Thursday, December 10, 2015

Waiting on Jesus

When I was 12 or 13, I was attacked by a dog on the way to catch the bus for school.  I can still vividly remember what the teeth felt like on my leg right before the owner got the dog off of me.  I wasn’t injured but it changed my interaction with all dogs forever.  I developed a clinical phobia of dogs to the point that even hearing the jingle of dog tags changed my breathing.  So, you can imagine my husband’s surprise when I suggested we get the family a dog for Christmas.  My kids asked for pets for years but with their allergies and asthma, the doctors told us it was best to avoid pets in our home.  This was fine with me since I was allergic to cats, had a dog phobia, and wanted my boys to be as healthy as possible.  Although we still have allergies, the only one left using an inhaler is me and usually because of cold weather.

I knew that my younger son told my sister “he really needed a pet with fur.”  He has an aquarium of fish.  When I talked to her about getting a hamster he saw at the pet store, she encouraged me to get a small dog like hers.  Many people over the years have extolled the virtues of pet ownership with no impact on me or my phobia.  For some reason, I came home that night and started searching the Chihuahua rescue sites.  I contacted a few rescue organizations and four days later, we brought home a nine pound, three year old, Chihuahua Terrier mix.  Mitzy met all our criteria: small so I wouldn’t be afraid, young enough to be around a while, past the puppy stage, not too hyper to trip my mom, and she loves to sit on your lap and snuggle.  Perfect.  Thanks, Rescue Lady/Angel, for all your advice!

To be clear, I didn’t want a dog.  Getting a dog was something I was doing for everyone else because I knew how happy it would make them.  In my world, it was the ultimate gift because of my history and frankly, my aversion to pet smells and hair!  With a newly redecorated house, this was the most unlikely time to get a pet.  I told my husband, “I think I’ve lost my mind” because I couldn’t explain my change of heart.    

After the Charleston shootings, I wrote a blog called “Who Will Change Your Heart” which is still one of my most popular postings.  I know that God changes our heart through others, through messengers.  These messengers may be in our lives for a moment or a lifetime.  I think God has opened my heart wider to do something for my kids that was previously impossible.  Some of you may not think this is a big deal.  Let me be clear, even a month ago, I never, ever would have thought I would be living with a dog.  I had a saying in my house for years:  “if it has more than four legs and it’s in my house, it better be dead.”  This mostly referred to Texas-sized insects, but you get the idea. 

Lately, as I have pondered what Advent means to me, I realize that I focus more on the second coming of Christ than on the first coming of Christ into the world as a baby.  I think more about the adult Jesus than the baby Jesus.  [FYI – adult Jesus Christmas ornaments are scarce.]  It’s the only season of the liturgical church year that addresses the second coming.  The rest of the church year is based on historical events in Jesus’ life – not future events.  And unlike Lent, where we are invited to grow closer to God through individual retrospection, I think Advent is our opportunity to grow closer to God through our relationships with each other. After all, Jesus came to show us what human relationship can be when we are rooted in his love.  His teachings were about our relationship with His father but they were also about our relationship with each other. 

So as I struggled to be in the moment during Advent and feeling like I’d not made much progress, I now think maybe I have.  My relationship with my family has certainly changed in an unexpected way.  I have also been hearing many stories from those who experienced a heartbreaking lack of real relationship in their previous Christian communities but are now finding true connection at St. Mary's.  

We don’t know when Jesus will come back.  As we walk through this season of preparation, how can we live our life in expectation of the return of the adult Jesus?  And, I don’t mean in an apocalyptic-stock-up-the-canned-goods kind of way, but in a way that draws us a closer to God as a community in waiting.  Waiting for all things to be perfected and modeling that perfect love that transcends all division, all fear, all hate.  How can we all grow closer to God by reaching out in love?   

Friday, November 20, 2015

What Are You Afraid Of?

Everywhere I look, it seems fear is swirling.  These are unsettling times and the forces of evil are at work.  Violence is an obvious evil but so is fear.  Years ago, my rector, Rev. Beth Fain, told me that fear is not from God.  That stuck with me and I can see how fear is at the root of much sin.  If sin is separation from God, then the Evil One uses fear to drive a wedge between us and God and erode trust between us and our neighbor. 

Following Jesus has no guarantees.  When we welcome, serve, reach out, care, or love, we do so with no promise of safety, reciprocity, appreciation, or returned love.  Jesus gave us no easy way out.  He just said don’t be afraid and I am with you.  We can choose to be obedient or we can choose our own comfort.  But obedience and comfort are mutually exclusive.  And Jesus was obedient even when he knew that meant he would be handed over to people who would kill him.  We are so comfortable and that is what scares me the most.  As long as our focus is ourselves first and everyone else second, the kingdom will get smaller and smaller.

Jesus never made success or results his goals.  We are conditioned to control outcomes but that doesn’t leave room for God to move.  If we only do those things where there is no risk of failure, then we are only doing human stuff.  Because taking risks invites the Spirit in to transform and astound.  Our little human capacity is small and only with God’s involvement do great things happen.  If we want to do small and be small then we have that covered all by ourselves.  If we want to change the world, we have to leave enough open space for God to act. 

God is bigger than anything we can imagine or comprehend.  Can you be obedient or is certainty too enticing to take a chance on Him?  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Simple Life

Seventeen years ago, I had a dream about Jesus.  I still remember it; it was very vivid.  I’m not going to share the details here because I don’t think that is the purpose of the dream.  My spiritual director (whom my son calls my “spirit guide” LOL) suggested that I may want to be quiet and journal about the dream, that there was more to learn from it.  I took some quiet time to just be open to God after I put it off for fear that He wouldn’t show me anything.  I know, I know.  You’d think I’d be over that by now.  Today, as we talked and unpacked the gifts of this dream, I saw a cardinal fly on a tree branch outside the window.  We both stopped to watch it.  She asked me if I knew what a cardinal symbolizes.  I didn’t.  The cardinal is a symbol of holiness.   

I shared that I decorate our bedroom in cardinals for Christmas which includes the bedspread and a tree full of cardinals and other birds.  If you’ve never had a Christmas tree in your bedroom, I highly recommend it.  It’s very romantic.  Anyway, I explained that I am one of those people who decorates for Christmas before Advent so that when Advent comes, I can sit back and relax.  I am not celebrating Christmas; I am preparing for Christmas.  In the Episcopal Church, Advent is the month or so before Christmas when we prepare our hearts to receive the incarnate God as the Christ child but also to prepare for Christ’s coming again.  We’ve been waiting over 2,000 years and it could be another 2,000 years or it could be January.  On the back end, I celebrate all 12 days of Christmas and occasionally have a “fifth day of Christmas party” or the like. 

