Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Doing It Wrong

Yesterday I was in a meeting and we talking about Synod Assembly (the BIG annual joint congregations church meeting). When we were trying to figure out how to include more young people in the meeting, someone mentioned "the boring parts".

I retorted, "You mean the part where we're doing the work of the church?"

Someone later said, "What did you call it 'the work of the Lord'?"

I said, "No, the work of the Lord and the work of the church sometimes overlap, but are not interchangeable."

Work of the church: stewardship (care of) financial, spiritual, physical and emotional resources.

Work of the Lord: care of neighbor and fulfilling the Great Commission (not necessarily simultaneously).

Yes, church meetings can have slow parts. Not everyone is interested in or understands budget discussions. Not everyone comprehends the, sometimes, technical wording of resolutions or the use of shibboleths to show who's in and who's out.

The necessity of planning for the future and talking about details is sometimes the work of the church, on the local and national scale. Leaders must be chose and decisions must be made and dollars must be accounted for.

True enough, people who don't have control elsewhere in their lives often bring it to a church meeting where they can yell about what we're spending on toilet paper or whatever. Forgiving them... that's doing the work of the Lord. Figuring out how to appease them and move on before the meeting lasts four hours... that's the work of the church.

Often pastors find themselves groveling to people to fill church council/board/trustee spots. The prayer that goes into this is, "Pleeeeeeease, God, let So and so say yes." People are intimidated by the title of church leadership and/or they've heard that the meetings are BORING!

Church leadership takes energy, vision and prayer. If you're depending on the pastor to supply that, it won't work. The pastor is not the Messiah. He or she can't save the church single-handedly.

If the work or the discussion seems boring or intense, CHANGE it. Pause to sing a song or say a prayer. Encourage the judicious use of "calling the question". Don't allow moaning and groaning to precede a meeting.

I'm not Pollyanna enough to say that meetings are ALL GREAT, ALL the TIME. However, a church meeting shouldn't be a sprint- covering all the ground, but no room for the Spirit. Neither should it be an ultra-marathon, where at some point everyone has zoned out and you're only debating for the sake of debate.

Not every bit of conversation at most workplaces or in most families is fun, but some conversations have to be had. The opposite of fun isn't boring. We can have profound, meaningful discussions on finances, vision, expectations and the future that are motivating, well-paced and well-lead.

The real question is not "Can church meetings NOT be boring?", but "Are you willing to put the effort and challenge forward to change the culture of church meetings?"

Maybe changing how we do the work of the church IS the work of the Lord for this day.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ten Years Later

In the summer of 2002, I worked in New York City through Lutheran Disaster Response (then Lutheran Disaster Relief) leading day camps in congregations that had experienced serious loss on 9/11/01. Not just the loss of the understanding of the world as they knew it, but loss of life.

I worked with children who had parents who came home and parents who didn't. I talked to spouses who waited and were reunited. And some who weren't.

All week I tried to put some order into my feelings. I never tell these stories. They are too raw, too hard, too stark. Two weeks after the camps ended, I moved to Nome, Alaska. I didn't process when I could have and trying to do so now is like trying to rework plaster that has set.

So as I turned over the hard shape of this experience this week, I wrote this in my journal:

Anyway, I want to write a blog post about my memories, but I am not sure what to say or how to talk about the end of my memories. That I had to shut some of them away so that I could move forward. There are memories that are paralyzing in their truth. We have to dim them, fade their edges, fondly tuck them away and allow a burnished fire to peek through the keyhole of our memory trunk. We cannot live with their undimmed fullness in our lives. It is too much. This is not to say that we would ever forget. We just are incapable of remembering so intensely that it hurts. Constantly.

In order to live, in order to do service to life and to the memory of the dead, we go on and we put on foot in front of the other. We are not disrespectful. We have not forgotten. As long as we breathe, we remember, but we also want to live.

In living, we allow those who have died, both too soon and in their time, to continue in us. Through DNA and stories, through impressions and legacies, through gifts and habits.

That is all I have to say. 


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Friday Five: Your Workspace Edition

Over at RevGalBlogPals, Revkjarla writes: I don't know about you, but I am a notoriously messy creative worker.  My workspace at home, and at my office is always littered with books and papers and mail and pens and keys and mugs....and tchotchkes (momentos, weird things, etc.)   I am looking right now at a pair of dice that someone gave me that have "God" on each side, so that anyway you roll 'em, you end up with God.  Different, right?   
So, this Friday Five is all about YOUR tchotchkes in your workplace.  Describe five things in/on your workspace (however you define workspace--I tend to spill over onto bedside tables, end tables, coffee tables...create wherever I land) that are special to you!   Bonus points for pictures!

 Oh, honey, the disaster of my desk means my workspace usually looks like this. I'm a member of the Flat Surface Society, meaning if there's a flat surface, I'll stack stuff on it. And I'm not likely to change. I clean my desk post- Christmas and post-Easter, every year. :) 

 Here are my tchotchkes...

