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?