My home church, St. Mary’s, is sharing a video to prepare for Advent. (Click on Advent at St. Mary’s if it doesn’t pop up.)  It’s about simplifying our lives to prepare for Christ.  I’d been pondering what I could do to observe a Holy Advent.  I already know the shopping part will be simplified because we simply don’t have the same budget as prior years (this is good thing).  As we dug into my 17 year old dream, it became clear to me that there is nothing to DO during Advent.  I am to just BE.  And the way I’m going to do that is to be in each moment that God gives me.  If I am chopping tomatoes, I’m only going to think about the chopping and not what I need to do after dinner.  If I am driving, only focusing on driving.  As I do the laundry, just think about the task at hand.  As I wrap a gift, just focus on the beautiful paper.  Now, this is not natural for me.  I have been rewarded in my career for my multi-tasking ninja abilities.  And I am a pathological planner.  But this Advent, I am going to just BE.

I stopped to run an errand on the way home and almost fell over when the piped in music outside the store was an instrumental of “Tis the Gift to be Simple.”  [Hymn 554 for you fellow Episco-Nerds]  This hymn is probably the simplest hymn in the book.  One verse:

‘Tis the gift to be simple.  ‘Tis the gift to be free.  ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.  And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘twill be in the valley of love and delight.  When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed to turn, turn, will be our delight till by turning, turning we come round right. 

Is God calling you to just be with Him?  What would that look like for you? 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Grace Abounds

As I got ready this morning, I was humming the music from the Faure Requiem, a piece of music that includes seven movements written in the late 1800’s.  I don’t sing in the choir on a regular basis anymore but came back to sing the Requiem this past Sunday, November 1.  This was offered by the choir as the Liturgy of the Word in observance of All Saints Sunday.  The Requiem is a funeral mass and often performed on All Saints since we remember those saints we love but see no more.  It was a spirit-filled worship and the feedback from the congregation was of blessing and gratitude.  What a gift to be able to participate with this group of diverse musicians and their very talented director.

We rehearsed for about a month and at one of the rehearsals, a guest at Sunday worship came to choir practice that Thursday.  She saw we were doing the Faure Requiem and came to join us – even with her own copy of the music!  What a blessing.  When All Saints Sunday arrived, one of the soloists was too ill to sing Pie Jesu.  Lo and behold, this new choir member had sung this solo twice before and was able to step in at the last moment and sing it beautifully.  God knows what we need before we do. 

As I drove to church today, still humming the Requiem, I considered taking a different route but decided I had plenty of time and for some reason, felt I should go the way I always go.  Lo and behold, as I waited at a stoplight, I looked over and saw my sister helping to put out signs for today’s election.  I rolled down my window and said hello.  What a comfort to see her being active in her community.  My dad was very active in the community and after a long illness, died the morning after Election Day (17 years ago tomorrow).  We said at the time he never would have died while the polls were still open.   God is directing our path.

As I pondered God’s hand in the world, I remembered my sister’s healing.  Some years ago, she was told that her x-rays showed a cancerous mass and to prepare for that diagnosis.  Before surgery, she had an overwhelming experience that she could only describe as being wrapped in angel’s wings.  After her surgery to remove the mass, the doctors could not explain the results – it was not cancer.  The pathologist was so incredulous he sent the test in a second time – not cancer.  God has us in his hands. 

A few years ago, our choir director gave the choir t-shirts that she had screened herself.  They said in Greek, “Grace Abounds.”  That definitely describes the music ministry at St. Mary’s where perfection is not the goal – just a desire to share love through our voices and instruments. 

God's grace is working in the world all around us and through us.  Large or small, in the everyday or on the mountaintop, His Hand is active and the Spirit is with us.  Where have you seen God today?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Lucky or Blessed

If you have seen the Katy Perry movie, you may recall her description of her childhood as strictly religious.  Her upbringing was so conservative that the kids weren’t allowed to eat Lucky Charms cereal because her parents taught that “luck was from Lucifer.”  We joke about that saying in our house – sort of.  I truly believe that all good things come from above so luck has nothing to do with those good things.  I’ve been reflecting on good things lately and how all things work together for good…according to God’s purpose.
Just this past week, we sold our corvette.  It was a hard decision and some of you may be thinking that is ridiculous.  You see, my husband and I are true opposites (except for both being cradle Episcopalians!).  This hobby we shared was something we were equally interested in and it connected us.  The club we belonged to was a charity and we raised a good amount of money to give away through car shows.  I struggled with whether to sell the car because I wanted to sell it for the right reasons.  One night during a time of meditation, these words came to me: don’t make a decision from a position of fear.  This is my life’s mantra and I had forgotten it.  I have learned that if you make a decision from fear such as taking one job because you’re afraid you won’t get another one, you’ll never be at peace with the decision.  Decisions based on fear, other than physical protection, don’t serve us.  This kind of fear is not from God.  So, I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t selling the car because I was fearful that God wouldn’t provide.  I wanted to sell the car because it was a material object that I could let go of in order to live out God’s purpose.  I also knew that my husband really loved it.  He’s a gearhead and loves cars.  He can tell you in a split second the year of a car and the options offered that year, even if the car is decades old.  Really.

Two Saturdays ago, we got a call from a potential buyer and after talking with him, he said he was bringing cash and would buy the car that day.  We spent hours cleaning up the car and he never showed or returned our calls.   Boy, were we mad.  The following Wednesday, another buyer contacted us and wanted more photos.  Thank goodness (God) that we had cleaned up the car a few days before because I didn’t have hours to do it by myself.  Thank goodness (God) that the meeting I was scheduled to attend that morning had been canceled the day before or I wouldn’t have been home to take photos.  This buyer was a car collector from the Chicago area; our car would be #15.  I explained to him that I was working in ministry now and he encouraged me in that work.  Over the next few days, we negotiated a deal and he flew in on Monday to buy the car.  My husband took the day off and as we prepared, we were a little nervous that something might happen and he wouldn’t want the car after flying down here to get it.  I boldly told Ryan this was ordained by God and that everything would be fine.  I was still a little nervous.  Anyway, Ryan brought him to the house from the airport and he said he didn’t need to test drive it – that he would test drive it all the way back to Illinois.  What?!  He handed over a certified check and we invited him to join us for lunch.  He was amazed that we would serve him lunch and said that this was going to be his best car buying story yet.  We prayed with him for a safe trip home and he left.  We did hear from him that he had arrived home safely, the car performed great, and that he really appreciated our hospitality.  All things worked together for good. 

