Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why I won't say that the church is dying

"This is a dying Church".... I hate that phrase. I do not like what it implies and I don't like that leaders within our Church are using it. I know that there will be people who say that I am naive, that I don't understand what is really going on within our Church, but let me start off by saying that I am fully aware of the struggles our Church is going through. I see it in the challenges that my parents and their colleagues face every day, I see it in the annual reports I get from now three congregations. I see it in my friends who are in seminary or freshly out. I see it on the faces of my pastors and on the faces of those on my candidacy committee. I see it, I read the articles, I have the conversations, and I am well aware of what we, as a Church, are facing... and yet with all of this staring right at me I still will never, ever say that my Church is a dying one.

Today my congregation confirmed 11 young teenagers, all in middle school or early high school, as we all are when we go through confirmation. Instead of a sermon the newly confirmed were asked to stand in front of the congregation, one by one, and tell us what faith means to them. While I sat listening to these surprisingly articulate young kids I noticed a pattern. Almost half of these kids talked about community, how the church as a living body inspired their faith and kept it strong. So I started thinking, how can we claim to be a part of a church that is dying when there is such renewing spirit and life among us?

The Christian church won't die, it has been alive for over 2000 years. But, the Church is changing... that is the difference, the word "dying" implies that it will no longer be around, that the people who believe together and pray together will disband and disappear into the wind, but to change is part of living. Now, is the church as an institution and organization struggling? Yes, it is, it's struggling a lot; attendance is down, roofs are leaking, offerings are at an all time low, and pastors are having to work day jobs just to keep the lights on, these are all grim realities. But you know what? These are realities that countless organizations are currently facing, even the federally backed education system is struggling! Teachers salaries and benefits are being cut, schools are closing, music, art, and sports programs are being sacrificed so that history, math, and science can continue... the entire world is struggling. But here's where the church is in trouble. No one makes giving to the church a priority anymore. The ruthlessly sought after millennials that everyone keeps talking about are poor! We need church but we want it for free. We also have not educated these new generations about the importance of giving to the church. I will admit that even as the daughter of two pastors I had no clue that the offering gathered every Sunday had anything to do with my parents' paycheck, or fixing the crack in the side of building... I just kind of thought it was a bonus, money that went towards the soup kitchens and bought crafts for Sunday school (which it also does, if there is any left over). The generation that was taught that 10% of your earnings goes to your church is dying, literally. And the new young families taking their place in the pews were not taught the same lessons. So, that is where we need to step up as a church. Stop saying that our church is dying because the non-denominational church down the street is packing the folding chairs, stop saying that pastors won't have jobs anymore, stop freaking out and start stepping up. We can't hide our churchs' problems anymore. We have to get real with our congregants and tell them that if they want to keep walls and a roof around their community and if they want their pastor to be able to care for them the way they'd like then we have to step up. And the best part is you don't have to be a millionaire to do it! $2 a week is plenty, whatever you can give, you should.

So, enough on the finances rant and back to this dying church thing...

It is my belief that we have lost sight of the difference between dying and changing. We, as congregations, have to change the way we reach out to new members, we have to change the way we communicate with people. There are some scary statistics out there about how church attendance is down, there are more "non-believers" than ever before (which I don't think is true I think we've just started counting), there are more Sunday morning options, etc.... But there are also other great statistics about how 67% of millennials prefer a traditional church service to a contemporary one, that my church welcomed 11... ELEVEN young people into our community today, that my mom's church is gaining new members faster than they can handle. People want community, it is an inner desire that drives all of us and church is the perfect place to find that community. Besides, that's how it all started! Jesus didn't wait for people to come to him and hope and pray that they threw him a few coins so that he could fix the organ... he went out to them, his followers were sent out to be fishers of men, and even after the ascension his followers continued and they met where and when they could. It was beautiful and pure and based on love, community and faith. That church that started 2000 years ago still exists today, it is within all of us, we are little individual churches walking around this world and hoping to find someone that we can relate to, yearning to spread the word. So, if our church can morph and change and "keep up" for 2000 years then we can keep that alive, we can change, we can shape ourselves to the desires of the people and people will also see the beauty in our tradition and sanctuaries.

