The Not-So-Welcome

visitors

There they were. Smack dab in the middle of every “Visitor” space in the entire parking lot. And I, being a visitor, was quite bemused (and just a wee bit annoyed). I parked one street over and hiked back to the building. It was a crisp, fall day and I was grateful the rain from the previous night had ended.

When I got to the lobby, I asked the receptionist, “What’s with all of the Visitor spaces being blocked off? I had to park in the next block!”

She looked sheepish and said, “Oh, our Board of Directors is coming for a site visit. They always park in the visitor spots.”

“They aren’t exactly visitors, are they?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “But they expect to be treated like one.”

Now, I’m in the ministry. (That’s in case you hadn’t picked up on that fact!) We think a lot about how to welcome visitors and encourage them to join in our church’s vision and mission and values. We want there to be an easy entry into worshipping and getting involved.

Sometimes we get it mostly right. And sometimes we create obstacles to making a “visitor” feel welcomed. If it’s all about the insider and the stakeholders, how does a new face become a part of the church family? If it requires a lot of “translating” so that people know what to do without feeling awkward or strange, what are all our plans for, anyway? Why are we clinging to actions which make no sense to an onlooker? What language, music and worship practices do we use? And does it make sense to modern ears? And where is the invitation to join us in our love and relationship with God?

Just musing… and wanting to do a better job. After all, if I believe this life with Jesus is better lived with the care and support of a church family, shouldn’t I try to help others experience it too?

(In case you wondered… the answer is YES!)

 

 

“And When I Die” (Cross-Post)

Today I wrote a piece on RevGalBlogPals about a difficult but important topic. It’s about “aid-in-dying” and it is worthy of your thoughtful reflection and consideration. Here’s an excerpt…

As a chaplain, I have been a part of many conversations with families over end-of-life care. I know from personal and professional experience that they are brutal. While there are great resources and trained professionals to help and support the decision-making process, there is no way to express the heartaches that accompany it.

The scenarios I have witnessed came to mind as I read a recent news story about the recent death of Diane Rehm’s husband. Diane, a public radio personality, shared the details of her husband’s death by dehydration when his doctor could not and would not help him die faster in his end-stage Parkinsons disease. So, despite the best medical support and symptomatic relief possible, for nine days he refused food and drink, enduring discomfort and pain.

The full article is here: “The Pastoral is Political: And When I Die”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to offer my reflections and opinions on the RevGals blog. Please wander over there and check them out!

The Land of Tears

I’m in the midst of three projects this week. Two of them are in “GIT ‘ER DONE” mode. Those would be taxes and the requisite FAFSA (financial aid) forms. I just need to do a rough figuring of my taxes to do the FAFSA stuff. But it’s not my strong suit.

So because I am procrastinating on taxes (true confession time!) I started working instead on a workshop on grieving and healing. I’ll be presenting in June at the EEWC-CFT Gathering. (The general info here and my workshop is listed here.)

Grief is such a strange, lonely, powerful journey. As soon as I begin to make a definitive statement or organize my talking points, I realize how varied and personal our responses to grief can be. It brought to mind this quote from The Little Prince…

“It is such a secret place,
the land of tears.”
Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Each of us has different crisis points. Each of us finds different ways to cope with our tears and fears. Each of us may or may not have enough self-awareness at the time to know that our anger or our frustration or our forgetfulness or our exhaustion is due, in part, to the soul-zapping work of grief. And sorting all that out is just not easy. And it doesn’t follow a straight line!

It is such a tangle…

The Land of Tears
The Land of Tears

So I am pondering how to best describe this tangled journey of healing and grieving. How to bring reality and hope to this Land of Tears. And how to show God’s serious desire to be our Companion and Friend through it… without being driven by assumptions or trite sayings.

Lord, help me.

A prayer for change

I dropped an egg on the floor this morning. I cleaned it up, grumbling. It was an accident. But it happened because I was not fully engaged in what I was doing. A momentary choice, a lapse of attention, caused it. BAM. BUSTED.

How many times do we want to take back the past mistakes… to get a do-over? And how often do we justify our actions or make excuses?

So many times, it is for something far more critical than an egg! It is someone’s feelings. Or our integrity. Or our vanity. Or a million other things other than seeking attentively to listen to God’s direction.

I frequently pray for change… sometimes because of my past mistakes. Sometimes because I want to see a “miracle” happen. And sometimes, because I want God to do something else. (Yeah. Like my prayer changes God’s mind!)

So this prayer came from a place of wanting NOT to change God’s direction, but for me to listen more closely, more deeply to where God is at work. A prayer for Change… in me.

