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Friday, September 30, 2011

Home Sweet Home Friday Five

I've got home on my mind: what it feels like, how we make it, what we carry from the past and how we separate other people's leftovers from objects that really reflect our identity. My family has had one home for the past 13 years, the longest I've ever lived anywhere. As the time when all the children are gone comes closer, I wonder where my next home will be?

So here are five questions about home.

1) Where was your first home?
2) Do you ever dream about places you used to live?
3) If you could bring back one person from your past to sit at your dinner table, who would you choose?
4) What's your favorite room in your current living space?
5) Is there an object or an item where you live now that represents home? If not, can you think of one from your childhood?

If you play at your place, please leave a comment here; you'll be likely to get more comments if you link directly to your post. Here's how! I'll be around to visit later, when I get home.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Sanctuary and Security

Our question this week is a tough one, and speaks to a perennial issue that pastors deal with - balancing the needs of one against the needs of many. Our colleague this week is in a particularly difficult spot. Read on.

I pastor a tiny mountain congregation, with a full sanctuary in the summer and sometimes only a handful of worshippers on winter Sundays. Among our congregants is a mentally disturbed man who has, in the past, been a summer visitor. He has lost his winter home and will be living here full time if he can find housing. (In the summer, he camps in the National Forest, and in the shoulder seasons, I believe he sleeps in unlocked sheds and garages.) He is a devout and articulate Christian with a debilitating problem. He has always participated appropriately. 

This summer, though, he is far less in control of his emotions and his actions, and today, a prayer concern about Social Security and income stability turned into a rant against Rick Perry and he threw a hymnal to the floor. After worship, an elder and I approached him to try to explain that his behavior was not appropriate for worship and to ask if he had a financial need with which we could help, and he grew even more agitated and said, "Just go ahead and shoot me." He has had similar outbursts in the community. Our best assessment is that, although he is overall not a violent man, he is capable of doing real harm. 

Throughout the summer, we have improved our security measures in many ways, and as much as it pains me, I now keep pepper spray under the pulpit, but we are approaching a season when, realistically, we may not have enough young, strong worshippers to subdue him.The nearest law enforcement is at least half an hour away. We are very much on our own in this.

Now our problem is twofold: How to safeguard the congregation during worship, and how to minister to this man. He depends on our food bank and many other services provided by church and community members, and he is certainly in our prayers. Realistically, there are no other "services" that we can bring to bear here, and often our only contact with him is on Sunday mornings. We don't want to abandon him.

I covet your prayers for both this man and for the worshipping community of which he has been a welcome part, and would appreciate any ideas you can offer. Is it ever appropriate to ask someone not to attend corporate worship? We are grieving our sense of "sanctuary," and don't know what to do.

Kathrynzj responds:
First and foremost - prayers ascending.
And some thoughts... I encourage you to contact that law enforcement that is 30 minutes away and ask them for their thoughts on the situation. If you are concerned for this man's privacy, then keep it fairly anonymous. As you are doing, keep in mind that when this man acts out it is not him, but his brain disorder. I hate that you may have to ban him from attending worship, but the safety of the rest of the congregation and you is at hand. Our society's treatment of mental illness is deplorable, but you cannot solve that by putting the congregation in jeopardy. 
I am sorry I don't have anything more concrete to offer. Does your denomination - either locally or nationally - have anything to offer? What about the county? 
And with that I go back to the first and foremost thing - prayers ascending.

Muthah+ writes:
One of the problems with being in small places is that there are not many resources.  I really understand your desire for this man's presence in your community and your own lack of ability to address his mental health needs.  But one of the blessings of the small community ministry is that everyone knows this guy.  Do you have basic health services in your town [ (i.e) emergency care, doctor's office]?  Check with them about how you need to deal with this person--don't ask about this man's condition because that is privileged info, but ask the dr's, nurses, etc.  how best to handle this man when he gets agitated.  Also, try to talk with the man when he is less agitated and ask him how you can help him.  Often in a more lucid moment, folks with mental health issues know of their problems and can talk about what it feels like to be afflicted with them.  They don't want your structures, but that is what he and you both need so that your congregation feels safe.  [Perhaps some of the revgals who have more experience with mental heath issues can chime in on how to deal with this situation.]
The pepper spray may never be used, but having it there may give you a feeling of security so that you can deal un-anxiously with any situation. Your refusing to become anxious in his acting out will be very important for the both of you.
Also, the next time the law enforcement folk are in town, ask them how they would handle him.  I can assure you they know him.  But mostly find a way that you can feel safe so that your congregation can feel safe.  Your confidence will give the congregation the courage to continue to reach out to the man.
I want to commend you and your congregation for being willing to reach out to this man.  Many congregations won't.  I believe that as communities of faith we must be willing to deal with those who 'don't fit in' in society as a part of our Christian commitment.  Jesus did address the needs of the demoniac.  He obviously needs medication but many folks find the meds so difficult to take and difficult to obtain.  But he finds something in your community that he values.  That alone may give you the leverage you need to help him. 
Also, if you can, let it be known to medical and law enforcement that you consider him to be a parishioner and when he is in hospital or jail (and he is going to be soon), visit him.  That will be the most important thing that may help connect your congregation so that they can help him stay on his meds.  Community support is the major key in helping the mentally ill.
Keep the faith, Sistah.  You are doing good work there.

