Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Quote of the day

"We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our touch, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit." 
-E E Cummings

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A little less than holy

As you might imagine, I've felt a different type of connection with Mary this season.  I can appreciate the joy and celebration and awe of having that child in her womb, even though mine isn't the son of God.  (Something for which I am grateful b/c I am not really ready for that responsibility).

Even at the 19th week of pregnancy, the baby is beautifully and wonderfully made.  It has all of its body parts, it has eyebrows and fingernails, even it's own distinct fingerprints and toe prints!  God's creativity resides throughout the creation of this child in a way that is beyond words.  God is meticulous.  It's amazing.

That's the romantic side of the story. 

But there's another side to the story.  A side for which I have a new type of sympathy.

In pregnancy, there is a weird chaotic thing that happens to your body.  There are new aches and pains.  You grow and change in ways you didn't expect. Not just your belly, but all over.  There are headaches and hemorrhoids, in addition to the nausea and vomiting and other not-so-glorious changes that will remained unmentioned here.

On more than one occasion, I have had to run out from a meal or a meeting because I was instantly and unexpectedly sick.  And at moments like that, I have to wonder, "I wonder what Mary thought in moments like these."   I wonder if she still felt like this was a holy experience.  Or if it was all a little less than divine.  Is this really what I signed up for? 

There's something about the promise of holding that child that sort of makes it all ok.  But there's that other side that says, "You know, I could maybe give this up."  I could leave the sickness and the pain in the dust. 

Now, the doctor says it's all normal.  And I'm glad it's all ok for him.  But for me, someone who has had a fairly healthy body for all of her life, the signs and symptoms seem not so normal to me. 

Yet her reality, indeed my reality, shows me a deeper truth about what happens when we sign up to do something miraculous or marvelous with God: There's this chaotic thing that happens around any work of God.  There is the romantic part that is sparkling and beautiful and decorated.  It's shiny and perfect and gives us hope in each moment.  But then there's the behind the scenes part.  The reality.  That's part of doing the work of God.  Whatever we are called to will be creative and awe inspiring, and in the midst of that there will be chaos--distractions and obstacles and frustrations.  A whole host of things that make us ask: Did I really sign up for this? 

There are many who say that pregnancy was the best part of their life, and I am waiting for that to be true for me.  Because this business is not what I thought I was signing up for.  And for many of us, when we sign up to help God, we feel something similar. We want to be beyond the chaos and the clutter, we want to be there already. 

But the reality is we don't get to side step the chaos. We don't get to ignore it.  To be God's servant means we get both the glory and the aches and pains.  I don't know anyone, not one single person, who can testify to what God has done for them or in them who didn't have trials along the way.  The chaos is a natural side effect of what is going on.  We need to be encouraged to know that those things aren't the end of the story.

If we want to get there to that place of creativity and miracles, we have to first be here, in this place of changes and chaos and transition. Because that's how we get to that place of God.  We all have a Mary story. It may involve pregnancy or it may not, but God has called each of us to something, and we can set out to get there and as we strive to get there we need to expect a bit of chaos.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Biggest Beast Yet

I realize I have been fairly silent on the blogging front lately. Part of it is busyness, but mostly it's been that we've been dealing with a lot at the church and much of it has been behind the scenes or confidential for months and I haven't felt like I could voice things here.  But now, it's out in the open. We've had confidential staff and SPRC meetings and public all church meetings.  

We are in a challenging place full of possibilities.  A tense and tiring place to be.  Aside from personal struggles along the way, I'd say this is the biggest beast I have yet to face in ministry.  Years from now I may think it was but a molehill (and it might be) but for the last 3 months, it has caused much heartbreak and stress. 

Here are the basics:
In the last year, we've tried to overhaul how we do financing/budgeting.  In years past we have had a "faith budget" (please keep in mind this is defined differently at different churches)  In the history of our church, this has basically meant that between the expected income/pledging and the budget there is a gap ($50,000, $23,000, $31,000--the number has varied from year to year) and instead of trying to reconcile the gap--we've created a faith line item.  

Some might say this is a faithful thing to do--believing that God will provide for the ministries we have planned.  That could be said, indeed, the trouble is that "faith" number has not been actualized in the 3 years I have been here (nor any years in recent memory...).  So instead, we "lie" (in a manner of speaking) to our ministry areas and say "you have $1000 to spend this year" but then we add in a whisper "but not really, so please only spend $100, or at least ask us before you spend anything"--only when people ask...they are always told no.  So the reality is there is not the $1000 for them to use for their ministry, and in my mind, that's not a fair way to budget for ministry.  I don't want to be told I have a certain allowance at home and then not have the money there to sets me up for one of two things 1) frustration that I've been lied to 2) debt because I spent the money anyway.  

So, in the last year, we've tried to move to a "zero based budget" meaning that the amounts given in the budget match (1 for 1) the expected income/pledging. And, we were poised to do that.  Only we hit a pretty major speed bump...

After our pledge campaign and tallying of expected rental income etc, we found that we were $90,000 short for 2011.  For some churches, that might be a drop in the bucket, for us it's 40% of the budget.  That's a lot. (after some additional giving, a drop in apportionments, and some additional budget cuts, the number has dropped to $74,000, but's a sizable amount.)

And so we saw the scary and staggering truth...if we really want a zero based budget, we will have to cut ALL of our part time staff and then some....and that was not a truth anyone wanted to hear.  

We looked at this from about a zillion different vantage points and have prayed relentlessly about what to do.  

