Friday, May 25, 2012

Prayer for Transition

Lord, there is so much happening now.
Let me see you and know you and be aware that you are with me in my every moment, through every decision, and in all my interactions.

You Lord, Have made me.
Your Daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a pastor.
There are preschool graduations, teacher goodbyes, birthday parties,
funerals, goodbye parties, tears, (waterproof mascara), stories, laughter, songs,
visits, communion, worship, hugs, preaching, bible study, pot lucks, and boxes,
 lots of boxes in our lives now. 

Give me energy Lord, to say goodbye and to meet new people.
In my sadness, let me remember the joys.
In my nervousness for what is new, let me know you are guiding me.
In my excitement let me smile at the joy and possibilities of what is new.
When I hear discouragement, let me lay it at your feet.
When I begin to think, "what if" stop me.
When I worry too much what others may think, let me focus fully on you and the call you have placed in me.
My confidence is in you, my trust is in you Lord, and the strength of my joy is in you.
I will not fear what I do not know, for you Lord are with me.

I pray Lord for my church I am leaving.
May they feel my love for them always.
May they be held in your love which holds us all.  
Heal us and comfort us in our griefs.
Hold us in newness, change, worry, fear, uncertainty. 
May they be open to receiving the new pastor with all the love with which they received me.
You have guided this Lord.
Let us trust.

I pray for the new pastor coming.
You have called, equipped, and prepared her.
Fill her with excitement and joy.
This church is amazing and filled with people of deep faith and love.
She will be a blessing to them.
Lay your hand upon her give her courage, joy, and strength in knowing you are guiding her.
May she find a home here as I have.
May she grow in her call as I have.
May she love these people and feel their love as I have.
Thank you for her and her call.
I pray for the pastor of the church where I am going.
Let her grieve with her congregation in the goodbyes.
Let tears be turned to joy for new beginnings.
May this new call for her be filled with joy, learning, and love.
May her call feel renewed and energized.
Fill her with energy in this transition to continue the work of pastoring while preparing to move.
Let her feel your hand on her guiding her in every moment. 

I pray for the church I am going.
Comfort them in all grief they have in this transition.
Wash them in the power of your Holy Spirit,
may excitement, renewal, and new energy come alive.
I pray they will be excited to meet my family.
I pray for the neighborhood, schools, and our new home.
May you prepare the hearts of the congregation and community to love our family. 
May they see me as you see me.
I already love them, Lord.

I pray that your prevenient grace with fall upon us all.
I pray we will see the best, the truest, of one another.
Let us love one another Lord.
Let us see, Lord.
Let us hear, Lord.
Let us listen to the stories of Who we are
and trust together in Whose we are. 
Let us see what and where and how you call us to be church.
Ignite us  all to see possibilities. 

Let all of us, in all places, in any and all transitions and moves and changes, let us together as sisters and brothers think on about these things: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8) 

I pray in the name of God who calls, equips, prepares, sends, and guides,

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shame and Guilt

I've been wanting to learn more and explore shame and guilt deeper-- tonight I discovered

 Brene Brown's blog

and DVD

are absolutely amazing-- more later.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Clergy Fallout

 Have you heard about this?  

When I saw this story I was sad and mad.

How could this happen? 

Well- it happens all the time.  We doubt, we struggle with faith, we grow-- struggle is necessary. 

 Faith is not easy.  

Where is God when bad things happen?  Why do there seem to be conflicts within the bible itself? 
 What do we do with texts that are outside the canon? How do we deal with the really hard texts?

When my husband Kevin when to the Holy Land with several different seminaries, there was one guy on his trip from a Southern Baptist seminary.  He kept telling folks that they were going to hell because of one reason or another.  He was very upset on this trip because their guide could not tell them exactly where this or that occurred.  You cannot find the walls Jericho that fell exactly where the bible said.  
WHAT! Okay- so no way that happened? Ummm- really?  That's where you're going to go? 

That is not faith.
Faith is more than being sure.  
Faith is more than touching this and saying yes now I believe.  

But it doesn't mean that sometimes we don't want to stand on a firm foundation and know something for sure. 

And it doesn't mean that sometimes we can't know for sure. 