So rise up church! Rise up and meet this challenge! This church is not dead, nor will it ever be, it's just different and different is not bad, it just takes time, love, and a little understanding.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lessons learned from two years of teaching

To be honest, I never really planned on being a teacher. I had thought to myself that towards the end of my athletic training career I would find some high school, be the ATC and teach a couple classes and enjoy a more stable schedule than college athletic training could offer. Life seemed to have other plans because after 8 months of miserably working as a secretary at an ortho clinic the opportunity to teach and start a sports med program at a high school opened up and I took it. I was drawn in by the promises of good resources, great coworkers, fun and energetic kids, the chance to change lives, the chance to make a community better, and the ability to build something. Some of those things came true and some of them did not. After two years I know that I have nothing on those who are veterans of the teaching profession, but I also feel a little bit like a war torn vet. In fact I’m almost tempted to write a book made up completely of quotes I heard from students, parents, and other teachers, some of these situations were funny, some were tragic, and some were infuriating. But, despite the craziness that has been these last two years in education I am grateful for the lessons that I have learned…
1.       Saying “no” is pretty awesome.
My entire life I have been a “yes” person, some may say a doormat. No matter what the request or favor or demand I said yes. Unfortunately there were times when I missed the mark and didn’t actually do the things I said yes to, which would typically not make me look too good. But, as a teacher and head athletic trainer I learned very quickly the beauty of saying “no”. “Can you head up this committee?” – “No”. “Can you cover this extra basketball game with zero notice?” – “No”. “Can I turn homework from 3 months ago in now?” – “Nope”. No, is wonderfully clear cut. There is no black and white when you say no, it’s just no. My first year of teaching I said “yes” a lot… especially when it came to my students. I stopped that nonsense in my second year and I started to use the word “No” a lot. And you know what I noticed? My students suddenly became better behaved, more organized, and they turned work in on time! All because they knew that if they asked to get away with poor behavior they would hear a solid “no”. And the best part is by saying no to more things I was able to say yes to myself.
                We tend to be a society that loves to be busy; if you aren’t busy you’re doing something wrong. If you don’t agree to every commitment or task you are not a team player, if you can barely get through your day because you have so much to do for other people you are the best! Well, we seem to be the only country that feels that way and we are also number 1 in obesity, stress, alcohol abuse, and depression… wonder why?! Now, I’m still not great in saying “no”… in fact, I enjoy being busy; not for the pride of it but because I like to feel productive. But, over these last two years I have realized that sometimes doing nothing is the most productive you can be and you have to say no to get that time.
                So… say “no” my friends! Start saying yes to your needs and what you want to accomplish.
2.       Cell phones are the devil
As amazing as our smart phones are I’m pretty sure they are slowly killing us. Especially the high school aged kids who have literally grown up with them. Those of us in our late 20s at least remember a time when we didn’t have the internet in our pocket and that we had to carry quarters around so we could call our parents from a pay phone… or even 1-800-collect! Kids these days don’t understand the struggle…. And it is turning them into horrible people. For example: a student of mine was on her phone during a lecture and after many warnings I finally asked her to give me her phone to hold onto for the remainder of class, she started to cry… like seriously cry…. You would have thought I just told her that her parents had died in a car crash. I still kept her phone for the rest of class, despite the meltdown. And you know what? She survived! AND not a single person sent her a message in the 20 minutes I had her phone so she didn’t miss anything. This generation coming up (and even certain people in mine) have no clue how to communicate! We have text messaging for the awkward conversations, emojis for facial expressions, snapchat for visual messaging, and email for the conversations that we’d really rather not have. And then, of course, social media… I mean who could live without it?! Honestly, we all could… we would really be just fine. These lack of communication skills have led to a serious decline in respect, purely because they just don’t know how to talk to people! And the spelling! Oh lord, the spelling… without autocorrect half my students can’t spell their names. It’s really a shame.
                I try to leave my phone in other rooms or not check Facebook (which by the way is now an “old person” thing, according to my students) obsessively and it can be tough! But the difference between me at 28 and my student at 15 is I will not have a massive meltdown if you take my phone away because I am capable of human communication.

