thoughts on showing up to all that is

Trust does not come easily to me. Having been single most of my adult life. I have had to rely on myself. Because of that I do not easily hand off tasks or responsibilities. I have this is little voice in my head that says if it is to be, it is up to me. I expect competence from myself. I need to manage my life.

And yet, this article in our Soul Leader’s materials from Warren Christopher where he talks about how dependent we are on each other causes me to think. He talks about driving down the road and how much he is counting on the driver in the other car coming at him not to fall asleep or be distracted by his cellphone or crossing over the yellow line.

My well-being is premised on a basic social contract we have made as a society about how we will live. The social contract is as mundane as you stop at red lights and go on green lights, to as complex as you pay taxes for civic and social services so that all of our quality of lives can be better. It is as simple as clean up after your pet when you walk them in public places to as complicated as the conversation we are having as a society about gun control and the right to bear arms. My well-being depends on your living within and keeping this basic social contract. We trust one another to do the right thing day in and day out because when we don’t, we all lose.

So the question I am pondering today is if each day when I go out in the world, even though we all know times where things can and do go wrong, I have to trust that I will make it to work safely, that I will not be harmed in my daily activities, otherwise I would paralyzed, how can I apply that principle to that little voice in my head? Is it really all up to me? Have I left God out of that equation? Are there not people in my life who I can trust to share the load, to help me in a pinch? I am not looking to suddenly become incompetent and needy…that would be my worse nightmare!! i don’t want to swing in the opposite direction of not trusting myself and my own abilities to accomplish things and make my way in the world. But as Warren Christopher says, how can I rely more on the good faith and judgment of others. Sharing the load, the responsibilities, the decision making…that sounds like a whole lot more fun.

There is so much of our lives that we can’t control. I could not control the snow that made my morning commute over an hour this morning. I had to deal with it. I cannot control the forces in the world that is making working in a mainline denomination so challenging these days. So what am I going to do? One approach is to hope that the circumstances are not what they really are. I have seen that one a lot. We have had 40 years of decline as a denomination, and there is this sense we can keep going on as we have been without anything fundamentally changing. The economic crisis of 2008 revealed how critical the situation really is. So now what? How do we deal?

So when life throws stuff at us, those are simply the facts. They are not good or bad, they just are. What gives those events power, is the story we tell about what is happening. Sometimes it is a victim story:why does it always snow during commuting hours. Or we tell a villain story. The weather gods are out to get me. Or the most common one I see, a learned helpless story: I can’t drive in snow so I have to stay home.

Ok, maybe those are silly examples…but you get the idea. Each of those stories don’t help us deal effectively with our circumstances. They keep us stuck. So what is a better way to deal?

I am a big believer in responsibility. We each have an ability to respond to the stuff life throws at it. We can’t stop it. We can’t always change it. But we can choose how we will respond to it, and what I find time after time, is if I am willing to face the truth of my circumstances, there are things that are within my control and I can influence. I am not as helpless as I think I am. Taking responsibility actually gives me strength to do more than I think I can.

So what is coming at you right now? What story are you telling about it? Is it a helpful story that is giving you courage to stand in the face of challenging circumstances and even more the strength to respond so that the circumstances don’t completely dictate your reality.

What Keeps Us Stuck?

So I was listening to this Jillian Michaels podcast. Her director, Janice, was talking about how she has this image of the perfect home she will someday have, and that keeps her from inviting anyone over to her current home. She was playing all sorts of tapes in her head about people not wanting to come, her house or life not being what it should be. You get the idea.

Well, Jillian was being Jillian, and not letting Janice get away with her excuses. She told her to pick up the phone and to call a friend, on the air, and to invite her over. Janice stalled. She called the sound guy. Jillian told her call a friend now, or stay stuck. But if she really wanted it to be different, then she need to act now. Janice dialed.

It seems like such a silly thing to many of us. But for Janice, I am sure there was something underneath all of this that kept her stuck…or paralyzed so to speak.