An icon of the Holy Trinity or of  Jesus and the travelers to Emmaus. It all depends on your view of it. 
A large rock given to me as a gift from a local United Methodist pastor. There are holes drilled through the rock and small dish glued to the bottom to hold lamp oil. The wicks are fed down through the holes. I love it and I don't light it often, but I like having it on my desk. 
A little large to qualify as tchotchkes, but nevertheless- these are my Mother's Day hats from our preschool. Every year we have a Mother's Day tea (Grandmas, Aunts, Friends, etc) and the kids have made these great hats. I suppose I will eventually have a wall-full! 
This is a beach rock from Nome with an iconic picture of the Holy Family decoupaged onto it. I received it (along with 2 others) from the three Little Sisters of Charity who lived in Nome, Alaska during the time I lived there as well. I housesat their cats when they went out of town. The rock makes me think of the Little Sisters, the prayer room in their house which I used more than once, and my time in Nome. 
I couldn't seem to get this picture to  load with the correct orientation. Oh, well. This glass paperweight is the only sign within my office of the school where I received my Master of Divinity. I'm proud to have to gone to Yale Divinity School and it's not a secret, but my diploma (written in Latin) seems a bit overdone and I haven't yet hung the sketch of the quad that was gifted me. So the paperweight lingers on my desk, often covered with papers (ironic, isn't it). And it brings many memories when it surfaces. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Alternative Trinity

I'm a big fan of the Trinity: One God, Three Expressions- Father, Son and Holy Spirit- Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier- Our Source, Our Brother, Our Sustenance. (The links go to previous Trinitarian love blog posts.)

I believe the Trinity is how God has chosen to make Godself and power know in the world. However, there are other things I believe to be true and worthwhile. In particular, I believe in the holiness of bodies, in backing up your computer and in counseling (talking to someone). This has the potential to be a series, but I'm going to try to be brief this time.

1. The Holiness of Bodies- I believe that our bodies are a gift from God and that we are unable to accomplish the work God intends us to do without them. This is why taking care of our physical being is spiritually important. If God's work within us for Christ's sake could be accomplished through the power of thinking alone, then we wouldn't need a physical presence. However, God created a physical world, creatures with bodies and even came among us IN A BODY so that we might understand our call as participants in creation, shapers of this kingdom and our role as "bestowers" of God's blessings.  You may not have a full complement of limbs or working limbs. You might not run quickly or speak well or be ruddy and handsome, but God is still able to use you. To deny that or to degrade (through action or word) the gift of the body is to doubt God's own abilities in through the Spirit.

2. Backing up your computer: I've nearly lost my hard drive twice. Once in an unexpected computer expiration and once in a hard drive failure. The first time, magic computer elves rescued my files. The second time, I took my little hard drive, plugged it in to my external hard drive and the only things lost were 4 days of email (which were saved to the cloud!). I back my computer up to an external hard drive twice a week and I'm alway surprised when I hear people say that they've never backed up their files. It's one of those "I know I should, but..." (If you don't know how, go buy and external hard drive and I'll come to your house and show you. I promise. Or I'll show you via Skype if you don't live in the Anchorage area.)

There are many things in that "I know I should, but..." category: exercise (see above), making a will (or dealing with other legal matters), creating a budget, talking about issues that are going unspoken... They're all hard to do, but going ahead and doing them gives a freedom from fear that is only rivaled by the freedom we have in Christ. It does take time to review your insurance paperwork, have the conversation, plug in the external hard drive, but none of these things take as long as we think they will. Furthermore, none of them take as long as replacing files, lamenting lost items, fixing something without insurance or waiting out the probate court. Back it on up, baby!

3. Counseling. The following is a quote from the book, Rage Against the Meshugenah, by Danny Evans.

Depression= crazy. Crazy= people who mutter angrily to themselves, people who see things that aren’t really there, people who try to kill themselves. Crazy doesn’t = me. I’m married + I have a son + I have a college degree, for Pete’s sake! These things > crazy. Crazy most certainly does not = me.

When I recommend seeing a counselor more qualified than myself to someone I've talked to about the same issue more than 3 times, this is the response I usually get. They can't see themselves lying on a couch talking about their mother. (You don't do that on your first visit!) Talking to a professional is a great way to make links to situations in your life, to figure out some of your behavior patterns, to discuss thoughts or feelings or reactions around major life changes. Not every down feeling is depression. Not everyone benefits from talking things out, but many, many, many people (including me) do. Additionally, you may have to re-visit counseling more than once in your life. You don't expect what worked for you physically or emotionally at 20 to keep working when you're 35 or 40 or 65. You change and grow and how you think does as well. And, yes, you may have to revisit the same thing more than once. I've had short-term counseling (6 months to 1 year) 3 times in my life and it's been transformative for me each time. Though some of the same issues were covered, I had changed and needed to think things through again. Each time was with a different counselor because I lived in a different location. 

I usually give myself the talk above when I start thinking I should see someone. Then I berate myself for not being able to solve my depression/ anxiety/ sadness/ frustrations on my own. And then, finally, I make some calls, go on the first visit and wonder why the heck I didn't do this sooner. 

The Holy Trinity gets us into life, carries us through it and receives us into the next. However, there are additional blessings from God that make our present life more real, more enjoyable and more connected. Without a body, back ups, and counseling, I wouldn't be where I am today, enjoying the life that God, +lifeboat, wind and waves+, has gifted me.