And Sharon offers:
First, please take a second or two to recognize the gifts already present in this most challenging circumstance. You are an aware and caring pastor who is very intentionally seeking to balance some tricky things like security, welcome, and everyone's well-being.  Your congregation has been patient and kind.  Somewhere in the process of addressing this, making a more complete inventory of assets (God's gifts) might be helpful.
Next, this seems to be a man who is living with a mental illness. Mental illness is regularly misdiagnosed and frequently misunderstood as something the person can do something about by trying harder.  The stigma and the silence create more fear for everyone.  The man may is disruptive and scary acting but, unless there is evidence that he is violent toward people, he may be harmless in that way.  Reasonable caution is certainly called for and contingency plans put in place for a variety of emergency scenarios that could occur in any congregation.
Can he be talked to when he is more lucid?  Could he be part of creating a plan for what happens when he gets agitated?
A resource that you might indeed have is a group of people who could add some action steps to their care about this man. In one congregation, a single mom had two special needs children who weren't able to attend church.  A "support circle" was put into place for her.  Most people in the congregation didn't even know this group existed. The pastor facilitated getting it going, provided oversight, and it was totally "off the grid" -- that is, it was not part of any structure of the church and no one else knew who was on it or what they did or talked about.   The "support circle" met about once a month and the agenda was determined by the one being supported.  It was a time just for that person to feel supported, to talk, to troubleshoot, to get ideas, etc.  She received their time and attention in whatever way was helpful to her.  
The final option:  I do think that there are instances where it can be determined that a particular person doesn't fit with a particular congregation and then needs to be encouraged to go.
I hope there is something that fits for you in the responses you get today.  And I pray that you find clarity and courage in taking the next steps.  

Thank you, matriarchs, for your thoughtful and thorough responses! Some rich wisdom here. What would the rest of you share? Let's continue the conversation in the comments section.

And, as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to address, please send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday Festival: politics of the neighborhood

Today's post comes from ring member hot cup, who blogs at hot cup's happenings. Hers is not the only denomination to struggle with changes in polity. She considers what really matters most. 

politics of the neighborhood...

recently, an ELCA congregation nearby had their 2nd vote to  leave the ELCA. of course it is their choice to do so. it has also been their choice to use intimidation among members, shunning those who don't agree, spreading rumors and false information, and on several ocassions cornering me and members of the churches where i serve.

of course this type of behavior isn't anything new right? sin is sin is sin. if they want to leave, because they are wound up at the possibility of having a homosexual person as their pastor, fine, so be it. (even though they have had one mind you.) but... to spin things so wildly out of control... to be so filled with fire and brimstone, that they ignore the real needs in our community. well quite frankly it has me pissed off, really pissed off. so angry, i had trouble praying for that congregation this past week in worship... and fully understood why jesus asks us to pray for our enemies.

i want to say to those members, because not all their members agree on leaving you see... but to those who are so wound, so intent on spreading false information and narrow understandings... i want to say this: "really? this scenario that is so unlikely for you is what you're focusing all your energy into? why don't you quit turning a blind eye to the woman whose husband continually beats the crap out of her... why don't you do something to help the single parents who barely have enough food to feed their families at the end of the month (if you know you call 2 pkgs.  of ramen noodles enough for a family of 5)... why don't you consider reaching out to help the people who can't pay their utility bills, because their companies laid them off? instead of worrying about who is loving who, or instead of worrying about who loves you enough to vote like you, why don't you consider just loving your neighbor in some way, because i'm pretty sure jesus had something to say about that."

it's happened all over in states everywhere and denominations. the hurts, the brokenness, the reality of how nasty people can be... argh! so... where i serve at least, i am hoping we continue to ask if we are being faithful where god has placed us. i hope we continue to welcome everyone... even members who may transfer to here, who are in deep hurt... who need reconciliation... who need to be loved on, and loved hard for some time. i hope we continue to do the best we are able, and if possible to stretch ourselves some into reaching out. i don't want us to settle into self-righteousness either... but i'm hoping this fall, we can stir one another up to meet the needs in the neighborhood... to help that single mom, to help women find resources they need, to perhaps establish an assistance fund... to continue to form relationships with those we worship with... *sigh* suddenly the vineyard seems overwhelming.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- Worldwide Communion Edition

The Table is Prepared (from my files)
This Sunday is labelled on my calendar as Worldwide Communion Sunday.  But what does that mean exactly?  How "worldwide" is it?  And for some people who are a part of traditions where Communion/Eucharist is part of weekly worship, isn't every Sunday Worldwide communion?

Nor does it help that none of the lectionary passages (read them here) link to the Communal meal at all. [Okay the Isaiah and the Matthew talk about a vineyard, which produces grapes, which produce wine.  But that might be a bit of a stretch]

Moses Giving the Law
So are we wanting to talk about rules for a healthy community?  I have heard someone use the 10 Commandments as a way in to reminding  the Church School (and through them the rest of the congregation) about some helpful ways we can be an intergenerational community together.  What are the rules in our places?

Parable as Allegory
Or did you want to talk about those horrible tenants in the vineyard?  Can we move that parable past the easy allegory?

Or are you following along with Paul, who now goes into one of his bouts of (false?) modesty?

Or maybe you are one of those doing the Season of Creation, which I hear has other lectionary readings.

Given the name of this Sunday maybe we can make this thread a way to share Commuion greetings from our particular corners of the globe this week.

Monday, September 26, 2011

RevGalBookPals: Disrupted

This month's review is by Carol Howard Merritt, pastor, writer and RevGal extraordinaire- known to many as the speaker from the Big Event 4.0 and the author of Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation and Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation.