Of course, we've had to notify our staff of this possibility (likelihood??).  And the church council decided they didn't want to make this decision on their own, so we have scheduled all church meetings to talk it out and try and make a decision.  The first was held in mid-November.  I shared the information about the deficit, but also tried to focus on the visioning that the church council has spent the last year doing and where they see us going and petitioned more for input on the vision and where God is calling us than laments on money or fear about our future.  

Not that laments and fear are invalid, only that we can't let them consume us.  And then we broke into small groups and each leader had questions to ask to guide the discussion and a note taker and would come to another meeting 2 days later to share what his/her group had discussed.  It turned out to be fairly productive and helpful and each of the groups talked for about an hour before I cut them off so as not to run on too long. 

We got a lot of helpful feedback about our vision and priorities, some complaints/frustrations that need to be met in the coming months (particularly regarding communication, both internal and external), as well as some areas that need some extra education/information. 

The one area we didn't have true clarity on was what to do about our staff and the money question. For some groups, the custodian was a must keep, for others they had folks ready to volunteer for the role.  Something similar happened for almost all of the group would say "must be paid" and another would have someone volunteer.  There was no clear answer.

So, tomorrow night, we will have yet another all church meeting and we will do some education on those areas that clearly needed attention (apportionments, endowment, bequests, why we continue to do outreach when we need help financially, etc) and then we will ask the $74,000 question...what do we do?  concretely? practically? Which positions, if any, are NECESSARY? If we don't pay for these positions, who will do these ministries?  specifically, not theoretically...and so on.  

All of this has been messy and hard.  It's fairly easy to capsize and summarize here, but not in life.  

At the beginning of the post I said it has brought possibilities...and it has and those should not be forgotten.  The reality is, if we had $74,000 in hand, we would be very likely to do everything we have been doing for the last 10 years just as we have been for the last 10 years.  There would be no need to change.  Not practically speaking anyway.  But this "problem" forces our hand.  It forces us to be creative and think outside the box.  We have to think of ministry differently.  Each member of the church has to think of him/herself in ministry differently and that has huge potential.  

Of course, I'd love to have the money in hand. But not if it's going to cause us to keep doing what we've been doing.  We need to change. Not because we are a bad church or unhealthy (we're not, it's one of the healthiest churches I've ever known...), but because nothing and no one and no church can flourish without changing.  It has to happen.  And, so this year, we get pruned back, so that in the spring we can blossom and grow in ways we haven't for quite a few years.  And that to me, no matter how much my heart has hurt in these last few months, is a God thing. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quote of the day

"Every human interaction offers you the chance to make things better or to make things worse. 
To decide to make things better can cost you bundles of self-interest.  
To decide to make things worse generally feels a lot more powerful.  
The only problem is that the power rolls away from you like a rogue wave
as the person you slammed into finds someone else to slam into, and so on, and so on.  
The good news is that you can set off the same sort of chain reaction with unwarranted kindness.  Kindness is not a bad religion, no matter what name you use for God."

from An Altar in the World
by Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 114-115.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wouldn't it be nice?

"Wouldn't it be wonderful
if Advent came filled with angels and alleluias?

Wouldn't it be perfect
if we were greeted on these December mornings
with a hovering of heavenly hosts
tuning their harps and brushing up on their fa-la-la's?
Wouldn't it be incredible
if their music filled our waking hours
with the promise of peace on earth
and if each Advent night we dreamed of nothing but goodwill?
Wouldn't we be ecstatic
if we could take those angels shopping,
or trim the tree, or have them hold our hands
and dance through our houses decorating?
And oh, how glorious it would be
to sit in church next to an angel
and sing our hark-the-heralds!
What an Advent that would be!
What Christmas spirit we could have!
An angel-filled Advent has so many possibilities!

But in lieu of that,
perhaps we can give thanks
for the good earthy joys we have been given
and for the earthly "angels" that we know
who do such a good job of filling
our Advent with alleluias!
Ann Weems from Kneeling in Bethlehem, p. 16

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quote of the day

"Repentance is not the same as remorse or regret. It is not listing all the ways things could have gone differently. It is not wishing you were a better person, that some things had never happened, that bad things wouldn’t keep happening to you. It’s not feeling guilty or ashamed. It’s not feeling afraid. It’s not something that leaves us stuck, or standing still, or spinning in circles, going nowhere. Repentance is about movement, letting yourself be grasped by God, getting new bearings, and relying on God for directions. The new life that follows repentance, the new direction that comes with a fresh start is what John was proclaiming in the wilderness. John’s message is a call to action: repent, turn around, accept help. God is coming to meet you on a road in the wilderness."  The Rev. Amy E. Richter

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Quote of the day

"The Buddha compared getting angry
with picking up hot coals with bare hands
and trying to throw them at one's enemy. Who gets burnt first?
The one who's picking up the coals, of course - the one who is angry.
We may not even hit the target we are aiming at,
because if that person is clever and practiced enough, he'll duck -  
and we shall still have burnt hands." 
- Ayya Khema

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do you know me?

I've been drowning in administration lately and haven't had the time, energy, or freedom to write like I have wanted.  But as I prepare for Advent liturgies, I came across this and thought it was worth sharing.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gender equality

In college, I studied sociology. And, inevitably, in studying sociology, you study gender roles and household dynamics.  There are various ways a household can be structured (as far as chores etc) and one of those is egalitarian (equal).  Unfortunately, right now, I do not remember the others.  

Needless to say that egalitarian is the one that stuck. I liked that one, one where husband and wife (or partner and partner) shared equally the chore responsibilities of the house.  The inside jobs aren't "women's work" and the outside jobs aren't "men's work" or even vice versa.  They are shared.  The laundry, the dishes, the yard, the trash, the cleaning, all shared.  I liked that theory but was not quite sure how it would actually work in terms of execution.  

