An Open Letter to All the Open Letters, Enough, Already!

Just a little preachy…

I am a pastor. I pastor a church that is part of the Evangelical Friends tradition. We are not perfect. We are small. Our average age is higher than ideal. But we are committed to each other.

I have been reading a lot lately about why people are leaving the Church, and conversely about how those leaving the Church are to blame. It is becoming another issue to divide Christ’s followers, and that bugs me. Who says the Church couldn’t re-evaluate and change? Who says it’s ok to walk away rather than stick it out? Both “sides” bring valid points to the table. The trouble I see is that those willing to actually come to the table to talk it out are rare.

Like most issues, we find ourselves defending our position. Those who leave are defending that choice and those who stay are defending the way they do Church. What we end up with are people shouting, using polemics (fighting words, remember?), with everyone convinced they are right and the others are wrong.

It’s not helping.

The mission Jesus gave his followers was “Go and make disciples.” Fighting about who is right and who is wrong doesn’t help us make disciples. It doesn’t help us serve the poor or lift up the broken. It doesn’t help us shine the light of grace into the darkness of despair.

It’s destructive.

The Church is a human and divine construct. It has been (egregiously) wrong in the past, probably is now, and will continue to be wrong about some things until Christ returns. The Church must listen to the voices of the hurt, broken and outcast from among our ranks. Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

The Church is also a family, a body that ought to work together. No one I know has a perfect family or a perfect body, and yet few of us are willing to cut off the parts that need healing–even the parts that fail to yield to therapy both physical and mental. Neither should those who are in the Church but frustrated decide to walk away for good.

It’s a red herring.

To those in the Church: the Church isn’t going to die, and you can’t kill it. Through the two millennia of its existence, the Church has taken on many forms. When one is no longer serving the mission, the Spirit blows in a new direction. What results may look very different. There weren’t always permanent physical locations for worship meetings. There weren’t always cathedrals either. There have not always been paid clergy, music, instruments, bands, stages, altars, and any number of other things that automatically come to mind when someone says “Church.”

The culture is changing. The Church is changing, too. Dynamically, some changes in the Church are accommodating culture and others are challenging it even more. Not all change is bad. Not all change is good, either. But we have to prayerfully consider change before we judge its merits.

To those who have walked away: do you think they will change now that you are gone? By choosing to disengage you have left the fight. Perhaps you voiced your concerns, perhaps they were rejected. Perhaps you have been offended, perhaps those who hurt you have no idea how to make it right. I can’t tell you to go back to the specific group you left behind. What I can say is that whatever your experience, there are bodies of believers who are completely different. There are those who will listen. There are those who will jump on your bandwagon and fight alongside you to bring the change that you are seeking. If you believe in your heart that the institution is broken and you have the answers, please don’t walk away and leave us in this mess.

We need every point of view. We need every gift. We need every passion for the lost, the broken, those hurt by the church, or the world, or sin. We need you.

Because we are family.

Because we are a body.

Because what makes us the Church is our association with each other. I am not the Church, you are not the Church. WE are the Church. And whatever changes come in the culture around us, within our walls, in the way we worship, the only one that matters is the change in our hearts so that we reflect Christ who said, “Father let them be one as you and I are one.”

Paul expresses it well, too.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,  so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1Corinthians 12:14-27

 

6 Reasons Why I’m Always Running Behind

I claim tardiness as my number one weakness in life. For whatever reason, I was not blessed with the on-time gene. This drives some people crazy, others feel it is balanced by my winning personality, some are relieved because they know they are not alone. Here are some things my well-timed friends may find surprising. Maybe this will bring peace of mind and clear up any misunderstandings about why I, and others like me, find it difficult to arrive before the bell.

1. I absolutely hate being late.

I am fully aware of my lack of promptness. It is not a power play, like some would have you believe. I am usually running behind because of my inability to say no to the 10 tasks that pop up just before I walk out the door. The phone always rings. My toddler has the worst timing for bowel movements. My second-grader waits until now to show me the 4 page writing assignment that showcases her new-found brilliance in reading. My oldest has a meltdown over 5th grade girl drama. All in the 5 minutes before we are supposed to walk out the door. This is why we set an alarm for 15 minutes before we are supposed to leave, but somehow that is still not enough.

2. I sometimes use lateness as a cover.

I am an introvert. I hate being the first one anywhere that I do not have a specific role to play. Small talk kills me. So I would rather walk into a meeting after others are already engaged in conversation. That way I can listen and only contribute what I feel is important. This is why I love meetings with a mingle buffer. The time to talk starts 15 minutes before, usually over coffee, and I can come anytime in that 15 minute window. If I am feeling chatty, I can get there early. If I am already talked out or have something pressing to take care of then I can arrive just before the meeting officially starts.

3. I hate to leave tasks incomplete.

I am a bit of a perfectionist. Not obsessively, but enough that I find it difficult to stop in the middle of a project to go somewhere and do something else. That means if I am working on something that I can finish in the next few minutes and it will mean arriving up to five minutes late, I will probably choose that option. That goes for half-written sermons to a half-loaded dishwasher to half-read emails and articles.

4. I am not always late.

I am a pastor, which means there are things I cannot be late for; funerals, weddings, and worship services are among them. So I set a really early time to leave for the event. I don’t start anything up to an hour before I leave the house. I plan a half-hour buffer between my arrival time and the start of any planned event. I sometimes still arrive after my artificial deadline, but always before I am needed.