Disrupted by Julie Anderson Love

This is, on one level, a very extraordinary story. In Disrupted: On Fighting Death and Keeping Faith, Julie Anderson Love battles a brain tumor, something that most of us will not have to undergo, especially in the third decade of life. Love moves us with medical accuracy, spiritual awareness, and emotional depth through the painstaking decisions and healing.

On another level, however, Love’s story is an ordinary one. She is an Associate Pastor, she clashes with the Interim Senior Pastor, and he retaliates. Let me sound the spoiler alert here—if you have not read the book and want all of it to be a mystery, you can stop reading.

The heart of our discussion resides in the fact that the church fired Love while she was fighting for her life. Yes, you read that correctly. They took away her insurance and her livelihood while she had a brain tumor. When they should have been bringing her casseroles, flowers, and cards crafted by Sunday school children, they brought her a pink slip.

When Love’s pastoral counselor recounted the devastation that she had been through that year, he was pretty sure that the brain tumor was less traumatic than the church letting her go in the midst of it all. I kept turning the pages, thinking, She’s not supposed to be talking about this

As stark and traumatic as Love’s story is, what’s even more difficult is that we hear about this stuff happening all of the time. Something similar has probably happened to many of our dear readers. When it does, we are told to be quiet, gloss over it, and move on as quickly as possible. Most of us do. Then we try to negotiate a new job, entering another church, becoming a chaplain, or dropping out of the clergy ranks altogether. Keeping quiet is usually the wisest thing to do, but does all of this playing nice help in the long run?

I don’t think so. I mean, it helps in our particular circumstance (and looking after yourself is the most important thing in these devastating situations). The opportunities for secure employment increase when we don’t make much of a fuss.
But how does it help clergywomen in general when we constantly cover up the sins of our congregations in order for us to come out less scathed?

We all know stories that make us shudder--women who have been sexually harassed, fired without cause, or paid unfairly. How can we communicate these narratives and still protect our careers? Can we find creative ways to be able to break the silence that so often enshrouds our positions?

Reading this book made me thankful that Julie Anderson Love was able to break through that code of silence under which we work. She didn’t try to make herself or her position more spiritual or perfect than she was. She told her story, with courage and honesty. She did not shy away from all of those secrets that we often have to keep. And for that, we all owe her.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Prayer: Proper 21A, Pentcost 15, 26A

God our Mother
birthing new life
through chaos

God our Father
building hope from
the dark night

God our Sister
comfort us in
times of sorrow

God our Brother
guide us through the
storms, calm water

God of the Night
brighten our dark
days, warm light

God of the Day
show us the way,
love as you

God, mystery
One in Three and
Three in One

Parent, child, friend
Comforter, Grace
Spirit, Love

Lover, One, All
Infinite One

Sun, Moon, and Stars
Earth, Wind, and Fire
Water, Life.

In Your Image
Abide in us
We in You

In your Image
In Your image

Saturday, September 24, 2011

11th Hour Preacher's Party: the Garden Variety

Good morning, Preachers and Pals! I don't know about you, but I am deep in the throes of the church program start up year - ramped up ten fold by being in a new call. The learning curve is high. Even good stress is still stress! I seem to be going all the time and in many different directions all at once. The choices in the lectionary are plentiful this time of year. But sometimes too many choices leads to confusion instead of clarity. Or at the very least just another decision to be made. For example at my church we are entering the Season of Creation, four weeks behind others. This means I am going off Lectionary for the first time. I'm looking forward to this season even though I will be working off of different texts than the rest of us. So, for me it's Genesis creation imagery and Nicodemus in John.

What about you? Are you doing Season of Creation, or another off Lectionary series? Or are you working with one or more of the texts assigned for Proper 21 year A? For more insight into a previous conversation on this: Tuesday Lectionary Leanings.

Where ever you are this day, take some time to join the party. The harvest is plentiful! And we are here to help whether you need a prayer request, a children's time idea, some feedback on your sermon - or an idea for the ending for your semon (at least I always find the end to be my biggest challenge).

Pull up a chair, grab a mug - the coffee is flowing, or tea if you prefer. Let's get this party started!

Photo of some of the harvest from my garden...

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, September 23, 2011

Projects, completions, endings and beginnings: Friday 5....

Many apologies for this being a little late today, when I woke this morning I had one thing on my mind and that was the completion of my Masters Thesis. Well I've done it, just some tidying up now so it is ready to submit by 3rd October. For me this marks the end of a programme of study that began in 2006, and has included formation for ministry and the Master's study. The journey along the way has been filled with endings and beginnings of different sorts, but the feeling of having completed something is terrific!

How about you as you look back over the last few years;

1. Have you completed something? What was it, and how did you celebrate?
2. Is there something you are waiting to begin?
3. Is there a project you keep putting off and why?
4. What would be your dream project/job?
5. Be creative, you are going to publish a book/ song/poem, what is its title?