When Neil Armstrong visited the Holy Land he asked his guide - Where can I go where I know Jesus walked?  Not just where "tradition says."   

The guide took him to these steps
 The steps where Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple as a baby. and where Jesus came and knocked over the tables on the very temple steps.

Yes- we want concrete- we want to touch and see.

But there will be doubt and there will be questions and there will be times when we do not know and when we do not have words. 

When we do not have words-- the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words

When we do not know- we can actually say I do not know-- 

When we do not feel the presence of God- what do we do? 
I go to the Psalms- especially Psalm 139
I cry
I talk
I write
I reach out

What makes me so sad about this - is did this woman have someone to reach out to? 
Or did she just fall away?  And.... not one person noticed? 

I often have couples come to me who have already given up-- but never reached out. 
They come for "counseling" but not really. 
They've given up long ago. 
And no one noticed. 
Not even them. 
Because no one was checking. 
No one was talking.
No one was caring. 

This always breaks my heart.  
Because it didn't have to be this way. 

I always wondered- why?  If a spouse started to feel distant, felt isolated, felt lonely, felt tempted, felt a loss of interest- why not do something about it?  

Is it fear?  Is it just too hard to confront?  
Or do they just not even notice because they are so checked out already? 

But the thing is - this pastor who lost faith did know how she was feeling.  
But she felt like there was no one she could talk to.  
This makes me sad. 

But it also makes me angry. 
Really angry. 

As a whole- religious institutions - and not just my denomination tend to be pretty bad and helping clergy do self care, spiritual care, and wholeness.  

In the article- this former Teresa MacBain responds to a question about how a pastor's life is different than other jobs saying, "Right, it's completely consumed in just the ministry, being on-call 24 hours a day, being surrounded always by colleagues that are ministers, conferences that are ministry-based, being with church members. It becomes - it has to become the whole focal point of your life if you're going to care and pastor the people correctly." (italiticed mine)

This tends to be how some clergy folks think- and its slippery slope.
I feel like this is wrong thinking... and had its core it is egotistical...but most of all it is wrong. 
If you think as a pastor you must be everywhere and do everything you have forgotten who are. 
You are not Jesus.  
Nor are you called to be. 

Too often pastors start thinking they have to do it all--why do they think this? 
Is it all ego? 
Is it the pressure? 
Is it just all the stuff they have to do? 
(but you only work on one day, right?) 
There is the Ordering of the church, visioning, planning, 
Worship- preaching, designing worship, writing prayers/ liturgy, organizing and working with all the folks who make worship possible- musicians, volunteers, etc. 
Staff/ Volunteers
Assistance with walk ins
Funerals/ Weddings
Conference work
District Work 
I'm sure I've left out a ton and I could go on.... 
Yes- there is a lot to do- our calendars are full 
(I used to get kind of annoyed at all those folks who used to talk about how crazy their calendar was -- and tell you their schedule-- Kevin and I started calling them "Calendar People"  -- its as if they got their worth from how much they were doing and from everyone knowing -- "See Look at me I do a lot" ) 

I think a lot of pastors are over achievers. 
I know I am. 
A lot of us may be type A
Some of us may even be micro-managers - and possibly control issues 
We may even be perfectionist....
We tend to over function

Perhaps that is is part of the trap... of thinking we have to be going 24-7, be at every meeting or event....
And yes we are on call- but we also do get to sleep and be with our families, and go on vacation, and tend to our souls, and be renewed in continuing ed and study leave and prayer.  

Maybe its a little like momma guilt where you are always feeling like you've got to do more, be more?

But whatever it is - and wherever it comes from- its not good.
Its not healthy.
And we need some kind of trip wire that tells us BEEP your getting close to burn out! 

When I had my first psychological evaluation- (yes I think I've had 4 - to be sure I'm "crazy enough" for ministry) :) 
(don't read mean sarcasm here- I don't do that really- I think it is a very good thing we do this)

Anyway- in this first test- back in 2001 when I was applying to be a missionary in the United Methodist Church- the psychologist said: 

"I think if you were in the forest and it was on fire you would say....its getting warm in here."  

I needed to learn to ask for help. 
This was my "Learning Goal" for time as a missionary- one of them at least. 