3.       Lying is for losers
I am lied to on a daily basis… The excuses that I hear from students about where their homework is, why they were late to class, or even that I am their favorite teachers… lies, LIES I TELL YOU! I will say, kids these days are exceptional liars, I mean they know how to work a lie, they have backup lies, and stories and sometimes they even get other people in on it. And they look out for each other, other kids will chime in and defend the other student, whether they like them or not, purely to show a united front against authority. Honestly, it’s almost impressive. Just because I am telling you that my students are incredible liars doesn’t mean that I don’t trust them, all I’m saying is I’ve learned to tell the difference between sincerity and straight up, bold face, lying. My future children are screwed, and they have by current students to thank for it. And as annoying as it was to constantly feel like I was being lied to I kind of appreciate the fact that my students tried to get away with so much, it made me question things more, and to hold people more accountable. So thanks kids!
     Sounds clichĂ©, but never judge a book by its cover
My two years as a teacher didn’t completely teach me this lesson but it certainly drove it home: There is no way to tell what someone is going through by the way they look, act, or talk on a daily basis. I don’t think I could even count the amount of times I learned something about a student and was completely blown away because it was not at all what I pictured for them. For example: There was a student at school that I never taught but I knew him well. He was the model student, incredibly polite, very smart, driven, organized, and well-liked by his classmates and teachers, he even won a national championship in public speaking! I had this picture in my head of what his family must be like and I found out that I was completely wrong. He had siblings that came through school before him who were the total opposite of him. And parents that were completely uninterested in his academic achievements. I couldn’t believe that this kid was able to be who he was with so few positive examples to follow. From that point on I tried my best not to make assumptions about my students’ families or their home life. Another example was when I thought that one of my students was being neglected. He wore the exact same outfit every day, he kinda smelled a little and was always asking me for part of my lunch; all things that we are told are signs of neglect and abuse. So when his parents asked for a conference with all of his teachers I was eager to see who they were and decide whether or not I needed to take action. Well, when I met the parents they were the nicest and most caring people! Myself and the other teachers hinted at the whole he wears the same thing every day thing… apparently he was just going through a phase and his mother begged him every morning to please wear something different but he didn’t want to. And as far as the asking for food thing, turned out it was a growth spurt and his parents were having to buy loads of food because he was an eating machine! (Sidenote: all of the parents’ explanations were verified by the student and he thought it was all hilarious… a good sign that he was, in fact, in a loving home and was just a dirty and growing teenage boy).
                It can be so easy to judge people. We are pretty much programmed to do so. But, it doesn’t mean that we can’t ask more questions and learn more about other people. I think we would all surprise each other if we gave each other a chance. A chance to share and explain ourselves, our lives, and our struggles. Let someone walk in your shoes and walk in theirs… if we start to do that I think we could have a much deeper understanding of our neighbors and friends and hopefully we won’t be so quick to judge.
        Never judge a teacher by the syllabus
When I finished my masters in 2011 I was convinced that I would never, ever go back to school as a student. I hated it and had convinced myself that I wasn’t good at it. After a year in South Africa and a year working for a clinic I started to get the urge to learn again, but at a deeper level than just personal curiosity. It took me a few years to figure out what exactly I wanted to do but I learned a lot about how becoming a teacher had changed me as a student. I took a couple classes a GSU in between my first and second year of teaching and the mentality I had about learning had completely changed. I paid closer attention, I respected my professors and their choices more, I observed their teaching style and could respect it. I even got pissed listening to other students criticize a test question or choice the professor made when the reasoning behind it was perfectly clear to me!
                There have been many times when I’ve been questioned by students and criticized by parents when they have no idea the 100s of choices I make every day and why I make them. So from now on I will be very very slow to criticize a teacher or professor and will certainly take the proper course when it comes to asking them for explanation.
.       It is my belief that everyone should teach in a public school for at least one year
Teaching a group of teenagers from backgrounds both similar and completely different from you is life changing. Balancing the responsibilities you have to your (100s of) students, after school activities, administration, fellow teachers, and yourself (listed last for a reason) teaches you organizational skills and stress management that few other things can. Teaching has made me a better professional, will hopefully make me a better student, and has shaped me in ways I don’t think any other job could have.

