Monday, May 14, 2012

Showing some "Good Sense"

Some thoughts from Paul in Second Corinthians chapter 10 verses 12-13, 15, 18 (Wesley Study Bible NRSV):
“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves.  But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense.  We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep with the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you…our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged,…For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.”
Now maybe, these words really struck me because I had just finished reading about John the Baptist, in the beginning of Luke, and it was very clear that his calling was to be the one who prepared the way, even though there were others who wondered.  Maybe it’s because of all of the buzz that has gone on since General Conference.  Either way, this became a real “ah-ha” moment for me this morning!  Classifying and comparing with those who hold themselves up as the standard.  Measuring and comparing ourselves with one another.  These things were going on, even in Paul’s time, and his conclusion on the matter was “they do not show good sense.”

Isn’t that what we just attempted to legislate at General Conference?  Oops!  Yet, God in his goodness, managed to work through mere imperfect mortals and stop it dead in its tracks!  Thank you Lord for saying NO!

So where do we go from here?  Paul actually gives us a blueprint for how to proceed.  He gives us the proper perspective on how to look at things.  Do not “boast beyond limits.”  “Keep with the field that God has assigned to each of us.”  The outcome being “as a (congregation’s) faith increases, (the) sphere of action…may be greatly enlarged.”  Ta da!  Simple, concise, straight forward.  Ya gotta love Paul, for stating the obvious plainly enough, that even today, people can grasp what he was trying to say!  Bottom line, it’s not going to work unless it is what “the Lord commends”, not what we choose to commend!

Where is your  field-your “sphere of action”?  Your local community.  Your friends, your family, your co-workers, your neighbors.  Is it urban, suburban or rural?  Although there are similarities, each one is unique and different.  Different stresses, different focus, different interactions.  What might work in a city is not necessarily going to work in the country and vice versa.  That’s reality.  What works in one community may not work over in the next town.  My field may not look exactly the same as your field.  So, for me to tell you to do things exactly the same way that I did would be crazy!  There are  differences or “limits” and we should respect that!  I do not know your community the same way you do.   I know my community and I need to do what is best for it, instead of worrying about what someone else is doing.    

That doesn’t mean that we do not share ideas, thoughts and suggestions.  Try the things that seem reasonable and leave the rest!  It doesn’t mean that we do not strive for some consistency on our message or worship.  There are certain things that make us Methodist and we need to be crystal clear on those particular points.  But the actual job of ministry in our community- the way that we grow the faith of  those around us,  must be unique and appropriate for our community!  One size can not and should not be expected to fit all!

God has assigned each of us a field.  We are not meant to make them all look exactly the same.  We are meant to know the field, put in what is best and nurture it so it will grow.  Anyone who has ever attempted to garden understands the wisdom in this approach.

Let each of us commit to adapting an approach that actually shows good sense!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

More Mothers Day Thoughts From My Sister

My sister, Holly, has her own blog and wrote a follow up piece to my blog post from yesterday.  Since I haven't introduced you to her blog yet, I thought now would be the perfect time!  Holly's follow up to "Mommy Badges" To All the Moms Out There


Friday, May 11, 2012

Mommy Badges

Me and some of my children who helped make this blog post possible!

This Sunday is Mothers Day.  There will be many wonderful and moving tributes written in honor of mothers.  This is not one of them!  I’ll leave the “waxing eloquent” to others.  No, I write this piece for all of the mothers out there who will read this with wise eyes, a sense of humor and know exactly what I’m talking about!  I write this for new mothers who feel that they have lost their minds and gotten in way over their heads!  Fear not young mothers!  Take heart!  These things that you are experiencing are not lapses into insanity or flukes of nature.  No, darling young mothers, you have simply begun the process of earning your numerous Mommy Badges!  Read on and allow me to introduce you to some of the various badges that you have just begun to earn!  This list is not all inclusive, there are many ways to earn various Mommy Badges.  Just know that you are made of sturdy stuff and yes, this too shall pass, and you will be all the better for having gone through it!

1)  The first one that you are likely to encounter is the “lack of sleep yet still need to function” badge.  This really kicks in about the same time that your child starts teething, although it can also happen before.  You discover that you suddenly have a knack for multi-tasking, such as folding laundry one handed while rocking the baby.  You also discover that you have done certain things and don’t actually remember doing them.  Along with this you may experience “don’t know what day it is let alone time of day” unless you actually look at a calendar or a clock and even then it may not actually register.  Basically, you could care less what day it is!  Your great triumph is the fact that you remembered to brush your teeth.  Congratulations, you have just earned your first Mommy Badge!

