Month: August 2013

The story of the wise turtle.

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There once was a wise turtle who lived many years under the maple trees, along the Sugar Creek River. Every day he would sit on the same shiny,black rock and sun himself as the river flowed by. He would slowly swim to his rock, saunter upon it, stretch out his neck as far as he could, shut his eyes and allow the warm sun to lay upon him. He moved slowly, as turtles do, never in hurry or in a worry. Rather he moved intentionally and with purpose, always knowing where he was going and why he was going there. His wisdom came not from his age or his thoughtful movements, but rather it came from a place within. It was an internal, eternal quiet Purpose.

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You see, all around him was chaos. There was the river. That unpredictable, living organism which knew no boundaries. It did know rage and violence on stormy nights and had fallen victim to pollution and the abuse of Man. The river was the turtle’s life source, but it was also unruly and unfair. There were the creatures along the shore and those who flew overhead who would have eagerly devoured him for dinner. It was very likely that every day he could have been eaten alive by some unforeseen enemy. It gave validity for fear. There were the changes in the seasons. As the autumn frost laced the forest, and the cold wind whipped his home, he would burrow himself down and root himself into the earth, waiting for the cold wind to pass. It was the assurance and the threat of change. All around him there was cause, just cause, for worry.

But the wise turtle, everyday, would lumber up to his rock, stretch out his long neck, close his eyes, and wait for the sun to shine. Trusting that it would. It always did.

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Joshua 1:9-11 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”And Joshua commanded the officers of the people, “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, ‘Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.’”

2 Corinthians 3:4-6 “And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

“It’s Going To Be OK”

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This is the phrase that I, or others have said to me over and over again the past six months: “It’s going to be ok.” The sentence suggests that it’s not ok now. And I suppose it really is ok now. It’s just really, really difficult.

I always grieve the first day of school. As a mother, I feel like it is a bigger right of passage for my children than birthdays. It’s a primal feeling for me. My cubs are leaving the den to be with other cubs and they might run in to other wild animals and the mother bear in me is fiercely protective.

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To be clear, I believe in empowerment and letting them adventure off, and all that, I just grieve that I can’t go with them. I know they will fall down and be resourceful in getting back up, but man it hurts to think I might not be there to help them.

This year is more anxiety producing because we have moved and are at new schools, in a new town, where my cubs know no other cubs. Today they go to a new part of the forest. Alone.

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As I have mustered the courage to let this happen, I have witnessed many moments of grace and I’m sure many more that have gone unseen.

This school system we are walking into is huge. People ride the bus, even if they live five minutes away, everything is computerized, you have to pay for a background check to volunteer. I predict there will be way more homework. I find it overwhelming and intimidating.

Along the way, as I have attempted to navigate this new school system, there have been other mother bears who get it and have supported my cubs. There is the secretary at the district office who volunteered in a conversation to say, “oh, there is nothing harder than moving kids. It’s so stressful. I have been where you are, hang in there.” There is the secretary at the middle school who said, “I will be looking out for your daughter. I will check in and make sure she is ok.” There are the moms who have said, “lets meet at the school and make sure they know where to go.” There is the wonderful parishioner who sent a note to my children and told them that Jesus goes with them to school and she will be praying for them.

And of course there are my strong, capable children who seem to be braver than I. My little boy, who just ran up to bigger boys on the basketball court and asked if he could get in the game. My middle, social daughter, who is grieving the most and has the highest anxiety, who spent the night drawing and writing to her friends. My oldest daughter, just on the brink of adolescence who snuggled next to me last night, as she did when she was six months old, and said, “It’s going to be ok, Mother.”

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Ok, my little cubs, go on. Be brave. Find your way. I will be right here when you return. It’s going to be ok.

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Advice to Pastors Upon Leaving a Congregation

Dear Fellow Clergy,

I have recently experienced a six-week process of saying “goodbye” to my congregation and turning toward a new call. I have learned a lot about the call process and transitions during this time and I thought I might be so bold as to share some advice and wisdom.