The question for today in reading Mark 2 where four friends carried a paralyzed man to Jesus, is where in your life right now are you paralyzed? And who do you trust with your paralysis?

It is hard enough to admit to myself where I am paralyzed and why, let alone to trust someone else with my paralysis. What will they think of me if they really knew this piece of my life? Can I trust them to really want the best for me, to go the distance with me, to help me get to the place of healing even if it means challenging my perceptions and beliefs or forcing me to act outside what feels safe. And even more important, am I willing to consider a life where this paralysis might be healed? What risks are there for me in that?

So I am sitting with these questions. I don”t know if I have good answers to them yet, but what i am realizing as I reflect on my life is I have friends and family who have carried me in the past and believed in me when I wasn’t sure of myself. And perhaps that is a good starting place. To recognize I am not alone on the journey. There are people in my life who care enough about me to go the distance and I can trust that for the next step as well.

Sabbath of the Soul

Last night, I marked ashes on foreheads with the words, “From dust you came, to dust you shall return.  Repent and believe the gospel.”  As I looked into people’s eyes, there was this moment.  Something spiritual was happening.  To be reminded of our mortality, and our finiteness and the ways we had separated ourselves from God, and here was an opportunity to remember our humanness and to return to the heart of God who made us and claims us…to really believe the good news of the gospel, well it was a gift.

Humility is not thinking too much of ourselves.  We are not God.  The marking of the ash is a gift to put my life in proper perspective.  But humility is equally not thinking too little of ourselves.  We are created good.  We are loved.  We are beloved.  The good news is for us and not claiming it is also a form of arrogance.

I don’t know about you but my harshest critic is myself. At least I am pretty sure it is because I do know I have some critics out there!  But the most difficult and persistent voice is the one in my own head that beats me up for the mistakes I make, or the idiosycrancies of my personality that I wish were different, or how I look at others who are more charming, more sophisticated, more socially adept, more skiiled, more confident (you get the idea) and wish I could be more like them.

Sabbath for me is turning down the volume on that voice.  It is tuning into God’s word spoken into my life, and really trusting it is true, more true than any other judging voice in my head about who  I am not..  I am God’s beloved with whom God is well pleased. That kind of Sabbath can happen anywhere, anytime.  I encourage you, this Lent, to write a statement of who you are, from God’s perspective.  Write it down.  Repeat it often.  Claim your identity in Christ and let that be a Sabbath moment whenever and wherever you need it.  

Soul Leaders

Today, the clergy of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church are invited to begin a journey together that we are calling Soul Leaders.  It is fitting that we begin this journey on Ash Wednesday.  Clergy under appointment have received a packet of readings and reflections on a topic related to being Soul Leaders.  The theme for February and March is Trust.  Each week I will write a blog on one of the reflections, and I invite clergy to add their thoughts, stirrings and responses as they engage in this journey.  I am honored and excited to host the conversation and to be on the journey with you.

Unbundled

So do you remember how you used to purchase a song?  Way back when you had to go to a place called a record store.  And then you had to buy an entire LP and pay for 12 songs you didn’t want to get the one you did want.  And today, to the extent we even buy music, you go on-line, and download the one song you want and make a customizable play list.  This is the trend of unbundling, and it’s effect is being felt everywhere.

I heard this provovative comment from David Wilkens, a Harvard Law Professor, speaking at an event at Hamline University.  His address was about global trends and its implications on the practice of law, but those same trends are affecting religion too.  This one of unbundling hit home with me.

Wilkens further explained that buyers today are way smarter and more sophisticated and have access to a whole lot more information.  That has changed the fundamental nature of competiion.  It used to be about reputation and experience.  Now it is about outputs.  What are you offering that is of value to me?  And those outputs are being measured by sophisticated metrics such as Craig’s List, Angie’s List, Rate My Professor.  It has changed the nature of production.  It is no longer about law firms but networks, with information, ideas and people being co-developed.  The good news he said is that the world is becoming more complex, and people are going to need help figuring out this complexity, but they are also going to push aside the idea that the only way to do that is to get a customized, built from the ground up solution.  They are not interested in a beautiful legal product but they want a solution to a problem that is repeatable and affordable and that reality is allowing different kinds of competitors to compete to solve these problems.  The traditional legal business is being hollowed out by these other competitors taking pieces of it.