2)  The next badge that you are likely to encounter is the “spit up stain on every outfit” badge.  This occurs because you have earned the “lack of sleep” badge and you have forgotten to take off your “good outfit”.  Or, this occurs when you are out of the house for a special occasion such as a family reunion or a church service.  Somehow, in some way the spit up rags did not make it into the diaper bag.  Your darling little angel deposits some lunch upon your shoulder which you then try to clean off as best you can.  Eventually, every outfit you own has some sort of stain and the task then becomes to pick the one that is the least stained.  Yes, darling young mother, this does happen and you will have earned this second badge.   Wear it proud, sister soldier!  Wear it proud!

3)  Closely related to the previous badge is the “nothing can disgust you now” badge.  This occurs around the time that your precious darling starts on solid food.  At first, you think that you can not possibly toughen up and tolerate this, but eventually you develop a supernatural immunity to smell and begin ranking such odors on a rating scale.  You will know that you have fully earned this badge when you start using phrases such as “whew!  That’s a good one!”   This ability will come in handy for a badge that I will mention further down the list.

4)  This next one occurs about the time your child becomes mobile.  It is the coveted “I thought I baby-proofed everything” badge.  As a good responsible parent you have diligently followed all of the advice in the expert baby books, however, your child is turning into Houdini!  Completion of this badge occurs when you have to take your child to the doctor in order to get assistance in removing the object that your child managed to stuff up his or her nose!

5)  Number five follows closely on the heels of number four.  It is the “it’s too quiet” badge.  As a mother, you will soon learn the difference between blissful peace and quiet and the “it’s too quiet, what is my child up to?”  type of quiet that comes with earning this badge.  Usually, the result of this type of quiet is new artwork on the wall using the latest tube of lipstick you bought (but don‘t remember buying-refer back to badge one on the list), or the new haircut that has occurred with the childproof scissors!  Take pictures because this will provide you with a wonderful story to share with your future son or daughter in law in the years to come, particularly after your son or daughter has children of their own!

6)  Next on the list is the “child translator” badge.  This occurs around the time that your child starts speaking.  You can understand his or her conversation perfectly.  Other adults are not so adept and you suddenly find yourself having to “translate” for Great Aunt Mimi so she can understand the conversation that your child is trying to carry on with her.  Congratulations!  You have become multi-lingual!

7)  You’ve mastered the art of parenting!  You have chosen to have another child.  You have thrown out the expert baby books and have adopted the three second rule for items dropped on the floor.  The next badge on the list is the “3:00 in the morning laundry run” which occurs when you have two children ill at the same time, vomiting in stereo.  This is the moment when you appreciate having earned the first and third badges on the list!

8)  Next is the “I can spell” badge.  This occurs around the time that your children clearly understand what you are saying, so you and your spouse resort to conversations where you have to spell a lot of words, in order to maintain a level of sanity and secrecy.  This type of conversation is used quite frequently around Christmas and birthdays but eventually drifts into everyday conversations.  You will know that you have earned this badge when you hear yourself having a conversation such as “how about we g-o to the p-a-r-k?” or, “did you H-I-D-E the p-r-e-s-e-n-t-s like I told you to?”  Eventually this manner of conversation becomes ineffective so think ahead and develop code words for various items!

9)  Number 9 on the list is the “rule of 3” badge.  You discover that you can not say something just once.  You must say it three times with increasing volume and insistence.  In the younger years it starts out as “let it go” “Let it Go” ‘LET IT GO”.  Later in life, when your child receives his or her newly minted learners permit, you will find yourself in the passenger seat of the family car saying phrases such as “slow down” “Slow Down” “SLOW DOWN” and “brake” “Brake” “BRAKE” or “turn” “Turn” “TURN NOW” all while having to grab hold of the steering wheel from the passenger side of the car in order to avoid running into a tree.  Although this badge is earned in your child’s formative years, it will keep you in good stead as they venture ever closer to adulthood!

10)  When you achieve number 10 on the list, you know that you have arrived in the world of parenting!  Number 10 is the one that you least covet, yet is the one that you will most appreciate with a wry sense of irony!  It is the “I am channeling my parents” badge!  Remember all the things that you swore you would never say to your children?  This badge creeps up on you unawares.  One day, out of nowhere, words will utter forth out of your mouth and you suddenly stop and think “oh my word, I sound just like my mother!”  Now you understand!  Now you truly appreciate what it means to be a parent!  Congratulations!  You have now come full circle!  You have earned the ultimate Mommy Badge!

Happy Mother’s Day!  Enjoy your day-you’ve earned it!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An Ounce of Prevention

According to my husband, I am a big sigher.  Apparently I sigh a lot and when I do, I sigh with meaning.  Happy contented sighs.  Or, the “loaded sigh”-they apparently show signs of frustration, discontent and general disapproval.  I am capable of communicating quite a bit of information in the simple act of sighing.  After 12 years of marriage my husband has become an expert sigh reader!

