Month: February 2013

A More Radical Way

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I attended a forum a few nights ago on the topic of being “spiritual but not religious.” – Nothing drives a pastor crazier than when people say they are “spiritual but not religious.” It’s like saying, “You are pretty in the dark.”

The audience was made up of good, faithful, church going folks, who were trying to answer the question, “Why do people in their 20’s and their 30’s seem disenfranchised with the institutional the mainline church? And what’s this spiritual but not religious language all about?” As the group was talking through the process of defining spirituality and religion, it was quickly discovered that spirituality brought about positive connotations and religion, negative.

There was a sense of grieving and even fear in the room of what would come of the Presbyterians, Mennonites, Lutherans, and Episcopalians who made up the audience. It seemed to me that in many ways we were trying to justify our existence.

One gentleman said, “well, one thing the church does, that has meaning is mission. Mission is what matters.” I was struck by this comment. I think there are plenty of non church going folk who do community service or practice good deeds. Is that mission? I often hear people in the church say that “mission really matters to them,” and “their church does great mission.” But what does that mean? What is mission and how does it truly justify the church’s existence?

For too long the church has been becalmed in the backwaters of a dying age, frightened by the swift waters of the new age coming into being. The church has for too long structured its life for survival rather than mission. The church must set its sail and move into the mainstream of life in the revolutionary world where every structure and form is called into question. The church must pattern its life in ways designed to make possible obedience to Christ regardless of institutional survival. author unknown.

Obedience to Christ. Obedience to Christ. True mission begins when we are obedient to Christ. The Church needs to stop asking the question “What would Jesus do?” but rather ask the question “How do we obey Christ?” Who knows what Jesus would do in 2013? It’s an impossible question and frankly unfair to his teaching and to his original audience. The more faithful question to ask in 2013 is, “how do we obey him?”

True mission, and thus obedience to Christ begins by radical inclusivity. It begins when an opportunity presents itself. Like aiding a man left for dead on the side of the road. When it’s easier, more convenient, or politically smart to ignore and walk away, but you stop and nurse his wounds and go out of your way to make sure he will live. Like talking to a woman at a well, who takes the shift of collecting water in the heat of the day, because she is “that kind of woman” and not allowed to co-mingle with “decent people,” but you sit next her and take water from her and talk to her and understand her and accept her. Like a man who is judged for his profession, but you notice him, up a tree, and you visit him at his house and sit at his table and eat his food. The more inclusive you are to loving your neighbor, the more obedient you are to Christ. This is what religion teaches.

True mission, and thus obedience to Christ, begins by radical hospitality. Not low-key, “we close at 10:00” kind of hospitality, but radical hospitality. Like sitting with people who the religious leaders find repulsive. The more radical you are in your hospitality, the more obedient you are to Christ. This is what religion teaches.

True mission begins by loving God, this is what spirituality teaches. Tonight I took a walk in the woods. New fallen snow came deep to my knees, and the silent woods surrounded me. I was talking to God. I was having a “spiritual moment.” I am one of those spiritual people who finds God in the forest. My obedience to Christ begins with my spirituality. It begins with my spiritual self acknowledging that I am tethered to a God who loves me and calls me by name. It begins with me expressing my love for God and saying “thank you for the day, the air, the laughter and the challenges. Thank you for seeing me through it all.” My obedience to Christ begins with acknowledgement of God’s love. This is what spirituality teaches.

We need spirituality – spiritual practices like walking in the woods and meditation and contemplation in order to find a connect with the Divine and remember who we are. We need religion – to guide us in the discipline and the discipleship of obeying Christ. We cannot justify religion by disclaiming spirituality. We justify religion by being obedient to a teaching that challenges us to a more radical way of loving and living.

Love God. Love your Neighbor. Peace.

The Contemplative Option

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The Contemplative Option
Loretta Ross,
Source: Holy Ground (newsletter of The Sanctuary Foundation)

Much in the spiritual life depends on where we place our attention and what we allow to take up space in our minds. One ought never to underestimate our horrible external and internal resistance to the contemplative option.

By contemplative option I mean the choice to respond contemplatively and prayerfully to ourselves and the world. The contemplative option awakens the power of Christ in us that allows us to be reconciled and to enter into right relationship with creation and one another–a relationship of gentleness, love and forgiveness.

Contemplation is a choice about what we will have on our minds. Sometimes contemplation is a choice to step back, wait and to tolerate the withdrawal of not satisfying every appetite and desire.
The contemplative option may be a choice to face into our own instability and discern what truly satisfies from what leaves us numb, jittery and still hungry. There is no getting around it. The contemplative life is a sacrifice. Our yes to God is likely to mean a no to something else.