5. If I am late, it is not about you.

My lateness is not a reflection of how much I value the people or the function I am attending. If I am late for a coffee date or a committee meeting, I am not making a statement. I’m just late. Probably a little overwhelmed by life. Definitely chastising myself for being 35 and still unable to leave the house or office and get where I am going on time.

6. I’m the friend who will clear her schedule for you.

People tend to be my highest priority. If we have met for coffee and we are going long, I will not stop mid-conversation to dash off to the next thing. I will cancel my next meeting before leaving you hanging if you need to talk. My kids and husband come first, so If they need me, I am there for them. If someone is in crisis and I can talk with them, pray with them, listen to them process their situation, the schedule goes out the window.

Chalk it up to genetics, perfectionism, prioritizing relationships, it all adds up to a part of who I am that alternately brings comfort to some and annoyance to others. It is part of who I am, but not something to which I have surrendered. Maybe the ReFreshing Life consists of accepting ourselves while continuing to press toward becoming our best selves.

What is your weakness? Are you owning it? How can you work toward your best self?

Adaptability

It is funny the things we think we can’t live without. I broke my right arm near the wrist on Christmas Eve Eve as my daughter calls it, December 23rd for the rest of us. I must say that there is little more inconvenient than organizing Christmas celebrations with a splint up to one’s elbow. My response to this limitation vacillates between “I can do whatever I want, this cast won’t stop me,” to “Ouch, I can’t do anything with this stupid thing. Why hasn’t someone invented instant bone-healing pills?”

This isn’t the first time I have had something I considered vital taken away, and I know I will get back the use of my arm in a few weeks. At 35, my weeks fly by so fast that I am sure it will feel like no time. For now, though, I feel uncomfortable; stretched in ways I would rather not experience. Typing left-handed. Driving left-handed, including starting the engine and shifting gears (at least I drive an automatic). Showering with my right arm in a bag. It makes every task harder. Hardest yet, brushing my teeth with my non-dominant hand. Seriously try it sometime, it will make you feel helplessly awkward.

It's broken!

It’s broken!

If you had asked me what limb I would least like to lose the use of for 6 weeks, I would probably have said “My right arm.” Surprisingly, though I am already coping. Two weeks later and I am less awkward at getting dressed–I fastened my own bra this morning. I can make coffee in my french press, which is a vital task. I have even managed to chop onions left-handed and brushing my teeth gets easier every day. I have begun to adapt.

Things are still not easy, but they will get better. I will get better at doing them. And in 4 more weeks I will have new skills and strength that would have gone undeveloped had I not been forced to do things differently.

None of us like change. We would all prefer to make our choices independently and do things the ways in which we are familiar. We are constantly accumulating things we think we have to have in order to survive. But we can live with less. We can adapt to loss. We can find new strength to take the place of whatever we had propping us up. Sometimes the thing we fear to lose the most is the thing we ought to try living without, at least for a time.

What are you leaning on? Can you live without it? Where would you find strength if you lost what you hold dear?

Finding out we are stronger than we thought, now that’s ReFreshing.

Prayer for today

This week several of my friends are in very difficult circumstances. With loved ones in critical condition, babies on respirators, and spouses barely hanging on, my heart is straining to be with them. While I must remain far away, I know that prayers are not limited by location and God is present everywhere.

God hold close to your heart those too far away for my arms to hold.
Bring courage to troubled hearts as they walk through the darkest valley.
Strengthen the hands of those who today bear unimaginable loads
and guide their feet into paths of peace & restoration.
Amen

My 2015 Fast

Living with intention is one of my continuous goals.

The past two years I have set an intention to simplify my life in ways that encourage justice and good stewardship. I believe that Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, mankind, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you but to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God,” correlates with Jesus’ two greatest commandments to love God and neighbor.

In 2013 I felt drawn toward practicing justice by becoming aware of slave-made products and limiting my contribution to slave-driven markets. I committed to buy only fairly traded chocolate & coffee, and to abstain from clothes shopping unless absolutely necessary.

Photo by linder6580

Photo by linder6580

 

In 2014 I wanted to continue this discipline by setting an intention to eat meat-free whenever possible, with exceptions for community and hospitality situations so as not to place my fast before fellowship. This intention was driven by knowledge that animal production for human consumption is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses, and the treatment of mass-produced animals is abysmal.

DSC00981

This year, I am turning my attention a little closer to home.

While we try to make healthy choices, mine and my family’s sugar consumption still exceeds what is recommended for good health. You may or may not be surprised to learn in the year 2000, the average American consumed 32 teaspoons of added sugar every day. The USDA recommends individuals not exceed 10 teaspoons per day, and the American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women.

Cover Image graur razvan ionut  FreeDigitalPhotos.netConsuming added sugar contributes to inflammation, cavities, high triglycerides, heart disease, and our expanding waistlines. In filling our plates with processed foods high in sugar, we pass by more nutritious foods. High sugar diets are almost always lacking good vitamins and minerals.

This is my year to tackle sugar and processed foods.

I plan to read every label, count those grams of added sugar (4grams per teaspoon), replace processed with natural sweetness. I am setting an intention to bypass all processed sugar, soda, white rice, and white flour daily. I will allow myself 1 weekly indulgence in each of these categories, which should give me room to eat out with my family, or receive hospitality graciously. My hope is to increase in health, decrease my inflammation, and shrink my waistline. I don’t have specific weight goals, focusing on weight is not productive for me. I desire to care for the body I have as the gift that it is and nurture the life I have been given each day.

Here is to a new year, a new challenge, another opportunity to grow.

Embracing life and making it count, how ReFreshing!