So when was the last time your church has a monopoly on all the people who moved into your community seeking a Christian community or even one with your particualar brand?  It used to be that way.  There are folks who remember starting their church in the 1950’s and 60’s where they would put up the sign “new United Methodist Church” and all the United Methodists in that community would go there, and to think about starting a second United Methodist church in that community was unheard of.  Why would we give people a choice?  And when people came to us, we met them on our terms.  They got Jesus and spiritual community in the way we packaged it.  There was a onse size worship fits all, and it only happened at 10am on Sunday mornings.

So how is that working for us today?  The resource providers to religion and spiritual practices have mushroomed. I can go to a paid spiritual director.  I can read all sorts of books that I can download on Amazon and read in the comfort of my home.  I can go to a yoga class, or take a spiritual pilgrimmage with a travel group.  I can go on a mission trip with a variety of non-profit organizations.  I can buuld houses with Habitat and feed children with Feed My Starving Children, and I can have an Outward Bound experience in the summer to stretch myself emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  All good things, by the way.  And that is just to name a few that come to mind, let alone all the choices I have for worshipping communities.  The church is not the only place to meet my spiritual needs.  So how do we respond to this phenomonon?

One of David Wilkens parting shots to the law community was that they needed to innovate to meet this changing landscape.  He said, “whatever you think about billable hours, flat fee billing is not the iphone.”  I would say adding a contemporary worship, or screens in our sanctuary,  is our flat fee billing.  We think we are being innovate and creative (and it is a step) but an incremental one at best.  No matter how much we might wish it differently, the information revoution has changed everything.  People don’t need to come to us to learn about Jesus.  But they are still looking for someone to help them to make sense out of all the competing information out there and they are looking for help for the problems in their lives and hope for their future.  So how do we need to change our delivery system because they aren’t going to come to us for the LP anymore if that is all we have to give them?

The American Dream

I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you are willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love.  It doesn’t matter whether you are black or white or Hispanic or Asian or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you are willing to try.                        –Barak Obama 

I heard this snippet on President Barak Obama’s acceptance speech on MPR on my way into work this morning.  I was surprised to feel a tear welling up in the corner of my eye and how much emotion was stirring in me just in listening to these few words passionately spoken.  Yes, I am a little sleep deprived this momrning which always makes me more on edge emotionally, but this was something more.  It connected to me deeply.  This is what I believe.  This is what I want for all people.  And for me it is not just the American dream.  It is the God dream. 

This past weekend I was on a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) weekend as a spiritual director.  My talk to the youth centered on John 3:16…that God loved the world…the whole world…not just the rich or not just the  poor, not just the successful or the educated, not just the whites or the blacks, but the whole world…and God love was given for one fundamental purpose…that we would live.  That we would ALL live.  I wanted them to know, no matter what, they were included, they were loved, they have a future with hope, and whatever  and however they feel like their situatuon or life has been shaped or defined up to this point, God was not done.  It could be more.

Isn’t that the basic hope of each person.  To know we matter.  To feel like we have a chance.  And to be able to make a life: a life where there is joy and meaning and purpose.  And for too many people there are too many barriers put in their way, too many judgments made about who they are and where they have come from.  It is not right.  It is not American.  And it is not Christian.  We are better than that. 

So today, I pray for our country.  I pray that we might be more than we have been.   I pray that I will do what I can today, tomorrow and the next day, to help create the kind of communiy and country where all people really do have the opportunity to make it if they are willing to try.  Today, I will once again stake my life in the proclamation of John 3:16, that yes, I am loved, and so is every other person on this earth, and therefore, my life is inextricably bound with theirs.