                While I am happy to be moving on from teaching I’d never say that I regret my two years of teaching. I don’t think that I would have discovered my true calling any other way. I will treasure the connections I have made with my students and fellow teachers, but I won’t miss the politics and frustration… but in the long run all of the above have taught me a lot. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Not My South Africa

With all of the reports on what is going in South Africa these days I couldn’t help but mull over some things. The South Africa that is in the news is not my South Africa, it is not the country or the culture that I enjoy seeing all over the news, but it is part of the whole story.
Xenophobia is not a new phenomenon in South Africa. It has been around ever since the first Europeans landed in what become Cape Town, and probably even before then. During my time there I saw not only racial tensions, but tribal tensions, and national tensions. The town of Pietermaritzburg is home to many immigrants from other African countries, primarily Zimbabwe and Mozambique (which are the two countries that have the highest populations in South Africa due to their close proximity). Many of these people are students at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and through some of the work I did on campus I got to know many of them. One story was from a man who was in the graduate ministry program at UKZN and was trying to also earn money to bring his family into South Africa. He was from Zimbabwe and worked as a Pastor there in the rural areas. He left because of the political tensions in his area and because he was told that because of his brother’s political status that he too was being watched and was in a lot of danger. He told me that Pastors were expected to carry both a Bible and a gun and to choose a side. If he chose wrong he would be killed. So, he made sure his family was safe and he left. He expected to be safe in South Africa but it was not as welcoming as he thought. He had to hide where he was from and who he was from certain people and decided to learn the isiZulu language in order to blend in. He told me a story of how one day he was at a barber shop getting his hair cut and some men there were talking about how many “Zims” were “taking over” Pietermaritzburg and how if they could they would chase them out or just kill them. Obviously these men did not know that he was from Zimbabwe because by that time he had perfected his isiZulu (which is not at all easy) and was blending in well in the community. He left the barber shop quickly and said that he has been fearful ever since. I sat there and spoke with him about this and while he was telling me these things I was mortified, and he was speaking to me with such calmness, you’d think we were talking about the weather. This wasn’t what I had expected to hear about this place, but it also was not a rare story. As a foreigner myself I wouldn’t say that I was concerned of my safety but I learned to tread lightly. For the most part I was welcomed with open arms but also curiosity. Some of this curiosity was aggressive and some wasn’t. I would constantly face the question, “Why are you here?”. I typically was heard out and accepted though some were still not completely thrilled to have an American walking around. I was lucky though to be part of a community that was thrilled to have me walking around and enjoyed the time I was there, just as much as I enjoyed being there. So it didn’t quite make sense to me to hear such a story of misunderstanding and hate. Luckily he was not just met with xenophobic people but also the South Africans that I knew best, those who are welcoming and kind and willing to share in each other’s cultures. There is and always will be a divide; those who are closed off and hateful and those who are open and understanding. We just have to hope that those who are open stay the majority.
And South Africa is not the only country in the world that struggles with these issues, I mean, look at America! The immigration topic is always a hot one and stirs up issues from jobs to healthcare to education. The difference is where and how these arguments happen, many times it is behind closed doors, in court rooms, in deserts, in the streets of a township, or the Rio Grande. The truth of the matter is there are people fighting for opportunities and fighting for their lives every day, it just depends on where the spotlight falls. And currently it has fallen on South Africa. Whether it’s the Rainbow Nation or the Melting Pot at some point things boil over and tensions run high; whether it’s the economy being bad, local officials not doing their jobs, natural disasters, or religious debates, something will always cause people to lash out. But it is such a small population of people who do so and it is unfortunate that we base our opinions of entire countries on those few. South Africa is not an unwelcoming, violent, or cruel place. In fact it is the exact opposite, it is a country of beauty and love and hope, but also a dark and troubled past. That past can rear its ugly head from time to time and remind people of their differences more than their common ground. It is something that we as Americans can absolutely relate to, especially given the current racial charged events going on in our own country.
What bothers me most though is this overuse of the term –phobia, words like Xenophobia and Homophobia. Afraid? Really? A phobia is an uncontrollable fear, something that paralyzes us and controls us, it is quite literally a mental disorder. In my opinion the dislike or even hatred of another person because of their race, country of origin, or sexual preference is not a fear, it is not uncontrollable, it is not paralyzing, it is an ignorant and purposeful disregard for other people. Why? Why are we afraid of each other? What is so threatening about the fact that a man loves and wants to marry another man? What is so terrifying about a person coming to another country to escape a dangerous situation and start a better life? Nothing, there is nothing scary about either of those things. Now, to be fair I will not count out the fact that people have different lives and experiences, they are shaped by their interactions with others and the way they were raised. But, we all have a choice. We choose whether or not to bring down our fists or to shoot the gun, we choose who we listen to and who we shut out, we choose. I don’t mean to say that you have to get along with or love everyone, but if you decide who you want to love or hate based completely on where they came from or their lifestyle than that is where I draw the line.