Well, I've been married 5 months now, and so far, we seem to run our house in an egalitarian way.  I realize that in coming years, things may pan out differently, but for now, we both cook, we both clean, we both procrastinate against the laundry but do it anyway when there are no underwear or pants left in the drawer.  The church pays for gardeners to do the lawn, but we share picking up dog poop, or weeding, or working in the garden. And I just have to say I really like it. I like the balance. I like knowing that we can share the responsibility and make it nice for the other person without always feeling the pressure of one job being specifically mine or his. 

All of that is really just the foundation or back story so I can say this: despite the balance within our household, cultural norms are really hard to shake.  The other day R did a bunch of cleaning in the kitchen and some laundry too I think, and while I was super appreciative, I couldn't shake the guilty feeling.  

One of the first thoughts that came to mind was, "If I were better at keeping the house clean, he wouldn't have to do that."  Now, keep in mind, we do well at balancing and that's my ideal (while recognizing that for others it's different), and yet the cultural notion that the housework is the woman's job would not leave me alone.  I shared my guilt, and the notion that I knew I didn't need to feel guilty because the dishes and laundry are just as much his responsibility as they are mine.  And he of course reassured me that it wasn't all my responsibility but that we both dirty dishes and clothes and so we both have an obligation to keep them clean.  

I don't think I have a final point per say, other than to say it's complicated and we're learning together. And I'm grateful for a husband who is willing (not by coercion but by choice) to share those responsibilities so it doesn't feel like a constant battle on my side, but instead a regular balancing act on both our parts.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In other news...

We're having a baby! Yep. I'm pregnant.  It's early still, but as far as we're concerned, May can't come soon enough.  

I'm not sure there's a "good" way to make this announcement online, if there is, would you please share so we know what to do for our next child?  

Long before we were "going public" I started journaling privately about each week of pregnancy, what was new, what was different, what was difficult.  We've known for just about 6 weeks and, to be honest, I have no idea (other than force) how we will survive the next 6+ months of waiting.  

And in this moment, while it feels like there is everything to share, there is oddly a shortage of words and stories in my brain.  

R was of course the first to know. And he was definitely anticipating and waiting for that news. So it wasn't a surprise, but he was super excited (still is actually) and we went out shopping and got him the what to expect books for dads. He's finished it and is either done or close to done with the first year book we also got (they came in a set of three, next is the toddler years).  It's really cute.  For the first couple of weeks, he would keep me up at night talking about the baby and what to do and what he wanted to learn first and how he would want/need help.  

I can't imagine having anything besides an elated partner and though I longed for sleep, I was so thrilled at his enthusiasm and excitement that I wouldn't have traded it for a long winter's slumber.  

We have shared the news with family (excitement there!) and with the church (a mixed bag that lacked enthusiasm at the personnel meeting but got cheering and clapping in worship), and have tried to get a hold of as many friends as possible.  

To date, everything is par for the, nausea, extra "fun" that needn't be explained here unless you're Heather Armstrong and don't write for church folks.  =)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hurry up and slow down

It's the times I most feel like I need to hurry up and get stuff done that I really need to slow down and breathe.  It seems counter-intuitive, and it probably is, but it's truth. At least in my life.  

I live in a state of busyness. I tend to be always going somewhere, doing something, meeting someone.  I'm busy. And most of the time, I like being busy. I feel more productive. I feel more focused.  

But then, the momentum builds and a few projects becomes a ton of projects.  And I feel further and further behind. And even when I check email a bazillion times a day, there are still more emails to answer and phone calls to return than I can even fathom.  

And so I go harder and faster and do more and stay later at work and don't take the necessary breaks. Because somehow I've convinced myself that I can actually get it all done if I just work harder.  Which, if you know anything about ministry (or just life in general?) is just plain laughable. Because you can never do it all. Never.  No matter who you are or how productive, for every call you make, there is another one looming. Maybe not one you have to make, but one you could or should make.  So, there you have it. You're behind. Again.  

Well, maybe not you. But me. Because that's how I look at it.  Critically. Like I can never do enough. I know it's not helpful and I know it's not healthy and on those rare occasions when I can slow down just enough, I can see that, but most of the time I just keep doing...

Well, this week I'm slowing down. I've schedule study days. Which also, as a consequence of always going, starts with slow down time where I lounge and nap, and sleep in and doddle because otherwise the studying feels like a punishment rather than a blessing.  

So, here I am writing, because that's what I get to do when I slow down.  And, as usual, all the burdens and unaccomplished tasks crash into my brain and my ego just enough to hurt. And long enough to remind me that I shouldn't only have this time every now and again, but weekly, with my regular sabbath days.  