I didn't do so great my first year as a missionary serving in downtown Detroit. (not with this goal anway)
I averaged working 80 hours a week- sometimes 90. 

I worked. A lot. 

Because I LOVED my work. 
I LOVED everything about it. 
And I wanted to serve all the time. 
And I didn't have a life. 
Other than ministry. 
And to me-- that was kind of great- because I couldn't be lonely if I was serving. 
And most of the time it didn't wear me out- I thrived and had energy and loved every minute. 
Yet people always say, "Oh did you go to the UP (upper peninsula)? Did you to Canada? Did you visit these places x,y,z?" 
No- I worked.

A year in, when I got married-- things changed. 
Now, my husband came to take me to lunch. 
Now, I took my day off.  
People would say, "Who do you think you are?" 

I'm someone who valued my marriage! 

I've had church planters especially recount stories to me- one of a wife who had the kids all dressed in their Sunday best at 10pm instead of being in bed.  They were all sitting on the couch with the church planter Dad came home and the wife said, "I want you to meet your children." 

We love God and we love ministry and that is why we do this work - because for a lot of us - hopefully most of us- it is not work- it is a call.  
A call that we answer and respond to every day-- but a call we respond to without sacrificing ourselves, our families, and our relationship with God. 

When I left my being a US-2 missionary after the 2 year commitment I was replaced with two people.
That may seem cool to some folks.... 

You know, like a bragging point about you're awesome work ethic...
But really- it only is if it beneficial to the church and really to the kingdom if it is sustainable.  
Have you created systems that will only keep growing- or does someone have to "maintain it"
Maintaining only leads to doing things that way "because that's just how we do it." 
Maintaining requires no vision and only creates busy work. 
Maintaining does not build up the kingdom. 

Is it about your ego- or the kingdom?

Thankfully things were sustained- but creating more work for the sake of work, for the sake of being needed- not healthy for you or your church.  

So this addresses the burn out factor-- 
But she burnt out on faith...not necessarily ministry. 
(In a CNN interview she notes that she still feels compelled to help people- just not as a pastor).

Again - How can this happen? 

John Wesley began small group ministry-- but it wasn't some kind of willy nilly group....
They took things seriously
Each we they asked one another: "How is it with your soul?"  
They expected an answer. 

Who does this for us now? 

In the United Methodist church- and in my conference- when you are commissioned as a Provisional Elder or Deacon (after you've completed papers, psych eval, and passed the Board of Ordination) - you are placed in a covenant group and a mentor and you meet monthly and you write papers, and you do continuing education, and you meet with your DS (District Superintendent), and you have a certain level of accountability.  This is for 3 years.  Then you write papers again and take another psych eval and you go before the Board of Ordained Ministry and you are Ordained. are released - you are out there-- 
supervision, accountability, fall to your DS and/or your setting where you are.  

So what happens then? 
You were in this space of accountability - which for some may have felt safe and good and a place of growing and sharing and grace and love- and for others unfortunately it feels like "jumping through hoops" (a term I disdain-- b/c if you think that it will feel like that) 

Abraham Lincoln said, "If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will." 
Well I kind of feel that way about the United Methodist process....

SO anyway- you're out of the process- you're ordained! Yay! 

It can feel like a parachute drop.  
No longer must you be in a covenant group.  
No one is checking now....

Some may say- good - Freedom!  
 But accountability is a good thing- 
It means someone is watching and it does actually mean - YES - someone cares. 

How many times has a parishioner said to a pastor--
 "I left such and such church.... I stopped going...and no one noticed..." 

  Some people only talk to their DS if they have a problem.   
I guess that's like a 911 prayer... 

Who asks you - how is it with your soul? 
Who prays with you daily? 
Who do you check in with? 

Unless you're the type of person to readily create this for yourself- you're out of luck. 

If you read the NPR transcript, this pastor turned atheist actually did email something to her DS... and it seems like nothing happened.  
This makes me very sad.  Yes- I do not know the full situation, and I am really struggling with not judging this.  Mainly it just makes me sad that on the day of her last Sunday she shared this with her congregation and that was it.  I imagine what could have been.  Could her DS have been there- prayed for her and her congregation.  Could they have lamented this as a community of faith either that day or another day in some kind of Healing Service?  Could her DS have said- I am sorry you feel this way and I will be in prayer for you. (And not some condescending "I'll pray for your poor soul") but real, loving prayer.   The whole dynamic could have been different.  Instead Christians just looked unloving...

In CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education)  I heard a great thing- 
The Dr goes in with training, having read books, articles, but most importantly having kept up on latest treatments, meds, etc. 
The nurse goes in with the meds, checking your vitals, the nurse must review things often to keep up with latest needs
The technician goes in to the room with a machine that has been tested thoroughly several times a day/week. 
The chaplain/pastor goes in with their soul -- has it kept up, checked in, and been thoroughly checked for deficits? 

If we are not well in our own soul- we will not be able to share the Gospel or care for others- we will not be able to show the way to the kingdom because we ourselves are lost. 

Recently, we have learned that Mother Teresa had moments of doubt-- or maybe not even doubt, but times when she could not readily know for sure where God was....
     And the Church thought that should be hidden...
That's our problem-- we think we can't talk about this stuff- 
We think people can't handle it? 
Really?  Are we really that patronizing? Are we really so closed minded? SO condescending? 
So ego filled that we think we have to have it all together?  
Do we think we've reached perfection?  

Because we haven't.  
We are onward toward-- we aren't there yet. 

 Many are resistant to spiritual formation - or what they may feel is "touchy feely" stuff. 
But if I quote from Bill Hybels from his book "Too Busy Not to Pray" some folks will listen to this more than if I quote from Roberta Bondi's "To Pray and To Love."

This pastor turned atheist perhaps wasn't too busy not to pray- perhaps she just had doubts... perhaps she just got so isolated from God, from others, that she fell back. 

And she fell into the arms of evangelical atheists ready to receive her. 
Evangelical Atheists? 
You may ask is that for real?
Yes- I believe so. 
I do not think they are vicious or mean spirited, but I think some may have been hurt by Christians and lump  all Christians together and are more than happy to reach out to a new sister/ brother in non faith and rejoice with them in what they deem as the truth. 
 I do feel like this has darkness in it. Because I feel like it seeks to rejoice in hope stealing.  
To tell someone-yep, you're right  - you're on your own- nothing matters.... yes there may be morality and good people-- but to me there is no core- no hope- no one there when it all stops-no purpose- no reason. 
To tell someone this- is very sad.
To me it is as sad as a Christian who tells someone struggling, doubting, or unsure-- "You better stop that" or "You can't struggle, ask questions, doubt, etc."  

I'm sure an evangelical atheist would be happy to debate me. 
I'm sure Bart Ehrman and others who seek to "debunk" faith would be more than happy to do this.
There are so many who grew up in a fundamentalist faith and had to have it be this very literal way - and if its not that... its nothing--- and when they start asking some basic questions... it all falls apart. 

But again- that was not faith- that was a carefully constructed logic theorem of "if this, than that" 
Faith isn't logical
Faith is for folks crazy enough to take 4 psychological exams and keep going.
Faith isn't concrete and it will not always make sense. 
The cross does not make sense. 

Any "faith" that wants to tell you you can do it on your own if you just try hard enough, if you just defend strong enough, if you just work hard, or if it all you need is just you and its all inside of you-- is false. 

Faith is bigger than me or you or anything else in all creation--
but none of that will separate us from God.

but we keep at it.

When we do not believe- we say, Lord Help my unbelief. 
When we cannot pray- the spirit intercedes.
When we do not know- we find someone who can help us.

Here is what I believe we must do- 
We must ask "How is it with your soul?" 
and mean it. 
We must care about one another more than we care about how much the other pastor down the street makes, or how many folks are in their pews, or what are they doing to get people in the door that we aren't doing, or our fear that they will steal our prospective members. 
Fear is not part of faith.  How many times did God say, "Do not fear"?

I think that one bears repeating: 

We must care more about our fellow clergy than we do about
 money, numbers, popularity, or power. 

 We must be more collegial than competitive- 
but more than that- 
We must care.  Really care. 

We must remind one another of who we are and whose we are. 

Do you know how I know a couple will make it when I do premarital counseling? 
(hopefully they won't all read this and give the "right answer" :) 
When I ask them- what they love most about this other person?  
They say, "S/he makes me want to be the best me I can be--
 they bring out the best me when I am with them." 