A couple of months ago, we put dinner in the oven and an hour later, realized our dinner was still stone cold because our gas had been disconnected.  Boy, were we mad.  Through a series of financial flukes between us and our bank, the bill didn’t get paid.  I called and made arrangements for the gas company to come out the next day to reconnect our service.  After spending hours at our house, they announced they couldn’t reconnect our service because their meters were going off for a gas leak. 

About a month before the disconnection, the AT&T service man told us he thought he smelled gas in the house.  Since the gas company had told us a year ago it was our outdoor gas lamp, we weren’t too concerned.  The gas was turned off to the lamp.  As it turned out, we had FOUR gas leaks in our attic, one of which was so bad the plumber could hear the hissing of the leak.  I think God looked down and said, “well, they aren’t heeding any of the warnings I’m sending so I’m just going to cut off their gas and get this fixed once and for all.”  What seemed like a horrible inconvenience saved our lives.  I do not believe we were lucky.  We were blessed.

I have countless other stories where things didn’t seem to be going my way only to look back and see that all things worked together for good.  The next time something coincidental or serendipitous happens, thank the Guy upstairs.  It’s not as luck would have it.  It’s as God would have it. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Taking Sunday to Monday

I have been wondering a lot lately about what people who aren’t part of a Christian community would need to hear from someone like me.  Today, I am inspired by two things:  1) we don’t need to get our lives together to be enough for church or God and 2) our lives are more than Sunday morning and how do we deal with that?

As I have been pondering this week, messages about all of our selves being used for God’s purpose keep coming my way.  In my own life, I can look back and see God’s hand in the joyous moments and in the darkest times.  And I can definitely see where God took something bad, resurrected it, and used it for His purpose.  Let me say emphatically that I do not believe God sent these bad things; I believe He transformed those things for His purpose in His time.  I am not a believer in the theology that God “gets our attention” with tragedy or hardship because I know that we have free will to make some pretty lousy choices and that there is an evil force in this world. 

So, from my own experience, I have sat in the pews of the church with a life unraveling and feeling pretty unworthy.  God knew it all, as we pray in the Episcopal Church: “from you no secrets are hid.”  And He still spoke to me and used me for His purposes.  The Episcopal Church is not a place or building – it’s a community of people brought together by love with no qualification criteria.  You don’t have to be good enough. 

Secondly, you don’t have to be sure enough.  Sometimes, I hear from folks that they aren’t sure what they believe and so they need to figure that out before they go to church.  Their faith is absent or floundering or just beginning and that is totally OKAY.  Remember that for two centuries, church was a group of followers, not a building.  And all those thousands who came to hear Jesus speak on a hillside couldn’t have been completely sure of why they were there or what they believed.  But they went anyway. 

As to number two, that we are more than Sunday morning, how do we deal with that?  Do you feel a certain hypocrisy between how loving and accepting you can be on Sunday morning but by the end of the Monday morning staff meeting at work, would happily strangle your boss and dance on his grave?  How do we take Sunday to Monday?  I struggled with this for years as I worked mostly in the oil and gas industry, a field dominated by male leadership and “suck it up” attitudes.  I’m not male bashing; I’m talking about my challenges being (sometimes) the only woman in a room full of men and having my abilities questioned or assumptions made because of my gender.  I often felt that I was “doing battle” and my thoughts were not always charitable.  I rarely spoke to anyone disrespectfully but thank God the thought balloon over my head was invisible.  [another post coming on this later]

If God made the entire world and everything in it, then is anything really secular?  I’ve pretty much taken this word “secular” out of my vocabulary.  To be sure, there is a church world, an education world, a business world, but I believe these are more like arenas and continually making this distinction between the spiritual and everything else shortchanges God.  In an effort to make the sacred special and holy, I inadvertently drew a sharp line between Sunday and Monday and it left me feeling spiritually lost during the work week.  So, to all of you who feel like the rest of your life, in whatever way, doesn’t match up to Sunday morning, come anyway.  You’re not alone. 

Further to the point about a sharp line between Sunday and Monday is the sharp line we can draw between “church friends” and “real friends.”  I have several friends who don’t socialize with their church friends because of fear of judgment.  This usually crops up around serving alcohol at a party in their home and so that means no church friends can be invited.  I rarely, if ever, drink alcohol but let’s not forget that Jesus turned water into wine as his first miracle and it was for recreational purposes.  I am keenly aware of the havoc wreaked by addiction but I am also at peace that some people are able to partake and not lose their soul.  If, for any reason, you feel that you can’t be yourself beyond Sunday morning with those you worship with, find a new Christian community.  Really.  God wants your whole life, not just Sunday mornings. 

Jesus sought out the broken people and the outcasts.  He wasn’t just looking for the shining examples of piety.  And there were some pretty amazing works done by a motley crew of apostles.  Come with all your questions, scars, and mistakes.  God will use all of you for His amazing purpose.    

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Good Shepherd - I Get It

Today, I gave myself the day off.  My Sabbath was supposed to be Saturday but expected client work did not arrive; I felt so peaceful today I decided I needed to go with it.  I took my son to the orthodontist and didn’t freak out when the cost of treatment was more than cars I have bought (not kidding).  I wrote a thank you note to a friend, invited my college-aged son to lunch, and settled in for a peaceful, unhurried day.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted so I was also listening.  Listening for something…

As I wrestled with my friends Doubt and Fear this week, I have felt the support of so many in my Christian community, so much so that I almost feel undeserving.  This is when I remember that church is not a place you go; it is people who are connected by the Spirit.  Honestly, I’ve been a little worry warrior lately so the gift of some peace was welcome.  My son says that worrying is like telling God that we think we know better than He does.  hmmm…  Is it even allowed for your teenager to take you down like that?

As I checked the news before settling in for a nap, I saw a headline entitled “Woolly Mammoth: Shearer Saves Hugely Overgrown Sheep.”  As it turns out, an Australian sheep that got lost from its flock probably five or six years ago was found carrying 89 pounds of wool.  Merino sheep are typically shorn every spring.  The sheep was really suffering from being lost in the wild.  Among other things, he was partially blinded by the wool and his hooves were damaged from carrying the weight of the extra wool.  I never thought about this before, but it seems that sheep, if left in the wild, can die.  Is this the only animal that needs humans to survive?  I confess my only knowledge of sheep is limited to the trivia I hear in the periodic sermons on “Peter, feed my sheep” or “I am the Good Shepherd” scriptures so I’m not much of an expert. Here’s a little trivia from the article:  The sheep was named Chris.  Short for Christian, maybe?  You decide.   