As always, let us know in comments if you play. Even better, get in the habit of posting a direct link to your blog entry in your comment, using the following formulation:
<a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>
For a complete how-to, click here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Servant Leaders who won't Serve or Lead

There are many joys and challenges involved in being a part of a volunteer-based organization like a church. Today's question relates to one of the most difficult challenges - what recourse do we have when volunteers won't do what they committed to do? Our colleague writes:
How does one handle elders who don't eld? They agreed to serve, but by and large don't take up the responsibilities in their areas, and/or don't do tasks that they themselves agreed to do ... and so things go undone for months ... and I refuse to do their work for them. (Apparently, that's what the previous pastor did). I've done the pep talk, the "awesome task of elders," the checking in periodically to make sure things are on track ... nothing. Before I became a late in life pastor, I was a working mother/wife/daughter of an aging parent AND an elder, so I totally get the "my life is so busy..." thing.
Mystified and Frustrated

Jennifer responds:
The best way I've found to address this is with peer involvement. Find a great couple of elders who would be willing to approach the "less engaged" and become more involved. Sometimes the less involved mistakenly think that it's the pastor's job to pick up the slack, and it sounds like they have had that example. Bring in a guest preacher/leader/consultant who can say exactly what you've already told them about many hands  making light work. Sometimes a new voice catches the ear. If this doesn't work, have a meeting with each one, without any shame involved and discover if it may not be the right time for them to serve. Perhaps there are others waiting in the wings who could do a much better job. Make sure that the nominating committee is being clear about the expectations of service so that people are accepting nominations to serve as elders knowing that it takes work.

And Muthah+ writes:
I am not sure if you are talking about commissioned officers in you church polity or senior citizens, so I will speak to both.
If these are commissioned officers:  It is time to have a 'come to Jesus meetin' with them.  A one-on-one meeting, whether it is a call at their home or taking them to lunch or a drink, ask why they are having trouble getting things done. Sunday's Gospel might help (Matthew 21:23-32) zero in on the issue.  They may not know how to accomplish the task, they may have forgotten, they might be afraid of failure, etc.  Try to keep the conversation on the task rather than on the personality and have some suggestions for those who might help them to get their tasks done.  Check to see if there are philosophical differences about their tasks--this in an important piece of information you need to have.  It is often helpful to let them know that others find it difficult to do their work when their tasks are undone. 
If they are seniors:  Ask if they have forgotten!  They too may be overwhelmed.  (As a senior now, I am sitting her with egg on my face because your letter has reminded me that I have forgotten to do something that I had signed up for.:-!)  Find ways that folks can admit their failings without having to lose face.  Being over 65 myself, I am finding memory loss is common among us.  We have all the good intentions in the world but often the little grey cells are not as sharp as they once were and our energy levels are not the best either.  Go read a few Maxine comics and know that you will be here sooner than you thought.8-)  But it IS incumbent on you to ASK and to provide some solutions to getting the work done.  You may have to reassign the job to someone who can get the work done if you are unwilling to do the work assigned to others. 
Third thing, check out your frustrations.  Often when I was getting frustrated because another wasn't doing what they said they would do, I was frustrated with MY job.  Others' agendas did not match mine.  Remembering that I was always working with volunteers helps, but not much.  If you can unhinge your success as pastor from others getting their work done, you may not feel so put upon.  There will always be work that does not get done.  It is one of the great frustrations of the ministry.  If you're depending on the accomplishment of certain tasks then you must be either willing to either do the task yourself or reassign the work if the one-on-one does not work. 
Fourth thing:  Are you dealing with a control issue?  Is the person who is not doing their work a person who is playing power games?  Sometimes this is a way to indicate how much power an individual has.  If this is the case, read Edwin Friedman's last book on congregational systems.  It will help you maintain a non-anxious presence in the face of power plays.  If it is a power issue, it is important to diagnose the underlying issue.  I always had a consultant friend or therapist who could help me suss out such issues over lunch or coffee.  I have always worked from the position that if I wanted something to change in my environment, then I was the one who had to change--I could never expect others would change for me.   But it is important to figure out what change in me will produce the actions that will help me accomplish my goals.
Thank you, Matriarchs, for sharing your wisdom about this very difficult issue. What about the rest of you? What would you add? Let's continue the conversation in the comments section.
And, as always, if you have a question you'd like us to discuss, send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Should I Send My Wedding Dress to Kenya?

