Thursday, January 22, 2009

Is the Church Abnormal?

In terms of work environments, many who have worked in contexts outside of local churches (which excludes many life-long clergy), see the weirdness of our church parishes. I attribute this to freedom of religion, which allows us to decide how we want to operate. This quirk of our existence means that churches and those who support them are on their own to find whatever works best for them.

Sometimes it appears that the general culture is much more advanced than our church culture. That lag is what turns people off, in part. For example, secular workplaces are more ethnically diverse than the vast majority of our churches at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. For decades this hour has been known as the most segregated hour in America.

In health care contexts, employees are required by law to observe a strict confidentiality with patients and residents. Churches found this regulation to be a stumbling block when HIPPA first went into effect 10 years ago. By now, we have learned that confidentiality is part of, not separate from, any pastoral care and spiritual direction.

And, how long will same-sex unions be a right granted and practiced freely in some states but a rite denied by many national church assemblies?

I think sometimes we have hidden behind the freedom of religion as an excuse not to change instead of using to create positive changes. As protection, insulation from the world. Those who visit us on Sunday mornings will observe these differences from their every day, working lives, and maybe even see the hypocrisy of our saying we are "open" when we are not. They would probably notice the culture lag too. Who could blame them?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Difference Between Religion and Spirituality

Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

My thanks to Bill from SDI year 3 for this insight.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

From Divorce Attorney to the Spiritual Director

I don't anyone who says, "I wanna be a divorce attorney when I grow up!" My brother Jeff, who joined the family law firm and has been a practicing attorney for about thirty years, never intended to be a "divorce attorney." He handled one or high profile divorces, and there you go. News traveled fast and soon the majority of his work has become taken up with the often labor-intensive task of accompanying the disenchanted on the legal and emotional journey through their divorces and parental custody arrangements.

When he says the opposite of love is systems failure to care, I listen. As he's the one who has been there to witness the end of marriages, I think his observations are on track. The other side of passion, of love, is complete apathy and indifference. The juicy sounding word from church tradition is sloth: one of the 7 Deadly Sins. It's "unwillingness to work or exert oneself; laziness; idleness." Some of the New Testament was probably first addressed to slothful hearers and readers. As examples, think of some of the Christians described in Revelation and those targeted in Hebrews.

This is the haunting question: when do I go beyond caring to indifference? At what point do I move from life and health to the spiritual death of sloth? Can I trust that it's possible to know this for myself by myself, or do I need the support of others in this journey? Others, like spiritual guides and directors, can see what we refuse to see in ourselves. Or just cannot see. Or both.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Non-Reflective Leader

The No Regrets tour of President's last month in office seemed to be capped off by the last news conference of yesterday, January 12. Many adjectives were used to describe this last performance, including defiant, arrogant, chummy, eloquent, and at ease.

All mistakes in the last eight years were errors in public relations a la "Mission Accomplished," not the action of attacking Iraq on false pretenses, and then occupying it ever since. There was also the heroism of the Katrina rescuers defended not the Chief Executive's passivity before, during, and after a major U.S. city washed away. Not his own concurrent assessment: "Heckuva job, Brownnie."

No mistakes in judgment were made. The sour tone "in Washington" exists but it's not the leader's fault. The divisive politics President has employed the past eight years was something someone else cooked up. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"

But better PR cannot save the non-reflective leader or undo the harm caused by lack of self-critical awareness. Clergy leaders of all kinds can learn a lesson here. The prayer, "lead us us not into temptation" applies to us. Because the easy way, the wide road, the way that does not lead to life, but denial, is the way of non-reflective leadership.

More on Pastoral Boundaries

During a pastorate while attending Duke Divinity School, I invited one of the pastors in my district to present a workshop on stress management. He actually did a great job; he was a good communicator, an authentic human being, and fun to hear.

He asked some of the church members if they were taking good care of me, because, as he said, "Sometimes churches can chew and spit out," their pastors and he hoped they weren't one of those kind of churches. That particular church tottered back and forth between having full time pastors and student pastors. It seemed with every new appointment the arrangement would change, based on their level of compensation and indebtedness, etc.

The visiting preacher then said something that I've always wondered about. After having pastored his church well for a number of years, this pastor's marriage fell apart in divorce. Broken and wounded, the church, in the pastor's words, "took care of me" for a year or so after "I had taken care of them." I've seen this too in my life as well as in friends' and colleagues' experiences. Since clergy are human beings too, and since there is not a protective bubble around them and their loved ones, isn't it okay, even required, for clergy to receive, not just offer, kindness and support from the people they serve? Isn't that what spiritual friendship is, in part, all about?

What about receiving care and support from parishioners? What are the boundaries here? When is it OK or not OK for clergy to receive? I don't know any hard and fast rules. The only thing we owe is to love. That means to share our humanity by either receiving it or by giving it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chapelwood's Block Party!

CUMC open its new facility tomorrow!!