The world has some serious problems and most, if not all of them, start and end with us. There is a group of people in South Africa that chose a violent and destructive path and have opened the door for others to do the same. But there is a much larger group of people in that country that will not make that choice, people that will stand up with others and say “we are all Africa”… So, my South Africa is not what you see on the news, it is not violent or destructive; my South Africa is welcoming, my South Africa is the place I called home, my South Africa is beautiful.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Good Friday Homily (aka first attempt at preaching)

“When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.  But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.

This passage from Luke gives us the first of the last seven words of Jesus Christ. In my opinion they are his most powerful. Forgiveness is an incredibly complex thing. We see that as Jesus is being killed; the nails have been driven in, the beatings have left him bloodied and broken, the weight of his body on the cross crushing him, he uses one of his last breathes to ask for forgiveness. But, not forgiveness for himself, he asks God to forgive us: the very people who have condemned him to this violent death. And despite God having to watch as his only son crucified and the guilty run free, we are forgiven.

From the moment we are baptized we are told that we are forgiven all our sins; and we are reminded every Sunday that even though we are imperfect people we are loved and forgiven by God. But, sometimes I wonder if we have lost sight of the reason forgiveness is so stressed in our stories and liturgies. We focus on God forgiving us, so thankful that when we can’t even forgive ourselves we still know that God will forgive us and love us unconditionally. Every Sunday after the confession and forgiveness of sins I know that I breathe a sigh of relief and am grateful to know that even though I am flawed and sinful that God can offer me what no other human can – unconditional love and forgiveness.

As people we struggle to forgive. Of all the things we are asked to do in the name of God, forgiveness can sometimes be the hardest. Sometimes we even struggle to accept God’s forgiveness of us, but we are still comforted by it because it is constant. But, all of us fall desperately short in the forgiveness of others. So, the Church is constantly reminding us. In the Apostle’s Creed we say that we “Believe in the forgiveness of sins”; which I always assumed was believing in God’s ability to forgive us, but lately I have been looking at it from a different perspective, I have been trying to picture it as believing in our ability to forgive each other. Which we all promise to do in the Lord’s Prayer! “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”. We promise to forgive our neighbors and freinds, but how successful are we at actually doing it?

In a recent article in The Lutheran, Peter Nash says, “Being Lutheran means that I know a lot more about justification than I know about human forgiveness. We are much more concerned about getting right with God than we are with living right with our neighbors as faithfully as possible.” Nash’s statement is so dead on that it is almost scary. We are recipients of God’s unrelenting grace and forgiveness on a daily basis and yet it is still so difficult for us to forgive each other.

