Monthly Archives: November 2015

Go back to your family…or friends…or happily singular interest…

No matter what absorbs you this Thanksgiving, I am thankful that you are filled with SOMETHING…whether it is family or friends or something wonderful that allows you to feed your soul all by yourself.  No matter what it is that gives you joy this season, I am thankful for it.

Know that I will be skipping Black Friday, making soup, running errands (like normal), and doing laundry this day after Thanksgiving, and that I will be grateful that all of us are enjoying the Thanksgiving weekend.  There is nothing as amazing as grasping all that is good in our lives for a moment and remember that truly, yes it could be much worse for each and every one of us.  So no matter what you did for Thanksgiving, be thankful that you weren’t somewhere else doing something else…because this is your normal right now and God provides NORMAL as a way of reminding us that, really, yes…yes it really is possible to be worse off than we are right now.

Take a deep breath and remember that if you can take a deep breath you are still alive.  Thank God!

Amen.

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My head is too stupid to wear the crown.

2 Samuel 23:1-7

1These are the last words of David:

“The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse,
the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High,
the man anointed by the God of Jacob,
the hero of Israel’s songs:

“The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me;
his word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel spoke,
the Rock of Israel said to me:
‘When one rules over people in righteousness,
when he rules in the fear of God,
he is like the light of morning at sunrise
on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain
that brings grass from the earth.’

“If my house were not right with God,
surely he would not have made with me an everlasting covenant,
arranged and secured in every part;
surely he would not bring to fruition my salvation
and grant me my every desire.
But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns,
which are not gathered with the hand.
Whoever touches thorns
uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear;
they are burned up where they lie.”

It is amazing, but I have realized that the older I get, the dumber I get.  It confounds the mind.  Truly.  I could have sworn that I was a lot smarter back when I was an adolescent.  At least I know that I thought I was a lot smarter when I was an adolescent.  I thought I knew who I was, what I was about, what I was going to do for a living, how to best live my life, and finally, I actually thought I knew what we needed to do in order to fix our nation and our government.  35 or so years later I realize that I am still trying to figure out exactly who I am and what I am about, since it keeps changing as I grow older.  After eight years of graduate school and seven years in private practice, I have a much better idea of what I am going to do for a living, but I still cannot adequately describe it to someone outside of the Methodist Church without thoroughly confusing them. I think I know how best to live my life at this moment but am not always sure of what I should be doing next.  And after years of political debates and voting I know that fixing our nation and our government is a very complex task that is far beyond my limited mind and abilities.  It turns out that I peaked in terms of wisdom at the ripe old age of 15 and it’s all downhill from there.

This whole process has been kind of disappointing, because as a young woman I lived under the delusion that growing older would make me feel more sure of myself, feel more capable, more intelligent, more savvy, and instead I feel more tentative, more unsure, more willing to sit back and wait-and-see because I no longer feel certain about anything.  And a little certainty would be nice.  But that’s just not going to happen.

In 1990 my husband and I joined St. Matthew United Methodist Church. Phil and I had moved from St. Louis to Phoenix only a few months earlier and we were totally new to the area, so our church was one of the few places where we felt at home.   I met this older woman shortly after we joined—her name was Alice—and she was the most godly, awesome, spiritual woman I had met in a long time.  I remember listening to her talk and thinking—gosh, I want to grow up to be just like her!  Years later when I was seminary and she was celebrating something like her 85th birthday, I went up to her and said “You know Alice, I look at you and I look forward to growing older.  I see your faith and how strong it is, and it amazes me.  I guess that’s one of the big benefits of growing older—all those years spent growing in grace. It must be magnificent to walk with God like that.”  And Alice turned to me and said “I used to think that too.  I thought I would be so spiritual when I got older.  And I keep waiting for it to happen, but the truth is that I’m just as bad at being faithful now as I was back then.”  That really threw for a loop, because I thought for sure that somehow getting older was going to make things easier spiritually, that I was going to eventually gain some special grace that would make me capable of all the things I don’t seem to be capable of now.   But no.  Apparently, that’s not going to happen either.