This week we share a provocative post by MaryAnn McKibben Dana, from her blog, The Blue Room. Feel free to leave a comment here or there.
Should I Send My Wedding Dress to Kenya?
Nicholas Kristof recently made this plea for wedding and bridesmaid dresses, which are used by a woman in Nairobi to make new children’s clothing. If you can get them to New York, there’s an organization there that will pay for the shipping to Kenya. (Something tells me this woman is going to be inundated with more satin and tulle than she’ll be able to use in a lifetime.)
The minute I read Kristof’s piece I knew that I wanted to send my wedding dress there. When I got married seventeen years ago, a lot of people were heirlooming their dresses. I didn’t have strong opinions about keeping my dress but ultimately went that route. I took it to the cleaners, where they did whatever voodoo they do, and now it’s sitting in a nice box up in James’s closet. It’s a pretty dress, in a “22 year old bride in the mid-’90s” kind of way.
That is, there’s a lot of fabric to work with, and some nice details.
Robert asked, “Are you sure you want to part with it? Is there a possibility that one of our daughters will want to wear it?” Leaning that way, and I doubt it—although he reminds me that Caroline is very tuned in to tradition and family artifacts and hates to part with stuff. So who knows?
Many folks place great value on things simply because they have sentimental value. My threshold is different. I like having a keepsake for major events and people in my life, but I don’t necessarily need every keepsake. If the dress were the only tangible connection to our wedding day I would want to keep it. But we have wedding gifts and photographs and gold bands on our left ring fingers and flower shops where we can get lilies whenever we want, and that’s a gracious plenty for me.
Still, the discussion we’re having about the fate of the dress has me thinking about the value of stuff. I follow a few simplicity and anti-clutter blogs that provide tips for paring down stuff. I think many of these blogs go too far—for example, this article, by a man whose mother died. He was getting ready to move her stuff to a storage facility when he found several boxes of his elementary school work under her bed. The fact that theses boxes were sealed, unexamined by his mother all these years, led to an epiphany:
I could hold on to her memories without her stuff, just as she had always remembered me and my childhood and all of our memories without ever accesses [sic] those sealed boxes under her bed. She didn’t need papers from twenty-five years ago to remember me, just as I didn’t need a storage locker filled with her stuff to remember her.
…Memories are within us, not within our things.
And this is where he loses me.
Memories are within us… AND within our things. It’s why I keep artifacts on my desk when I write: I treasure those reminders of juicy times in my life. And it’s why some of the kid artwork is going into a Rubbermaid tub rather than being scanned into Evernote: it is a precious thing to feel the paper that my kids held on their laps, to trace the brushstrokes.
It goes the other way too. We are fumigating our church right now, and folks are taking home all the dishes, pots and pans to be washed thoroughly since the church doesn’t have a dishwasher. Some of these kitchen items have psychic energy that is, in my opinion, not all that positive. (Old stained trays? 200 coffee cups in a church that now worships 50?)
Our stuff isn’t neutral.
I said recently that I’m done with the word “spiritual.” My main objection is that it implies a separation from the physical world. (Thank you Platonic dualism.) The realm of the spiritual is what’s in our brains and in our (figurative) hearts, and it is given higher status. The body is just the Rubbermaid tub.
Of course we can become obsessed with stuff, hoarding and clutching, or constantly upgrading and discarding. But I agree with Michael Lindvall (subscription required, sorry) when he wrote that the problem isn’t that we value our stuff too much. Our problem is that we don’t value it enough. It’s all disposable anymore, cheap and devoid of meaning. After all, memories are in our minds, right?
But my goodness, God loved stuff. God made stuff, and called it good and very good. And Christians go so far as to make the outrageous claim that God became flesh and lived among our stuff. He ate stuff and drank stuff and blessed stuff and told stories about stuff and even mixed stuff with his own spit and made mud on one bizarre occasion.
So if I value stuff so much, why am I thinking about sending my wedding dress to Kenya rather than keeping it? Not because the dress isn’t meaningful to me, but because it is meaningful. The day I wore it was a day of great beauty and hope and joy. It has the potential to bring beauty and hope and joy to people I don’t even know. Doesn’t that seem like a good way of honoring the love that was expressed on October 22, 1994? To let it have a new life, rather than sitting in my closet for another couple of decades on the off chance that my daughters will want to wear it?
One of the things I think about when making a decision is, where is the good story? And yes, Caroline or Margaret walking down the aisle wearing the dress I once wore is a good story. But it’s a story that I ultimately control and own. There’s something to be said for letting the story go, so it can take on a life of its own.
I’m still thinking. What do you say?
Photo: Jane Ngoiri of Nairobi.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- Quarrelsome Edition

A Dose of Humour

AS we enter another week of preparation, let us pray (prayer source):
When we think your job
is to listen to our petty quarrels,
you lean over,
put your finger to our lips,
'let me tell you a story.'
Rock Splitter,
we worship you.

Moses Striking the Rock
When we want to ask you
all sorts of questions,
and demand to see
your background check,
you put your arms around us,
gently saying,
'i want you to meet
some friends of mine.'
Self Emptier:
we follow you.

When we are burned out
by our chronic anger,
when our throats are parched
by our litany of laments,
you take us by the hand,
'let's go get a cold drink
down at Rock's cafe.'
Sharing Spirit,
we adore you.

The readings for this week can be read here

Are we like the people of Israel quarreling with Moses and God?  (And really, more whining?  Go back to Egypt if you are so unhappy!!!!)

Are we the people in the temple quarrelling with Jesus and missing the point?  Do we dare ask our friends and family which brother we resemble?

Are we ready to sing with Paul and the Phillipians?  Are we ready to imitate the One about whom he sings?   And where does fear and trembling come in as you work out your salvation?

The longer I am in ministry the more convinced I am that our call is to be not only change agents but change managers (guess which one might be harder!).  I think any of these passages could go that way.  And certainly talking about change is a great way to find out how quarrelsome a group is!

Where are your thoughts heading this week?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday meet-n-greet: busy fall days

It's been a busy fall...but here we finally are with the latest round of new RevGalBlogPal members! Let's give a warm RGBP welcome to...

KarYn at TXPreacherPonderings is "a native of Texas, an Elder in The United Methodist Church, a seminary preaching professor, a feminist, a mother of a pre-teen, a New York Yankees baseball fan, a lover of nature, a gadget geek, and a fan of mystery novels. I am a student of the emerging church for the next generations and am passionate about relevant, relational preaching. I am living in a big city right now but am a country girl at heart. I am the daughter of a teacher and preacher and the granddaughter of a Texas cattle rancher.
Most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus and believe my faith is the core of how I relate to people and the world. I teach seminary students the art of narrative preaching, how to engage their congregations in real life issues, and how to relate their lives to the gospel story. I am passionate about the need for transformative preaching for an age when folks are searching for ways to believe, places to belong, and occasions for renewing their faith."

Cynthia at Garden Gate is a "Psychotherapist and Episcopal priest who specializes in anxiety, depression, and bringing more meaning into everyday living. Garden Gate Blog is an extension of that search for meaning and joy in living."

