words, "Put that back," "Stop pulling those books out," "No- we're not getting that" catapulting out of your lips. You actually peruse... and browse... and laugh at silly books like one we saw filled with Awkward Pictures (so hilarious- but not spending $12.50 on it!) It felt like an experiment in placing your finger on the pulse of culture.

We had a lot of fun reading and looking and then sat and each had a small (or I guess tall) cup of coffee (the one expense of our date). We came to the table with books we had found that looked interesting to us. I had ended in the Christianity section...
(hmmm Beth- maybe you should read something other than theology...)
And seriously- I do... really-- but I should do better- I am just drawn there.
But I also loved looking at the displays, etc. (that's the whole pulse of culture part)

What is on display? What are people reading? I think I can often and way too often become insulated in "church." I can even become insulated in my own denominational church - I went to a United Methodist college, was a United Methodist missionary, attended a United Methodist seminary and I am now a United Methodist pastor. I read a lot and I go to the LifeWay and Family Christian, and recently have been looking at some Lutheran resources for some family ministry stuff-- but still I am insulated in church.

I kind of have no hobbies (and I am working on this - picked up knitting again) outside of being mom, wife, pastor, cook, cleaner, etc... I do read and that is good- books, magazines, blogs, online newspapers... but I am rarely outside the scope of church stuff-- I seek to be out there more- to know and connect-not just to be a better pastor, but to be a better person- better Christian- who can connect with others and love them better...

I found several books some in Christianity and some just in the first displays you hit- that essentially are books that are propagating agnosticism or atheism.
I really don't get evangelical atheists or agnostics.
Its like spreading hopelessness. What is the point of your book? To make people not believe? To tear down their faith?
To build up humanity as the answer? (I seriously think of the Dr. Phil question- how's that working out for us?)

One of the books I looked at dealt with the problem of suffering-- and researched the issues of it and the biblical responses to it and breaks those responses down to show that they don't work and that God is not really involved (now this is what I can tell from reading the preface, skimming chapters, etc...)

This is that essential question of theodicy that we(all of us) are continually plagued with.
This author was and no longer is Christian, was a professor of theology and no longer is.
He, like me, found Kushner's book "Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People" not satisfying in answering the question.
For me, Kushner takes away a solid understanding of God's sovereignty and that just doesn't work. I'm not giving this authors' name or title of his book- because I haven't read it yet- I can't make assertions or judgments. I seriously skimmed and discussed part of it with Kevin.

Another book is from a fellow who shared how science and reason can offer us everything including morality- and how we only need ourselves and our minds and no God. UGH! (this is my first response--seriously utter disgust)--not for him, not for the author- and I mean that- but for this forsakeness of God. Who do you think gave you that mind and that ability to reason? I love my ability to reason and think and question and struggle- and I believe God gave it all to me! I love that John Wesley included reason in one of the things that is important to our faith- to understanding it and living it out. (Often called the Wesley Quadrilateral -Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience)

I hate suffering and I believe God does too.
God has never given up on me - even when Christ hung on the cross- and felt forsaken by all people and even cried aloud feeling forsaken by God- he still did not lose faith- he still forgave us- he never forsook us, he never gave up. He knew - he lived- he died- for our hope- for the truth that there is resurrection- there is new life- there is eternal life- there is hope- there is forgiveness- there is reconciliation- there is unending grace, mercy, and peace that passes understanding. I wrote in a sermon once that sin isn't God's problem - its ours... Suffering isn't a problem we can solve.... it is a reality that exists- not because God wants it, not always exclusively because our sin creates it, not because God is poking at and testing us... it just is.
I have no easy answers-- maybe I have no "good" answers- and maybe I have none that are "good enough" for folks. This truly is one of my fears I as a pastor- that I won't have good enough answers to help guide people and grow people in their faith. But its not about me- or my answers- Christ isn't Google... you can't find a link to answer everything- there will be no quick fix-- there will be "well that makes sense- okay - now that I have understood everything- sign me up!" No - there is only faith.

I think about Matthew's Gospel and how Jesus is tempted in the desert by the devil.

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
" 'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'[b]"

7Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

I think it is good for us to question- we question God, one another, the church- we challenge our faith- and that is not a bad thing. I once almost got thrown out of a church because I questioned so much! Seriously!
But sometimes I think we have to think about why do we question? Are searching for answers? And really- would any answer be satisfying? Do we want to tear down what another believes? Are we seeking to open ourselves and others up to more? Are we competing with God- do we think we know better?