We should do this for one another in ministry. 

(Its really worth it to read all of  this)

Perhaps this will make us more effective. 
I have no doubt it will. 
But we do not do it because "it will make us more effective"
Faith and faithful living as a disciple of Christ is not a means to an end 

We do it because it will keep us abiding in Christ. 
We do this because he first loved us.  See  1 John 4:7-21
We do this because it is the Way of wholeness, healing, grace, mercy.
We do this because it is how we live in Faith, Hope, and Love. 

And do you know what just may happen? 
We may find safe spaces to finally be real. 
We couldn't, didn't, refused, struggled, (fill in the blank) do this at General Conference. 
We couldn't even be authentic enough to say we agree that we don't always agree. 
We lived in fear, and competition, and anxiety. 
Which is darkness only breeding hate and pain. 

We're hemorrhaging
and we need healing. 
We need to touch- we need to grab hold of Jesus.

We're doubting and we need to touch the pain of the cross to really understand.  
Thomas said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
Faith and believing can be hard.  It means touching pain and dealing with it. 

We're running on empty and we look around and say we don't have enough.

End the fallout. 
Stop the burnout.

 How is it with your soul? 

Light the Fire in your soul

What we really need to do, what we really can do (with the help of one another)- is come to Christ.
Abide, love, touch, reach in, gather around, share with one another...
 and be loved, live in love, be nourished, full, healed, whole.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why I still Listen to the Radio

Today I started a conversation with some friends about wishing there were more choices in "Christian Radio"
I actually like listening to Christian radio- sometimes the songs really lack a depth of theology, sometimes the little sermons lack real exegesis, a friend pointed out that they couldn't listen to the folks talk because Christianity felt watered down with their words to "encouragement" and "safe for the whole family."  Her point was that we have a faith that is so much more than this.

In my conversation about this most folks suggested that I just listen to Pandora- which I usually do, but I like to still listen to radio.

I often listen to NPR - I love hearing the news of the world.  I love hearing lots of different opinions about things.  I love hearing Science Friday and learning about things I usually wouldn't learn about.  I love listening to Diane Rehm and hearing lots of great dialogue and actual civil discourse. In Detroit I loved listening to Ed Love and especially the voice of Quinn Klinefelter! There are a good number of NPR haters out there-- but seriously- listen and you just may learn something. 

I like flipping to what is now considered "Classic Rock" I think--- where they play 80's rock ballads, hair bands, etc.  I love teaching my girls how to head bang like my big sister Sally taught me!  

One of the things I love about listening to the radio is that I hear things that I may not hear if I'm only listening to my ipod.  

When I listen to the Ipod I choose what I want to hear.  I direct everything.  I control everything.  I pick everything.  

I don't have to hear anything I don't want to hear. 
I don' t have to let anything else bother me...

Even with Pandora- I've got some elusive computer program (I'm guessing?) helping me learn about something I may not already know about- making suggestions and exposing me to new music. 

In so many places of our lives we become isolated.  We only hang out with folks who offer the same brand of theology, politics, way of thinking that gels with what we already know and what is already comfortable. 

I'm really not interested in being and knowing what I already know-- I've been there already- already know that.  What's next? What more do I have to learn?  

I'm not interested in staying the same.  I'm not interested in status quo.  

I do like to watch what I like on my DVR - I love watching what I love watching- 
I don't have to watch commercials anymore. 

But I got to thinking-- I don't see anything on TV that I don't already choose what I want.  
Now I could choose to watch things that will break me out of my comfort zone... 
But most of us DVR what we love to watch- what we already know we will like.   

Most of us read the newspaper that slants the way we like. 
Most of us read blogs that may already support what we think. 

Its hard to purposely enter into places that are uncomfortable for us theologically, ideologically, politically.  

It may feel painful, annoying, or frustrating.  

But you'll learn something.

