Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Weeds in the Garden

I would love to start this  with the phrase "my gardens are growing...." but I really cannot begin that way. To be brutally honest, I must say the places where there were gardens in my yard are chaotic tangles of flora and fauna. Bushes, flowers, weeds, saplings all compete for a place in the sun. And its a mess. There is nothing inviting about my yard. Outside my front door, I have a visual picture of Matthew 13:24-30--the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The wheat is planted by the Master's workers and then the enemy plants weeds. And the Master tells the workers to allow them to grow up together.  This, Jesus said, is what the Kingdom of God is like. Well, my garden is messy because the desired plants are growing up alongside the weeds and thorns. And so, does that mean, God's Kingdom, until Christ returns, is a messy place?
How does that affect what I expect from church? Perhaps grace is the only acceptable response. But I'm not sure how to respond with grace. We all have our pet peeves about church and about Christians.Those things, those sins, those hypocrisies which press our buttons and try our patience.  How do we show grace to each other and the world even in the areas that try our patience?

I just want to love Jesus

I just want to love Jesus.
But so much gets in the way.
I just want to love Jesus by spending time quietly in prayer and Scripture.
But instead, I press the snooze button or the laundry suddenly becomes a desperate need.
I just want to love Jesus by serving others.
But instead I many times treat people as interruptions to my daily tasks.
I just want to love Jesus in all that I do.
But doctrinal differences, political differences, cultural differences all get in the way.
I just want to love Jesus.

The Southern Baptist have reinforced their understanding of Hell in light of Rob Bell's book. There are numerous books out to combat Rob Bell's "unorthodox" view. "God's ways are higher than ours so just because an eternal Hell is repugnant to us doesn't mean it isn't God's way." And anyone who doesn't believe in a literal hell is dismissed or better yet, a heretic. We assume we can know completely about Hell, Heaven and all Spiritual Truths beyond any shadow of a doubt. And that assumption drives a wedge between us.
There is the debate over homosexuality. Actually it isn't debated much. We simply talk over each other, around each other, at each other. And somehow, if you believe one way you are a liberal heretic who doesn't take Scripture seriously or you believe the other way, you are ignorant, narrow minded and don't understand Scripture as well as you should. And our assumptions destroy our trusts.
The political realm is heating up for the presidential campaigns. And the Christian propaganda is churning. "We need to save our country, take it back." And we pray God's Kingdom come but we cannot understand why its taking so long to get here despite the fact we seem to be living for the glory of America instead of the glory of God. And our zeal burns so hot, we burn each other.
I just want to love Jesus. I just keep getting in the way. And I just keep letting lesser things get in the way.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

mundane to sacred

marinating in
the mundanity of life
God makes it sacred

another haiku

sun shine prances as
leaves dance in a summer's breeze
calms a stormy soul

a Haiku

I travel from heights
to the lowest of places,
will you go with me?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

UM Ordination--reflection and advice

Ten years ago I joined the United Methodist Church with ordination as an elder (pastor) in the front of my mind and heart. My call into ministry is another story as is my joining the UMC. I knew the journey would be a long one. It is one of the "benefits" I saw in joining the UM. Now, I stand on the other side of ordination after 10 years of working towards this day.
First, in this reflection/advice, I do not want to downplay those who have had negative experiences in the UM process of ordination. My experience was extremely positive but that doesn't mean the process is perfect. I know of many stories but can only speak of my own.
1. I love the UM process because it is long. I know this is one of the big complaints against the process of ordination in the UM. The length of the process allows for challenges, affirmations, others to hear God's call. We often set our eyes on ordination and see the meetings with BoM, answering of the questions, meetings, etc. as hoops to be jumped through. I got lost in that task oriented approach every now and again. I got the most out of the process when I tried to find God in each meeting, each question, in each step. My advice to those still in process--find God's hand in every step of the process.
2. It is easy to downplay certified candidacy, commissioning, etc. as we focus on ordination but there is grace in every step. I rejoiced in becoming a certified candidate, in my commissioning, in my first appointment. I am reminded of the places in the Old Testament where God's people erected an altar to commemorate what God had done in their lives. The various steps in the process became stones of the altar for me. When I interviewed for ordination, I could look at this altar which was being laid stone by stone and rest that God has brought me this far. For those of you in the process, don't miss today's grace working towards the goal of ordination.
3. I was blessed with amazing District committees on ordained ministry and Boards of Ordained Ministry. I have been told how some boards have been combative and confrontational. The committees and boards I was honored to interview with were not that way. Instead I felt these committees and boards were journeying with me and listening to hear God's call on my life with me. I am not sure how much of that atmosphere was the personality of the Board/ Committee or how much my attitude helped create the atmosphere. I came into the process from denominations which didn't support women in ministry. So I was asking the UM to help me hear God's call. I entered each meeting surrendered to God and submitting to the UM. I never tried to prove myself, defend myself, or impress the board/committee that I was exactly what the UM was looking for. I simply shared my story, my experience of God, Scripture, ministry and let that speak for itself.
Ordination is not the end. It is a rest stop on the journey where I am rejoicing in God's grace, just like Commissioning was for me. And now, its back to ministry.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Hospitality of Listening, part 2