Bam.  That Jesus is so clever.  Here I am thinking he used the sheep metaphor because that had meaning to the agricultural people of his day.  Sure.  And, since most of us have no contact with sheep these days, this metaphor is not that relevant but we can get there by going with the “we are the people of his pasture, we’re part of the flock, we’re all in this together and Jesus is our shepherd/leader.”  Yeah.   

Let’s not forget the shepherd in Luke who left the 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep and when he finds it, he lays it across his shoulders and rejoices.  Then he goes home and throws a party.  The sheep would die without being part of the community, without being with other sheep, and without someone to care for them.  And it is worth it to momentarily leave the 99 to themselves and find the one missing sheep.  Finding the one lost sheep is worth it because otherwise he will die. 

In 2015, I finally get that Jesus wasn’t just talking about a wildlife metaphor but about an example of survival that requires community.  I can’t think of another animal that needs this symbiotic relationship with humans to survive.  We are built for relationship and going through life alone, being blind to the Spirit, and carrying painful baggage (whatever your “wool” is) is not the life that Jesus has called us to live.  We cannot truly live in a spiritual wilderness.

What I experienced this week was being part of the fold - being cared for by the flock because it’s essential to my survival.  I believe the care I received in the form of conversation, fellowship, emails and texts from my fellow sheep kept me going.  I also believe that the peace I feel today is a gift from the Good Shepherd who is taking good care of me - if I will be still and let him.

Do you belong to a community that is essential to your survival?  Is there a community that opens your eyes to God and helps you shed what weighs you down?  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Stradivarius Syndrome

I don’t watch much network television.  I do, however, have my few guilty pleasures that I record and watch later.  One of those is Shark Tank.  I come from an entrepreneurial family so I love to evaluate the opportunities presented and have bought some of the products pitched on the show.  Today, the episode included a pitch by a father/son team for a guitar with a folding neck.  I immediately called my son in to watch with us since he is a musician and has been obsessed with guitars since age two.  

A couple of the sharks ended up making an offer which the team refused.  It was a licensing deal where they would sell the patented hinge to the established guitar manufacturers.  The father would have had to give up 51% control of the company, however, and so he didn’t accept.  I asked Benjamin if this guitar was on the market anywhere.  He wasn’t sure and he questioned the practicality since the guitar sounded out of tune before and after they folded it (I couldn’t tell) and that folding guitar strings is like folding a paperclip back/forth – not good.  But what inspired me today was the rest of our conversation.  He said plainly, “The guitar industry sucks.”  He went on to explain that the guitar industry is built on tradition so innovation is not valued.  Even if a guitar is designed to address say, the problem with reaching the frets easily, musicians are skeptical.  Apparently, Gibson built such a guitar for a few years, sold the heck out of it, and then discontinued it.  Maybe they are creating scarcity.  Benjamin said the most expensive guitars are the replicas of the older designs. 

This made me think about scotch.  I know what you’re thinking – where’s the Jesus?  Stay with me.  At one time, I really enjoyed drinking scotch.  If you are a scotch drinker, my favorite was Oban, one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, started in 1794.  When I drank Oban, I expected it to taste consistently the same year after year.  As a consumer, I would have probably stopped buying Oban if they did anything “innovative” with their product.  So it is with guitars, apparently.  Everything about the way guitars are made produces a very unique sound: whether the neck is glued on or screwed on; whether the wood is solid or composite; whether there are three springs or five springs on the bridge, etc.  [I know more than I really want to know about guitars but I totally support my son in his passion.]  As I listened to my son, I understood that so much of the value comes from consistency and not innovation.  The car industry is built on innovation but not guitars or scotch.  I named it the Stradivarius Syndrome – that unless it’s done exactly the same way it’s always been done, it’s not worthy.

That’s when my palms started to sweat.  Isn’t the church something that we value for its tradition and we become skeptical when it doesn’t look/smell/feel/sound like it always did?  When I said this, my husband commented that Jesus and God don’t change – they are supposed to be the same forever.  I agreed.  The Trinity – God, Jesus, Holy Spirit – are constant.  That’s the beautiful and comforting thing.  But how we expand His kingdom is always ripe for experimentation.  There are no limits as to the many ways we can reach out to people and connect them to the church.  God gave us the gift of creation – the ability to create something from nothing.  We aren’t creating the Trinity; we are creating a community.

Does the experience of church look the same as it did years ago?  No.  Does it feel the same from church to church?  No.  And it is still worthy.   As I talk to our younger newcomers at St. Mary’s, I am surprised by their desire for reverent worship, time for prayer, or organ music.  They say they are tired of 30 minute rock concerts.  As I write this blog, I can smell my mother’s communion bread baking for tomorrow’s Holy Eucharist.  Our liturgical tradition is a real and physical experience in a world where we constantly need to filter truth from fiction. 

Traditionally, we have waited for someone to decide they wanted to join the church before helping them connect in any significant fashion.  I believe in the opposite.  People don’t join anything before they have a connection to it.  Our first Seekers Forum concluded a few weeks ago.  This was a blend of some in-person fellowship and a private Facebook group.  Personally, this is not the way I would connect to a new church but it was very meaningful to these participants.  That is one example of innovation and we didn’t have to abandon our Anglican roots to do it.   

It’s scary to experiment and try something new.  But if we try something new because we are truly listening to others and trying to meet them where they are, the church becomes real and relevant.  And that is both traditional and innovative.      

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An Invitation to the Wounded

This morning, as I drove closer to work (church), I decided to drive in silence.  The prayer we pray at St. Mary’s with our children came to mind:  “Good morning God.  This is your day.  I am your child.  Please show me your way.”  I heard a still, small voice.  

I am an evangelist.  But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I said out loud to someone that I am an evangelist.  I went on to explain that it was a joy to do this work because I knew I wasn’t inviting people to a church to be pounded or punished but to be loved and accepted.  The “E” word tends to be misunderstood.  Often, it is confused with the word “evangelical” which is a description of a Christian faith that is generally more fundamental and conservative than the mainstream.  Not slamming evangelicals, just making the distinction.  Evangelism:  spreading the Christian gospel by personal witness. 

You see, I have not been wounded by organized religion.  Rather the opposite, my experience has been one of love, inspiration, faith, purpose, and community through the Episcopal tradition.  The more people I meet, the more stories I hear about being scarred by the church or by individuals in the name of religion, particularly Christianity.  It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear stories of faithful people who fell away from Christian community or expression because of, in some cases, one deeply hurtful experience.  Some have been disowned because of their sexuality, been excluded from youth group after misbehaving, or grown up in a faith community where rule following was the basis of the faith.  Many of these stories involve being forced as children to attend church as a joyless discipline. They all have a common theme:  these people were judged – and usually harshly.  In the name of Jesus, they were condemned and convicted and deemed unworthy of love or mercy.