The truth is that when I put my life together and take a good look at it, it looks like I’m struggling on every front: as a person, as a parent, as a Christian, as a counselor, as a pastor.  It’s kind of embarrassing.  I would get down about it, but reading my Bible seems to help.  Because every Bible story you read involves somebody screwing up. Everyone in the Bible seems to be struggling just as much as I am—except Jesus.  But everyone OTHER than Jesus is bumbling along from mishap to trial to mistake.  Not that I get pleasure out of other people’s problems, but they do make me feel just a little more normal.   It’s like when my kids were younger and I’d talk to the parents of my daughter’s friends. Inevitably, they’d start talking about the trouble that they were having with their daughter and I’d find myself saying “Your kid does that too?!” and suddenly I’d feel normal instead of feeling like a total loser.  The Bible does that for me all the time.

My Bible reading for today was 2 Samuel 23:1-7. In this passage King David is laying on his deathbed, speaking his last words, and David says “The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, His word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me:  One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.  Is not my house like this with God?”

And I immediately thought: NO!  Not hardly!  I mean really, where exactly did David get that idea?!

Now I realize that having gone to seminary might have gotten me a little deeper into the characters in the Bible than most people get, so I’ve got to tell you—David was one interesting guy.   I know that we normally think of David as the good king, and he was a good king, but I need to be honest about the man.  He had some serious problems going on.

David basically stole the affection and loyalty of the Israelites away from King Saul long before David actually became king.  This is part of what made King Saul chase David out of Jerusalem and what made Saul eventually go crazy, and of course the Israelites got to put up with all of Saul’s craziness while David laid low and watched the country go to pot from a distance.  Nice guy, huh?

David was engaged to marry Saul’s daughter Michal, but after Saul chased David out of town, he married Michal off to another guy.  When David came back to Jerusalem the triumphant hero and soon-to-be king, he decided he wanted Michal as his wife after all, and so he sent someone to take her away from her children and her husband, and the Bible says her husband followed her back to Jerusalem “weeping as he walked behind her all the way.”  Like I said, that David—nice guy, huh?

After stealing Michal from her rightful husband, David decided that he really, really liked some other guy’s wife, too—Bathsheba—and after committing adultery with her, David had Bathsheba’s husband killed so that he could marry her and hide his adultery.   Really—nice guy.

And David didn’t do too well on the parenting front either.  His son Amnon raped his own sister Tamar.  Then David’s other son Absalom killed Amnon in retribution and ended up fleeing the country because murder was a crime punishable by death. David decided that he was okay with the whole thing and pardoned Absalom for the murder, mostly because Absalom was his favorite son.  Did David ever say one word about Amnon raping Tamar? Nope. Did David ever suggest to Absalom that taking the law into his own hands was a bad idea? Nope. Seriously, this guy is a gem.

Then, after Dad got Absalom off the hook for murder, Absalom decided to overthrow David as king, so he chased his Dad out of Jerusalem, and then did immoral things with David’s wives.  And when David’s army finally killed Absalom so that David could retake the throne and restore order to Israel, did David thank them?  No!  David spent a few weeks mourning Absalom—the kid who murdered his brother, took over the kingdom, slept with his father’s wives, and tried to kill his own father.   Holy smokes, folks.

Personally, I think David is just a little warped.  A great king, a leader of Israel, the guy that God chose to make the covenant with, but still, a little warped.

And yet all these years later, don’t we call David ‘the good king’?  Isn’t he the guy that we hold up as the great king of Israel, along with his son Solomon?  There’s got to be a reason for that.

And there is.  You see, David may not have been the greatest guy—in fact, sometimes he was a really big idiot—but he had this huge advantage.  He had faith in God, a huge faith in God, and even though David blew it again and again and again, he always came back to God after he blew it.  And God, in return, kept the covenant that He had made with David—an everlasting covenant—that David and his sons would rule Israel in justice and righteousness forever.   And while David falters in his faith many times, while David falters in his commitment to God many times, God never falters in His commitment to David, and so each time David repents and returns in faith to God, God restores justice and mercy and righteousness to David’s kingdom.

You see—it isn’t David and his big skills that make his kingdom just and righteous—David is just as human as you and I and he is never going to be able to sustain that kind of righteousness in his own life.  It’s God and His faithfulness that make it all work.  So David can fail and will fail and fail some more, and as long as he keeps coming back to God, as long as David truly repents and returns in faith, God is there to restore him, to restore his kingdom again and again and again.   And so what David says is true, in fact: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.  Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?”  Yes indeed He will!  Not because David is so righteous, but because God is so mighty.

