Saying Goodbye

GoodbyeSometimes it is really hard to say goodbye- like when people we love die.

Sometimes it is really easy to say goodbye- like when you know you’ll see someone tomorrow.

And then there is saying goodbye in the church. And that feels so different.

When we talk about church as a family or a home, it makes it very hard when people leave- regardless of their reason. And people leave their churches for all sorts of reasons.  They move.  They get married and join their spouse’s church.  Their needs change.  They change.  The list goes on and on.

And while what draws us to church might be very different- the church has only one main goal- to form and send disciples into the world.

Because being a disciple is what we are called by Jesus to be.  And not just a disciple- but a disciple who makes other disciples.

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells his disciples to, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

In light of this scripture, it is best to remind ourselves, that the church is more than a family or a home.  It is also where we go each Sunday to PRACTICE being disciples.  It is the place to practice being disciples, so that way come Monday morning, we are able to go into all nations- Toyota Nation, Wells Fargo Nation, and even “in your own house” Nation- and make disciples. Church is a safe place to practice, learn, experience, and grow as disciples so that we can go out and witness to Jesus Christ in the world- and make disciples.

We stay at church to practice being disciples- so that come Monday morning we can go into our nations…and make disciples.

But sometimes we forget this command from Jesus.  We can think that the church exists to meet only our needs, when actually we exist in the church for the purpose of making disciples.  All of the other great things the church offers- fellowship, friendship, and family- is icing on the cake. Delicious and life giving, but still icing.

And so, when people leave- or if there comes a day when you leave- know that as a disciple AND as someone who is part of a family, saying goodbye is important and necessary.

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  1. Say goodbye. Tell people if you are leaving. Allow for people to say goodbye to you.  Say goodbye to people who are leaving. In this digital age, it is easy to stay connected- so make the effort to say those sometimes difficult words to say.
  2. Talk to your priests. Feeling that perhaps it is time for you to leave? Feeling sad that someone has left? Feeling anxious about what people leaving may or may not mean?  Please, talk to your priests. We can offer prayer, support, context and perspective that would be difficult to find elsewhere.
  3. Grieve.  It is a loss when people leave.  It is a loss to leave a church.  Allow yourself to grieve this loss. Also know that as new people arrive in churches, they too may be in grief from leaving a church.  Be gentle with each other.
  4. Remember that the Body of Christ is bigger than the walls of a building.  We do not stop being brothers and sisters just because we worship in different places. Leave on good terms if you can.
  5. film animated GIF Know that people come and go from churches all of the time. Some you will notice are gone.  Many you didn’t notice when they were there, and so you never noticed when they didn’t come back. The coming and goings of people to churches is seasonal and cyclical- and each of us will have seasons and circumstances in our lives that will initiate the coming or going from one church to another.
  6. Pray and be prayed for.  Let your church pray you into a new community that will help you continue to grow as a disciple. Pray for people as they journey- knowing that finding a new church is a journey that requires faith and courage.
  7. Lastly, know that you are loved. In your coming and going, as a disciple and as a beloved child of God.  You are loved.
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Alcohol ain’t no joke. Seriously.

417396_4128471885552_116275812_nThis picture has been in my Facebook news feed for the past few weeks.  I’ve seen it posted in clergy groups, by parishioners to their priest’s Facebook pages, by clergy themselves, and even a few Bishops have shared this picture.

Take a close look at it.

Because I did.

And it makes me angry.

Now, don’t mistake me for a stick in the mud- I get full well that this is a joke.  Ha. Ha.

But I am really tired about the way that alcohol is used as a “joke” among Episcopalians.  And it needs to stop.  Because alcohol is no joke in the Episcopal tradition- and clergy especially should be mindful of what these jokes are saying about us and what they are saying to those we lead.

Because we are a tradition where alcohol is used and abused by many- and yet is also treated cavalierly by clergy and lay alike, creating an environment where people are enabled in their addiction and unhealthy dependence is even, in some circles, encouraged.

I am not saying that drinking alcohol is bad.  Far from it.  What I am saying is that joking about alcohol- and in the instance of the picture above, that clergy are drinking while not only WORKING but PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS- is in poor taste.  And gives the wrong impression. And just ick.  And that we as a denomination need to be more mindful about our relationship with alcohol- how we talk about it, how we consume it, and how we think about it.  We need to be mindful about the messages that we are putting out into the Kingdom- and the message that alcohol is a joking matter has no place in the Kingdom. And joking about something so serious only helps to keep those who need help in the shadows of their addiction- and we should be people of Light!  We should be a people who encourage people to live into who Christ calls them to be, not enabling addiction or unhealthy relationships with alcohol OR cultivating environments in which darkness, secrets, and shame run rampant.

