Organizing your life and other summer dreams

Have you heard of a “bullet journal”?  The 20-somethings who share our home assure me this is the latest thing to help organize your life and prioritize your activities.  I have kept a journal – just a journal, no “bullets” involved – since I was 13. I write in my daily to review my yesterday, pray for my today, and jot down hopes, dreams and some worries for the future.

But I was intrigued that my app-addicted young adults could be inspired by something as low-tech as a notebook and a pen.  I did some research, on-line of course, and discovered www.bulletjournal.com .  A four-minute video explains how a bullet journal can “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.”

Sounds good, right? In many ways, the bullet journal is a glorified “to do” list, with “bullet points” to check off when an action is accomplished. It promises a quieter mind and a calmer spirit as users “focus on things that are really worth your time.”

What is worth our time? It’s something to ponder before these precious summer days slip away. What activities and experiences feed your spirit and nourish your soul? What is really worth doing? Perhaps just as important – what is not worth our time? What dreary, tiresome behaviors can we eliminate from our daily routines so we make room to expand our hearts and listen for God’s Spirit?

“Seek the Lord,” the Bible tells us, “and you will find him” (Deuteronomy). The wise teacher in Proverbs assures us if we “seek diligently” we will discover God. And Jesus encourages us to “seek and you will find.”

That’s worth doing. This summer we can intentionally make time to seek God and be aware of God’s presence.  Where will you encounter God in the coming weeks? Will you listen for God’s voice as waves break against the coast or as water gently ripples upon a lakeshore? Will you look for God in the early-morning light or in the dimming of these longer days? Perhaps the flickering light of fireflies and stars will remind you of light shining in the darkness, of God’s promise to be with us always. The joyful exuberance of festivals or outdoor concerts might move you to sing praises to God. Loving moments with family and friends could reassure you that where there is love, there is God.

Notice. Be aware. Pause. The bullet journal’s popularity comes from its encouragement of intentional living.

Starting today, take five minutes at the beginning or end of each day to review your blessings and notice where you encounter God. An awareness of the divine weaving its way in and through our lives can change our outlook on life. God promises to “be with us always, now until the end of the age.”  Let’s take time to notice.

What happens in baptism?

On Sunday we will baptize four children, ages 4-13.  Our congregation will sing David Haas’ refrain, “Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name” as we prepare for this joyous celebration.  Times four?  Even better.

Why do we baptize? What happens in that moment when water meets forehead?

It isn’t magic.  I hasten to remind parents that their child will not suddenly sleep through the night, become better behaved, or start cleaning their room.

Another kind of transformation takes place, one that is unseen and mostly has to do with our hearts. It can happen at any age (the oldest person I baptized was an 87 year old man preparing for his death) or any place (the beauty of our sanctuary is lovely, but dipping my trembling fingers into a flimsy paper cup by a hospital bedside works too).

In that moment, God speaks to our spirits, that divine essence in each one of us, and declares what is true about us.  During baptism, I always ask, “By what name shall this child be baptized?” It is not that I forgot the person’s name. It is an opportunity to remember with awe that God knows each of us by name. In baptism, God tells us who we are and reminds us of an identity that can’t be taken away from us.

During our lifetime, many people tell us lies about who we are. We are told that we are too fat or too skinny, not smart or cool enough, or that we just don’t fit in. We hear messages about our value and worth and how we don’t measure up to some impossible standard. The world is all too glad to push soul-crushing labels and demeaning false names upon us. Those lies can lead to heartache and crippling self-doubt.

Baptism destroys those lies. God tells us who we really are – a beloved child of God’s, named by God as precious in God’s sight. No one can take that identity away.  Baptism cannot be reversed or negated. No matter how anyone else defines us, God’s name for us endures. Wherever our path leads us – what  we do, who we love, what mistakes we make, false starts we engage in, dead ends we encounter – we will remain God’s beloved child, always welcome in God’s sight.