A Prayer for Change

Lord of all,
You created the universe.
You put the planets and galaxies in motion.
You give us seasons, day and night,
warm and cold, sun and rain.
You surround us with reminders
of your creativity:
the otter, the butterfly, the eagle and the ant.
You place even the widowed and orphaned in families,
and charge us to love one another.

And yet we ignore you,
and choose our own paths to suit our passions.
We forage for ourselves in the bounty of Your goodness
and forget the hungry, the hurting and the sick.

We do not deserve Your love,
Your mercy,
Your grace.
And yet, how much we need You.

Change us.
Show us that the stubbornness of our previous choices
does not bind us to the same ones today.
Teach us how to listen anew,
to follow you with repentant hearts,
to let your Spirit bring a sea-change in our hearts.

You lead your People,
ever onward,
through history,
through rebellion and repentance.

Ever and always You are the same.
Alleluia, Amen.

Discarded Beauty

Japanese maple
Japanese maple

Discarded Beauty

The leaves are discarded
like an old petticoat
around the slender trunk.
What was a vivid flame,
flaring in the wind,
now is shivering in the cold,
so bare and trembling.

The beauty is still there
in the twisted branches,
the pile of leaves.
The fragile points curl up,
the leaves begin to blend in
to the rocks and soil beneath.
Far too soon, these colors will fade
and the glory of autumn will be just a memory.

Cold sunshine on my face
sparks a memory
of working in my yard,
swatting mosquitoes and quietly swearing
as the sweat drips off my forehead.
I pull up my hood,
put on my gloves,
prepare for winter,
and wait for the glories of spring.

Even in this fallow season,
God showers attention
on the most intimate worries of my life.
I feel the gentle reminder
to see God’s handiwork everywhere,
even in this season of fallow ground
and fallen leaves.

Alleluia.

The last alleluia.
The last alleluia.

Life in the Land of Policy Wonks and Faith

There are times that I love living in the DC area. We get so much information and reporting on the nation’s politics. And then there are the times when I get frustrated that the decision-makers and ground-shakers are too far removed from every day people like me.

Yes, I can write my representative and senators (and have). Yes, I can write letters to the editor or post comments on a website. But it somehow seems, oh, “trollish” to use the web. How does one claim a seat at the table? And then it occurred to me… Maybe that’s not the point.

I’m a practical person. I’ve sat on committees which were formed for the express purpose of recommending a policy. The end result was someone (in this case, an administrator from the school system) saying, “well, we formed a committee and after their input, we decided to do _______.” The decision did not seem to take into account any of the suggestions of the committee. It felt like a waste of my time.

There is no perfect model for making policy and moving forward. And yet… It can be enough to move you to inaction.

This week was the National Prayer Breakfast. I met some of the attendees. I heard about some of the topics that were on the agenda. I read about some of the political maneuverings and criticism of the organizers. There is no doubt that it was ambitious in its planning and execution (and got very little press here in the DC papers, before or after. Go figure.)

But what struck me was this comment by President Obama (as reported on Politico):

“I do worry sometimes that as soon as we leave the prayer breakfast, everything we’ve been talking about the whole time at the prayer breakfast seems to be forgotten on the same day as the prayer breakfast. You”d like to think the shelf life wasn’t so short. I go back to the Oval Office and I start watching the cable news networks and it’s like we didn’t pray.” President Barack Obama speaking to the National Prayer Breakfast.

Great point.

prayersSo I’m thinking that when this event rolls around next year, I’ll create my own “national prayer place” somewhere. While other people meet, pray and discuss, maybe I will just meet up with a friend and… pray. Not philosophize. Not strategize. Not jostle for on-camera talking points. Not proclaim doctrinal supremacy. Not aim for a “seat at the table” but just find a place somewhere to pray.

  • Pray for the courage of our elected and appointed leaders to do what is right for our nation and the world.
  • Pray for the insight into solving our biggest gridlocks in health care, government spending and global security.
  • Pray for improving the status quo for the most challenged and vulnerable among us.

It’s on my calendar for 2014 – Thursday, February 6th.

Things ya can’t tweet…

Last week I had a Twitter discussion with my friend, David. We have strongly held opinions in opposite camps on John Piper’s recent teachings, namely his view that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” Other women bloggers have not pursued this topic because they have been browbeaten by blog trolls and the like in the past. I really, REALLY am not interested in attracting that kind of attention. And there is that old internet maxim: “Do not feed the trolls!”