It's my time to slow down. It's my time to think and pray and listen. To read and to write. And to hope that after 3 days of study time and a day of sabbath that my soul will feel renewed.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Apologetixs advertisement

Did you know that many of our “traditional hymns” written by John and Charles Wesley, weren’t so “traditional” in their day.  They actually took the tunes of bar tunes (don’t believe us… check the instructions for singing in the front of your hymnals!) and changed the words to become Christian hymns.  In other words, the notes were familiar and the words were new.  John and Charles used “pop culture” of their day to promote sacred singing.  Well, there’s  a modern variation on such a practice, and Apologetix does it.  They call themselves a parody band, we’d say they’re old fashioned Methodists!  Come join us for a wonderful (and comical) Apologetix concert Saturday November 6th at 7:00pm at Wesley UMC in Riverside.  It’s $10 presale and $15 at the door.  Tickets can be ordered by calling 951-966-6161 or by emailing .  Or they can be ordered online at:
 For more information on Apologetix or to get a taste of their music visit:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sovereign God

A lot is said about the sovereignty of God.  Most Christians would proclaim that God is sovereign.  I think I would too, but I’d say it’s conditional. 
Let me explain. I’ve never been able to get behind those that ALWAYS proclaim (no matter the circumstances) that what happens must be the will of God since God is sovereign.  Drunk driving accident where someone is killed….must have been the will of God.  Death of a child….must have been the will of God.  Death of a spouse because of cancer only months after marriage….must have been the will of God. 
I don’t buy that.  Yes, I believe that God is powerful.  But I do not believe that God is the only agent acting in the world.  We are acting in the world, and God has given us free will, which means we have the opportunity to choose either for or against God’s will for our lives.  So, therefore if we choose against God’s will, then the consequences of our actions would not be in line with God’s will (like the drunk driving accident). 
There is also the power of evil and the consequences of our collective sins acting in the world—we would most often translate that as the corruption of our world (either our humanity or our natural world).  In that sense, I would say that biology happens. Sickness is a symptom of the brokenness of our world.  So, I would say that cancer or disease or even a miscarriage is a consequence of the brokenness of the human condition (not the result or consequence for an individual’s personal sin, but sort of the consequence for the power of sin in our world).
There is also another agent acting in our world: the enemy/devil.  Talking about the devil can be a touchy subject and is arguable for many people.  When I say the “devil” or the “enemy” I don’t mean the red man with horns and a tail and a pitchfork, but instead a powerful doer of evil who has “recruited” (for lack of a better word) others to be a part of his cause against the will of God.  Now, most often, we need to be complicit for the enemy to be truly effective, but the powerful temptations of the devil are strong and often hard to resist, so to say we must be complicit isn’t always saying much. 
So, yes, as creator of the earth and the one who sets all things in motion, God is sovereign, but in the sense that God has relinquished God’s own power by giving us power of our own means that God is no longer fully sovereign.  Could God take that power back?  Probably.  Would God take it back?  Not likely. 
So, at this stage in the game, where we have free will, the devil has plenty going on, and there are the consequences of our collective sin acting upon the God fully sovereign???

Monday, August 30, 2010

Life at 100 MPH and pastor's guilt

I missed church yesterday.  I wasn't feeling great Saturday (but thought it was probably because I had walked 7.5 miles in the wee hours of the morning as part of our Jericho Walk--a walk around our city block we had been doing all week...we did once around the other 6 days and 7 times around yesterday as we prayed for schools, churches, homes, businesses, and the general welfare of the people and the community) but then I woke up yesterday feeling cruddy. I was pushing through finishing my sermon and continued to feel worse and worse. I went and asked R what he thought (still sleeping, he just shrugged), so I called home.  My dad answered and I told him my dilemma and he said I should stay home.  I hesitated because I didn't feel like I was dying or anything, I could have made it through service but also knew that if I went there was a possibility I could get others sick or get worse myself.  But I decided to follow his advice and stay home. So, I started making calls.  Called someone who could easily lead an impromptu service, called my SPRC chair so he would know, called the music folks to give them a heads up, called the appointment I had to cancel, etc.  

And I stayed in bed.  I cannot tell you the level of guilt involved with missing Sunday service.  It's not healthy.  I know perfectly well they can go on without me and be just fine. It's not that I think I'm that important that they'd have to cancel church if I weren't there.  But it just doesn't seem right missing Sunday worship.  I didn't run to Disneyland and I wasn't feigning sick. The needs and concerns were legitimate, but man, it was tough.  I prayed for them as I marked time and I also got a good bit of work done as I lay in bed unable to sleep.  But even today I feel guilty. 

After all was said and done, the impromptu worship leader sent me an email reporting back what had happened and what some of the prayer concerns were etc and in one she told me that a man (whom I love dearly and who has special needs and has been in the hospital out of town with problems for weeks now) still needs prayers and that he feels like I have forgotten him.  Boy howdy did that cut right to my heart.  

Talk about guilt. It's not that I haven't wanted to make the 20 mile drive out there.  It's not that I wasn't on my way one day when his wife called and said it wasn't a good day to go.  And despite the fact that this is our "sabbath month" it's not like I haven't done anything.  So, as I tried to figure out if I really was busy or if I was just a bad pastor I did a run down on what has been happening all month such that I haven't made it out there:
  • Summer camp (which I dean and write curriculum for)
  • the biggest funeral in the history of my church (also a close friend of ours)
  • lots of pastoral care for the family of the deceased
  • a TON of administration--trying to get organized, trying to plan for the next year and a half of ministry
  • tons of pastoral care in general
  • two folks with MAJOR back surgery
  • a husband who is sick and various tests for him (problem still undiagnosed)
  • a 3 day mini vacation to maintain my sanity
  • mission planning 
  • life
that's about it, as far as the big stuff goes.  It doesn't seem like much in print, but it was time consuming.  Good ministry that didn't allow much for me taking 2 hours to run out of town for a visit.  I've done it at other times for other people, so it's not that I won't do it, just that life hasn't allowed for that right now.  
But as I look at that list, I see how much has gone on during the "easy" sabbath month. It's a lot.  There hasn't been much that was easy.  And I see how busy life is, how fast life is, how much is going on.  