The worst part is that we see amazing examples of humanity’s ability to forgive every day, a blueprint, if you will, for our own acts of forgiveness. Take for instance the story of Nelson Mandela. As some of you may know I lived in South Africa for a year and served through the Young Adults in Global Mission. Even before stepping foot onto South African soil I was an admirer of Nelson Mandela. But, after spending a year with the people he liberated and talking to those who remember all too well the time before democracy in South Africa and how hard it was to fight for I admired him even more. He led by example; while many people thought he would call for vengeance, to rid the country of the white minority that had oppressed the black majority for so many generations, while they waited for civil war, he surprised everyone, and said “forgive”. While in jail on Robben Island he befriended his captors, learned their language, taught them about his culture and built a mutual respect, this allowed him to walk away from that cell in 1990 and to tell the people of South Africa, now is not a time for vengeance and war, now is a time for forgiveness. Despite the very violent years leading up to the 1994 elections South Africa’s transition to democracy will go down in history as a bloodless one, one of forgiveness and reconciliation. While Mandela’s actions can be very difficult to understand what we can also focus on is the amount of time and prayer that went into his ability to forgive and then the process that came after that was needed to heal those wounds, which is where the reconciliation comes in.

Forgiveness does not mean that everything is and always will be ok. Forgiveness is merely the first of many steps to peace. To forgive doesn’t mean that you can’t be mad or hurt, those feelings are normal when you feel you have been wronged. And when we think about it even Jesus was known to flip a table or two. But, if we are to follow the example of Christ we see that the anger does not last long, the love and forgiveness follow shortly after, and once those three magical words are spoken, once you say “I forgive you”… that is when the road to reconciliation can begin.

We should never forget the power of forgiveness, it is one of the few things that can show unconditional love. Love is natural when times are easy, when everything is going right. But when we see the sin, the hate, the mistakes, and cruelness of this world, that is when the love can leave us, but it’s also the times when we need it the most, so if we can forgive, despite the mistakes and mess then we truly will understand the strength of God’s love for us, given to us because of the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross. Through his death Christ paid for our forgiveness, with his words “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do” Christ saved us all. And perhaps, if we can find the room in our hearts to forgive, we may start to save each other.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Magnificat Moments

I had a great lesson in humility today, it may not sound like much of a big deal but I was asked to lead my young adults Sunday school class. Our fearless leader Karen was home sick and she asked me if I would fill in and let me know that she had planned on talking about The Magnificat. Sure! I said… The Magnificat! Awesome! I said… and then I immediately panicked because I couldn’t quite remember what the Magnificat was, I know, I’m a horrible Lutheran, and even worse pastor’s daughter. So I looked it up, The Song of Mary! Of course! Where to begin…

I went to Luke and read the story, Mary’s words, and tried to understand. While reading these words of praise and trust and amazement that Mary had for the Lord I started to think about who Mary was at the time she spoke these words, what had just been asked of her and how incredible that was. Not to mention her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John, The Baptist at the time she had this conversation with Mary. These two women were asked to birth and mother two of the most important figures in Christianity, Jesus clearly being the most crucial figure. I began to think about the women, not the symbols that they were. Mary was literally a girl, no older than most of my students and she was asked to face social judgments, ridicule, and the possibility of losing her fiancĂ© in order to give birth and raise the savior of human kind, oh, and the Son of God. No biggie, right? While Mary had doubts and was obviously afraid she accepted her task and did it faithfully. And when her cousin Elizabeth asked her, “how do you feel about your new task of mothering the savior of mankind?” and instead of admitting to her fear and anxiety she praised God and all of his might, she praised his preference of the lowly and the humble. And she and Elizabeth did as God called them to do, they had these children and protected them and those children grew up to complete their tasks, and in essence these people saved the world.

So, who are we? Where do we fit? Does God speak to us? Are we called? When I was younger I used to ask my parents all the time, “why doesn’t God talk to us anymore?” I just didn’t get it. I was surrounded by all these stories about people that God had spoken to. So I couldn’t help but wonder, where were our messenger angels? Where were the beams of light? The burning bushes? When I brought this up in Sunday school today one of the others made a great point, he said, “Well, I think it all boils down to the fact that we think to highly of ourselves to hear anything”. After we discussed this a little more we all came to the conclusion that God absolutely speaks to us. But, the world we live in is so loud and so reliant on proof that we forget to listen with our hearts and only focus on what we can see and hear. In the days of Mary and Elizabeth and even Moses the faith was held at the beginning, their was no pride or outside noise to get in the way of hearing God’s call and whole heartedly answering it. These days we usually don’t see our purpose or call until the end. How many times has it happened that way? “I didn’t realize what an impact I’d had until I left”… or “I didn’t realize what I had until it was gone”. And then we call it coincidence or divine intervention and we look up to the sky and say, “way to be tricky God, I see what you did there”… I’m sure every now and then God just looks down and says, “I tried to tell you.”