At baptism we humbly celebrate God the name-giver who claims us with an unshakeable love.

That’s what we will celebrate on Sunday. Baptism is a gift to children who don’t know enough to even ask for this grace and a reminder to all who witness it. In baptism we say ‘yes’ to God who said ‘yes’ to us long before we knew it, or requested it. It is a gift to the children being baptized and a reminder to all the witnesses. God names us so we can spend our lives discovering how to live into that God-given identity.

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Some words shouldn’t be spoken

Ten students had their coveted Harvard admissions letter rescinded.  Why? They posted obscene, racist, misogynist memes on-line. People have been debating whether a college has the right to limit public expression, no matter how distasteful.

But some words shouldn’t be spoken.

A young woman is on trial in Boston right now for involuntary manslaughter. She allegedly coerced her boyfriend into committing suicide. She was not with him at the time. But she sent a series of messages and texts encouraging him to succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning.  “Get back in the truck,” she urged him, “finish what you started.”  She never touched him, but her words compelled him.

Some words shouldn’t be spoken.

The Bible contains dozens of warnings about the power of our words. James marvels, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire” (3:5).  One cruel or thoughtless comment has the ability to ruin a day or crumble faltering confidence. We have all been on the receiving end of cutting remarks or demeaning comments. That pain stays with us.  We have all uttered words we desperately wished to take back. That regret lingers.

Some words shouldn’t be spoken.

What about free speech? The First Amendment is not a “get out of jail” card; it does not pardon all language. The old saying reminds us – your right to swing your arm ends at the tip of my nose. In other words, freedom is not permission to hurt someone. We should not cause harm.

Some words shouldn’t be spoken.

Words have great power. They can be used to proclaim truth, soothe feelings, and extend encouragement. What if we offered our words as a gift to one another? Paul reminds us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”(Ephesians 4:29). What a different world it would be.

Some words shouldn’t be spoken. Instead, let us share words that give hope, lift one another up, and nurture broken spirits. When correction or instruction is necessary, let us offer it in ways that can be received instead each other with a barrage of belittling comments.

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Let us take the Psalmist’s prayer to heart: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O God” (Psalm 19).

Celebrating Confirmation

This Sunday we will celebrate the confirmation of eleven of our teenagers.  Most of these fourteen and fifteen year-olds – “confirmands,” as they have been known for more than a year – were baptized when they were infants.  Their parents took vows on their behalf and promised they would model a faith of forgiveness, love and justice. Now these teenagers wish to “confirm” their faith for themselves.

Although we recognize that they are still very young and have much to learn in life, the church considers them mature enough to declare their own belief.  Among other promises, they will vow

  • “By the grace of God to follow in the way of our Savior”
  • “To resist oppression and evil and to show love and justice, according to the grace given to you.”

Every time vows are taken in church – whether it is for baptism, confirmation, or a wedding – people make promises that they will only gradually understand. A young couple who vows to love one another in “sickness and in health” may not understand the overwhelming nature of that promise for many years to come.

We do not expect our confirmands (much to their relief) to “know it all,” to have a comprehensive understanding of the Bible or to be unquestioning in their faith. We make that clear when they answer what I consider to the most important question, “Do you promise, according to the grace given to you, to grow in the Christian faith.” They will give the hopeful, affirmative reply, “I promise, with the help of God.” They are promising to grow, ask questions, and continue to learn.

It’s a big promise.

What I love about their vows is the presence, over and over again, of words like “grace” and “the help of God.” The church is reminding them they are not alone. God never simply pushes us out of the nest or into our future with a hearty, “Good luck with that!” Instead, God promises to journey with us, supplying us with much-needed support and help.

There is an understanding, even an expectation, that we will make mistakes. Our confirmands – like many of us – more questions than answers, more doubt than faith, more uncertainty than conviction.

But they want to be on this journey of faith. They want to find out more. They want to discover who God is and the impact their faith can have. They want to make a difference in this world that needs the love, hospitality, and welcome of a forgiving and renewing God.