Jo at All In A Day is from Hampshire in the UK. She says, "I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched."

Julie at A Country Girl has been reflecting on how toffee and forgiveness are related, why we vacation in summer even if we don't have children or work in a school, and how puzzles relate to food groups.

And one of our sisters has moved--Josephine (from Left Turn At Joy) is now blogging at Barefoot Theology--stop by and say hi in her new blog home!

Hop over and visit, leave greetings, and help them get settled in!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Prayer: Proper 20A, Pentecost 14, OT25A

Holy and Gracious God, we give you thanks for
family, friends, life, love - for
All the blessings (name blessings and thanksgivings)
you have bestowed upon us.

In Your mercy, hear our prayer, turn our whining into grace.

God of our Mothers and Fathers, your desire for
us leads the way, may we have
the ears to hear the cries of this world -
responding with Your hope.

In Your mercy, hear our prayer, turning our whining into grace.

Compassionate One, fill us with your love that we
may see deeply into all the needs
around us, (name the hurts, needs, and hope you are carrying)
help us to care with Your heart.

In Your mercy, hear our prayer, turn our whining into grace.

May Your love, Your grace, Your compassion,
Your mercy, carry us away, this day
and lead us with love
to be Your hands and heart in the world.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: Would you like some CHEESE...

with that WHINE???

I mean, really! Between the Israelites in Exodus and the workers in Matthew it's like living with my 4 year old at 6:00 p.m. when he hasn't had a nap! There's nuuuuuuuh-thing to eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeat. It's not faaaaaaaaaaaaaaair. Lot's a whining and complaining going around.

And I know I'm supposed to talk about why they shouldn't be doing that and shouldn't they just have some gratitude for what they have, but... well... it's not fair. In some ways, especially Matthew, it feels a lot like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. What point is there to being good if everyone who isn't gets the same thing anyway? What's the good news here for the people who have been sticking it out from the start and following every hair-brained idea their leader throws at them?

What are our complaints and whines about today? The one I think I'll bring up in our service is the myth of inadequacy, the way we whine about not being big enough, not having enough active families, not boasting the best youth program. I'm not saying we shouldn't pay attention to these areas of ministry. But really we have enough. We are enough. We have been given exactly enough to do what God wants us to do. And likewise God has enough to make sure that when more disciples are encouraged into the work with us, there is plenty more blessings for them, too.

What are other folks thinking? I remember at least one or two were going with the Epistle this week. Anyone on the Psalm or alternate OT? I believe we even have a couple folks who are working through the Season of Creation. How is that going and where are you headed today?

If you need a little side conversation for distraction, I've been wondering, is anyone trying out the Narrative Lectionary offered up over at Working Preacher for the next 9 months or so? I didn't see in until recently, and I guess I still have time to try it, but I think I might save it until next year at this point. It looks VERY fun!

Anyway, as always, join us in the comments and don't be scared. Ask for what you need and I'm sure there's enough wisdom to go around!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Five: Seeking What?

I was struck in our weekly Lectio Divina group by a few verses from Psalm 105:3-4:

. . . let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually.

Seeking is rejoicing. Rejoicing comes from the seeking, NOT the end of glory, heaven, enlightenment, or whatever. Seeking is the journey--RIGHT NOW!

So for this Friday Five, list what you are seeking, whether it is trivial, profound, or ordinary--whatever you would like to share! List 5 and add a bonus if you feel like it!

Remember to post a link to your blog if you participate. As you may recall my Blogger will not let me print out the formula, so I will put the link here--> For a complete how to click here!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Distractions are the Ministry?

Our question this week touches not only on issues of balance and boundaries, but also on the issue of how we handle such tricky issues in the context of a staff. When your own philosophy of ministry is at odds with that of your colleagues, what do you do? Read on:

I am one of two pastors on staff here at a medium-to-large sized, program driven church.  My senior pastor believes strongly in the philosophy that "The distractions ARE the ministry."  That is to say, he is willing to cancel or ditch any meeting, administrative task, or project planning when a need arises.

Let me say that in general, I agree with the statement, "The distractions ARE the ministry."  I do believe that the heart of ministry resides in the phone calls from people in need, the hospital visits, and the meetings with funeral families, even or especially when these things interrupt meetings, challenge workflows, and defy tidy to-do lists.  

At the same time, in a program-driven church like ours, I struggle with how to balance these ministry moments with the necessary day-to-day tasks that need to happen to keep the church running.  There are members on staff who hold tightly to this "distractions are the ministry" mantra, and in doing so, put a lot of burden on other staff members to keep necessary details going while they are off "doing ministry."  They repeatedly find themselves absent from meetings and planning gatherings because of these "distractions are the ministry" moments, or they are so moved and distracted by those moments that they bring grief and anger into administrative meetings and demean administrative tasks as "not the ministry."

So my question about balance is this: Is ministry always about dropping everything for people in need?

When I write this out, it sounds heartless, I know.  But I have to wonder out loud about this, because if I were always to drop everything to be present in the moment for every person in need, then I would never get things done that need to get done, and I would end up hurting either the broader ministries of the church or my own home and family life.  How do you take seriously this idea that the distractions are the ministry without derailing the day-to-day functions of both church and home?