I was given two books to read, Ten Commandments for Pastors Leaving a Congregation, by Lawrence Farris and Running Through the Thistles, by Roy Oswald. I found both resources helpful. I was given the advice after leaving my first job, back in the day, to always leave your job better than when you started. How you leave is how you are remembered. I have always tried to live up to that standard.

Here is my advice:

1. Don’t anticipate how people are going to feel when they hear the news you are leaving. You can’t control or change their feelings. You may be disappointed that people don’t express the feelings you expected. Check your ego at the door. The world will go on after you leave.

2. Your time of grieving and dealing with change will be different from the organization’s time process. The two of you will not be in sync. This is a good thing. The congregation won’t realize that you are leaving until the very end. You will realize you are leaving at the beginning.

3. You do not belong to the church. You belong to God. You do not belong to the church. You belong to God.

4. Be sure to reconcile with as many people who you didn’t get along with as possible. It’s good for the soul to clear the air and mend broken fences.

5. Keep doing your job. Leave the interim with all of the recourses, references and referrals they need to start work. I made a binder of policies, phone numbers and calendars, so everything was in one place.

6. Keep doing your job. Visit people in the nursing home. This will be hard, but visit them, for the last time.

7. Keep doing your job. Preach strong. Focus on the Word, not on your own agenda. Give them good Heavenly Food to chew on.

8. Acknowledge your own grief. Let them know how painful this is for you. Be honest.

9. Acknowledge their grief. Be prepared for grief to be voiced in anger, tears and silence.

10. Take care of yourself. Get exercise. Eat healthy. Rest.

11. Pay attention to the Spirit at work around you. The Holy Spirit is so active during times of transition. Listen. God is speaking.

12. Be ready to be totally emotionally exhausted. There is no way to go through the process without depleting yourself. The good news is that you will be replenished.

13. Be not afraid.

14. Take good care of your family. We were very honest and upfront with our kids. We talked openly about feelings and let them express moments of grief and fear. We reminded them of three important things. 1. You always have yourself with you. Like yourself. Believe in yourself. Take your awesome self with you. 2. You always have your family. We have your back. We love you. You will always have us. 3. You always have God. God is with you and will give you strength and courage.

15. Go out with your friends. Drink wine.

16. Tell the people who made a difference in your ministry how much they mean to you. Tell them they mattered. Tell them they made a difference and you are grateful.

17. Play loud music in the car. Go see a movie. Do something that gets the stress off of your mind, for a couple of hours.

18. Let go of regrets. You did your best. You are not perfect. You didn’t get everything done. You let people down. You are human. Give yourself a break. Believe in the Grace you preach.

19. Say “thank you.”

20. Pray Often

God Speed,
Shelly

Word of God, Speak. Sermon on Mark 1:14-20 and 1 Samuel 3:1-10

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The following is my final sermon to my congregation in Iowa. Indiana here we come! Thanks to everyone who has journeyed with this through this transition.

Sometimes I think I have one of the strangest occupations around. For one thing, it is an occupation that is driven by a vocation. Many professions are driven by a vocation, an inner pull that calls people to do a type of work. It would have to be a calling or they wouldn’t do it. Being a minister is unique in that our professions begin with the question how do you feel God is calling you? Ministers love the church, but aren’t a member of any one church. Ministers are called by the church, but are received and dismissed by the Presbytery. Ministers are privileged to hold the trust of a congregation, to pray with them and to love them and yet they cannot share that they are being called elsewhere until the end of the call experience and the relationship comes to an end.

I think about other professionals who get job transfers, promotions, and I wonder if they struggled as I did about asking God, “is this what you want me to do?” Discerning God’s call takes some significant effort . Especially in a society that doesn’t really consider call as a skill set. Beginning with the question “what is God is calling you to be or do” is not a question asked in our modern-day society. Yet I believe that we all have a calling. We all have gifts that were given to us that are to be used for the will of God. Clergy don’t hold the cards on callings. Each of us here today has a calling.

