Monday, September 23, 2013

Taking on a new discipline

Many of you have read previous posts about my 1/2 marathon training. So I apologize if this is redundant, but this is what I wrote for our upcoming church newsletter. 
In mid August, I started training for a 1/2 marathon.  Having said that, I have to say, I'm not a runner.  I have never enjoyed running, not even when I ran on the track team in high school!  But in the last few months I had been considering trying for a half or full marathon to help raise money for a cause.  Over Memorial Day weekend (Mule Days for those of us from Bishop) I talked with a childhood friend who has Leukemia.  She shared some of her story and I was inspired to change my thinking into doing and got signed up for a half marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Since then,  I have been running 3-4 times a week and have been using my training time as a sort of spiritual discipline.  It's not a spiritual discipline in formal terms, meaning it's not what you would normally think of like prayer, fasting, service, or meditation.  But it challenges me in ways that I'm not regularly challenged within my faith life.  It started by doing something I don't enjoy.  It requires me to do it even when I'm tired or have "better things to do."  It humbles me as I face my true strengths and weaknesses, not just some fantasy of which I've convinced myself like "running a 1/2 marathon won't be that hard!"  And, in doing it, I've had a change of heart.  I actually enjoy getting out and running. I look forward to it (most days anyway). I can see places where I'm getting better and I'm looking forward to getting even stronger and faster! 
For me, I can't help but think of the parallels to our faith life.  How many things (prayer, service, worship, meditation, study, fasting) do we not trying because we "just don't do that type of thing," or "aren't any good"?  And yet, if we commit, for whatever reason, God uses it to grow us and bless us.  Establishing the habit is challenging and our old ways will tempt us at various points, but, if we stick with it, even on the days we don't want to, it will begin to shape us in ways we never imagined.  We may have growth in places we anticipated, but we are also likely to experience growth in ways that were highly unexpected. 
This month, I would encourage you to ask God, "What should I try?" And then be open to the answer.  It might be a practice of daily prayer, or of praying in public, or of visiting the sick, or of serving Sunday breakfast, or fasting, or tithing.  Or it may be something unexpected like running or painting or singing where God might touch you most profoundly. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Trials of messy ministry

Sometimes ministry sucks. Not really, well, yeah really.  I don't normally openly say that.  Especially because the great parts far outweigh the crap parts.  But there are things that just feel awful in their being.  Today offered one of those things.  

For more than 2 years we have been "battling" with 2 different homeless folks that we serve.  We've been in ministry with them nearly twice that time, but 2+ years ago it became a thing.  A thing where we had been asking and asking and asking and asking that they not stay the night and not hang out on church property when they weren't attending a church function.  We had issues with altercations, shopping carts set on fire, the police, and a whole variety of charming things that come with being in urban-esque ministry with those who live chronically on the streets.  

It wasn't the first time we waded in these waters. We had been down a similar road before with other friends we served.  But they, after a few months, finally obliged and stopped staying the night and loitering (mostly).  But these 2, these 2 refused to waver.  And ever since it's felt like a battle.  Some days it's just irritating, other days you turn a blind eye because there's not energy or time for it and other days it just infuriates you.  Sometimes it's downright exhausting.  

One of these friends has been MIA for a couple of weeks.  We assume she's back in jail, but it could be any number of things.  But he's been around. And last week we decided we needed to draw a hard line.  Harder than the rules we had in place. Harder than calling the police (who rarely show up anyway and when they do take more than 45 minutes to get to the church).  We decided we would have him sign a contract that said he understands how he has broken the rules and that we are enacting certain consequences as a result.  

The content looks like this:

As a result of openly defiant behavior relating to Wesley UMC and its rules for participation in ministries and presence on the campus, we are enacting the following rules for ________________.  The following rules are effective through March 2014, at which time a conversation with Pastor Debbie and head of trustees will be necessary before restoring any privileges or access to ministries offered at Wesley UMC.

Rule violations include:
  • Breaking into buildings
  • Stealing church, NA, and AA property
  • Loitering
  • Accessing church electricity without permission
  • Defiance when asked to leave church property
  • Stowing personal belongings in bushes and on church property.
Rules of restriction include but are not limited to:

  • No mail access effective October 5, 2013. Received mail will be forwarded to an address if provided, or returned to sender.
  • No Sunday breakfast, shower, or clothing privileges.
  • No Tuesday morning food distribution privileges.
  • No access to additional church ministries including worship, NA/AA programs, Bible studies, or special events.

Following our no trespassing ordinance:
  • Sleeping on church property is not allowed at any point.
  • Resting, stopping by, or sorting personal belongings is not allowed.
  • Lack of church member or pastor presence does not negate any of these rules.  
Quite honestly, this is not the road we wanted to take.  We wanted to offer grace and second chances and repeat the rules and have him comply. But he hasn't and he refuses to.  We know that he has bigger issues going on in his life. And I have offered numerous times to help him get help.  But for now, we need a hard line.  The break ins, the theft, the defiance, the getting cussed out, it's all become too much and something has to change.  

And yet, even knowing all that, it still sucks. When you live in a profession of second (and 157th) chances, you want people to live into the fullness of who they are. You don't want this. Not the bad behavior or the hard line.

  And so, sometimes, it sucks.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

It's almost becoming a thing

I've said before I'm not a runner. I believe that. Even with 2 years in track, I was not a runner. I don't think I ran the full warm up mile EVER. As with most things in high school, if I could succeed without doing all the work, I would. I wasn't a runner then either.

But now, as I train for this 1/2 marathon, it's sorry of catching on. I look forward to my run days and miss it if my day has been too busy to get out. AND it's offering some relief too. After a long stressful day, my first thought is no longer, "I deserve ice cream" it's "maybe I should run." As a non-runner, that just seems crazy.

But it's a good crazy. I can see it's value and the pay off. Even when I'm not shedding pounds like I hoped, I am getting stronger and healthier and my bad habits are getting changed out. It's a change I celebrate and I'm looking forward to more.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Prayer to be led

As a pastor, I am often in charge. I'm generally good at being in charge. The only trouble is that when it comes to following, I'm so used to leading that I don't always follow well. That was true this last week and so I wrote this prayer:

Gracious Lord,
Teach me to follow. Give me a humble spirit to be led and taught by others. Help me to lead where you are calling. Help me to step back so that others might grow as your leaders.
In Jesus' name,