Jennifer responds:

To me, the philosophy your senior pastor espouses (or the extreme to which it has been taken) sounds like a prescription for disaster. I’m the first to want to honor and provide sensitive pastoral care. Like many, I believe God is in the details.  To be sure, to hold tightly to one’s own agenda in the face of the unforeseen would be insensitive and pastorally irresponsible. Certainly, stuff happens, needs arises and crises occur, but I’m a little leery of declaring “the distractions ARE the ministry” for ANY need. I would be the first to say that there are times when one’s attention has to be given to an unforeseen need or emergency, but it’s not good stewardship of one’s own time, much less all the others affected by tending to an emergency.

I think your final paragraph says it all: if I were always to drop everything to be present in the moment for every person in need, then I would never get things done that need to get done, and I would end up hurting either the broader ministries of the church or my own home and family life.  Change the pronouns to first person plural and you’ve just described the mess in which your staff and congregation find yourselves.  I’d suggest an intervention: maybe you need to talk with your senior pastor and suggest that the staff have a little tea and cookies over what “the distractions are the ministry” really means. Perhaps it’s time to reinterpret this mantra and allow the pendulum to swing back from its extreme to something more moderate and that which reflects good stewardship of everybody’s time.

The Vicar of Hogsmeade writes:
You say its a question about balance but I also think its a question about boundaries. While there is ministry to be done in the distractions, they do not always have to set the pace or agenda for the ministry to be done.

I have found that over the years most pastoral care (i.e. I need to talk) can be scheduled around when I am available. Most people can wait to talk to me when I have an opening in my schedule. But if there are things I'd rather not do then "The distractions are the ministry" becomes a convenient excuse for me not to do the part I don't like (administrative stuff) and only do the part I like (pastoral care). It can also feed my need to be needed.

Regardless of the experience level in ministry, different ministers handle boundary setting with different levels of comfort. For whatever reason, it sounds like the Sr has found a way to give himself permission to operate the way he does. Is there a way for others of you to say something like "You help my ministry when you ___________?" or "The Administrative team needs your support for their ministry by your presence and input during meetings." Is there a way to let him know that his input and presence is valued even though he may not find these things the part of ministry he values?

Sharon answers:
Short answer:  Distractions and interruptions are not *always* the ministry
Longer answer:  In my experience, it is a very very very (did I say very?!) rare ministry moment that cannot be postponed for 2 hours or longer.  All of the things you mentioned are "interruptions" can almost always be scheduled around previous commitments.  I probably sound heartless too, but the beauty of carrying cell phones is not only that we clergy are so available, but that we can be available selectively, intentionally and wisely.  We clergy can turn off our phones, or at least screen our calls, for the couple of hours that comprise most meetings and groups and kids' softball games.
Relevant cute expression:  "I'm not going to let your urgency become my emergency!"
Possible approach:  Your last question can become an invitation:  "I want to take seriously this idea that distractions are the ministry.  I need to let you know that a lot of distractions are affecting our ministry.  When you (have been unable to attend 3 out of the last 4 staff meetings), the result is (we didn't know ... I had to ...) and that meant that (name the burden placed on you or what fell through the crack)."  Ask your colleague how *we* can balance the urgent and the important in *our* ministry.
Discussion resource:  Check out Stephen Covey's "time management matrix" for possible staff discussion.  I also googled "urgent important matrix" and found this (surprise!)  "Urgent/Important Matrix" that has your situation written all over it!

And Muthah+ writes:
Dear J, 
I call you J because I recognize that need to get things done is a part of your personality and important to how an organization functions.  Have you and your sr. pastor taken the Myers-Briggs personality inventory?  It might be good for you to do so to share that with each other how your personality types can bring wholeness to the ministry you are called to do.  This may not be a philosophical difference that you have--it may be a personality difference.  If it IS a personality difference, my suggestion is that you make lemonade! 
If your colleague is a P--perceptive--one who is spontaneous and can deal with the claims on his time, he is an important asset to the ministry.  He can change gears readily and be totally present to people in crisis.  If you are one who is clear about deadlines, get things done on time, etc you are a blessing to your parish because you keep everything in order and functioning.  BUT you must be willing to see that what you offer the ministry is different and both are needed.  Rather than finding his unendedness a pain, you must be willing to see it as the way that God uses both your talents.  I am sure he finds such things as meetings and time lines a pain, but he must be willing to recognize that your talent is in organization which will save his butt in the long run.
 You must willing to address him by saying that you need to have the authority to make decisions in his absence.  And he must be willing to confer that authority by recognizing your talents when it comes to agendas and the ability to get things done.  This means you two have to work much more closely than you have ever done before.  But your willingness to approach the wholeness of the ministry of the congregation together will be appreciated by most.
Most likely he recognized intuitively your ability to be organized when he hired you.  Then you must be willing to talk to him like a colleague (not just your boss) and say that you are frustrated. If you can both recognize that you both have the necessary talents to do the work that needs to be done you will be an awesome team.  If you can work collegieally--by that I mean that authority for the administrative work be shared and his getting the support from you to be spontaneous it will help you both.
I am a P and I would have died and gone to heaven if I had had someone on staff who had the talent to organize.  But I also understand how your Sr. pastor desires to be present to those crisis where he can do so much good.  But for some reason it seems to be inate into the 'pastor psyche' to be lone rangers and not work well with others.  You both can provide a wonderful image to the ministerial world if you know your talents and liabilities, talk about them easily and joke about your limitations and use the gifts you both have to serve the kingdom.  You are both in my prayers.

Thank you, matriarchs, for such wise and wonderful responses. I'm sure that others of you have thoughts as well. Please join us in the comments section!