I do not believe we can move further in our faith without doubt, questions, challenges- but I also believe we can't expect easy answers- or try to put God in a box- or give up when it doesn't work out for us...

I wondered with Kevin about these books- why do they write them? Do they seek to take away hope- do they know better- do they think that humanity is great and can do better? (again that Dr. Phil question) Does the author seek to rip faith away from believers? And Kevin wondered with me- should we not read this and these kind of books? Do they seek to take away faith and if so is this book evil- is it seeking to do evil?

I take seriously the vows of baptism and membership where I have stood and said that "I renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of my sin and that I accept the freedom and power God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves." Is this one of those places? Do I resist this?

And yet- I think and fear and wonder if this is the onslaught of thought that barrages people- If I truly seek to guide, and uplift, and nurture people in their faith shouldn't I know and understand what is that they have to confront- or that is trying to confront them. (of course someone could use this reasoning and say- well I had to watch the porn or do the drugs or whatever so I could understand better...yada yada-- hear me clearly-- this is NOT what I'm saying) I just don't think I should be so insulated that I am comfortable with my "answers" but those answers bounce off those I'm trying to reach.

I am not afraid that these authors or anyone for that matter can take away my faith. I've been to seminary-(there was this joke in seminary that your first year they'd try to steal your Jesus and you'd get Him back your third year!) I never lost my Jesus. Many of these authors have been to seminary too and they are more studied than I am. Do they know better than me? No. I believe. I know. I reason. I feel. I experience. I suffer. I struggle and still I believe. I struggle more and I struggle again and still I believe. I believe more and I believe deeper and I believe wiser and I struggle more and I believe deeper and fuller and wiser. I share this belief with people throughout all the world and throughout all time that God is the God who lives and loves and cares and rules and that His Son Jesus Christ lived, and died, and rose again. He hung on a cross and suffered, he questioned and wondered about people- where were they-why did they do this- and about where God was- and He didn't give up- He didn't abandon us or God He forgave us and He knew that God did not leave him there to suffer and die. I believe in the Holy Spirit who lives and moves, and breathes and guides, and nurtures, and cares. I believe in the resurrection and in the hope of eternal life and in the life everlasting. I believe that no matter what happens God is with me. Some would call me naive or optimistic (and its not like I've not heard that before and believe me I've even been called way worse).

I don't believe because its easy and I don't believe because I now have all the answers and life is easy and I don't believe because I think it makes sense in a logical way and that I no longer have questions and all the answers are here and its all figured out. I believe because I know God is God who loves me and lives in me and is for me and with me. I know Christ seeks me out, saves me, forgives me, and redeems me, and I know the Holy Spirit enfolds me, equips me, guides me, uplifts me- how do I know? How do I know? Really Beth- Tell me how do you know?

There's a great hymn that says, "You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!" that may sound cheesy to some folks- or again naive and optimistic- but it is truth. When I doubt Christ catches me when I fear He holds me- when I'm pissed off he still holds me. God is more patient than anyone we can ever imagine- we're like two year olds' (or even harder- three year olds' having a tantrum) God can wait us out and is still there! God doesn't leave.

Yes- there is famine and destruction, and horrible horrible things--real things- not just theoretical bad stuff- but really bad stuff- many of my parishioners have seen things I could never imagine, many of the people who walk in to the church each day or who I encounter and millions of people who I don't encounter are living on the hinges of life, they are without food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and sometimes worst of all without hope. Where is God? all the people clamor-- they want a target to blame. Where and how are we? Where and how and when are we accepting the freedom and power Christ gives us? Do we live and believe and do something?

Why do I believe- is it just because I believe I am being saved from hell? Yes and no-- Yes I do believe I am saved from hell- I am saved from from fear, and pain, isolation, and ultimate suffering Yes I believe that. But my belief doesn't begin and certainly doesn't end there or even languish there very long-- I believe I am saved for- saved for a life of service in and through and for Christ and His world.
I am saved for you and you are saved for me- so that we may love.
So that we love God and one another and love the world.
A very insightful preacher once said to me, "What brings you to faith keeps you in faith?" Do you come out of fear? Do you come for easy answers (and when I say easy answers I don't mean just pat answers- in some ways I think any "answer" to the problem of evil and suffering would be insufficient...) if you need this for faith and to stay in faith.... how will you stay in faith? What answer is enough?
Do you come to faith because you are drawn by God's grace that has been always and ever with you (prevenient) that forgives and restores and justifies you and that carries, lifts, and transforms you in a life leading to perfection (perfect in love Matthew 5:48)Do you have a faith that holds you even when answers can't?