“Calling” derives from the Latin vocare, “to call,” and is sometimes interchangeable with the word “vocation.” Before the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church used ‘vocation’ specifically to refer to a special calling to the religious life, as a priest, monk, or nun. Martin Luther expanded “vocation” to apply to secular work that serves others.

Other people define calling as what you are meant to do in the world. Frederich Buechner defines calling as “one in which your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet — something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done.”
Ever since I was a little kid I remember thinking I was supposed to make a difference in people’s lives. I believed I was supposed to help people. To make the world a better place. I believed I was supposed to make a positive difference in my community, maybe even the world. I had posters in my room that quoted Margaret Mead “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” And Mahatma Ghandi, “be the change you want to see in the world.” And Eleanor Roosevelt, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”

It took, what felt like to me, a long time to decide what it was I was supposed to do with my life. Those of you who are 14, 15, 16 years old, take heart and take your time. You are not supposed to know your calling, you are only supposed to know you have one.

Calling is never static. It is always changing and always challenging. Calling is something that happens over and over again. It’s a wrestling, a tugging, a pulling and keeps you awake at night. Call is never easy. It is usually born out of a sense need. You see a need for better health care, or better education, or clean water or poverty, or tolerance or justice or hope and something stirs in you like a container of fire flies and you cannot help but respond to the needs of the world as daunting and overwhelming as the challenge is, you have to be one to who is part of the solution. It is the people who hesitate who are lost. Our calls compel us to live while we are alive.

Things were really bad in Israel. Nobody had heard from God in a while. In fact the Bible says that God had been silent for a long time. Israel’s government was led by priests and in this case, a priest name Eli who had delegated much of his responsibilities to his sons. His sons were unethical leaders and things were looking bad for the future Israel. God had been silent for a while. I wonder if you can relate to that. Maybe you look at the state of the world, or the state of the church or the state of your family, or the state of your life and you ask, “where is God in this mess?” All you hear is silence.

There was a boy named Samuel, who has been under the tutelage of Eli. He was asleep one night in the temple and he kept be awakened by a voice that was calling his name. Upon hearing his name, he went to his mentor, Eli and assumes it is he that his calling him. Three times Samuel is called. Three times, he jumps out of bed and asks what Eli needs from him. Eli does not hear the voice, but eventually understands who it is that is calling. Eli says to Samuel, “it is the Lord. The next time you hear him go and say here am I, I servant of the Lord.”

When Samuel gets his wake up call, that God is calling him, he doesn’t know it’s his wake up call until his teacher points it out. It wasn’t until Eli nudged him that Samuel even entertained the notion that he was being called by God. So maybe the voice of God is not always immediately identifiable. Maybe the voice of God sounds like a human voice. Maybe God employs human voices to communicate.

Discerning your call is never done in isolation. It is always done in community. There is usually someone who sees your calling before you do. We need people, mentors in our lives, people in our balconies who identify our gifts and help us to see that we are being called. Every time Fred Rogers received an Emmy or another television award, he used his microphone time to ask people to sit in silence for 10 seconds and just think about the people who believed in them, who helped them get where they were today. And then he encouraged them to contact them and thank them and then to go be that mentor for someone else.

Who is an Eli in your life? Who is the person that you run to when you are trying to figure things out? Who is the person that always sees more in you than you see in yourself? Maybe you should listen carefully to the voices that speak to you; listen carefully to the voices of your friends, your spouse, your partner, your mentor, your colleagues, your child. “Listen to your life.” Buechner writes. “See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

In our New Testament reading Jesus is walking along the shore and sees four men in a boat and he shouts out, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people,” And, of all things, that is what they do: leave their nets and follow. Just like that. They just hear Jesus call and they drop everything. If only it was that easy. – Didn’t they need to follow their 401k or transfer their home owners insurance? Didn’t they need to take exams or learn Greek? Not that we know of. We do know that by the looks of it they did not hesitate. They learned as the followed. And we know they made a lot of mistakes along the way. They don’t quite know what they are supposed to do, or how they should act, or what they should say, and they blunder every step of the way. Jesus is constantly correcting them and teaching them as they are following him. And so it is for you. Your call is not to be perfect or in control. It is to follow him as best you can, where you are.