When I listen to the Christian Radio station I get ideas.  I'll hear a song that lacks the depth of theology and I'll think- in a Contemporary Christian setting- we could sing this and possibly talk about what it means for us and what it may be missing.   (I'm not sure how deconstructing a song may work in this setting-- perhaps if I try it I'll let you know).  The song I thought about this with was Jeremy Camp's song "I'll take you Back"  I really didn't like it when I heard it because I thought-- this lacks an understanding of grace- -prevenient grace- a Wesley understanding of grace.  God never left-- (why we get baptized only once- God worked the first time)- God never stopped being with us, loving us, forgiving us, pouring grace and mercy upon us-- God never left.  We may have left, we may have strayed--- but God never left.  So God does not take us "back" really-- was my thought-- its more like we take God back.  This might just be semantics to to some- but there is a lot depth behind the why and how of what we say.  

When I listen to the Christian radio- I actually like to hear some of the stories.  I feel like I can sift through what may seem/ feel/ a petty or cheapened understanding of faith and I can see the depth in the folks still.  Hearing the stories of the "Drive Through Challenge" about paying for the person behind you - has been really sweet.  And grace filled.  Sometimes I'm like "Yay!  These are real and loving people."  
Its the pre-recorded soundbite sermons that frustrate me.  But its probably good that I hear this- is this what folks take as Gospel preaching? 

When I listen to the Classic Rock station- I'm reminded of songs of my childhood- I can dance silly with my girls to the awesome tunes of Journey and Heart and have so much fun! Songs that I have forgotten I remember and sometimes I hear new things. 

I'm not sure what you call the new radio station these days-- do they still call it "Alternative"?  But sometimes I'll hear new things that I wouldn't ordinarily be exposed to. 

I know a lot of us listen to our ipods, playlists, etc. I do too.  But I think in some ways- the convenience of our playlists, DVR, and self-selected news choices keep us limited, isolated, and stuck in a place of individualism of our own bubbles.  

Those places we have chosen on our own are comfortable and we need them. 

But every once in awhile I wonder what it may be like to purposely listen to the news of another slant, a radio station that may be a different kind of music, or radio itself, and sometimes perhaps we may even want to remember what its like to watch a commercial when you don't have to fast forward through it. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Defending v. Defensive

Tonight at my super awesome Disciple 2 Bible Study (seriously I will always teach Disciple!)
we discussed how the disciples in - especially seen in Acts defend their faith- its usually because people are demanding an explanation.  Peter preaches a rock'n sermon at Pentecost because the people think they must be drunk- but NO its only 9 in the morning and Peter gives a testimony to why they are the way they are.  Stephen is cornered by unethical and manipulative practices and must give an account to why he has been doing and saying what he is doing.  We hear the story of Paul told by Luke in Acts but then Paul tells his own story quite differently to the Galatians.  Each person gives a witness- telling the story of their faith because they are called to defend their faith.

As we were talking in my class about these apostles defending their faith,  I thought- and asked my class- is there a difference between Defending and "Defensiveness"?  The thought occurred to me that Yes!  Yes there is!!!

I love Rachel Held Evans and her book "Evolving in Monkey Town" where she discusses how she has been taught from a young age to "defend her faith."  As a conservative evangelical fundamentalist she was taught bible drills and proof text to defend her faith everywhere- the world was battle and they had to win for Christ.

Her book reminds me so much of my childhood in Lynchburg, Virginia.  Lynchburg is a beautiful town surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and filled with good meaning people of faith.  I say good meaning- which shows that I have come a long way.  When I left Lynchburg, I was convinced that many of the folks were hate filled, I really think that they are well meaning.  And again, I'm using a lot of "they" language. I realize this.  You've got to know that that when I talk about Lynchburg it is with love, respect, and some sarcasm (and I'm usually not a sarcastic person) but sometimes, you just gotta laugh. 

I think I may look at Lynchburg in perhaps the way Jesus may have looked at his hometown.  I would certainly listen and follow if I were sent to serve there, my pain is healed, my nostalgia is still with me... 

Lynchburg is the home of Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church and Jerry Falwell.  When I grew up there - there was Scaremare- a haunted house designed to frighten you into believing in Jesus.  There were students, usually from LU who somehow came into our high school and would place literature, tracts, etc in the rest rooms.  Every year on the anniversary of Roe V. Wade, protestors would protest in our high school parking lots, sometimes banging on our cars and yelling at all of us teenagers about abortion and how we were going to go to hell.  If you did not act a certain way, attend a certain church, or whatnot.... you were "going to hell."  I was told this a lot.  When I said I was a Christian.  They'd say- no you have to be baptized this way and say this prayer.  You have to do Christianity our way.... (and seriously folks, I'm not making this up)   This was my context.