However, as an ordained pastor and woman in ministry, I did feel the need to respond. The original post has had quite a reaction across the web. Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi) offered a post that particularly encouraged and resonated with me. And so I tweeted:

Thanks @TallSkinnyKiwi. I’m not giving up – God has work for me to do! “In Search of Masculine Christianity” bit.ly/Arnd2K

David suggested that if I weren’t raising daughters, I might feel differently about the topic. While that was completely untrue in my case, I knew that if I started responding with my counterpoints, it could get heated. I’m really REALLY over the big discussion and Bible-slinging on this topic. However, I promised David I’d give it some thought and respond  with a blog post where I’m not limited to the “sound bites” of Twitter. So here goes…

Many people trot out the old arguments for why women should/should not pastor churches. They begin with “Eve sinned first” and end with “none of Jesus’ named disciples were women.” And their hermeneutics continue in this hunt-and-peck manner. Wearing pearls and braided hair is just a “culturally bound reference.” But “women keeping silent in the Church” is not. Right. Puh-leese.

I’m not going to take a blog post and pick apart a chauvinist hermeneutic. To my mind, it comes under the heading of “needless disputations” and distracts us from the work God asks each of us to do. (Unless, of course, your life mission is to go around being a theological pain-in-the-rear. In which case… great. More power to ya.) I’m also not dissing those who are informed Calvinists in their leanings and ascribe to Reformed theology’s teachings. As Dr. Roger Olson says in a recent post, the problem is that there are some who insist it is the “only correct” theological stance. I think Christians of conscience and study can take issue with Calvinists. And I do.

What is a deeper issue here is that people who are followers of Jesus can take such pleasure in viciously attacking another’s doctrinal stance. Instead of uniting to care for the world and the hurting and needy people in it, they sit and take snarky potshots at each other. And I am as guilty of this as the next person. In fact, were I to stop and parse this post, I could point out several places where I was a little too sarcastic. I guess when one elbows her way into the conversation, occasionally one gets a little snarky.

As part of my clinical training, I had to write a short paper on “theological commitments that ground and guide me” in my work as a chaplain. They also ground me in my basic theological approach to life, ministry, marriage, child-rearing, etc. According to the requirements of the assignment, it was limited to one page. I can assure you that was a challenge. Without re-doing or expanding on the paper, here is how I view ministry, life, the universe and everything. Hopefully it will clarify that my approach to ministry is not based on raising daughters, but on following Jesus.

Theological Commitments that Ground and Guide Me

My theological perspective has four major tenets.  The first is that I believe God is relational.  God is not just an Abiding Presence or Spirit (though God is both), but as Creator, made humanity to be in relationship with God. This relational faith means that I do not see anything that humanity experiences (good or bad) as being outside of the knowledge or control of God. I see God’s involvement and interest in humanity as being intimate, involved and responsive. Humanity sometimes chooses to ignore or defy God — and not asking for robots, God allows our foolishness.

The second grounding belief I hold is that though humanity is made in the image of God, our free-will choices have caused us to become mortal, finite and flawed.  The result of our “fallen” human condition as recorded in Genesis results in interpersonal strife, disease, pain and a creation that is also flawed and at times chaotic. Because of the fallen or sinful condition of humanity, we frequently make choices that are counter to our wholeness, and thwart our desire to be close to one another and to God. In terms of relationships, I believe the model for relationships should be that of “before the Fall,” not bound in a cultural reference afterwards. This means that I do not see hierarchical familial relationships as being biblical. Nor do I see limitations on the ministry of men or women, for it is clear in Scripture that one’s Calling is determined by gifting, not gender.

A third grounding belief is that I believe by living in accordance with God’s principles, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, humanity can be transformed into a more perfect representation of God. This means that I see the process of faith as being personally transformational. It is not by one’s efforts, but by the work of  the Spirit that we conform to the image of Christ. This takes out of the equation any performance-based expressions of what is “godly” or “holy.”

Finally, I believe in an after-life that is based on a person’s faith as acted upon in this present life.  While I do not expect a patient or client to hold to my personal faith and belief in the salvific work of Jesus the Christ, this concept of hope and of resurrection gives me a sense of trust and expectation for “a new heaven and new earth.” This also grounds me in a sense of purpose and promise. I do not see this life as being “the end”.

That’s a start for why I do what I do, and where I live, work and pastor. And it’s just about impossible to fit all that into the character limits of Twitter. Unless, of course, you link to it. 🙂 Finally, lest you think I am spouting petunias, here are a collection of blog links by Rachel Held Evans. She offered a challenge, quickly taken up by men in the blogosphere who disagreed with John Piper. There was a groundswell of voices in disagreement with Piper’s closely held theology. Those posts said what I knew to be true, both doctrinally and experientially.

As you were…