A few years ago, we hosted a Faith Dinner at our home.  This special dinner is moderated by a facilitator as we share stories of our faith journeys.  It is an adult evening and when my teenage son came home, he asked if he could share his faith story.  His story involved his recovery from substance abuse.  Here is the important part: he didn’t ask who was in the room.  He instinctively knew that he could tell his story without shame to anyone who was there because they were his church family.  This is what I wanted for my children: a church home that would support my children in their journey, not only when they did all the right things but also accept them when they struggled.  Every year, when Benjamin’s sobriety milestone comes around, he goes to the altar to get a blessing and every year, the congregation applauds.  He was encouraged in his ministries as a camp counselor, a vacation Bible school guide, and a worship leader as well as held in prayer for many, many months.  This is what healthy Christian community looks like and this is what everyone deserves. 

We have members at St. Mary’s who have returned to church after 30+ years to be healed from their various wounding experiences in other congregations.  They never stopped believing; they stopped belonging.  I will never forget the courageous visitor who said to me, “I looked at your website and thought I would be welcome here.  I am not welcome at my mother’s church since I am gay.”  This broke my heart in two. 

I cannot think of a single example where Jesus turned anyone away.  Whatever your assessment of someone’s worthiness, remember that Jesus broke bread with tax collectors.  Tax collectors were the pariahs that people didn’t talk to much less eat with.  Jesus didn’t walk into the temple and ask for the 12 most righteous priests to serve as disciples.  He chose 12 ordinary people who were flawed and imperfect. 

Pointing others toward Jesus is only that – an invitation that has no qualification criteria.  I pray that if you experienced the grace of the loving God, if you have seen the hand of God at work in the world or in your life, that you will share your story with others or invite someone to church.  I also pray that if you have fallen away from Christian community, that someone will help you back into the fold because Jesus is waiting for you and loves you unconditionally.   The Episcopal Church welcomes you.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Being Real, Finding Joy

This morning, we got up early to pick up our middle schooler from Camp Allen.  If you aren’t familiar with Camp Allen, it is an Episcopal church camp in Navasota, Texas.  Nestled in the piney woods, it’s a little slice of heaven. The camp isn’t fancy by any means but it is special nonetheless.  My husband and I attended this camp as kids (though never together) and I admit I was a little jealous that by the time our first son starting going, they had added air conditioning to the cabins.  Summer camp with no air conditioning is my version of walking uphill to school both ways.  

On the way, we chatted about a karaoke party I attended last night.  Ryan was too tired to go but I hadn’t seen this group of friends in ages so I went by myself.  If you like karaoke, then karaoke with a group of actors in a private party room is highly recommended.  I am not as active in local theatre as I once was, but still feel very connected to this community.  I shared with Ryan all the latest news and that a highlight of the evening was a playwright who was in town from New York.  When he chose Joy to the World, he confided to me, “I’m not a great singer so everyone will have to support me.” I assured him we would.  This is the Joy to the World by Three Dog Night – not the Christmas song.  “Joy to the world.  All the boys and girls.  Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea.  Joy to you and me.”  The reason it was a high point is as everyone joined him, it truly was joyful and dare I say, spiritual.  This song took us both back to our childhoods this morning.  I couldn’t stop humming it.

We picked up Caleb, who attended his first year of junior high camp.  He attended camp every prior year with a friend of his from our church.  This year, his friend didn’t go so we were hoping for a good experience since our younger son is a bit shy and keeping faith in the “Camp Allen experience.”  The minute we saw him, he said “This was the best week ever at Camp Allen! I made friends with everyone in my cabin!” On the ride home, we heard wonderful stories of his experience at camp and Caleb radiated joy and confidence.  He said that he now understands the crucifixion better and what it really meant to die in this way.  Joyful and spiritual. 

I later told my husband that the boys’ attendance at Camp Allen is one of the things that gives me the most joy as a parent.  It is turning out to be for them what it was for me.  Camp was a place where I knew I belonged, not just fit in.  It was a place to live in Christian community if only for a week at a time.  Great care was taken to be sure everyone was included and accepted.  Discipline was gentle and the Spirit was present.  Episcopal youth gatherings were an integral part of my formation as a Christian and it is such a blessing to know that in a world where so much has changed since I grew up, this one thing is unchanged.  Sure, Camp Allen has changed; they have archery, horseback riding and air conditioning now.  But the core of the place is the same.  We agreed it was a culture.  This is a great example of culture over strategy.  It isn’t a great experience because the checklists were followed and activities executed with precision.  It is a transformative experience because of the culture of love.

Back to last night.  Interestingly, I experienced true community in a somewhat hole-in-the-wall little karaoke bar.  I realize that my tie to this group of actors is because of the love and acceptance I experience when I am with them.  I imagine it’s different in Hollywood, but your local community theatre bunch is one of the most diverse and real gatherings around.  Conversations aren’t focused on day jobs or dream vacations or “moving up in the world.”  This isn’t because we aren’t connected; it is because the focus of our interaction is, of course, on the art but on other things like family, friends and emotion.  We don’t talk about many material things because things don’t inspire bravery and to be an actor, you must be a risk taker.  You must also be a great pretender.  And actors are keenly aware when someone is pretending in an attempt to guard themselves.  So, combine the acceptance of risk and the awareness of false appearances and you have a very authentic community.  This group knows how hard it is to be vulnerable and is practiced at drawing out the real part of others and then loving who shows up.  And that is when the joy comes out – when the walls come down.  

It is tempting to believe that community can be achieved by being the same, believing the same, doing the same.  However, sameness requires changing or hiding a part of ourselves because we are all different.  Being yourself in a group and being accepted for who you are is true belonging, not just fitting in.  I would say that I spent plenty of my childhood trying to fit in but the bursts of belonging were transformational.  They gave me aspirations.

Are you part of an authentic community?  Can you bravely take those experiences and infuse other places with Jesus’ love?  Are you still searching for a place to be yourself?


Sunday, July 12, 2015

What Does Jesus Look Like?