I attended a Methodist Church in Lynchburg from the time I was about 9 to 12. I joined with my Grandmother and the pastor said, "You'll come up to the front, I'll say this you'll say that..."
And I said, "I have some questions."  (I was 10)
He said, "Like what?"
I said, "Well... for instance, what's reincarnation?"
He reached over and patted me on my knee and said, "You don't need to worry about that b/c Methodists don't believe in reincarnation."
I said, "How do I know I don't believe in it, if I don't know what it is?"
No answer....

Before moving to Lynchburg I had gone to a wonderful small, rural Presbyterian U.S.A. church where I had seen a husband/wife co-pastor team, where I had been nurtured to ask questions, where I had swung on the steeple bell after church and played hide-n-seek in the cemetery.  Where I had asked my pastor at the age of 5 "If God made everyone-- who made God?" He said, "Ask your mother."  I said, "She told me to ask you." He said, "Keep asking God and keep asking questions."  And I did.

So I get to this Methodist Church in Lynchburg and everytime I ask a question in Sunday School I'm told to be quiet- to play bible triva, to do my bible verse memory work, to stop asking those questions.  I was told- a lot --to be quiet.  I was a very precocious child- but shouldn't they all be?  Aren't all kids? My girls ask why all the time?  Don't I want them to keep seeking and learning and growing?

This is one of the huge places where I connect with Rachel Held Evans- in her world--questioning was bad... They were taught that all they needed was to "defend their faith"!

1 Peter 3: 15 says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 

As we were talking about the disciples and the ways they shared their faith tonight in Disciple II Bible Study-  the Disciple did so, often because they were defending themselves.  An explanation was required... What is really interesting is to see how they defend their faith? 

 How they respond is interesting. 

-When Peter responds to the folks at Pentecost he makes reference to the tomb of David.  Last week as we read that it hit me for the first time- that they are in the same place very close to one another. I realized this because I was there last year!  Somehow reading it this time this context hit me. 

 -When Stephen speaks to his accusers he speaks primarily about the Israelites and their story starting with the patriarchs on through the story of Moses and how they had betrayed God and made idols.  He is drawing on how they are doing this still today.  

-When Peter responds to the Galatians he doesn't tell his story the way Luke often tells his story- he speaks only of receiving the message of Christ from Jesus- he doesn't speak of Ananias or others - he focuses on who he was and who he began and why- because of Christ.  
Each of them respond specifically to give an explanation- to defend - to those who have asked or demanded an explanation. 

As we read their responses tonight I realized- they are passionate, they are firm, they are true to their lives- they are speaking to the context and they are assured - they defend who they are and their faith but they are not defensive. 

We are to defend our faith- but defend it with gentleness and respect. 

Growing up- Christians often seemed defensive, angry, mean, antagonistic, they were trying to pick a fight with me... 

One person shared tonight in my Disciple class about a relative of hers who has decided he is an atheist and  he tried to have a "prove to me why you're a Christian" argument and she stayed calm and just shared a bit about her faith but refused to get into a debate with them.  She said she remembered something I said from Disciple last fall--- when folks say they don't believe in God I usually say, "That's okay, God believes in you.  and God loves you and there is nothing you can do about that- God will always love you no matter what."   

I'm not interested in proof-texting or debating, I'm interested in relationship, in loving, and in sharing how my life has changed by Christ.  

It seems to me that when folks are taught to "defend their faith" rather than grow in their discipleship-- they're looking for a fight. To me, that's being defensive.  That's looking for a fight- what! Lowe's calls there Christmas Trees- "Holiday Trees"?  We are so persecuted.... (There is real persecution out there that has nothing to do with feeling like I need commercialism to support/affirm my faith).

But that isn't what defending your faith is supposed to be about.  

Paul defends who he is not because he's trying to fight with the Galatians, but because he is compelled to share. 

