...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Joining Church: Is a Disclaimer Needed?

I'm often reminded of what the great comedian Groucho Marx said about membership in a group: "I refuse to join any organization that will have me as one of its members."  Would admitting our flaws protect us against ourselves?

In groups explaining church membership, I find it helpful to admit that every day, someone is going to say or do something stupid because after all, that's what human beings do. See also Beginnings: An Introduction to Christian Faith.  

This is how Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics close many of their meetings. It's a wise disclaimer stating that even our best intentions are not always apparent to those who aren't insiders:
In closing, I would like to say that the opinions expressed here were strictly those of the person who gave them. Take what you liked and leave the rest. The things you heard were spoken in confidence and should be treated as confidential. Keep them within the walls of this room and the confines of your mind. A few special words to those of you who haven’t been with us long: Whatever your problems, there are those among us who have had them too. If you try to keep an open mind, you will find help. You will come to realize that there is no situation too difficult to be bettered and no unhappiness too great to be lessened. We aren't perfect. The welcome we give you may not show the warmth we have in our hearts for you. After a while you’ll discover that though you may not like all of us, you’ll love us in a very special way - the same way we already love you. Talk to each other, reason things out with someone else, but let there be no gossip or criticism of one another. Instead, let the understanding, love and peace of the program grow in you one day at a time. 
If we incorporated parts of the above, would we have a better chance of nipping any grandiose expectations about Christ's Body? Would there be less disappointment with our corporate and individual brokenness? Less incongruity between our words and where we actually live? At the very least, we would have a better chance at honesty about who we really are, and a movement toward more, not less, authenticity. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Try Love

If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, 
I’m a clanging gong...I Corinthians 13:1  

Jesus' ministry was a miserable failure by any standards we hold so dear in churches: bigger budgets and buildings to hold more behinds in pews.

Effectiveness? I have to smile every time I see another training manual that touts Jesus' ministry as a blueprint for how to do just about anything successfully, from evangelism to corporate leadership. They talk about how carefully Jesus chose his followers and how, after living intimately with him for three years, they would be prepared to spread the word to all the world. The flow chart forms a holy pyramid with geometric growth.

Really? The success coaches never talk about how every one of Jesus' disciples ran as fast as they could as far away as they could once Jesus was taken into custody of the Temple authorities.  Mark 14:50. They may point out that Jesus chose Judas Iscariot, the disciple who turned Jesus in, as an exception, or as simple human error. If so, Jesus, who had keen insight into people to begin with, realized, perhaps early on, that he really blew that one and could not undo it. John 6: 70-71

Any way you look at it, it's not a good idea to choose an untrustworthy son-of-a-gun into your circle of trust, is it? But Jesus ministry, including his suffering, death, and resurrection, is not about having God's little rule book for prosperity and leadership. Anyone who thinks this is the way to the life Jesus offers will end up as crushed as the disciples were when they were confronted with the truth that the top for Jesus was crucifixion, not their equivalent to the corner office.
The true north of Jesus' ministry then and today, is not the way of following all the right rules or catching pixie dust from the gurus. Instead, it's all about an amazing love- how God creates us in love. And how the love between Jesus and his Daddy becomes our never ending source of love- for God, love for the lives we share, for the world, and the universe.

That's the epicenter that grows into ministry with others, with any possible sound and light shows following.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Place to Hit Bottom

Thank God for Henri! 
Most guests at our churches probably wonder: "are these folks for real- is this really a safe place for me?" That's one reason why guests prefer to be anonymous, at least for the first few visits.

Whenever I read the late Henri Nouwen, I'm confronted with a rare, raw honesty. The bare-nakedness is about himself, of course. For me, his best writing was always his depth and honesty about his journey, reminding us that to engage in life with God is not about a quick fix, but a holy longing and life-long pilgrimage. 

As he wrote, in the Introduction to The Inner Voice of Love, "light and darkness, hope and despair, love and fear are never very far from each other...and spiritual freedom often requires a fierce spiritual battle."  

Nouwen described a time of extreme anguish, during which he wondered whether "I would be able to hold onto my life. Everything came crashing down...my energy to live and work, my sense of being loved, my hope for healing, my trust in God...everything. Here I was, a writer about the spiritual life, known as someone who loves God and gives hope to people, flat on the ground and in total darkness."  Wow!

His new ministry setting, the L'Arche community for special needs adults, seemed ideal. But shortly after arriving there was just the time his life was falling apart, as if  "I needed a safe place to hit bottom." Without psychoanalyzing Nouwen's experience, one of the core marks of Christian community is the safety it provides. The people present don't pretend they're something they're not. And that can lead us to a deeper experience of grace. 

Pastoral leaders can regularly set the default to grace and acceptance- in all types of settings- because if we are alive and honest, we, like Nouwen,  regularly have our own struggles with darkness. With God, there's always more than enough grace and love, the kind of mercy that the Apostle James says always "triumphs" or "rejoices" over judgement. James 2:13  That's exactly what gave saints like Nouwen , and what empowers all of us, with the courage to love and to be loved.

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Welcome! I serve Chapelwood, a United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. Clergy are frequently present for others, but no one can offer what they don't havee. That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. Hopefully, the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement.

Making Good Decisions

Prayer of Discernment

By our own reason and strength, Lord, we cannot find our way. There are too many paths and we do not know where they will lead us. Show us the way, Jesus. You know our path and our way home. Amen.

The Moravian Daily Texts 2011

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