Believe and don't stop believing- question and challenge- and read and explore- but don't be shamed, or made to feel stupid, naive, uneducated- we can lose everything in this world- everything- but we cannot lose God---

And you thought I was just writing about Barnes & Noble!

Romans 1: 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wife Mom Pastor Life

Today, I kept Gracie home b/c she was having a bad cough. Each year she tends to get pneumonia--- so I'm trying to keep that from happening. We did a nebulizer treatment and I think we'll keep that up...

Kevin got Sophia off to daycare... he went to work and came home not much later... He looked green... and was so sick! He has a stomach flu, fever, all of it!

I tried to do work from home... but it was somewhat hard-- Gracie would just say, "Snuggle me Mommy." Awwwww...and I was tired.... I did some emailing and preparing for my bible study the best I could... at 4 I took Grace to the church and we set up for the bible study... In my office I have this big gourd that a friend's Mom gave me-- and Gracie pretended to be "Queen of the Gourd" and received a Burger King crown from Pastor Ralph (when Gracie says his name is sounds like Papa Ralph)


On the way to get Sophia-- a fire truck went by roaring...and I said, "Let's say a prayer." I said, "Dear God (and Gracie repeated...) Please keep the firemen and everyone safe. Amen.

Then Gracie said- I want to say another prayer-
and said-- "Dear God, Keep the firemen and all the people safe, let there be love in all the peoples' homes, keep them safe from lots of rain. Amen"

Got Sophia-- and I got a nice big hug!!!made dinner--Princess Soup-- babysitter came...

I printed out the handouts for Disciple Bible Study-
--- I was triple booked tonight
Back to School Night- Sophia's class/Grace's class -- I did 15 min in each class
---Originally Kevin was going to go to one class and I to another...
Parent gathering and I did a pastor talk- and then off to finish Disciple-

When I greeted my class- one of the folks in my class heard a/b my day and the schedule and said, "Maybe we should've started next week?" "This is life..." I said- with joy-- I mean I wasn't mad or defensive or annoyed-- just matter of fact... This is life.

It is-- I am wife/mom/pastor-- I am one person and its all good. Like really-- good. Its crazy, its hectic-- kids get sick, husband gets sick-- there are parent and pastor responsibilities...
house is a mess....family coming to visit- it all happens at once...no matter how well we plan- it happens.... but you know what?

God is so good. I feel held in it all.

And they were fine-- I hate that this was the first real class... but this is why I have a great assistant, had a lesson plan, and a 30 minute video... I hated missing their opening discussion....

Tonight:
Gracie's teacher Mrs. Ryan shared a story about Grace-- She calls the kids "Lovey" sometimes or "Little love" and Gracie said, "I'm not Lovey, I'm Gracie Anderson." lol

she cracks me up!

My bible study was really wonderful- a big class-- but great. I worry about how big the class is- about 20 folks now... Ranging in age from 20-70s that is pretty cool. OF course theodicy came up at the very end and we totally ran over. It all went well...I just hope I wasn't like a total spaz going all over the place. It is a big class...there are lots good thoughts, questions, and I prefer discussion than lecture...but in the beginning its hard not to do that a bit I guess-- I just don't like to be preachy...I don't want to sermonize them to boredom...but mostly I did feel that it went well..

I did feel bad about being late to relieve our awesome babysitter.

The girls had so much fun with our wonderful babysitter---
They played dress up with these wonderful clothes our babysitter brought for them while I was three ring circus Mom/Pastor
and were out when I got home...



Checked on Kevin, took his temp, covered him up, cold washcloth for the head, and Tylenol for the fever.... poor thing

there is so much to do...but I am done.

There are always piles of laundry, piles and piles... I feel like that song, "I can see for miles and miles..." I see laundry for piles and piles... but it will all be good.

In the wonderful words of Julian of Norwich "All will be well and all will be well and all things will be well."

This is what assurance, peace, comfort feels...even when there are like a million things I could be stressed about-- I'm not. I know that it will all be well. I am held. Thanks be to God!