Last Friday I took sabbath.  Really took sabbath.  I didn't eek in any calls (maybe one or two emails...) and I didn't work with R to help him out. I stayed home. And I just laid on the couch and tried to listen to my soul. I tried to listen for what I really wanted/needed to do that day--that's what I used to do, just wake up on sabbath and feel for what I wanted to do that day.  And that laying there, just listening was hard. I had a 100 things pop into my mind that I could do, but all of them were about productivity of one sort or another and so I had to silence them. I needed to not be productive for a day.  I needed to not be worried about efficiency or output or any of those work-like things.  I needed to rest.  So I did.  I curled up on the couch and slept until lunch and then spent the rest of the day relaxing and lounging with my husband.  

Ministry is a complicated and busy job.  Much more than the "easy Sundays" people assume.  It is also a job that requires a solid reality can only do so much.  You should only do so much.  Some times folks won't get a visit. Sometimes you will have to let someone down.  Sometimes you won't be enough. Sometimes you will fail.  And that's ok. It's all part of the job (the successes and the "failures").  Take time to breathe anyway.  You need your rest.  You need to stop and slow down enough to hear your soul (and to silence that incessant impulse to always do something).  

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Organic worship

We are in a process of visioning for the future at my church (a serious change from the week to week or maybe month to month mode of operation we have currently).

At annual conference I had an epiphany of what the "vision" might look like.  Some of the things I listed were:

Biblically literate members
Faithful stewardship
(of both private and corporate resources; as well as ministries sustained by tithing not fundraisers)
Worship music diversity
College ministry
Organic worship experiences
Passionate about prayer
Local mission
Global mission project (school, orphanage, hospital)
Music in worship that attracts quality musicians
New worship service
A justice ministry that addresses an institutional issue (immigration, homelessness, human trafficking, domestic violence, substance abuse, etc)

When my church council reviewed the list, multiple people asked me what "organic worship" meant. I tried to define it, but struggled a bit.  But last week I had clarity (in words) about what I meant.  What I mean by organic worship is worship that is planned and centered around the scripture/theme of the worship service, rather than simply plugged into the routine order of worship.  
 I like good liturgy and I appreciate an order of worship and even appreciate a predictability to worship so that it is comfortable and helps me feel at ease in another church. I also appreciate variance so that we don't get so stuck that anything "new" or "different" is vigilantly rejected.  I also like that variance allows me to feel comfortable in a variety of different churches with different styles of worship and I am not limited to just those denominations and churches that worship like me.
I would love for us to be able to have organic worship at my church.  It takes a good deal more thought and planning, but is so much more meaningful and impactful!  But, I have a feeling that such a switch would bring about some serious revolt from the pews. I know that's not a reason to give up the idea all together.  But it is a reason to proceed with caution.  I am not a "switch it for what's best and they'll get over it" kind of pastor.  I am the type who likes to go one step at a time, with a big step outside the box every once in awhile to warm people up to new ideas and ways of doing church.  I want people to be on board and supportive, not feeling isolated, rejected, and forgotten as the "church moves on without [them]". 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Quote of the day

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." The above speech by Nelson Mandela was originally written by Marianne Williamson who is the author of other similar material.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Care for your marriage

I'm continuing to read in The Church Leaders' Answer Book and read this morning about fostering a healthy marriage.  They had check in questions that go beyond the basics.  I'm not sure why exactly they are so different for husbands and wives, but they are...

Men to women:
  • Are there ever times when you feel afraid of me?
  • Is there anything that makes you feel disappointed in me?
  • Do you feel angry with me in ways that are significantly hurting our relationship?
  • Do I know how to connect with you on a deep level?
  • Do you believe that I understand who you really are as a woman?
  • Do you feel relaxed in the safety of my strength?  Are you able to be yourself with me?
  • Do you see me pursuing God with truth and urgency?
  • Do I give more of my attention and energy to others than I do to you?
  • Have I done anything this week that has closed your spirit toward me?
  • What is the one topic we have never discussed?
Women to men: 
  • Do you feel that I deeply believe in you?
  • Do I show honor and respect to you in public and at home?
  • Do I initiate physical intimacy enough to prove my attraction to you?
  • Are you convinced of my admiration of you?
  • Do I make you feel like my hero?
  • Have I told you often enough how much I find you physically attractive?
  • Have I done anything this week that has closed your spirit to me?
  • Are you aware of how much I pray for you?
If you know me, I don't like strict gender roles (and it also doesn't help that this book is written as if men are the only pastors out there....) so I'm inclined to mix and match the questions to what is most relevant and I think it's just as important for women to place their husband first as it is for men to place their wife first and for women to know their spouse is attracted to them as it is for men, and for each to know the other admires and respects them.  AND for a wife to know how much her husband prays for her...why that question is one sided, I will never know....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A checkup for Change

I was reading through sections of The Church Leader's Answer Book today and found this section helpful. We are in the midst of visioning and planning for our future and I found the section on fostering spiritual health during a time of change helpful (pp 136-137).  Here is their "check up for change".  They say, "as you go through a time of change, have a health and wellness checklist for your leaders to use each time they meett.  You might begin with these:"

1) are we praying faithfully, asking the Lord to reveal spiritual diseases and injuries that might spread in teh congregation during this time of change?
2) are we as leaders pursuing "peace...and holiness" during this time (Hebrews 12:14)? Are we avoiding anyone's gripes or hurt because we'd rather not face those issues?  Do wee need to address a brooding conflict between people?
3) what are the main concerns of those who are not enthusiastic about the change we're going through?  Have we talked with them?  have we prayed about these concerns in case the Lord shares this point of view?
4) Where is the Holy Spirit moving in our congregation this month?  Is there anything more we should do to guide people?  How shall we commend the congregation for evidences of grace and faith?
5) Where do we see sin or Satan gaining the upper hand?  Is a failure to pursue peace and holiness blocking God's grace, or is a poisonous attitude taking root among us (Hebrews 12:14-15)?  How should we address this?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Amish Grace

I've started reading Amish Grace the story of the massacre of the 5 Amish school girls in 2006.  As the title indicates, the book is less about the shooting and more abou the grace filled response of the Amish.  It has an interesting chapter on forgiveness where the Amish acts of forgiveness are highlighted and underscored.  Included are some of the crituques of that same forgiveness--people that felt the forgiveness approach was too soft, that it lacked justice.  