This is not the beginning of their faith journey; rather it is one step along an evolving path.  We will surround them with our prayers and be reminded that all of us need to continue to search for God in our everyday lives.

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Feeding our spirits

I’m just back from the Festival of Homiletics in San Antonio. It was, without question, a minister nerd-fest. Who else would have a “festival” about “homiletics,” which is just a fancy name for preaching.  And yet there we were – 1800 ministers from many denominations across the country, ready for four and a half days of worship, sermons, and lectures.  It truly was an event that perhaps only a preacher could love. And it was fabulous a time for learning, inspiration, and renewal.

Let me tell you why worship-leaders enjoy going to worship –

  • Someone else chooses the hymns. And if people don’t like them, it isn’t my fault.
  • Someone else prepared the bulletin. And if there are mistakes, it wasn’t me.
  • Someone else wrote all the litanies, responses, and prayers. All I had to do was show up and soak it all in.
  • Someone else preached. I happen to love to preach, but it is a delight to cherish some moments when I’m not responsible for reading the text, grappling with the meaning, studying commentaries, finding instructive illustrations, or coming up with compelling stories.

And perhaps the best thing of all – if something goes wrong (which it did), I can simply sit in my seat and wait for someone else to resolve the issue. So, when all 1800 ministers were eagerly anticipating a PowerPoint presentation and suddenly the screen went black, I could laugh. I could be confident that the team of tech people would rally to rectify the situation – which they did – or that someone else would have to come up with a “Plan B.” There was something very relaxing and gratifying about sitting in the pews and being invited to simply listen and learn.

The conference provided much food for thought. I was immersed in new worship ideas, introduced to new hymns (I think) our congregation will enjoy, heard inspiring sermons, and was challenged to stretch my theology as we wrestled with our ancient texts providing insights for a very modern world. It was a wonderful, educational, inspiring week.

And yet – there was something humbling about listening to one gifted, talented, inspiring preacher after another. It is not easy to hold over 1000 people spellbound, yet I witnessed a number of preachers and professors who managed to do just that. Many of them were available afterwards to sign copies of their recent books.  These were teachers and preachers who travel the globe delivering their messages and then return to their mega-churches and over-subscribed classes.

A gnawing, unwanted doubt began to seep in to the congregation primarily made up of small town preachers and pastors shepherding struggling congregations.  How, we wondered, could we ever measure up to such greatness?

There is great danger in comparing yourself to anyone else. We tend to romanticize the other’s success and popularity as we diminish our own abilities and service. We mistakenly believe that they “have it all” while we struggle to accomplish anything.

Here’s the conclusion that many of us reached during this conference – God does not call any of us to be famous, popular, or successful. God calls each one of us to be faithful. God calls us to receive and then to share a message of love, forgiveness, and the ability to start over – again and again. And that’s true whether you are a minister, a teacher, an auto-mechanic, stay-at-home parent, or rocket scientist.

We all need an opportunity for a spiritual “tune-up,” a time to be renewed and refreshed. My prayer for each one of us is that we can find ways to feed our spirits – whether it’s at a conference or gazing out of the beauty of God’s creation – and discover again that loving voice that invites us to simply receive God’s love, and then to share it any way we can.

 

Love shouldn’t hurt

Domestic violence was the topic in worship last Sunday. Our Lenten celebration of kindness and loving our neighbor was punctuated by the reminder that love shouldn’t hurt.

Now, that may seem obvious to you. Yet Patty Sue Brown, an advocate for our local domestic violence shelter, shared startling statistics with us. They are eye-opening.

  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
  • Domestic violence is the 3rd leading cause of homelessness.
  • Women ages 18-34 are at the greatest risk of being victims of domestic violence.
  • Every 9 seconds a woman in the United States is a victim of domestic violence (the rate is even higher in other countries).

It was difficult to hear about pain happening all around us. Some folks wondered if this was a proper topic for a Sunday morning sermon. There were, after all, children and young people present. But this is a message for all ages and a topic we can’t ignore.