Gearing up for Annual Conference and then General Conference next year as well as the pending vote on same sex marriage in this state  has ignited the discussion debate argument ? over ordaining homosexuals and same sex marriage. And the feelings which caused me to discuss the hospitality of listening the other day, well up in me again.

I listen to both sides and hear the passion on each side. Then I hear the bricks being placed to strengthen the walls. In one conversation I was reading, participants started declaring "if this gets approve, I know several people who will leave the church." And a reply, "several people have left the church because of the stand we take right now." And we swim deeper into the ocean of emotions. These comments don't open dialog but instead close them down. "If we don't act the way I believe, I am leaving." This is a door slamming to dialog, not a door opening. I am aware there are those who would say we shouldn't open the door. How thankful I am that Christ spoke to the woman caught in adultery instead of closing the door. But that is beside the point.

With the threats of people leaving and the understanding there are those who have already left, my question is: Does God abandon us when we get "it" wrong?  Who I understood God to be two decades ago and who I believe God to be today is different. I look back and think "wow, I actually believed that." I can see where I have grown in my relationship and understanding of God. Yet where I was wrong in the past in my beliefs, I was not abandoned by God. If God is a God of grace, then God needs to be able to forgive and sanctify where I am getting it wrong. And I have to believe God does the same in the work of churches and denominations. If God doesn't, God is inconsistent. And in a way, that is where the debate lies for me. What does this say about God? What does our conversation and how we treat each other say about our theology and the God we believe in?
As the churches continue to struggle with the controversial issues, how do we rely on God's grace to work in us and in those who disagree with us? How do we stay in communion with each other as God stays in communion with us? I am no where near perfection, yet I come to the Table and meet Christ there. Will that be enough for us no matter which way the conversation leads us?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Hospitality of Listening

Today I visited an elderly couple from church. As we ended our time together, the retired farmer stated the hardest thing for him being old is nobody listens to him. He has wisdom to share and people don't hear him.

In a clergy gathering in worship, there was an invitation to show your support for a specific, controversial issue through wearing a specific item. So we are put into categories, labeled in a setting which does not allow for dialog. I get labeled without the opportunity to be heard.

Two very different situations but similar problems. We dismiss people who are too old, too young, different than us in any way. We dismiss each other, even in attempts to reach out to others. Those who have different doctrine than us are dismissed as too liberal and not holding Scripture in high enough regard or too conservative and holding a narrow interpretation of Scripture.

So how do we listen to each other?I think it would be the easy, pat answer to say "stop labeling." But it has to be more than that. We all place people, ideas, values, and things into categories. I think the issue is when we allow those categories to become walls which block us from each other or stones we throw at each other.

We need to find a way to listen. Hospitality is valuing the other. Listening, hearing each other is the basic way we can value one another. Perhaps we need to define listening first. Do you feel listened to only when the other person agrees with you, concedes the point or does what you advise? Can we listen, disagree, and still fellowship?
We don't live in a society which encourages listening. We encourage yelling, telling others off, and shutting people out. How do we, especially those who are Christians, live out the hospitality of listening?