I asked the group to think of a time when they were in a situation that seemed completely ordinary or when your work seemed pointless and that it wasn’t until the end that you realized what God had in store. I asked them, “What has been a Magnificat moment in your life?” One guy shared a story of how he got involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and how he wasn’t quite sure how to impact this young kids life just by hanging out with him and it wasn’t until the boy’s Grandfather got sick and while sitting in the hospital with the family did he realize what an impact he had had on the entire family just by being a role model for this young kid. When he asked how he and the boy were paired up it was over a simple shared interest in wrestling, that’s it! It was then that he realized God had had a hand in that decision and he had a Magnificat moment. For me, I’ve been lucky enough to have a few Magnificat moments, but the biggest and most influential was my YAGM year. It was a year of struggle and frustration and questioning and as I went to my different farewell gatherings I was finally told by the people who I thought barely noticed my presence what an impact I had on them and their community just by getting on a plane and spending a year with them, talking, walking with them, drinking tea with them, or playing with their children. It was something I wished that I had been aware of the entire time, but I realize now that I simply wasn’t listening.

So, ultimately we came full circle. We looked at these symbolic people who sparked the religion we all hold so dear today, but we didn’t see them as images in a stained glass window, or a figurine on the alter, we looked at them as ordinary people who God asked to be extraordinary. And we admired them for their faith and their trust in God, but also their ability to so fully praise their God and the call he gave them. We shared in Mary’s Magnificat and we looked for our own. As you close this window and go about your day, think about a Magnificat moment in your life, and as we go on listen a little closer to what you might be called to do.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What kind of God....?

This world can be really shitty. Horrible, awful things happen on a daily basis: natural disasters, violence, abuse, viral epidemics… you name it. When these things happen we automatically look for someone to blame. Sometimes it’s a politician, sometimes someone that looks different than us, or a lot of the time we blame the only “person” that can’t defend themself, and that’s God. For people who don’t believe or are not tied to a certain religion a common reason is “I can’t believe in a God who would let such bad things happen to people” and for people who do believe that kind of doubt can shake our faith to the core. I mean let’s face it, we basically treat God like a punching bag… We pray when times are hard and we ask for healing and forgiveness and justice and mercy, but how often do we give thanks? How often do we simply use prayer just to praise? I know that I don’t do it enough, that’s for sure. When the unthinkable happens we rarely look inward for someone to blame or for a reason behind the tragedy, most of the time we look up and we ask “Why me?” “Why us?” “Why them?”
I sometimes think that we picture God as this guy sitting in a room full of tv screens, zoomed in on our lives, and in front of him (or her) is a control panel and as time passes they click certain buttons and good or bad things happen. Like maybe six months ago “control panel God” said to himself “you know, I think its time for Ebola to pop back up in west Africa” and poof, the button was pushed and that young boy came back to his village only to die two days later and infect his entire family in the process. So, think of God that way if you like, but I just can’t. I’m cutting God some slack, trying to control everything that happens in this world would be like trying to herd 6 billion cats and as all powerful as God might be, I’m sorry, but you try getting two cats to do what you want them to do and let me know how it goes.
I’m not saying that I don’t believe in divine intervention, I think God shows up at certain times (both good and bad) and I think there are reasons behind everything. But what I don’t believe is that my God is a vengeful God, or a God who sees horrible things happen and sits back and just watches. No, God acts, he acts through us. He puts people on this earth with knowledge and passion and abilities to get us through whatever shit storm we are currently in. I’d say his most famous addition to the human race was this crazy street preacher by the name of Jesus… I mean, am I right??