And to hear that makes me glad.  Because it isn’t too long after I wake up rejoicing in the day that the Lord hath made that I start asking God to maybe make this day really short so that can I try again tomorrow.   All these years I’ve been waiting for greater wisdom, greater grace, greater patience, greater something that will keep me from making the same mistakes over and over, and then I find out that it isn’t me that makes my household righteous.  It isn’t me that makes my government just.  It isn’t me that makes my daughters walk in the way of the Lord.  Sure, I have an impact.  I have a role in it all.  I have my part to play.  But in the end, the outcome is not in my hands.  My house is righteous not because I am so very righteous, but because it is a house in God’s hands.  My marriage is faithful not because I am so perfectly faithful but because it is a marriage in God’s hands.  My life is what it is and has the impact that it has not because I am so great but because I am a woman in God’s hands with God’s covenant on my side. The Christian church worldwide is what it is and is able to do what it does in the world not because we as the family of God are so very holy, not because we are so very righteous, but because we are a people in God’s hands—with God’s everlasting covenant through Christ on our side—and therefore all that we are is defined by God and God alone, and all that is possible in and through our lives is truly created and made possible by God through Christ in us.

This coming Sunday—November 22, 2015—is Christ the King Sunday.  Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the Christian year before Advent begins and a new Christian year begins and we look forward to birth of our Savior again.  And at this time of year it is good for us to remember that no matter how screwed up things seem—in our personal lives, in our families, at our jobs, in our nation, in our world—no matter how far off the track we seem, that it is God, through Christ, that will make things what they ought to be.  Justice, righteousness, order, security, prosperity: these things only exist as God-given possibilities, given to us through God’s covenant with us in Christ.  So we must stand on that covenant and not on our own abilities.  We must stand on the covenant wrought through Christ, through His death and resurrection, and we must put Christ at the head.  At the head of us, at the head of our families, at the head of our church, at the head of our jobs and our corporations, at the head of our government, at the head of our world—Christ at the head because Christ is the King!—and when Christ is the King it will be with us as it was with David, that despite our frailty, we will look back at the end of our days and ask “Is not my house like this with God?”  And the heavenly host will resound:  YES IT IS! Because Christ is King! Christ is King indeed!  Amen!

Unity Ain’t As Easy As You Wish It Was (for Paris)

Jeremiah 29:11    New International Version (NIV)

11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I’m not quite sure what happened or why…I only know that people in Paris are dead and the world is horrified.  I also know that extremists have once again captured our minds by filling our hearts with fear.

I am so very tired of finding that there is very little left that gains attention that doesn’t involve terrorizing someone else’s soul.

There are so many reasonable people in the world; so many people who are devoted to making the world a better place through dialogue and hearing the ‘other person’s’ opinion, and yet we are still locked into never ending debate by terrorists and hard-liners who are unwilling to hear any political or theological position but their own.

I was blessed to go to seminary with a host of people who were different from me theologically.  People who came to school as deeply liberal individuals when I had been raised as a fundamentalist evangelical; people who held a deeply conservative line as my theology slowly shifted into a more liberal perspective; people who deeply disagreed with my understanding of God and who felt that I was a diluting the scriptures and therefore perverting the word of God.  I have stayed friends with the grand majority of them (as long as they were willing to remain friends with me despite our growing differences) and still find each and every one of them to be incredibly valuable to my understanding of my political and theological world; I can only hope they think the same of me.

I found myself at peace with all of them during the years that we studied the Bible; we often stayed up late into the night studying and arguing over deeply held theological beliefs.  Now I serve the Methodist Church with these exact same folks, united in the purpose of reaching the world for Christ even as we are divided in the specifics of our theology.  The funny thing is that I cannot imagine my life having the same value and diversity without their voices and their brilliance.

I am deeply aware that division in thought doesn’t have to become hatred, violence, or the desire for annihilation of ‘the other.’

I was commissioned into the clergy of the United Methodist Church in 2003 and fully ordained in 2006. I have worked in the United Methodist Church longer than any other job that I have ever held, and if I have to be honest, I have also worked for myself in private practice as a counselor longer than any professional job that I have held at any other corporation.  In the end, going to seminary and counseling school so that I could be a minister and counselor in God’s Kingdom has brought me more job security than any other position I’ve ever taken anywhere else.  Maybe I was always intended for success in God’s Kingdom?  I don’t know…I just know that I’ve found more peace and more space to disagree and yet work together in the United Methodist Church than I’ve found anywhere else in my entire life.