*In my quest to see if the artist of the above cartoon is an Episcopalian (his personal blog is down and Google failed me) I did see that he has criteria to use his work.  I offer this link to his site to be in bounds for using this drawing.

Little Gifts

It is the custom at St. Mary’s that we send the Sunday altar flowers to visitors and folks who might need a little pick me up: recovering from surgery, birthday, because your name jumped into our hearts.

Dedicated volunteers arrange the flowers and other dedicated volunteers deliver them. Just a way to share a bit of God’s beauty.

I walked into my office yesterday morning to see a single, beautiful, yellow rose on my desk. A yellow rose from Sunday’s flowers.

yellow rose

 

My mom- who died in 2006 when I was in college- loved yellow roses. They were her favorite. My family and I laid yellow roses on her grave stone. My dad and I held a yellow rose when we danced the father/daughter dance at my wedding.

To some the yellow rose may belong to Texas. But to me it is my mom, and it was a gift to see her on my desk this week.  Gratitude to the person who left it there- you have no idea of the enormity of this little gesture.

 

May this serve as a gentle reminder that it is the little gifts- the little gestures of love and tenderness- that swell the hearts of those who receive them.

Scarcity and the Gospel

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Scarcity- the notion that there isn’t enough- sneaks into our churches and our lives with Christ.  Not enough resources, not enough people, not enough caring and love. Oh how I wish we were immune, but we aren’t. And we try- I see the efforts of many as they combat the pervasive culture of scarcity in their lives- but it still creeps in and we are constantly having to remind ourselves that God does not operate in scarcity.
Because this is how Jesus showed those who seek him his love.
“And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” Mark 6: 56
Jesus meets us where we are- and if that is at the hem of his cloak then that is where he will be. But he is also with us at our most tired and joy filled moments. When we are rejoicing in our success and frustrated in the shortcomings. Jesus will meet us at the hem of his cloak, only to reach down his hand and pull us up into a warm embrace. Jesus is constantly saying to us that we are worthy. Worth loving, worth healing, worth saving from ourselves and worth saving from the world. We are enough- good enough smart enough beautiful enough faithful enough as beloved children of God.
There is no scarcity in Gods love for each of us.

Perception v. Reality

In preparation for my sermon this past Sunday- July 5th- I ran across an older post by David Lose on Working Preacher.  He shared this prayer, written by Pastor Meredith Musaus and prayed at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Menomonee Falls, WI.

“L[eader]: Let us pray together.
C[ongregation]: Your church is composed of people like me.
I help make it what it is.
It will be friendly, if I am.
Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them.
It will do great work, if I work.
It will make generous gifts to many causes, if I am a generous giver.
It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship, if I invite and bring them.
It will be a church where people grow in faith and serve you, if I am open to such growth and service.
Therefore, with your help Lord, we shall dedicate ourselves to the task of being all the things you want your church to be.  Amen.”

I hope you noticed that it is a prayer that is prayed aloud by the congregation, not one prayed on behalf of the congregation by the leadership of the church.  That’s important.

In a world in which perception and reality are often confused, this prayer helps us to remember what the reality of a disciple of Jesus Christ actually looks like.  It looks like you and me doing the work of the Gospel- living it, breathing it, and sharing it with others.

The rub of course is this: if we don’t actually do what this prayer bids, we too will fall into the trap of thinking our perception of who we are as disciples and a church community is our reality.  We run the risk of our actions not reflecting our words.  We run the risk of limiting the power of Jesus in our lives and the lives of others, if our concern is just that people think we are good Christians rather than actually being a good Christian.

Chronic Illness and Holy Week: It Just Won’t Bend.

Reverend Beth+ recently wrote about a little stumble she had.  She is fine, but she banged up her face a bit. She wrote about it here. It’s right on her beautiful face, for all the world to see.

And it made me think of all of the illness and wounds that can’t be seen.  Anxiety.  Depression.  PTSD.

And for me, a chronic illness.

In 2010 I was diagnosed with Chron’s Disease.  And while it is generally mild, and doesn’t cause me too much of an inconvenience, when it rears it’s head it is awful.  It can show up in a lot of ways, and for me it causes terrible inflammation of the joints.  I can’t bend my elbows, walking hurts, ankles swell to gargantuan proportions.  It hits my vanity pretty hard, especially when I can’t do my hair (yikes!). But more so, it can be hard to hold my children which is even more painful.

But more so, it can be hard to hold my children which is even more painful.

Right now, as I work with my doctor to figure out the right medicine, I am experiencing a flare which has decided to settle in my right leg.  Ankle and calf are swollen and my knee HURTS when it bends.  Which makes walking difficult, and kneeling impossible.  Seriously, it just won’t bend.