As I continued reading, I was better able to sift through my thoughts.  Forgiveness and justice are two different things.  Forgiveness, typically, affects the offended party most dramatically. It may affect the relationship with the offender, but it may not. More deeply though i will affect the heart of the offended.  

It's a hard case to evaluate fully as Roberts, the shooter, also shot himself--so we can't see how the forgiveness might affect him.  Though the Amish may not have pressed charges were he alive, the local DA likely would have. The thing to remember is that forgiveness does not deny justice. It denies retaliation.  There's a difference.  I don't think the Amish response would have impeded the court process, but I do think it would have tempered it--no call for the death penalty (after all a trademark of grace is that there is ALWAYS the possibility of redemption). And there likely would not have been a civil suit to follow seeking financial reparations (or even emotional ones for that matter as those too would have been included in the forgiveness offered).  

I do believe that the Amish response would have affected Robert in striking ways.  Forgiveness is healing and redemptive and to be truly touched by forgiveness after having committed a wrong can bring someone into true awareness of what they've done. And that can often bring about strong feelings of guilt and shame, but if further blessed by grace (as I am sure Roberts would have been in this situation) ultimately would have led to healing, repentance, and likely reconciliation.  It would have been powerful to witness and likely would have challenged the critics in impressive ways.

On occasion, our legal system, or at least the prison system still touts its original goals of restoration.  However, most, (if not all) of those with true awareness about the realities of prison will tell you it's all but restorative. There is very little that is redemptive inside those walls.  

Now, sadly, Roberts likely would have suffered great injury n prison, especially for having killed children, but if he could have been spared that--he might have come through the process in a more redemptive way.  Maybe that a bit too much idealism for what really transpires within the system, but hopefully you get my point--in a system bereft of most things restorative being held and attended to by Amish grace would have drastically changed the circumstances.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A wife's prayer

Dear God,

Please help me learn how to be a good wife.  Teach me to be compassionate, understanding, and selfless that I may love my husband as fully as you love him. Show me how I might love him better.  Help me to have thicker skin so that I am not so easily hurt without becoming numb or desensitized to the problems we face together.  Continue to knit us together as a team, Lord. Teach us how to be humble and reliant on you first and one another second.  Help us to be an example of your love and your covenant.  Bless our home. Protect us from injury, illness, and harm.  Show us the path you would have us walk together that we might more fully do your will.  In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

sermon prayer

Dear God, 
Help me to focus this morning, not on myself but on you O God that your Word will be proclaimed and that you would be glorified. Inspire me to write the sermon that your people need to hear.  Help me release my own agenda so that I might solely cling to yours. Make me your spokesperson. Make my words your words and your message my message.  In Jesus' name. Amen.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Mean One

On more than one occasion, I have been told that people think I am mean.  Not that I am mean, not that they know me to be mean, but rather that they believe that I would be mean.  It's a perception.  

In many ways, it's not one I understand. I'm a fairly nice person--at least that's what they always used to write in my yearbooks.  And most people that actually know me love me, which may not preclude me from being mean, but I'd assume that if I were really mean people wouldn't love me as much.  But maybe I'm wrong on that note.

Anyway, to the point, I'm at summer camp deaning and yet again I have been told that people are afraid of me.  People, I assume, are intimidated.  Now, like I said, on the one hand, I don't understand it, but on the other one...I do.  

1) My friends used to think my dad was mean.  Not that they actually knew him, but his confident, quiet, presence was intimidating, they didn't know how to respond, and just assumed he was mad. But really, my dad is a super sweet teddy bear of a man.  He's not mean.  He's never lifted a hand, or even raised his voice to me.  (He's cleared his throat more than a few times, but that's a different story). So, I could make an associate and see how when I am in a leadership role and regularly reminding people of the rules and many of the campers don't get the chance to actually get to know me because I'm not in their cabin or a small group that they would assume I am mean.  

2)  Most of the women who have affected deep change in me along the way have been "mean."  They have been intimidating women who demanded excellence.  When I was under their tutelage, I was scared on more than one occasion.  But they were also the women I respected the most and who pushed me to be the best I could be and do the best work I could do (in as much as I could be pushed at those respective stages...).  And, in many ways, along my way to becoming who I am, I have aspired to be like them, so it's no wonder that I would be considered "mean" if that's the goal I was aspiring to reach!  =)

Now, having said all of that, I don't want to be considered mean.  I want to be accessible to the youth. I want them to know they can count on me. I want them to know that I love them and care about them.  

At camp, for many years, I have longed to be the popular one.  And then the other night when I mentioned it in prayer, God lovingly responded...I didn't call you to be the popular one.  I called you to be you.  