It is actually quite difficult and rather exhausting to ‘agree to disagree’.  I’d like to think that it’s easy and that people can live in theological/political/philosophical tension relatively easily…but I have not found that to be true very often.  I have been blessed with many friends who were willing to do this, but I’m guessing that it is our mutual commitment to work together for the Kingdom that brings about our diversity in unity rather than our evolved nature as human beings.  Achieving a healthy balance of ‘agreeing to disagree’ in the UMC (United Methodist Church) has involved far more effort and sacrifice than I ever planned on.  You see, agreeing to disagree involves constantly holding open the possibility that the other person just might be right after all.

Tolerating your opponent’s opinion with true open-mindedness demands that you admit that your opponent has a really good point somewhere in his/her argument.  Sometimes it demands that you admit that your opponent has a really good point, period. It demands that you assent to the logic and reasonability of your opponent’s opinion.  Open-mindedness demands that you constantly review your own viewpoint and argument looking for weaknesses and failures to adhere to rigorous logic.  In the end, to remain open-minded, you must constantly examine yourself and be willing to let go of your own viewpoint whenever your opponent has a more solidly constructed, more logically founded viewpoint than your own.  This is difficult, since our personal viewpoints tend to come from our most deeply held morals and values…and Lord knows we hate to question our own morals and values!

I am not a fan of Donald Trump.  And yet his success as a Republican candidate for President of the US tells me that he has a number of followers who enjoy the bombast of his speeches and the harshness of his stance.  Open-mindedness demands that I ask “What do those people need in order to feel safe and honored in my United States of America?”  Am I willing to let their needs matter to me?  It sure would be easy to say that the people who love Donald Trump are uneducated rubes who are looking for a leader who absolves them of their responsibility to think critically for the sake of the US.  Then again maybe I should consider how deeply those exact same people fear immigrants and the prospect of having their beloved American culture diluted by people who are ignorant of all that the US symbolizes.  There is some validity in the fear that drives Donald Trump’s popularity, and I am free to ignore it, but only at the cost of my fellow US citizens.

I am deeply aware of the grief in Paris today, the shock and horror that drives the French people’s desire to unite in nationalistic pride to restore their own country.  It was not that long ago that I wrote about the unintended effects of 9/11; the uniting and deeply nationalistic effect that 9/11 had that no terrorist had intended when they attacked my beloved country.

I eagerly await the day when terrorist attacks against any nation cause us to pull together worldwide to comfort a terrorized nation and to declare our awareness that we are a brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity worldwide.  I long for a day when no religion, national boundary, or personal creed can separate us from the siblinghood of humanity and the awareness that each and every nation has good things, good knowledge, and good skills to bring to our awareness as a worldwide community.  The odd thing is that the killers, the suicide bombers, the terrorists, and the hate-mongers among us are simply seeking a smaller version of the exact same unity that I wish to see worldwide. They want to unite with people who are like-minded (in hatred and fear) in order to create a world that is better than the one they currently live in.  It’s just that extremists seek their unity through violence and exclusion, and I seek  my unity through service, tolerance, diversity, and respect.  Perhaps that’s the most important take-away from this moment: the truth is that we are all seeking unity and brotherhood/sisterhood—we just don’t quite know how to get there without stepping on the brothers and sisters that we don’t know very well yet.  We don’t know how to create unity with those we don’t agree with.

May we forgive those who hate us and seek to destroy us; may we forgive those whose ideology we don’t understand; may we reach out with peace and acceptance to those we have not yet included in our circle of friends; and may God create the greater binding force that brings us together in love and not in mutual hatred or destruction.

You have heard our prayer over and over again Lord. Make it so, as it is according to your will, absent of hatred, violence, or destruction. Amen.

Flu glorious flu!!! (sing with me…)

I promise you’ll understand the link between the title and the picture soon.  I promise.

1 Peter 1:24-25a

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

I had the flu last week.  Actually, I had flu minus, because I got my flu shot in August.  I am certain that last week would have been a giant disaster had I not gotten that flu shot because I would not want to be sicker than I was last week.  Believe me, there is nothing pleasant about a 100.6 degree fever, aches, chills, cough, and the incessant need to sleep.

Actually, I lie.  It was glorious!

I don’t slow down often, which is a mother’s euphemism for “I am ridiculously over-busy.”  My husband and my kids will tell you that I do way too much work for way too many people for way too little money.  I don’t disagree with them, but I’m not going to stop…unless I’m sick.