I think the church has failed in many ways in that it has required a measure of belief, before a measure of faith. Have faith first. Have faith that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Have faith that in His book were written all they days of your life. Have faith that you are hemmed in. Start with feeling compelled to follow Jesus, what you believe about him you will come to learn along the way. Be careful not to hesitate. For it is in our hesitating to respond to our call, that we become lost. On the other hand, if you can respond to the voice in the night, and begin the process of following, you begin to know. On the journey you begin to understand. On the journey you begin to believe.

Make no mistake, the journey is not for the faint of heart. It will take moments when you will alone, when it will seem that you are alone, and it is in those moments when you are out on a limb and ready to take a leap of faith, without a net that you will come to the realization that someone is calling you and you are never, nor have you ever been alone.

Poetry By Mary Oliver
The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Listen, God is speaking, say to him,“Here I am. Then get up and Follow Him.

The Coffee House

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“Do you want to meet at The Cup?”
“Mom, can we go to Cup of Joe, just you and me after school?”
“Let’s go for a ride and stop by The Cup.”

These are phrases that have been repeated almost weekly in my house. It has been said that everyone needs a third place. You have your home, your work and then you need a third place. A place that is set apart that is where your story is told. I would love for everyone to say that their third place is their church, but since I work at my church, I feel I need another place and for me it is our local coffee-house.

It resides on a historic corner of our lovely downtown, right next to the river. bicyclists ride the trails and park their bikes on the corner and sit and visit. College students hunch over books and laptops. Mothers take their children in for a cup of chocolate milk with whip cream and sprinkles, and children run over and pull out a game of Sorry or Uno. Girlfriends meet and laugh and cry and share what’s going on with their mothers, and their children and their marriages. Boyfriends take their new girlfriends in for a cup and to share a cookie. People stop by for a quick cup on the way to work, or the way out of town. I have stopped in after a funeral, when I am deep grief and gotten a vanilla latte with extra whip. I have stopped by after yoga, in complete relaxation and gotten a cup of green tea to replenish my energy. I have written more sermons, heard more life stories, held more hands, prayed more prayers, and seen more life there than anywhere else. I have snuck out of the house after the kids are down for the night and stopped in to hear a bluegrass band and to watch hippie teenagers with piercings and tattoos and long flowy skirts sing “I will fly away,” like it was Sunday morning.

My coffee-house has always been a place where I have seen why communities are sacred. We need each other, you see. We need to see that all people are just people, with the days of ahead of us and agendas and responsibilities and worries are all different but universally the same. We need to see that we all carry a measure of loneliness and we need each other to see that we are not invisible. That we are seen and recognized. Communities are sacred because the Holy Spirit flies around like a great colorful bird and wisps through our conversations and blesses our togetherness.

The coffee-house begins with the premise of belonging. That there is something there for everyone. It has been argued that if the church is to survive it needs to begin with the vision that everyone shares in a feeling of belonging. There are norms and values in a coffee-house. The behavioral norms are, you don’t hog your space. You share a table. You clean up after yourself. You are tolerant of other people and you don’t abuse the space. These are behaviors help everyone belong. Lastly, you can’t be grumpy when you stop in for a cup, and you certainly leave crabby. It’s a place to have some fun, to take Sabbath and to enjoy each other. Sounds to me like a great vision for the church.

“Come in! We are so glad you here! Sit. Rest. Tell me about your life. Laugh. Have a cup of Joe.”