Some pundits say that in this election millions of dollars was spent and nothing was fundamentally changed.  We will have four more years of gridlock.  Perhpas.  But something got changed in me this morning.  And Imaybe, just maybe, that is the change that matters most  It is where the American dream will rise or fall: in each of us, in what we choose to believe to be true and how we commit to act on those beliefs.  ..  

 

 

 

 

A movement is a group of people who intentionally, at their own risk, join together to make a change in the status quo.

That is how Gil Rendle defines a movement in his book Back to Zero: The Search to Rediscover the Methodist Movement.  My deep question as the Director of Ministries is how do we move from a declining denomination…losing members, confidence, influence and impact…to a thriving, missional church that is making a significant difference in all corners of our state.  What Gil Rendle powerfully reminds me in his book that becoming a movement is an intentional choice.  I am not part of a movement because I am ordained into it, baptized into it, make an occasional financial contribution to it or live in the shadow/neighborhood of it.  So if we believe that the status quo needs to be changed, then we need join together to make the change.  And he suggests that it will require risk…putting aside our self interest for the sake of the common purpose.

What was powerful about the early Methodist movement in the United States is that there was clarity about purpose: spread scriptural holiness across the land, reform the nation, beginning with the church.  There was shared risk by those circuit riders who put their lives on the line to travel by horseback to preach the word, to form class meetings, and start churches in order to raise up leaders who were transforming the world.  They believed this mattered so much…people lives and the world would be a better place with the life changing message of Jesus offered through the Methodist movement, that they were willing to sacrifice many things…the comforts of wealth, home and security, and a willingness to go where sent.

So what I am wondering is do we have a clear, shared purpose that matters so much to us that we are willing to band together to do something about it…and what are we willing to risk, let go, sacrifice for the sake of this shared purpose?  From what I observed at General Conference and in my own life, if I am honest with myself, it is easy to talk about movement, but when push comes to shove, I don’t want to have to give up anything to make it happen.  Then I really haven’t chosen to be part of the movement have I?

 

 

So did you hear the news?  The Judicial Council ruled Plan UMC as unconstitutional at 4pm today.  Everything the General Conference spent the last 10 days working on regarding restructuring was sent to the Judicial Council and they came back and said it was in conflict with the constitution of the United Methodist Church, and it was not salvageable in its present form to move forward.  As I write this the General Conference is working late into the night to figure out how to adjust what they did and what they left undone in order to have something for us to live under for the next four years.  What is curious to me is the statement one delegate made.  In debating and deciding whether to refer this PlanUMC to the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table to be fixed and brought back to the General Council 2016, she asked, did the General Conference not notice that the Holy Spirit showed up at 4pm and took our breath away.  God spoke.  We got it wrong.

I have often prayed, God if this decision is of you, let it succeed, and if it is not, let it fail .  There is something more than human hearts and hands at work, and if whatever a church body votes on ultimately has fruit, I believe it is because the Holy Spirit gives it life.  I never presume to fully know the mind of God, and I never presume something getting a majority vote of a body of Christians is the will of God either.  We can get it wrong.  But neither is the judicial council God.  Just because the proposed plan violated some of the principles of our constitution does not mean it was outside the will of God.  Our constitution in the Book of Discipline is also a human document.  God could well be calling us into a new form of church that is radically different from our heritage and therefore would not fit neatly into our constitution.  Is that possible?

Now for the sake of full disclosure, I was not a great fan of PlanUMC.  It did not address adequately the depth of change I believe we need to make as a church.  So I am not advocating for its return.  But neither am I advocating for our current form of church structure.  It too has it challenges and limitations.  General Conference today alone proves that!!

If you ask me what I think is the will of God for the United Methodist Church, I would have to say that I don’t believe God cares much about our structure.  I think what God cares about is are we carrying out the mission: preaching good news, announcing pardon to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, setting the burdened and battered free, and announcing, “This is God’s year to act!” (Luke 4).  And however we organize ourselves to embody that mission and accomplish that mission is up to us.  There are lots of ways to get it done.  Some will be more effective than others.  Some will value certain things over others.  There is more than one right answer to the question of do we have a structure that embodies our Christian values and allows us to focus on and accomplish the mission?