A little over a week ago, in the space of about 45 minutes, my foot starting hurting so badly, I went to the emergency room.  I’ve had two children and several surgeries and this pain was excruciating.  On the way to the hospital, I put out a prayer request on Facebook.  I didn’t know what was causing this pain and started to panic.  We were scheduled to leave in a week for a family vacation to New York where we walk miles a day.  I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and the doctor said it could take about a week or two to heal.  They sent me home with pain meds and told me to put weight on it, stretch it, and walk.  That seemed crazy since I couldn’t even touch my foot.  But, I stayed up late stretching and icing it.  All the while, I was worrying about the vacation and what would happen if I couldn’t walk in New York.  I had visions of me in a wheelchair and wondered how I could get in the subway and if I would miss some of the outings.  I was in Olympic worry mode.  By morning, I was almost pain free.  After buying some new shoes, the pain decreased.  The next day I was completely out of pain.  As long as I wore proper shoes, I was able to walk.  Thank you God and the prayer warriors!!

I don’t even remember why, but on the plane to NY, I was telling Ryan about a controversial installation of a sculpture called Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmalz.  It is life-sized and shows a homeless person sleeping on a bench.  You don’t realize it’s Jesus until you see the holes in the man’s feet.  I encourage you to check out Schmalz’s site for an image (they are copyrighted) and other inspiring sculpture. 

Today, we were on our way to Queens and took the wrong train.  This is a sort of a Carnes tradition now; last time we ended up in Harlem.  As we were navigating the subway, we descended the steps and at the bottom of the staircase, was a man in a wheelchair.  He appeared to be homeless and he was quietly saying, “Please someone help me.  Anyone.”  Over and over.  He was a little scary looking and had a large wound on his foot, likely from untreated diabetes.    I had taken a cue from my priest, Rev. Beth Fain, to see Jesus on my vacation.  Thoughts were swirling in my head:  see the face of Christ in everyone; when you have helped the least of these; you have helped me; he is Jesus.  

We made a last minute decision earlier in the day to pay for lunch by debit card because we were one dollar short for the tip.  Otherwise, we would have spent all our cash at lunch.  I pulled out a dollar bill and turned to him and put it in his cup.  I asked him his name.  His name was Henry and I introduced myself.  I always ask people I meet like this their name so that they are not a nameless nobody.  I look them in the eyes and I always promise to pray for them.  Something about him choked me up and I couldn’t tell him I would pray for him because I was afraid I would break down.  We exchanged a few words and as I talked to him, then others started giving him a few dollars.  I introduced Henry to Ryan.  I turned back to wait for the train.  I could hear him begging as I waited with my back to him.  Others walked by Henry.  I turned back to him and asked, “Henry where are you from?”  He said he was from Brooklyn and we chatted about how we were trying to get to Queens and our plans in New York.  Others starting helping him again as we talked.   He smiled at me and had a gentle spirit about him.  Our train came, I thanked him for his navigation advice, and we said goodbye to Henry. 

 As it became apparent we were on the wrong train (again), we made the best of it and used the time to chat.  Ultimately, it took us two hours to get to our destination, but we wondered if meeting Henry was the purpose of our detour.  This poem was posted on the wall in front of where I was sitting.  You all know by now I’m a big crybaby and I was having a hard time keeping the tears from streaming down my face in front of everyone on the subway. 

A week ago, I worried that I might temporarily be in a wheelchair in New York and how that might ruin my vacation.  Today, I met someone who spends every day in a wheelchair in New York and likely nowhere to sleep. 

This is what I wonder now.  How long has it been since someone thanked Henry for anything?  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

I’m Perfect. How ‘bout you?

So, right before I went to sleep last night, I watched a TED talk by Dr. Brene Brown about vulnerability, who is a shame researcher at the University of Houston.  Lo and behold, I wake up and check my emails this morning and there is my word of the day from SSJE (Society of Saint John the Evangelist – the Episcopal monastery):  vulnerability.  Damn.  So, I open the email and the writer even names the TED talk in his meditation and refers to Daring Greatly, Brown’s latest book.  And so here it goes…

As I read Daring Greatly, I’ve been trying to look at ways that I hide myself from others, where am I afraid to truly be myself, to be vulnerable. It’s becoming clear to me that I’m pretty good at revealing the big things in my life to others like my struggles with depression; divorcing and remarrying the same man; my son getting addicted to drugs; miracles I have witnessed. 

The small, every day things are where I hide myself the best.  I have very few friends who truly know me.  It’s not that what I’m showing people is fake, I’m just not showing all of me.  

In my consulting practice, I developed a workshop to teach public speaking.  The seminar opens with my story about suffering from perfectionism, specifically perfectionist procrastination.  If I don’t think I’m going to do something perfectly, I procrastinate.   I joke about how someday, there will be a 12-step group for perfectionists.  “Hello, my name is Molly and I’m a perfectionist.  It’s been six days since I’ve edited a document to death.”  My vulnerability is in direct proportion to how perfectly I think I can deliver.

A few years ago, I was preparing for Christmas Eve dinner.  As I rushed around trying to get the table ready, I couldn’t find my Christmas tablecloth.  I finally found it in the bottom of a hamper.  It had been in the dirty laundry since the previous Christmas.  Yep.  That is a little thing that I find very embarrassing.  At the time, I was reading Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection.  I called a childhood friend and said, “You are one of the few people that can truly appreciate this.  I just found my Christmas tablecloth in the hamper from last year.”  We laughed our heads off.  I shared with her that I was reading The Gifts of Imperfection and she remarked she was very gifted.   This Christmas tree is still standing in my son’s room as of today.  So there. 

Vulnerability looks like different things to different people.  To me, it means showing that I’m not perfect - that I don’t have it all together.  I am making progress but I can tell this is only the tip of my shame iceberg.  Some of you may think this is silly.  I can hear you now saying that I am sweating the small stuff.  But you’ll notice I don’t have a list of the small things that I can share – only the big things.  I’m not there yet.  Those small imperfect things are, to me, the most intimate.  It feels like sharing the big things may help someone else because there is a common theme - in all those stories, I witnessed God at work and that makes me brave. 

People tell me that they admire my courage for writing this blog; I don’t feel courageous. I only write when inspired and if people don’t like it, I don’t take it as a reflection of my worth.  I believe God gives me the words so I’m pretty much off the hook.  While the big things connect us by showing God’s divine hand, the little things connect us through our humanity.  Jesus was fully divine and fully human.  He was there on the mountain top and in the dirty stable.  We know all of Him so that God’s purpose can be revealed.  Can you let the world know all of you?  

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Siguiendo tu Corazon - no sólo un romantico cliche

One of my readers graciously translated "Following Your Heart - Not Just a Romantic Cliche" into Spanish.  I hope to have "Who Will Change Your Heart" translated and posted soon.  