And if you have questions you would like the matriarchs to discuss, send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wednesday Festival: If the Way be Clear

Jules at You Win Some, You Learn Some shares wisdom gained through experience. How do you sense a way becoming clear? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

If the Way Be Clear

About 16 or 17 months ago, when my sense of humor returned after going through a rough spot, I was able to joke that I’d lost 5,000 pounds and been able to keep it off. It’s the kind of tongue-in-cheek joke a person makes after a loss of some sort: a breakup, a divorce, a job loss.  It usually signals that the person’s sense of perspective is beginning to return.

What followed after that period of concentrated self-awareness was a sense of being freed up–my time, my energy, my passion– for something else.  And a truth is that we are seldom able to be truly free while we are tethered to something or someone who does not invite us to bring the best of ourselves to the party.

In our house we are in the beginning stages of  preparing ourselves for whatever might come next on our adventure together, and one of the ways we are doing this is by paring down the stuff we have surrounding us in this house.  It has been a slow process, sometimes as slow as a single shelf or drawer a day, but I have tried to be consistent in my efforts as opposed to getting it all done at once. The goal for me is to create space in my life, reducing the amount of clutter that takes up my energy and focus.  I’ve also decided to get rid of things I don’t really love, or that have no meaning or purpose in my life. Why keep a couple dozen dishtowels when I consistently reach for the same three or four?

The other side of this coin is an effort to resist acquiring more stuff.  It does no good to clear out the clutter if it will soon be replaced. That is actually the harder task for me. Growing up without a lot of stuff, I found that when my economic status changed in adulthood, I suddenly had the freedom to acquire more. Which turned out to be the opposite of freeing.

Which is how I got in the situation I am in today.

Some of the letting go, freeing up, “releasing things back into the wild” has been painful. There is only so much memorabilia from my children’s childhood I can keep, and last weekend when we came across some simple tie-dyed t-shirts my kids made at a summer recreation program, I held them to my face and breathed deeply, as if I could still smell their sweaty little six- and-ten-year-old necks.  But they just smelled like basement. I released them, knowing that the ability to remember what that time in our lives was like was the real power of those t-shirts. Having them folded up in a box was no longer  the point.

While cleaning our home office  last weekend I came across some cards from an event held very early in my ministry.  They were cards that some people had given to us in celebration of our new home. In each card was scribbled the corresponding gift that we had received from each person or couple.  A couple of those cards were from people who are no longer among us here on earth, and reading those names brought a twinge of pain at their passing and a twinge of warm remembrance of the services I officiated to celebrate their promised resurrection.

I found, much to my relief, that the names on the cards that as recently as a year ago might have brought a stab of pain did not have that power anymore.  I think some day I will look back at my encounters with some of those people and it will be  similar to how I see old boyfriends or old acquaintances from college with whom I have no contact anymore. I kind of remember what it was like to have them in my life, but when the memory is given the “sniff test”, it mostly smells like basement.

By the way, with just a couple of exceptions, the gifts we received at that party have been released back into the wild.

“If the way be clear” is a term we use in the church. It is kind of a legalistic term, that means “If all the hoops have been jumped through and all the meetings go the way we expect them to, then X will happen. But we’ll reserve the right to not have X happen; and we’ll hold off our final approval. “  But I have kind of adopted it in a more existential way.

If the way be clear, if the pathway of my life is  decluttered and if the distractions of the past are allowed to go peacefully out  in to the atmosphere where they can’t harm anyone anymore, then there is room for vibrancy and purpose..

If the way be clear, and I am faithful and consistent in relinquishing that which does not serve my highest and best self, then I will carry less baggage into the next phase of my life.

Creating a way that is clear requires a complete change of posture, a sort of unclenching of  the parts of me that have in the past held on far beyond what was wise or worthy, out of fear or loneliness or distrust of what I am really capable of doing.

May it be so.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- How Generous? Edition

Some possible questions come to mind this week as I look at the readings for Proper 20A, the 14th After Pentecost. You can read the passages here

The Parable of the Vineyard
I am envisioning how hard it would be to be the union shop steward in the vineyard this week.  Can you imagine the grievance paperwork for this employer's actions?

Jonah Has Pity on Gourd
Or maybe one could see oneself as Jonah, excitedly awaiting the destruction of his enemy (and whining when it doesn't happen, then whining about the tree)?

Or possibly the hungry folk in the desert, sure that Moses has brought them here to starve?

And is the question of fairness behind all the stories?  OR teh question of mercy?  Or simple generosity?  

As we move into our week of sermon preparation let us pray: (prayer from here)
Fresh as each morning
you come to us,
Crafter of manna.
Your grace rests
gently upon us,
waiting to be gathered,
to become the bread of life
we share throughout the day.

Fresh as compassion's justice,
you come to us,
Servant of the poor.
Choosing to give
as you desire,
you show us the last,
so we can make them first
in our hearts and hopes.
Doing no wrong,
you make us right
with God for all time.

Fresh as the water
which turns a desert
into a meadowland of flowers,
Spirit of uninterrupted grace,
you come to us.
When we would grumble,
you give us the gospel to live out;
when we would protest,
you teach us songs of praise;
when we would utter laments,
you fill us with God's laughter.

God in Community, Holy in One,
refresh us with your presence
as we pray as Jesus taught, saying,
Our Father . . .

What are you thinking about these stories?  OR are you going off Lectionary?  Let us know.  ANd do you have an idea for Children's Time to avoid the panic on Saturday regarding the same?  Please share it too!

Edit to Add:
I was short of time earlier and couldn`t find a piece of humour for this week.  But here it is from Agnusday