ENTER HOLY WEEK:

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Now, Episcopalians like to kneel a lot.  You don’t get to experience a service where we don’t do it.  But in Holy Week we get especially bendy, and it’s like kneeling on steroids.  Especially on Good Friday, where one can spend the majority of the time on their knees.  And this year it just won’t happen for me.

And it is screwing with majorly.

As a priest, I suspect I am in the same boat with a lot of my sisters and brothers when I say that I really like Holy Week.  Sure, it’s a lot of work, and come Easter Monday I will want to stay in bed all day…but Holy Week is special.  It is a time when we (literally) walk with Christ through the Stations of the Cross, we wash feet and break bread, and we (figuratively) feel Christ’s pain as he is stripped, whipped, and nailed to the Cross.  And we kneel.  A lot.

And I can’t.

So this year I will be figuring out how to spiritually kneel when I physically can’t.  I will be figuring out how I can be penitent in heart and soul (well, more so than normal) when the body just isn’t cooperating. I will be figuring out how to lead others in that which I cannot do- and somehow come to peace with a body that is indeed made in the image of God but doesn’t work the way that I want it to.

I know that the shadow of the Cross is transformed in the light of the Resurrection.

I know that the shadow of the Cross is transformed in the light of the Resurrection.  My prayer is that my body will be transformed with it.  And if not my body, a close second would be my attitude. Because I would love to see my chronic illness through the perfect eyes of God; to know that I am perfect in my creation, even in my struggle.

 

Bowl life: Come on in, the water’s nice.

The phrase “swimming in a fishbowl” is one that gets used a lot when you are going through the process to be ordained.

fishbowl- a glass sphere in which everything can be seen.  THERE ARE NO SECRETS.

This should be abundantly clear for clergy.  After all, when we are ordained we take a vow that certainly touches on this.

“Will you do you best to pattern your life [and that of your family, or household, or community] in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?”

This vow is made for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that living in the fishbowl means people are looking at you and toward you all of the time.  All of the time.

I certainly agree that being a priest means living a different life. And being held to a higher standard.  I go to bed early on Saturday nights (except when the kids won’t sleep).  I go to church (almost) every Sunday- which means my family and I don’t take spur of the moment vacations to the cabin for the weekend or sleep in Sunday mornings. I read the Bible.  A lot…like, really a lot.  And I read what other people, who also read the Bible a lot, have to say about the Bible.

I keep my Facebook clean and don’t comment (often) on crazy stuff I read on the internet (because let’s be real, there is a ton of crazy stuff on the internet).

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And I encourage my family to do the same.  My kids are at church before most people are even awake and are still there once most people have gone home and are watching the afternoon game.  My husband comes to most events and worships most Sunday’s (except when he’s home with a sick kid). I do my best to keep our family- as the vow asks- in a Jesus pattern.

Fishbowl living hard at times. But thankfully, the vow only asks, “do your best.”

Which means there are times when we mess up.

Like when Addison was mispronouncing a lot of words, so she stayed home 2 Sunday’s in a row because “Sock” just wasn’t coming out right.  Or when I forget about a commitment.  Or when life happens and the sermon isn’t quite what I would like it to be- not even good enough, just enough.

There are times when my temper gets away from me, when my hair isn’t perfect, when I’m not in a good mood, and when I absolutely just want to be at home in my pajamas watching crap TV (ok- sleeping while crap TV is on).

But I’m trying.

A friend recently shared with me this: the way we act as Christians either reinforces or challenges someone’s opinion of God.  Which is another way to look at fishbowl living.  Are my actions speaking well of God?  Or am I giving God a bad name?

The way we act as Christians either reinforces or challenges someone’s opinion of God.

Not everyone takes vows to pattern their lives to be wholesome examples…but maybe everyone should.

946e0773eb9095b67a6486d253e86357As Christians, it means something different when we show up for people.  When we apologize and admit to being wrong.  When we take responsibility for our actions, both good and messed up.  Because it isn’t just us that we speak for.  We represent all Christians, Christianity as an institution and religion, and even God, to some people.  It’s recognizing that we are both awesome and sinners- and even awesome sinners sometimes.  And it means welcoming and loving all people as your neighbor.  It means striving for excellence knowing that it won’t always happen- and that simply trying your best is all it takes.  And when trying just won’t happen, that a new day will dawn and you can try again.  It means something different when we do- or don’t do- things as Christians.

And thankfully- because we aren’t striving for perfection- there is always room for more people in the bowl. No one is too good or too bad to come and swim.  It takes some work to be in the bowl- but we are all better off if more people jump in.