Mi marido y yo fuimos anoche para hacer una diligencia. En camino a Barnes & Noble, estábamos charlando sobre nuestro día. Yo habia almorzado con un viejo colega y comparti con Ryan que aunque si me agrada la amistad con mis viejos compañeros del trabajo, yo ya no me sentia comoda en un mundo empresarial y ejecutivo. Juntos, nos sentamos en el coche y recordábamos mi viaje hasta este punto ...

En 2010, me sentía desesperada por tener una presencia espiritual durante mi jornada laboral - Gracias a Dios por el libro en línea de Book of Common Prayer (Libro de rezo en Comun) Recuerdo deseando que mi vocación fuera más como una labor de amor, como el trabajo de mi marido, el es maestro de educación especial. En agosto de 2012, acepté un trabajo con una firma de inversión privada. En ese tiempo, había la posibilidad d  recibir una cantidad sustancial de dinero cuando la empresa fuera vendida, lo cual esperábamos que sucediera dentro de algunos años. Durante este tiempo, imparti una clase en la iglesia sobre el trabajo como adoración, mientras luchaba con ser cristiana y preguntándome si Dios valoraba el trabajo o no. Durante años, yo había estado trabajando a tiempo completo y haciendo consultas a tiempo parcial. Si la compañía fuera vendida, me daría la libertad financiera para volver a ser autónoma y trabajar a tiempo completo como consultora de negocios, el trabajo que sentía que estaba más cerca a la de un ministerio. La compañía fue vendida a principios de 2014 y ahora tenía dinero sustancial en el banco.

Los últimos cuatro o cinco meses en mi trabajo corporativo fueron muy difíciles para mí. En retrospectiva, veo que a pesar de que mi trabajo era estresante para los estándares de los demas, yo probablemente hubiera estado bien si a lo mejor mi corazón no hubiera estado en otro lugar. Oré para que Dios me diera una señal acerca de si debia quedarme o salir de mi trabajo. Durante un período de dos semanas, las señales fueron dramáticas. Me reuní con mi sacerdote para que me ayudara a como distinguir la voluntad de Dios. Derrame mi corazón acerca de cómo anhelaba trabajar nuevamente por cuenta propia como un consultor de negocios.  A través del estudio de las Escrituras yo escuchaba el mensaje de "volver a Dios" una y otra vez. Debido a mi exigente trabajo, abandonar casi todo el ministerio fue muy doloroso. Ella mencionó que la posición de personal del ministro de evangelismo aún estaba abierta en la iglesia. Yo sabía eso, pero había rechazado la idea debido a mis 70 + horas de trabajo a la semana, más mi pequeña práctica de consultoría. Después de nuestra discusión, decidí  tomar la entrevista para el trabajo, como parte de mi proceso de discernimiento. Sin saber si me llamarian para la posición de ministro de evangelismo o no, dejé mi trabajo en diciembre de 2014. [me ofrecieron el trabajo en Enero.]

Yo le dije a Ryan que me siento sin inspiración para sequir buscando clientes para mis consultas - esto era algo que yo queria hacer desde hace mucho tiempo! Luego, vinieron las lágrimas. Finalmente me di cuenta que Dios no estada preparando mi corazón y finanzas para hacer consultoría de negocios, me estaba preparando para este ministerio de evangelismo. Más lágrimas venian mientras me disculpaba con mi marido por no buscar clientes para mis consultas, {algo que sería muy beneficioso económicamente para nosotros}. Él me aseguro que estoy haciendo lo que Dios quiere que haga. Rechacé una oportunidad de trabajo hace unos meses que ofrecia más dinero de lo que nunca antes había hecho en mi vida porque sentía que Dios no me habia enviado allí. Ryan afirmo esta decisión nuevamente.

Creo que debo seguir mi corazón, porque Dios está en control de mi corazón. Y aquí está un truco para mí. Si yo no persigo más clientes de coaching en el mundo de los negocios, voy a tener que confiar mas en Dios. Continue llorando, mi marido me sugirió que la posibilidad de obtener mas ingresos se había convertido en mi seguridad. Cuando Enron collapso y estábamos ahogandonos en deudas, aprendimos mucho sobre la administración del dinero que Dios nos proporcionado y en confiar que Dios proovera. Sin embargo, en los últimos años, ya que nuestros ingresos se incrementaron y las deudas desaparecían, tomé confianza en nuestra propia capacidad de proporcionar. Así que, ahora estoy de vuelta entendiendo que todo el dinero es de Dios y que vamos a tener suficiente. Quizás vamos a vender nuestro Corvette, quizás vamos a echar mano de nuestros ahorros, quizás Ryan obtendrá una posición como subdirector de una escuela. Quizás, quizás, quizás.

No sé lo que prepara el futuro, pero sí sé que aceptar este llamado al ministerio me salvó de la autodestrucción. Dios llamó a mi puerta durante años y ahora es pura alegría servir de esta manera. El evangelismo requiere la vulnerabilidad y el riesgo emocional, pero ahora también veo que sentirse económicamente vulnerables y confiar en Dios sera mi mayor lección en este viaje. Como un tipo de persona "cuadrada", me gusta admitir que tengo que aprender esta lección de nuevo. Me imagino a Jesús moviendo su cabeza y diciendo "Molly Carnes, envié a los discípulos y les dije que no llevaran ni una túnica extra. Te di un nido de huevos para que te sintieras más segura y ponerte en marcha! "

Mientras caminábamos por la tienda, miré un estante y este es el primer libro que vi - literalmente. Le dije a mi esposo: "Dios está haciendo algo para mí." Él se rió y dijo: "Bienvenida a bordo."

He sido bendecida con este hombre piadoso que conocí por casualidad (no realmente); en una discoteca; un episcopaliano; Hace 24 años. En la actualidad, ¿Hay alguien en su vida que puede escuchar sus reflexiones, oraciones, anhelos y apoyarte en el discernimiento de la voluntad de Dios en su vida? ¿Puedes hacer eso por alguien más?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Following Your Heart – Not Just a Romantic Cliché

My husband and I went out last night to run a simple errand.  On the way to Barnes & Noble, we were chatting about our day.  I had grabbed lunch with a former colleague and I shared with Ryan that while I enjoy the friendship of my old work buddies, I don’t feel invested in that corporate world anymore.  Together, we sat in the car and reminisced about my journey to this point…

As early as 2010, I was feeling desperate for a spiritual presence during my workday – thank God for the online Book of Common Prayer.  I remember wishing my vocation was more of a ministry like my husband’s work that he did as a special education teacher.  In August of 2012, I accepted a job with a company owned by a private investment firm.  There was the potential for me to receive a substantial amount of money when the company was sold which we expected to happen within a few years.  During this time, I facilitated a class at church about Work as Worship as I wrestled with being a Christian in the workplace and whether God valued that work or not.  For years, I had been working full-time and consulting part-time.  If the company sold, it would give me the financial freedom to return to being self-employed full-time as a business consultant, work that I felt was closer to a ministry.  The company sold in early 2014 and we now had a substantial nest egg in the bank. 