So, I guess that means the one perceived as mean, but who really loves people...this week I am practicing being me.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Other Kind of Grief

Most of the time, we think of grief in terms of death.  But there are other forms of grief too.  We grieve all kinds of losses (both good and bad).  We grieve when there is a divorce, a breakup, the loss of a job, the loss of trust, the loss of physical or mental abilities.  We grieve unrealized dreams.  We also grieve good things, we may grieve when we get married because we are no longer single. Or we may grieve as new parents, lamenting the freedoms we once knew while celebrating the amazing miracle of new life.  We may grieve during a promotion because we don't have the same relationship with colleagues.  We grieve all the time--almost daily even, big and small things. (or at least we should take the time to grieve those things, otherwise they weigh on us and continue to hurt our hearts). 

I'm in one of those should grieve but haven't stages.  For the last 3 years I have had the privilege of working with my spiritual mentor, friend, and pastor GP as co-dean for summer camp.  By privilege, I mean immeasurable and indescribable blessing.  GP is an amazing pastor and he has taught me so much, and accompanied me through many difficult transitions in my life and in my ministry.  He told me last year, in confidence, that he would not be returning to camp this year because he would be moving to his home conference to be closer to his mother.  So, in a sense, I've had plenty of time to grieve.  Only, the part where it was "in confidence" really meant I couldn't talk about it with folks.  There was no last goodbye from the campers (nor from me either), there were none of those "lasts" (at least not in the marked and special sense) to help me tap my grief and gain closure over a soon-to-be deeply felt loss.

Well, in recent weeks, as the pressure has been on to get ready for camp, I have missed GP greatly.  Don't get me wrong, I have a great new co-dean with amazing gifts of his own who brings a whole new dynamic to camp--something to be cherished.  But, if you know much about grief, having one doesn't have much to do with not having the other.  No matter how much I enjoy or learn from the new co-dean, he's not GP, and that's the loss to be mourned.  But instead of allowing myself to feel deeply how much I appreciate GP, I have busied myself with all the work of preparing for camp.  On occasion, I have tried talking about my frustrations with folks, but it has not been to much avail.  Most have responded, yep, that's life, now move on and finish getting ready.  I understand their responses and I don't fault them for it. It's only that I've wanted to grieve. I've wanted to talk about all those things I miss and all the fears I have because I won't have my mentor there (after all, when there is a senior elder/mentor/pastor it takes a bit of the pressure off...he was the default guy, now I'm the default gal and I so don't feel ready for that burden responsibility).  It's lame in a sense, since I know I can do the job.  We've shared responsibilities for 3 years, I've done pretty much every aspect at one point or another. But then again, grief isn't logical.  Lame or not, that's how I feel. I liked our rhythms (which did take time to develop). I liked the way we leaned on each other and were able to fill whatever gaps needed filling.  I wasn't desiring such a major change.

The ironic part to me is that normally I tend to be an agent of change.  I tend to be the one to shake things up--intentionally and unintentionally. Sometimes I don't even realize I'm rocking the boat, it just works out that way.  So all of this feels like Karma.  A new dean. New expectations. New ideas.  New ways of doing things.  The new things are good.  I'm not knocking what's new.  It's just that I had gotten comfortable.  Apparently too comfortable.  It's one of those lessons where when I step back I go, oh yeah, I got so comfortable that I started leaning on my own skills (and those of others I knew) that I wasn't opening myself fully for God to do God's thing.  After all, when you don't need God, you don't seek God and when you don't seek God, you don't find God.  Not that God isn't there, only that it's hard to find something you aren't looking for.  I mean, for me, it's hard for me to find the new thing God is trying to do in me when I'm not needing to try any new things.  And so I get stuck in my ways and hardly change at all, until my co-dean is reappointed out from under my comfort zone and I get a whole slew of new things....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sermon Prayer

Heavenly Lord,
please give me the message you would have me deliver. 
Please clarify for me what is happening in this passage 
and how it relates to us. 
Teach me O Lord.  
Empty me of my own agenda and my eisegesis.
  Fill me with your Spirit and your holy Word.  
Shine your light on my mind 
that I may truly understand your holy Word. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

10 things

I work with a lot of people each and every week.  Sometimes in worship. Sometimes in meetings.  Sometimes in classes. Sometimes in counseling.  

One thing I have noticed is how hard it is for people to accept how beloved we are.  We can easily judge ourselves and one another.  We can easily write the laundry list of all those things we can't do or don't do well, but really struggle to write the list of what we do well.  

Self-esteem is an issue for a lot of people, particularly women (though I think the issue is equal for men, only that women are free to articulate that self-esteem is an issue).  One thing I have found myself doing more and more is encouraging people to name 10 good things about themselves.  I have them take a sheet of paper and number 1-10 and then write 10 good things about themselves.  

Surprisingly, everyone struggles. Some folks give one or two, others may make it to 5 or 6 and then almost without fail, they stop.  They don't know what else to put.  So, I throw out possibilities and tell them to choose those that seem relevant.  (intelligent, creative, honest, loyal, persevering, determined, helpful, kind, gracious, merciful, funny, thoughtful, helpful, empathetic, sympathetic, risk taker, joyful, faithful, etc).  

Then, typically, I have them number 11-20 and have them do it all over again. Most roll their eyes or groan and look at me like I am the meanest task master ever (which is ok since rumor has it that I am 40 times more demanding than my dad)  ;)  But they do it.  Resentful, but they do it.  

Then I have them number 21-30 and write down 10 things they are good at (it can be simple or profound). Laundry. dishes. gardening. cooking. photography. cleaning toilets. mowing the lawn. music. playing an instrument. reading. teaching. learning. biking. skiing. the list goes on.  