God never promised us perfection, God never tells us it will be easy. But you know what God did do? God gave us a pretty incredible planet, and we were given each other. God gave us a choice to either do the best we could or sit back and blame “him” for all the crap. We are the ones that have polluted our planet, and discriminated against each other, and allowed people to go hungry and for children to die. God did not do that, we did. So, guess who has to fix it? WE DO! It won’t be easy, it will be messy, and it will not go the way we want it to all the time. But, in my opinion we can’t look at God as someone to blame anymore. When we turn our faces upward to talk to God we can't demand answers anymore, no more "why's" what we need to do is pray for direction and guidance. Because God has put us in the drivers seat of this train, which is terrifying, but a long time ago (with the help of that crazy street preacher) he laid down the tracks for us.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The beauty in disappointment

I’m not sure what’s worse, being disappointed or being the disappointment. As someone who is constantly feeling guilty for something (whether it’s warranted or not) I would say that being a disappointment is so much worse. We all remember those times when, as a kid, you brought home a bad report or a not so stellar grade and your parents would say “I’m not mad… I’m disappointed”. I know I would much rather they had been mad at me! Anything but disappointed please!!! Disappointment is its very own kind of special emotion, it is totally one sided. When someone is angry at you, you are usually angry at them and it is over a specific kind of circumstance, one that may not happen often or on a regular basis. But, with disappointment it can be something small, something that happens all the time. There also isn’t a whole lot of communication when it comes to being disappointed, maybe it seems like such a small thing to get upset over so you don’t mention it, despite the fact that the hurt is still there, maybe you don’t want to make the other person feel bad or guilty because deep down you know they would never intend to hurt you, but it doesn’t change the fact that they let you down.  Disappointment can come in all forms, whether it’s your best friend forgetting your birthday, that cupcake not being as good as it looked (which let’s be honest, is tragic), a close friend not showing up for an important event, or even a relationship not working out, life is just overflowing with disappointment! Tiny disappointments, huge disappointments, moderate ones… they’re all there. And no matter who you are you will disappoint someone in your life and you will be disappointed by others… it’s just the way it goes.

Don’t worry, we’re in a dark place right now but this train of thought sees light at the end of the tunnel, so don’t hop off just yet…

I’m currently reading Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber and something she said in her book is what sparked this train of thought in my head this morning. She said that when she started her church she told all new members that at some point or another they would be disappointed in either the church, its members, her (as their pastor), or the entire Church body (in this case the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Now, I think for most of us, if a conversation starts off with “hey, guess what? I’m going to disappoint you at some point!” we’d go running for the hills, but that’s before we hear the second part. The second part (which Nadia touched on in her book) is that if you stick around, if you deal with the occasional disappointment, look passed people’s occasional missteps, what you’ll experience is something beautiful, you’ll experience a true relationship. You’ll realize that a lot of things that disappoint us aren’t that big of a deal when compared to the things that fulfill us. Disappointment doesn’t have to ruin relationships, it doesn’t have to ruin experiences because in the long run the good will outweigh the bad, if you let it. It will always be easier to be angry, to be disappointed and bitter, it doesn’t take a lot of energy because, let’s face it, this world we live in and even the people we love can be real shitty sometimes. But, on the other hand this world can be beautiful and the people we love are wonderful despite the occasional misstep or selfishness.

So, I guess what I was thinking is that as much as disappointment can really suck, it’s not that bad when you look at the other side of things. And you know, if something is consistently disappointing then I’d say we just don’t need it. So the next time you feel let down or disappointed, think about why you feel that way… was the situation totally out of your hands? Did you communicate what you wanted? Is it really worth the time to worry about it? In my opinion disappointment just teaches what we want and don’t want, what we expect or don’t expect, and we all just need to come to terms with the fact that disappointment is a part of life, and while it’s ok to feel let down, it’s not ok to wallow in it. Remember the beauties of life, the relationships that work, the fact that even the people we love the most have faults… love them anyway, enjoy life, enjoy the disappointment, enjoy the successes, because when the time comes the disappointments don’t matter, but the joy we felt and the love we shared always do.