The last four or five months at my corporate job were very difficult for me.  In retrospect, I see that although my job was stressful by anyone’s standards, I likely could have coped with it better if my heart hadn’t been pulled elsewhere.  I prayed for God to give me a sign if I was to stay or leave my job.  Over a two week period, the signs were dramatic.  I met with my priest to help me as I discerned God’s will.  I poured my heart out about how I longed to be self-employed again as a business consultant and that through study of scripture, I was hearing the message “return to God” over and over.  Because of my demanding job, I had dropped out of almost all ministry – very painful.  She mentioned that the evangelism minister staff position was still open at the church.  I knew that but had dismissed the idea because of my 70+ hour a week job plus my small consulting practice.  After our discussion, I decided to interview for the job as part of my discernment process.  Then, not knowing if I would be called to the evangelism minister position or not, I left my corporate job in December, 2014.  [I was offered the job in January.]

Fast forward to now, I start telling Ryan that I feel no inspiration to pursue any additional business coaching clients – the thing I’d been longing to do for years!  Then the tears come.  I finally realize that God hasn’t been preparing my heart and finances to do business consulting, he was preparing me for this evangelism ministry.  More tears come as I apologize to my husband about not pursuing the corporate coaching clients which would be very financially beneficial for us.   He assures me I’m doing what God wants me to do.  I turned down a job opportunity a few months ago that was more money than I had ever made in my life because I felt God was not sending me there.  Ryan affirms this decision again.

I believe I am to follow my heart because God is in control of my heart.  And here is the kicker for me.  If I do not pursue more coaching clients in the business world, I will have to rely on God.  More tears.  My husband suggested to me that being able to earn an abundant income had become my security.  When Enron imploded and we were drowning in debt, we learned much about stewardship of the money that God had given us and trusting God to provide.  However, in recent years, as our incomes increased and debt disappeared, I took comfort in our own ability to provide.  So, now I am back to learning that all the money is God’s and that we will have enough.   Maybe we will sell the corvette.  Maybe we will dip into our savings.  Maybe Ryan will get an assistant principal position.  Maybe, maybe, maybe. 

I do not know what the future holds but I do know that accepting this call to ministry saved me from self-destructing.  God knocked on my door for years and it is pure joy to serve in this way.  Evangelism requires emotional vulnerability and risk.  But I also see now that feeling financially vulnerable and relying on God may be my biggest lesson on this journey.  For a “check the box” kind of person, I hate to admit I have to learn this lesson again.  I picture Jesus shaking his head and saying “Molly Carnes, I sent the disciples out and told them not to carry even an extra tunic.  I gave you a nest egg so you’d feel secure so get going!” 

As we walked through the store, I looked over at a shelf and this is the first book I saw - literally.  I said to my husband, “God is doing something to me.”  He chuckled and said, “Welcome aboard.” 

I have been blessed with this godly man that I met by chance (not really); in a nightclub; a cradle Episcopalian; 24 years ago today.  Is there someone in your life that can listen to your ponderings, prayers, and longings and support you in discerning God’s will in your life?  Can you do that for someone else?   

P.S. If you want to be notified when new blogs come out, follow me on twitter @mwcarnes1. I only blog when inspired - no set schedule.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Who Will Change Your Heart?

I cried a lot in church today.   I don’t mean like tearing up, I mean crying with my nose running and everything.  Rev. Katie was telling us about what I would describe as an awakening she is experiencing as a result of the shooting in Charleston last week.  In reference to her knowledge of racism, Rev. Katie was confessing that she had been metaphorically safe on the shore while the disciples were in the boat scared to death.  She said she wanted to educate herself, to get in the boat, and to be held accountable.  These nine martyrs in Charleston changed her heart. 

I thought about an event my husband and I attended on Friday in observance of Juneteenth – the day the slaves in Texas heard they were free – two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.  Ryan recently became friends with a man who was appearing in a Black History play and we went to support him in his first acting role.  Besides the young woman who took our tickets, we were the only other Caucasian people in the theatre.  We have few experiences where we are the minority.  I wasn’t scared or uncomfortable but very aware of our status and the fact that we could not blend in.  Our friend was very glad that we came and we felt welcome at an event full of joy.  Today, it struck me that maybe our presence was uncomfortable for THEM.  Maybe they were concerned about what our motive was, especially in light of Wednesday’s events in Charleston.  I didn’t for an instant think about their feelings until today’s sermon. 

We hear about tolerance as being the antidote to bigotry of all kinds.  I don’t believe that being tolerant of others is the same as loving others.  I experienced this in my early twenties.  On a plane returning home to San Francisco, I met a man who asked me to join him for dinner when we landed in San Francisco.  I accepted and we had a lovely evening.  He contacted me again and I was hesitant to accept.  You see, he was African-American and I was uncomfortable with us potentially being a couple.  And it bothered me that it bothered me.  I thought my heart was open.  I had been raised with the ideals of equality for all; I was tolerant.  But I saw him as a Black Man instead of a man.  My covert prejudice suddenly felt like something I needed to wipe off and discard.  So I did.  During our relationship, we had candid conversations about his experience of bigotry and our public experience as a biracial couple.  It taught me volumes and changed me. 

I have written before about life-long conversion in our relationship with Christ.  But now I see that we are also called to life-long conversion in relationship with each other.  Just when I think I have opened my heart as far as it can go, God tells me “you’re not done yet.”  And that makes me cry – my ignorance of my need to be stretched over and over.  I was asked to read 1 Corinthians 13 at a memorial service for a dear parishioner’s husband this past weekend.  You will remember this is the “love is patient, love is kind” scripture.  The eighth verse of chapter 13 is “Love never ends.”  Today, those words came back to me but instead of love in terms of time, that love goes on forever, I now hear that verse speaking of love as being in infinite supply if we let God change our heart. 

As parents, Ryan and I pledged to raise our sons to do more than tolerate others – to love all.  Tolerance isn’t good enough because it is an attitude.  Love requires action. 

Today, I was dramatically shown [again] that I’m still being converted.   Who will God send my way next to stretch my heart wider?  Who is God sending to change your heart forever?