We learned that February is designated as “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.” It gives one pause to realize that such an awareness campaign is necessary. We want to encourage people of all ages to recognize the warnings signs. The power wheel illustrates that violence is not limited to physically hitting or grabbing someone.  Controlling behavior, causing another person to feel isolated or devalued, and words that belittle or shame are all on the violence spectrum.

Domestic violence 2As beloved children of God, each of us deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We need to care for ourselves and be mindful of the needs of our neighbor.

During that same worship service, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, that unlikely hero who sees a person in need and responds with kindness and compassion. The story reminds us to actually see one another and recognize signs of distress and hurt. The Samaritan’s willingness to reach out to a stranger saved that person’s life.

The leaf added to our Kindness Tree this week was “helpful.” We offer ourselves as the hands of Christ, reaching out to all of God’s people.

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Celebrating our “Kindness Tree”

A tree grows in our sanctuary.  Actually, it is pretty barren right now, with a single paper leaf dangling on it.  This is our “Kindness Tree.”  During the season of Lent we will be talking with our children and congregation about how we live out Jesus’ command to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”  Each week we will add another leaf to celebrate acts of kindness. And together we will wonder – How do we live kindness?  How do we share kindness?

In the midst of the excessively nasty rhetoric in the news and social media these days, it is important for the church to offer another voice, an alternate tone, and a different viewpoint. There are few public figures that I as a parent would lift up to my children as viable, admirable role models. There are words and phrases spewed across the airwaves that we would not allow our Sunday School children to repeat. And there are attitudes and hateful opinions that contradict the Gospel of love and new life that we cherish.

What’s a church to do?

We can offer a new conversation. We can encourage our children to listen to the life-giving voice of the One who created them and loves them unconditionally. We can be inspired by Jesus who always reached out to the outcasts, shared meals with the shunned, and healed the forgotten, the lonely, and the hurting. We can try to follow his footsteps.

We can live kindness.

Every week during Lent we will listen to stories and examples of people who make a difference in someone’s life. Our role model will be the Good Samaritan who had the wisdom to recognize a beaten, abused man left on the roadside as a beloved child of God. The Samaritan was himself part of a reviled group of people; popular opinion labelled him as a subhuman who should be feared.

The Samaritan didn’t allow others to define him. He didn’t listen to their narrative and wasn’t swayed by their opinion. Instead, he lived his truth.

He shared loving kindness with a stranger.

Sometimes people talk about “giving up” something for Lent and it may be that weaning ourselves away from the endless negative chatter would be a good start. But perhaps adding something to our lives would be even more important.

  • We can speak words of kindness.
  • We can share acts of thoughtfulness.
  • We can remind one another – friends and strangers – that we are created in the image of God.
  • We can be gentle with one another.
  • We can encourage each other.
  • We can wonder if a person we encounter is going through a difficult time.
  • We can extend grace.

Every day between now and Easter, let’s make someone’s life a bit better.

As Aesop reminds us, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

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Hugs from strangers

The sounds of an emergency room are unmistakable. The swift footsteps of nurses as they hurry into a room. Machines beeping an urgent rhythm as they track heartbeat, pressure, and the flow of medicines. Doctors issuing orders. And all the while, loved ones endure an anguished wait.

As a volunteer chaplain at our local hospital, I am on-call for a weekend every month so that our hard-working chaplain can take a much-needed break. When a call comes in, I know it will be urgent. Often it is a family requesting a priest who can administer last rites.  I used to explain to the nurse on the phone that I was not a priest and therefore was no in position to offer Catholic sacraments. But over the years I have learned that most people yearn for any assurance that God is with them in a time of crisis. Even when the person delivering that assurance is a female Protestant minister.

Early in the morning, I huddled with a family, separated from their loved one only by a thin floor to ceiling curtain. We could hear the effort that was being put in to save this particular life. Calm but urgent voices counted CPR beats as carts were wheeled in to supply additional support.