It used to be that being sick didn’t stop me either.  I was younger and stronger then, and the only illness that could keep me at home was the kind that could keep me locked in the bathroom.  If you can’t leave the bathroom you can’t really go to work.  Anything else: colds, bronchitis, walking pneumonia—it didn’t matter. If I wasn’t contagious, I went to work.  In my mind, I could be miserable at home and do nothing or be miserable at work and be productive.  At that point in my life I voted for productive.

And then I got older.

As I approached my 50th birthday, I remember deciding that to celebrate my 5th decade of life, I would train for and run a 5K race.  50 years, 5K…they just seemed to go together.  I started training for my 5K and things were looking good.  After a few weeks of alternating running and walking in shorter spurts, I managed to run my first mile without stopping.  I was feeling pretty good about things, so good that I decided that I would be ready to run my first 5K only a few weeks after my 50th birthday, which left me about 16 more weeks to train…and then I discovered something rather upsetting: you cannot run a mile if you cannot breathe.  Who knew?  Anyway, many doctor visits, two CT scans, one nasal scoping, two breathing tests, and a full set of allergy tests later (oy vey!) I discovered that I have lung issues, rather nasty seasonal allergies, and exercise induced asthma that gets really bad when my allergies are really bad…which is about 9 months out of the year.  Leave it to me to decide to start running during two of the only three months during the year when I don’t have bad allergies.

I’m 51 years old now, and I still haven’t run a 5K and I’m guessing that I’m not going to get to run a 5K. I came to peace with that not long after my 50th birthday, but it left me with no interesting way to celebrate my 5th decade of life.  I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday by doing something that would illustrate my vitality, my continuing youth, and my growing strength despite my age.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was heading in the wrong direction, mentally.

After all, when do I get to grow up?  Being 50 isn’t a bad thing—I still feel young, I still look young, or at least I still feel like I look young.  But when do I start working on the ‘mature woman’ thing?  What is that supposed to look like?  A few blog posts ago I wrote about the challenges involved with becoming aged and frail enough to require a caregiver  (see August 27).  There is a long, long road between where I am now as a 51 year old woman and being aged and frail, but it is a road and that implies journey.  In other words, I can’t get from where I am now to where I’ll be then without a process.

So how do I prepare myself now to become the aged and frail woman I will be then?  For me, that started by admitting that I can’t afford to keep working when I’m sick.

Remember those lung problems I mentioned earlier? They are most obvious to me whenever I get sick, because no matter what I get sick with, it goes to my chest and becomes bronchitis.  Colds become bronchitis; flu becomes bronchitis; sinus infections become bronchitis; ingrown toenails become bronchitis.  Okay…not really, but it’s almost that bad.  Last week I had the flu…this week I have bronchitis.  Seriously, I do.

So I decided that to celebrate my 5th decade of life, I would learn to value my own growing frailty, my aging process, and the reality that I am NOT ALL THAT I USED TO BE.  To celebrate my 50th birthday I would allow myself to be sick.  Doesn’t sound like much of a celebration, does it?  But it is…because in order to allow myself to be sick, I have to decide that my need for rest is more important than everyone else’s need for me to be on time, where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to do.  In other words, I have decided that I am important enough to inconvenience others in order to take care of myself!  Maybe I should just say that I am important enough to inconvenience others.  It has been a lot of years since I last allowed myself to inconvenience anyone for any reason without feeling guilty.  I was sick with the flu last week, and I didn’t feel guilty at all.  How’s that for maturity?!

Like I said, it was glorious.  I haven’t had five days of rest and relaxation (without leaving the country on vacation) in years and years. I sat in my recliner in front of the TV and slept through episode after episode of Law & Order. I would run an errand and then come home and take a nap that took at least an hour longer than it took to run my errand.  I ate tomato soup and cheese toast and slept late in the mornings.  I didn’t get much of anything done and the world did not end.

It is a long road between where I am now and becoming a frail, old woman who needs a caretaker.  Somewhere along that journey I need to learn to accept my limitations with grace, instead of throwing a tantrum like some toddler who doesn’t want to be told ‘no.’  And so this year I choose to allow myself to be sick and I choose to call that my personal celebration of turning 50.  I have lived 5 decades and I have finally gained enough wisdom to know that I am worth being inconvenient.