When I ran a bag lunch program for the homeless in downtown Detroit every day I was just about cussed out and just about ever day I had someone ask me, "Why are you doing this?  Why do you act this way?"  
That often came after I said no to a bus ticket, or extra lunch, or cash, or whatever- and then they would cuss me out- and then I was say -- "Well you have a blessed day.  God loves you and so do I."  

And then would come the questions...
the the defense for the hope I have-- 
The story I would tell may depend upon the situation, the person, their story and how it may connect ... but the core message was always there- 
God loves you
God loves all of us

When I remember the folks from Lychburg it always felt like they were defensive, they were angry...they did not seem filled with peace or abiding in love.   They seemed scary.  

I think we're called to defend- defend with gentleness-- not be defensive. 
When we feel fear- when we start feeling defensive-- perhaps we need to count to 10, we need to pray, we need to remember the core of our story, stay calm, and feel the peace of Christ, speak from a place of truth and authenticity and tell our story. 

What do you think?  

Is there a difference between defending and defensive? 
What are you stories? 

How can we be better at this as Christians?



Tuesday, May 1, 2012

First Thoughts : Guaranteed Apppointments

Today at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church the vote came to no longer secure guaranteed appointments for clergy. My Newsfeed became alive with clergy friends upset by this.  I've never been a big "political" church commentator..... hopefully I won't upset too many people with my thoughts here, but I couldn't help but ask...

Am I the only who is NOT upset by this?

 Yes- this will be different, but we didn't get into ministry so that we would have a guaranteed appointment

  Aren't we called to more than that?  
To be more than a pastor who has a guaranteed appointment?

I believe it is and will be possible to ensure justice with regard to race, gender, etc and still have missional effectiveness. Losing this does not lose our integrity with regard to appointment making, rather, to me, it increases our integrity and ability to do effective ministry. 

The only thing this may change is us—how we view our work. 
Have we stopped trying? Reaching? Seeking? Teaching?  Being Open to the power of God doing a new thing? 
I know many who are listening to God, doing God's work, seeking to reach others with passion and joy for ministry. 
Do we do effective work? 
Yes- so why worry?

 Are we so pessimistic that we believe the church will be only be about numbers and metrics now-because of this?  

Don't we still see God at work? 

Don't we know it’s not about us? 
 Ken Carter, made an excellent point, the church “has used the language of missional appointment making,” he said. “We want to place the emphasis on the mission – making disciples of Jesus of Christ for the transformation of the world” rather than to have a mission of providing appointments for elders

Couldn't this create in us a movement of urgency?  
We could use it.
If we're worried, its likely because we need resurgence in our own urgency. 
How many visits are you making a week? 
How much work are you putting into your sermons? 
Have you worked with your leadership to develop a solid vision for moving forward?
Where can you grow? 
Aren't these good things for us all to think about?

Don't we need some urgency?
A focus on mission and not our own status? 

I remember being in shock (yes, so na├»ve, I know) when I heard folks in seminary say things like, “I can’t wait to get to the big steeply church and make the big bucks.”  And they weren’t kidding!   

Really?  Really?
This is why you’re going into ministry?

Perhaps, it’s because I started as a missionary living a life of subsistence. 

Yes, I want my student  loans paid off and I want to be debt free and I want my girls to be able to go to college—but other than that- I’m really good.  I do not need a lot.

Yes, I need a car to be able to get me to make visits with folks in the hospital, in their homes, and to visit my family and travel as far as Wisconsin and Florida so my girls may see and play with their grandparents and cousins. 

But I do not need a big house, or lots of money, or the fanciest car.

I do not even need a guaranteed appointment to do my work well.
I do not do the work of ministry because of a guaranteed appointment.

My assurance is not there.
My worth is not there.
My value is not there.

I do not believe that the church “thanks me” for my value by guaranteeing me an appointment either.
They thank me by challenging me to continue the work Christ has called me to! 

Who wants a guarantee?   
We do not believe in “once saved always saved”
We believe that we are Onward Toward Perfection 
We believe we can backslide
We are not status quo people

We are Methodists
We are a movement
We are ignited by the power of the Holy Spirit

A flame is not guaranteed,
A flame is fanned
A flame has work to do
A flame must breathe
A flame must be nurtured

Why should we worry? Why should we be afraid?

God is still working, and so are we!