And then – silence. Talking stopped. Machines were turned off. The hurried steps of these brave first responders ceased. The curtain was drawn back and the dreaded sentence was spoken, “I’m sorry; we did everything we could.”

That’s when grace enters in. Suddenly these strangers became the first comforters. Nurses came to offer hugs. Doctors stopped to offer condolences. The ambulance driver brought in chairs so the overwhelmed family could rest. Someone offered coffee, another brought in a pitcher of water. This was compassion brought to life.

Names were not necessary. In that moment kindness ruled. Everyone was aware that this was someone’s mother. Someone who had made breakfasts for decades and worried when her children came home late. Someone who played cards with neighbors and was always ready to offer a cup of coffee and a listening ear.
And now she was gone. Just like that. With no warning.
Tears ran down cheeks of people who may not have even known her name. Strangers gave hugs. And the family received comfort.
Living kindness and offering compassion is what we are called to do as human beings. The need for love is greater than all that divides us. Thoughts of which political figure was supported or disdained disappeared. We were just people together, confronting the fragility of life.

In that moment of life and death, love prevailed. Compassion, care and comfort were freely given.

It reminded me of how we are meant to live – with the ability to care for our brothers and sisters around us.  Even the ones we may not know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The March – my experience

My bad feet survived.

My spirit soared.

It was thrilling to gather on the Mall, looking at our Capitol, surrounded by a vast sea of humanity of every age, color, and description.  I was filled with gratitude for our country which allows and guarantees the right to peaceful assembly.

The March was peaceful and it was powerful.

I never got close to the stage.  I couldn’t hear any of the speakers. But I didn’t need inspirational speeches to tell me about the need. I could hear that in the voices of those who surrounded me. Men and women, gay, straight, and trans.

Young and old.

Experienced marchers and novices.

All joined together to sing and chant their belief that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated with dignity.

I read their message in their signs – some poignant, some angry, many humorous – but all advocating human rights for all of God’s people.

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What was the point?  The point was to stand together.

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These days it is possible to communicate and cooperate across the globe on-line and through social media. But sometimes we need to get out of our homes – and our comfort zones – and come together.

Sometimes we need to stand shoulder to shoulder, side by side, with one another.

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I came back inspired and energized.

I came back realizing I am not alone in my concern about healthcare, the environment, the LGBT community, immigrants, and people of color.

I came back wanting to help save our planet from thoughtless abuse.

I came back determined to work hard on behalf of those who have no voice or are afraid.

I came back encouraged.

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I won’t give up.

And when I need to, I will march again.

Why I’m marching

I’m a 58-year-old straight white woman with bad feet.  Why am I going to the Women’s March in Washington DC on January 21st?

I’m marching because I want to be part of the conversation. Politicians are always talking. The news cycles are filled with people shouting past each other as they try to force their reality on one another.

There’s a lot of voices out there.

I want to add my voice. My voice will be one of hope, inclusion, and welcome.

I’m marching so I can share what I have learned over 58 years of being a woman, and a pastor, mother, wife, sister, daughter, and an American.

I’m marching my faith.

I want to be involved in what is going on in our country.

I want my voice to be heard. I want to show up, speak up, and share what I believe in.

I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with vast numbers of diverse people across the country and reflect on what it means to love all of my neighbors.

I want to join young and old women of every age, color and ability to declare that every woman deserves to be treated with respect.

I want to march with gay, straight, and trans women and say what is true – each one of us is created in God’s image.

I am not a political activist. I have never done anything like this before.

But I am expending a great deal of time, effort, and resources to ensure that my voice joins thousands of others. Together we will encourage each other to stand up for dignity, equality, and an eager openness to learn about one another.

I am marching a message of love.

I am marching a message of hope.

I am marching a promise never to give up.

I am marching so all people can be included in our nation’s history.

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That’s why I’m marching.

I’ll let you know what I experience.