I thought about this as I read Jeremiah 25:3-4.  He starts off by saying “For twenty-three years…”  I wonder if he started off with a loaded sigh before the words ever left his mouth.?  Also, in my head I hear him saying these words in the old Vermonter accent (which is very different from Boston by the way).  It gives his words a sense of wry irony, glum humor and utter disgust that he’s having to tell them the same thing yet AGAIN!  He goes on:
“the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.  And though the Lord persistently sent you all his servants the prophets, you have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear…”
It’s a serious message that he’s giving them-turn from your ways so the Lord doesn’t have to punish you.  I can see in my minds eye the members of the royal court, rolling their eyes thinking “here we go again!  The crackpot is back!”  On the other side I can picture Jeremiah thinking “here we go again!  How many times do I have to tell you the same thing???”  I’m thinking that Jeremiah and the other Prophets did a lot of sighing over the years!

Same thing happens today, doesn’t it?  Your children are proposing to do something that you know is going to end in disaster and you try to reason with them and they look at you as if you have suddenly grown three heads!  “Don’t worry” they say “it’s all under control!”  Then, they are stunned when things don’t work out and you, as the parent, are stunned as to why they couldn’t see the obvious!  And you have to hold back the urge to say “I told you so!”  (In all honesty, sometimes we parents don’t hold back on the “I told you so” response but we do try to be diplomatic.)  Our hope is that they learned a valuable lesson from the experience, but there is frustration with the fact that they had to learn the lesson the hard way!

Life is like that.  Sometimes we listen to wise counsel and avert disaster.  Other times, we plunge head long into doing the same things expecting a different result and all we end up with is disaster and frustration on the other end.  The lesson from Jeremiah should be a reminder to all of us!  Whether it is family or friends or church, sometimes we need to stop and truly listen to what another person is saying.  It is too easy to dismiss the words of others, particularly if they do not line up with the scenario that we have hatched in our head!  Granted, there are individuals in the world who criticize anything and everything-they are usually pretty easy to spot.  They are the ones who, on a sunny day, will tell you that it’s only temporary cause clouds will soon be on the way.  Their message is neither helpful nor hopeful, so take what they have to say with a grain of salt.  The people you need to heed are the folks who have your best interest at heart.  They are not out to hurt you and you need to recognize that fact!  God doesn’t always send “whoa wait” messages in flashy symbols, generally he sends the message through people.  If the person is someone who truly cares about you and only wants the best for you then it is important to pause and listen to what they have to say.  Then take it to the Lord and ask for discernment.  Are their words spoken because they are afraid that you will get hurt?  Or, are the words spoken because they are trying to help you avert disaster?  There are points in life when a critic can be your very best friend if you listen carefully and wisely to their words.

The lesson for today is listen now so you don’t have to listen to someone say “I told you so” later on!  Or as the old sage saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sometimes It's What You Need Not What You Want

Here’s an interesting couple of verses from Isaiah which I think warrant a closer look.  The Prophet says this in chapter 56, verses 6-7 (NRSV-Wesley Study Bible):
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
First, anyone can join themselves to the Lord.  But there are conditions-ministry, service, Sabbath rest and holding fast to the covenant.  These are the individuals who will be brought to the holy mountain.  They will be joyful in the house of prayer.  Their offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on the altar.

In light of these verses, think about the ministry that Jesus did before he was crucified on the cross.  Did he minister?  Did he serve others?  Did he make time to rest?  Did he hold fast to the covenant promise? Yes.  What was the last thing that he did in Matthew?  He told the Disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.”  Which they did, which is why you and I share in the Christian faith some 2000 years later.

Everyone is welcome to participate in God‘s plan, but there are conditions.  This is the reminder that I would like to put forth, especially in light of what happened at General Conference this year.  Many view GC as an epic fail.  There’s a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on, particularly in blog world!  Granted, I wasn’t there, I had to watch from the sidelines at home so I wasn’t caught up in the frenzy.  Still, I don’t see this as a fail.  I see this as a reminder that we are all human, we make mistakes and sometimes we lose our way.  God still works in the world today and the result of GC is that God intervened and kept the United Methodist Church from making a huge blunder in its ministry to the world! God has a plan and this was not it!  Plain and simple.

Plan UMC was ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council.  I have a feeling that Call to Action and Plan B would have met the same fate.  Guaranteed appointments were eliminated, but my understanding is that it is still up in the air, waiting for a ruling from the Judicial Council this fall.  It may also be ruled unconstitutional when it is all said and done.