This quote from Loretta Ross got me thinking. What do we have to say “no” to in order to say, “yes” to God?

First let’s just admit that the contemplative option is never the first option. When my six-year-old is relentlessly whining about having waffles instead of pancakes and my girl’s bedroom is once again an overwhelming mess of duct tape, sweatshirts, mismatched socks, books, headbands and wrappers. When dinner isn’t planned and only one of the four major food groups is on the table. When there’s a nail in the tire, a clogged toilet, a last-minute homework assignment, an overdue library book notice, no my first thought is not the contemplative option. My first thought is the “swear and eat chocolate option.” What does it take for busy families to say “yes” to God? What do families need to sacrifice in order to be truly satisfied?

Is it the perception of perfection? Can we sacrifice the mirage that we try to put before other’s that we can “do it all?” That we “have it all together?” Can we put that false identity down and say,
“this is it. This is my best self today?” If I can say “no” to expectations of myself and others and “yes” to grace, I am closer to the contemplative option.

Can we sacrifice the falsehood that we have control of time? I look at pictures of my children taken just three years ago. Little round faces, dimpled hands and tiny shoes and I think, ‘that was five minutes ago!” I can grieve that, lament that, even be angry that that time is over. That I am no longer a mother with babies. I can bargain with time. Try like crazy to control time. Fight it and try to conserve it. The truth is time is what I make it. Can I sacrifice the control of time and accept, accept accept that every moment, every day is sacred and that tomorrow is not guaranteed and that yesterday was and it was. The contemplative option is not controlled by time, but is guided by the moment. The sacrifice comes in accepting that time is not ours to control.

Jesus said, “come to me all you who are heavily burdened and I will give you rest?” Can we sacrifice our egos long enough to come to Jesus and find the strength we never had in the first place? Our egos egg us on. They convince us that we can do it on our own, or somehow convince us that we do not need God in our daily lives. Can we sacrifice our egos long enough to admit when we need help? Can we take shelter under the wings of a Mother Hen who deeply, deeply desires to walk with us on our journey. All we have to do is come.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Friendship on the Trail

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Another winter storm is coming and I am aching to get back on our trails and run! I confess that I don’t run for the cardio. I run for the friendship. I run for therapy. I run to “leave it on the trail.” Whatever “it” is. We laugh, lament, swear, sweat and sometimes even cry. We push each other on.

My favorite route is along the river, where the trees canopy the trail and one can imagine that one is out in the woods, far away from it all.

This is the quote that sits on my desk:
“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.”
Aaron Douglas Trimble, Runner

It’s negative 5 and 5 inches of snow is expected tomorrow. The trails are covered with windswept snow and the trees are creaking with cold. Come on Spring! Get here! My shoes are ready. My legs are strong and ready to pound the pavement. My lungs are aching to breathe in the fresh air. My skin is ready to feel the heat of sun. My soul is ready for the bond of friendship that only comes from a good run on the trail.

Wilderness

It’s lonely in the wilderness. I like it that way. To sit alone with my thoughts, Lyrics come to mind, forgotten memories. Allow the mind to simply, rewind. It’s vulnerable in the wilderness. I like it that way. A creature scurries across my path An … Continue reading Wilderness

The Mission Trip Community, by Barb Dowd

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This is an entry from a member of our congregation after a week of mission in Indiana. Thanks for sharing your story, Barb! Most of all thank you for sharing your faith!

On February 3, 2013, 43 people from 9 churches and the Presbytery of North Central Iowa gathered in Brownstown, Indiana. It is a very small rural town, but is the address for PYOCA, the Presbyterian Church camp, where we stayed for the Mission Trip. It was a beautiful place to stay even in the midst of winter and brought back my younger years at church camp at Okoboji.
But it was also a great place to meet new people on our trip, reacquaint with others who had been on trips before, and to worship together dedicating our week to helping others. Everyone contributed to the routine chores of cooking and housecleaning which gave us the time then to travel to work sites and help the devastated people of Henryville, Indiana who are still recovering 11 months after the tornadoes and large hail. The survivors’ stories were amazing to hear such as: one large extended family who gathered in one of their homes prior to the tornado and felt the house go up and come down 3 times before the tornado passed by. Most of them lost all their belongings and their homes that day on South Williams Knob Road.
The physical work we did that week was challenging for many of us as we were doing labor that we had never done before. It was very important work to the homeowners to help to get their lives back to a normal state, but more important than anything else was the listening to their stories. We hope and pray that telling their stories over and over to different people helps them to recover from the disaster’s effects. Some of them shared their faith in God with us and saw his hand in their survival and recovery. Neighbors who never knew each other have become friends and even closer, like a family to each other. Their gratitude and love for those who have helped them was evident to me.
We were privileged to have several pastors and commissioned lay pastors in our group. Worship time in the morning and evening was a blessing. In that week, I believe we had a sacred community. It was also a time for sharing our stories. As Rev. David Feltman, Pastor to the Presbytery, expressed to us in our worship time, when we go home to our local churches is what we do as members of our congregation in our church and out in our communities as important as the work we did that week? We, the members of God’s family, need to utilize our time and talents like we did on this trip at home–working together in community toward one goal of spreading the unconditional love of God. That is what matters to Jesus. I am feeling renewed and able to appreciate the messages of Lent; and looking forward to what a mission trip might bring next year.