And then, 31-40.  10 experiences that have helped shaped them. Again this can be simple or profound.  This can be places you've traveled. Places you've lived.  Being the eldest/youngest/middle child.  Cultural heritage. The languages you speak. The schools you've attended.  Anything that has shaped you. Accidents. Illnesses. Awards. Anything that has made you into the person you are.  

Then if they are really lucky I might have them number another 5-10 and list physical attributes about themselves that they like. 

I want people to see how amazing they are.  What an incredible package God has helped make them to be.  I also want them to have all kinds of affirmations on the ready when those self-defeating and self-deprecating comments come to mind.  

So, give it a try.  If you're brave, do the whole set!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Spritual Authority

Today I was sharing with a friend and community organizer.  We talked about some of the issues we've been having at the church in the last few months and she mentioned my "spiritual authority" and asked if anyone in the church had similar authority.  I mentioned some prayer warriors and she explained that wasn't what she meant...she meant like in hierarchy or ranking that those who are higher have greater spiritual authority.  

I could follow what she was saying, but to be honest the language and idea is pretty foreign to me.  In all honesty, spiritual warfare and spiritual authority is not something that came up much in churches growing up.  It wasn't really until I was in ministry and working with my spiritual mentor that I began to touch on some of these things.  That's only been within the last 4 years.  

And while I'm good on some fronts, there are others that are very strange lands to me.  

After our discussion this friend prayed for me, something for which I am super grateful.  But I also walked away with a lot of questions.  Do I have greater authority in spiritual matters than others in my congregation?  I would say I have more training, more learning, and often more understanding about the Bible, or prayer, or theology, but power?  Do I have more power than another?  Does the DS or the Bishop have greater power still?  Would my prayers actually be more efficacious in matters pertaining to my church than someone else's?  If so, would the converse (or evil side) be true?  As in, would the consequences and repercussions for my sins be greater than those of another? (Not that I'm trying to sin, but I have a guilt complex as it is....)

I asked R what his thoughts are (he comes from a more charismatic tradition) and he said I absolutely have more authority at my church as it is a divine appointment--I'm not willy-nilly there (now, I believe God truly placed me here, but I have to admit that the skeptic in me has to wonder about ALL Methodist appointments...I know God uses us regardless, but I am not always convinced that each appointment is THE one God had in mind...)  And as such, I have full authority over my flock.  Not that they don't have responsibility in praying for the church and the church people, but that somehow I have more spiritual power.  Now, he doesn't agree that the DS or bishop have more spiritual authority than others--simply that they are pastors too and would have equal power.  And he definitely wasn't ready to jump on board that *Name* has full authority over all of Riverside county. 

To be honest, I don't know how to think about all of it.  Like I said, it's a new conversation for me.  I REALLY want to call my spiritual mentor and get his input and wisdom but he's taking a move this year and I don't want to disturb him, but I might have to send a note for "when there's time".  

I don't know, what are your thoughts?

Wedding tips

We did it! We are officially married!  (We even got the marriage certificate to prove it!)

Now, after 3 weeks of reflection, there are some things I'm super glad we did and others I wish we had done.  For what it's worth:

Glad we:
  • Hired a quality photographer who did more than just the standard shots
  • Did a photo guest book, putting a face with a name can be hard enough, let alone just trying to remember a person with no photo after years of marriage.
  • Did pictures ahead of time.
  • Had family and friends in for most of the week before the actual wedding, it was great to spend time with them!
  • Took time out for extra fun stuff.  Going to an angels' game, definitely a good plan!

  • Took crazy pictures on the trampoline...not many folks get to do that and it's something fun and memorable. 

  • Took 2 full weeks off (well, I got to anyway, but we got to enjoy Mexico AND camp in the mountains)
  • Wrote as many thank you notes as possible before the wedding. We were VERY blessed and have many notes to write. Knowing most of the "pre" gifts were acknowledged is super helpful. 
  • Got the wedding band Grandma was insistent I have...I love it!
  • Got to dance with the kids at the reception...those were my favorite memories as a child, I hope they are for them too. 
  • Invited lots of people to join the celebration!
  • Included family in the service (wedding party and liturgy)
  • Designed our own liturgy and veered from the beaten path...I wasn't sure how I'd feel not using the traditional words, but I think it came out great!
  • Took the time to take the family shots!
  • had people who were diligent enough to tape cards to gifts so that they didn't get mixed up in the transport.

Wish we had: 
  • blocked more time in advance for pictures--they took longer than I expected. 
  • Planned a longer reception, I was amazed at how little time I had with people
  • Had someone (not the professional) with one of our cameras to take pictures of us with folks in the receiving line. People with cameras took pictures, but I would have appreciated having pictures with the other folks too, and would really like to have been able to send folks those shots.
  • Expressed some expectations more clearly, some folks weren't available for pictures when they needed to be or changed out of formal wear far too early for our expectations and hopes.
  • Made better dinner plans for ourselves the night of the wedding, or gone ahead with room service even though it was pricey rather than R walking MILES to find Denny's and bring dinner back.
  • More time to spend with the folks we invited
  • Pictures of everyone that was there. Despite the picture guestbook, not everyone was photographed, I'm bummed about that.
  • Asked (paid?) someone to take lots of candid and fun shots of all the guests at the reception. The photographer did a great job, but focused on us, not them and again I wish I had more pics of the folks who were there. 
  • More words to express how grateful we are for all those who celebrated with us and make our day wonderful.
  • Been able to actual try the food and eat something! (ok, so we got a 2 bites each, plus one bite of cake, that was it--at least my dad had warned me!)

**I'm sure there are more things, but this what I have in mind for now.