My point about all of this?  We were barking up the wrong tree.  We focused on systems and procedures and numbers.  We focused on inclusion without condition.  We focused on our plan, our wants.  We wanted change for the wrong reasons.  We wanted change that would make us feel better and feel like we were in control and the reality is, the Holy Spirit is not going to be bridled by what we want!  We acted more like the folks at the tower of Babel, then we did like the believers present at Pentecost.  Some will find that disheartening, but I look at GC as a reminder that we desperately needed.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well in the world today and God’s plan will not be swayed!

Look at what God promised the exiles in Babylon in Jeremiah 29:11-14
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
God has a plan and it wasn‘t “our plan.”  So where do we go from here?  How do we get beyond feeling like we are in exile or wandering in the wilderness?  We pray, we search, we get back to the basic covenant.  We minister to others, we serve others, we make disciples who can go out in to the world and do the same exact thing.  Jesus summed up the basic covenant “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”   That’s our job, that is the basic plan.  It hasn’t changed in 2000 some odd years, regardless of what we may think!

Nothing has changed for a reason, because the things that we were looking to change, are not the things that need changing (at least they were not the number one priority).  Our hearts need to change.  That is an inward journey that can not be legislated!    The other changes will come, if they are necessary.  I believe they will become obvious once we find ourselves in line with God’s plan but we‘re not there yet!   This is not the end of the world, or the end of the church.  There is still work to be done, there is still a mission ahead of us.  Instead of lamenting the outcome, let’s focus instead on re-aligning our priorities with God’s priorities.  Since God knows His plan, let’s trust in the Lord and learn how to follow his path instead!   The reminder may have been painful, but I believe the reminder is just exactly what we needed!


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Guess Who Is Still In Charge?

Once upon a time….

In a parallel universe far far away, there existed a planet, that the inhabitants called Earth.  On the planet, were many continents.  On each continent were many countries.  And in many countries there were states and provinces and parishes.  In each place, there were many churches and denominations.  

Then, one day, there appeared in the sky, ships that came from very far away, that carried beings that were alien to the humans that lived on earth.  The aliens were very advanced and capable of wiping out the human race.  However, they were clear, that they had no desire to invade or conquer, but they did have one request.  The leaders of earth were so overjoyed that they gladly agreed to the one request.  The aliens wanted to perform an experiment-one designated area of the world would have to give up the trappings of  their designated denomination.  They wanted to see what would happen and how individuals would react if their denomination suddenly ceased to exist.  So it was decided, that the only fair way to do this was by lottery.   The permanently inhabited continents were placed in a basket and North America was picked.   The countries of North America were placed in a basket, and the United States was picked.  Then the fifty states of the country were placed in a basket and Missouri was picked.  Then all of the various denominations in the state were placed in a basket and Methodist was picked.  On that day, at that time, the United Methodist Church was no longer allowed to exist in that state.  All the churches were closed, the assets sold, and there was no longer an official Methodist presence in the state of Missouri.

At first there was sadness and anger and grief.  Some simply chose to give up.  Some chose to go to other denominations.  But some realized that this might not be such a bad thing.  They could still see their friends and get together with them.  They could still converse on the phone or via the internet using Facebook and Twitter.  They could still gather together-in individual homes, or parks or various other gathering places.  They could still pray for and with each other, they could still sing songs of praise.  They could still study the Bible together and compare thoughts and notes.  They could still teach their children about God and Jesus and the Methodist traditions.  They could still work on projects in the community together.  They could still share their faith and beliefs with others.

 So, small groups of friends started to gather together in their local towns and communities.  They invited their friends, who invited their friends, who in turn invited their friends.  They began to network with friends in other communities and they would gather together at various times as one large group to sing, study, share stories of hope, pray and encourage each other.  The various community groups would work together on big projects, such as building homes or to raise money to send to the churches in other areas around the world to support their efforts.  The only thing these groups could not do was participate in the official United Methodist hierarchy.  There could be no Ministers, Superintendents or Bishops.  They could not have any designated church buildings.  They could not participate in any Methodist designated meetings such as Annual Conference or General Conference.

To the astonishment of the aliens, their faith did not cease to exist!  Rather, their faith grew and became even more effective in changing the lives of others around them!  The aliens discovered what many lifelong Methodists had known for years!  The church is not a building or steeple or resting place.  The church is the people!  The Methodists even had a song that said these very words in their hymnal!  The song, written by Richard K. Avery and Donald S. Marsh was called  “We Are The Church”  and that song had been sung for many years in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and even in the church buildings themselves.  The “trappings and fixings” of the church may have been taken away, but the faith, the “church universal” carried on!

God in His wonderful love and wisdom proved, once again, that He is still large and in charge!

The End.  For now….