Balcony People

imageI had a good friend who died a few years ago. I am thinking about her today, because I just learned that her husband passed away this morning. She was about 35 years older than I. We were kindred spirits. She was who I hope to be in 35 years and I think I reminded her of her younger self. She was an author, a therapist, a mother, a wife of a Dean, and a woman who always wore purple. She loved Charles Dickens and Department 56 villages.

We would meet once a month at Panera and have orange scones and lattes and talk about the challenges of being a devoted mother and dedicated professional. We would talk about how to be an assertive woman in a world that wasn’t sure what that looked like.

Caryl survived uterine cancer in her 40’s in a time when women didn’t survive uterine cancer. She was a PhD of sex therapy at a time when people didn’t talk about such things. She was a brave lady.

I moved away about two years before she died. One day, I got a call that she was in the ICU and I drove immediately to her bedside. She had tubes all over her and couldn’t speak, but we spoke with our eyes. I told her about my job and my kids and what they were up to, and she would nod and move her eyebrows up and down with great counselor active listening skills.

I held her hand and rubbed lavender lotion on her arms and sang her songs. Finally it was time to leave and I kissed her goodbye. She died that night.

Caryl is always with me. She is the voice of reason that reminds me that I am braver than I think I am. She is the example of listening and interest I try to emulate with others. I miss her, and yet I know she remains in my balcony, cheering me on. I feel very lucky to have had such a special friendship with Caryl. I hope I honor her by being for someone else what she was for me. We all need people in our balcony. We need people who look over us and cheer us on, prodding us along, believing in our greater selves. Thank God that in life and in death, those who love us remain in our balconies.

I think she was waiting for her husband to show up in heaven today. If he is looking for her, she will be the one wearing the big, purple hat.

I don’t eat lattes and orange scones anymore, not without Caryl.

Advice on Love

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The best advice I ever got on love came not from a Glamour Magazine, or a girl friend, or a love guru. The best advice I ever received on love, was from my Dad.

I was married at the age of 25. And at the age of 25, I had very high expectations of what my life and my marriage would be like. I was, shall we say, naive.

10 years, 3 kids, 3 houses, 3 jobs, 2 degrees, 1 robbery, 9/11,financial turmoil, an emergency C-section, a week with a child in Mayo Clinic after a freak accident, a tornado, a hail storm, a damaged house, let’s just say I wasn’t naive anymore. I had become a cynic.

It was a hot July day on the back porch of my parent’s house. I was talking to my Dad about marriage. I was crying. So much crap had happened. So many things we had not expected. So much life. My Dad said, “the question you have to ask yourself is, ‘do you love the core?'” Do you love the core? When you determine what matters to you and what doesn’t matter to you, do you love your spouse for who they are at their center?

I couldn’t answer this right away. I had been on the surface for so long you see, loving or not loving my spouse for what he did or did not do, for what he produced, for what he gave. I realize now I was loving him based on whether he was meeting my expectations.

So I went home and I asked myself, “Do I love the core?” And I sat back and  I watched. I watched a man who used to be a boy who still had much of his boyhood in him, as he found wonder in science fiction and history, and I loved him for that. I saw a man who became a father, who could get on the floor and read, and pretend, and play for hours with his children and experience great joy. And I loved him for that. I watched a man who acknowledged his depression and addressed it and I loved him for that. I looked deep into his faithfulness and his kindness and I realized, “I do. I do love him at his core.”

This is not a question you ask once. It’s not a question you every day either. Every once in a while check in with why you love the people you are given to love.

It was then that  I had to ask, “does he love me at my core?” I mean after all, I am high maintenance and a control freak. Could he look through all of my insecurities and annoyances and love me at my core?

I think, most days, he does.

Today, going on 16 years, I am no longer naive and I am no longer a cynic. I would say that my expectations are to live each day grateful when communication works and patient when it doesn’t. To live each day remembering to laugh and enjoy the passing of life, remembering that when stuff happens, this too shall pass. To take life seriously without being too serious. And most of all to remember that I have been blessed with the gift of loving someone for who they are, at their core.

Thanks Dad.

Happy Valentine’s Day.