One of the things I have learned about the will of God is I rarely see it or know it before I act.  I try to listen to the nudges of God.  I steep myself in the scriptures to seek to live my life in accordances to those practices and principles.  And then with my best intentions, information and yes, intuition, I act.  Sometimes I act and way opens easily.  Sometimes I act and doors close.  Does that mean one way is of God and another is not?  Perhaps, or perhaps not.  Usually, I only discover that in hindsight.  It is in the fruits that I know if God was really in that or not.  Did the love and grace of God grow in me and in the world as I moved in that direction?  If so, no matter how easy or challenging it was, it was most likely of God.

And that is why I found the delegate’s statement so curious.  Yes, the judicial council action, coming as it did, was a red flag to our structure and plans and a sign to pay attention.  But was it God telling us we were wrong?  That is moving us into dangerous ground.  Faithful and committed Christians have been working hard all week to listen to and follow God’s leading.  One vote or action does not trump another as more of God or less of God.  Where God is in all of this remains to be seen.  For it is by our fruits that we shall be known…when the decisions of General Conference are said and done and the Book of Discipline 2012 is published and we begin to live it out, if it increases our love of God and neighbor, and the United Methodist Church is more faithfully and fruitfully engaged in the mission of God, then and only then we will know whether we got it right or not.  And even then, it will not be right for all time, but for now, was it enough to allow us to take the next step?  Because that is how I have learned God works as well.  We don’t get the whole game plan, the entire road map.  God wants us to rely on God, not simply on our own insight and understanding.  So we take a step, and we see.  And we learn from that step, and we recalibrate and take another. Always listening, searching, discerning, but not waiting until we have it all figured out perfectly, all absolutely right  We can never fully know if it is of God or not until we go.  And that is what is most important…that we go.  The mission awaits…and that I do know is what God wants and wills for you and for me and for the world!

A Future with Hope

Her name is Sara.  She is a bright, articulate, passionate and fearless young adult.  She is a lay delegate from Minnesota.  She has spoken several times on the floor of the general conference.  She has argued for love and grace for all, for ethics that match our words and beliefs and a church that is engaged in the issues of our day.  She gives me hope about the future of the church.

His name is Sean.  I sat next to him in a committee meeting.  He is a young person from Massachusetts who has felt the pull and tug of the call of God and even though he has his concerns about the church, he is answering the call to serve.  He recognizes the new realities and says matter of factly that he will most likely be bivocational in his ministry life, and he states it probably is a more effective way to be engaged in the transformation of the world.  He gives me hope for the future of the church.

Today is my last day at General Conference.  By all accounts it is to be a “brutal” day as we engage in conversation about matters of sexuality.  We will talk to each other in ways that are hurtful and derogratory all in the name of upholding biblical principles.  On a day like today, it is easy to despair about the future of the church.  A church that started because God so loved the world, the whole world, the God gave us the fullness of God, Jesus, so that we all my have life…a future with hope.  But then people like Sara stand at the microphone and argue for love and grace.  And people like Sean embody that grace.  That is what gives me hope.

I walked by a group of young adults a couple of days ago who were wearing t-shirts that said something like, I am the future leader of the church…and the word future was croseed out and the word current was inserted.  I commented as I walked by that I liked their shirts.  I know that I am in a position of leadership of the church, and I like being in a role where I can make a difference and shape the future of the church.  There are a lot of people in my age cohort who are “running” things right now.  We are passionate and care about this church.  But we are not the only leaders in this church.  I believe the biggest difference I can make as a leader is to lift up and empower other leaders, particularly younger leaders.     This is not easy because it means making room, stepping aside, listening to other perspectives that might challenge my worldview.  But there is something biblical about all of that too…Philippians 2, in the Message, says: Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.  Don’t be obessed with getting your own advantage.  Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.