The schedule for the day follows:

8:25 a.m. worship will be held in the Upper Room, on the second floor of the youth building

Facility tours, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., meet in the Parlor

Second Sunday Chicken Lunch, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., Fellowship Hall

Children’s activities (face painting, games, clowns, etc), 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., children’s building

Special Needs facility open house, 12:00 – 1:00 p.m., YB100-101 (first floor of the youth building) and FH3-6 (hallway on the way to the Chapel)

KSBJ van on north parking lot, 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. They will broadcast music live from our parking lot and they will interview people about our new facilities.

Dinner for youth, 5:30 p.m., Game room, first floor of the youth building, cost is $5

Free concert featuring So Be It, one of our favorite youth bands, 6:30 p.m., the Upper Room

Let's Party!!

My Best Game of All Time

It isn't what you think. Being of fan of the Browns, it meant everything to sit with Dad on an overcast, cold, wet December day at the Cleveland lakefront, and take in an upset victory of Cleveland over Dallas. Limp- along Bill Nelson over Dandy Don! How enjoyable it was, especially to see so many future Hall of Famers battle it out. It is one of my best Browns memories after so many broken promises and dreams since.

Click on the post and enjoy!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Praying the Covenant Prayer

Wesley's Covenant Prayer is a daunting one to pray- whether you mean it or fake it. Corporately, it's sort of like, "One, two, three, all together..." for such an intensively personal statement of surrender. The prayer always seems to expose my lack of surrender and letting go! My lack of sincerity in wanting to hold onto my own stuff. In that way, it has more often than not been a confession of where I am not rather than a true statement of where I am. Which means that I usually experience desolation, not consolation, with The Covenant Prayer.

Philippians 3:7-8 came to mind when we were led in Wesley's Covenant Prayer Sunday, January 4. It was the new frame that I needed in order to see better. The different way of seeing is gaining Christ, instead of losing rubbish. When gaining Christ is the purpose, then both losing and having are not ultimate in themselves. Our emptying, as painful as it may be, serves the larger horizon of abundance with Christ. Likewise our having, as exhausting as that may be, can be known in the One who calls the heavy laden to rest. This One loves us in loss and abundance.

We can offer and we can give both our desolation and consolation to God, who in Jesus, invites us to become acquainted with his transforming love in both loss and renewal, in both the pain of our suffering and the hope and possibility that second chances bring. (3:10) That offering is our choice, our part of the covenant.

As for the "attainment" portion of this passage (3:11), I like to see it in light of the journey. As Paul used a foot race metaphor, I see it in terms of the co-participation and encounter with God's grace that sanctification is. Or as the Moravian Daily Texts for this Epiphany put it: Your itinerary is sure to lead us homeward. Your glory bright far excels the sun's clear light.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Book Therapy

Books can be used for healing or harm. A good friend once told me to "stop reading" all the books on a particular subject, because doing so seemed to be bringing more confusion. Another time, a longtime colleague warned to not rely on books for psychotherapeutic purposes.

For those who are searching, books can be a great gift. There have been times when God was reaching out to me through the unlikely words of an unread, ignored book that was shelved long before. There were times of anxious waiting in which reading a captivating story seemed to lift me. As a healthy escape or respite, I remember how helpful this was during the long power outage of Ike, which was combined with the financial implosion of this past fall.

As different as book and talk therapy are, you can still choose to discern what rings true for you and what of it works or doesn't, whether it comes from the printed page or a person. Book therapy is not talk therapy; but it is definitely more economical and convenient.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany Moravian Prayer

The prayers of the Moravian Daily Texts are simple, beautiful, and full of strength. This one is especially for today, Epiphany, 2009:

Glorious God, with all of creation, we are grateful that you woke us up today,
for your mercies are new every morning. Your itinerary is sure to lead us
homeward. Your glory bright far excels the sun's clear light. Amen.

From the MDT: "The members of our Ancient Unity sang these words when bitter persecution compelled them to seek refuge and liberty of conscience in foreign countries."

Blessing and peace to those who are near and those who are far off.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Returning Vets Ministry

HealthPartners Insitute of Medical Education in Minnesota, with support from the National Council of Churches, has developed an online video series which contains essential information for anyone who wants to learn more about the health care issues of returning military. Another generation ago, I found so many barriers to effective ministry with Vietnam war vets. The biggest was ignorance of the effects of war on mental health. Ignorance leads to isolation and paralysis on the part of churches who may want to do something more than sing songs, chant words, and wave flags.

Together with many conversations with chaplain friends, the video resource available at, there are some possible openings for church ministry to returning vets and families. Not all Vets' experiences and re-entry issues are the same, nor do some fit into the same recovery time-line. This being said, it takes a few weeks for some of the symptoms of PTSD to appear. A common symptom is avoidance/isolation. With the first four months, the worst of the PTSD symptoms are experienced and the combination therapies begin to help. After six months, most are finding success in a re-entry that still may not be complete but it is nevertheless deemed reasonably successful.

My chaplain friend, a Desert Storm Vet and with PTSD himself, likens his recovery to the 12 Steps and uses this model in working with Vets at the VA. Military personnel use the term "a new normal," which covers everything and really doesn't seem to do justice to what remains from the war in terms of trauma, damage, and recovery. My guess is that this re-entry is hard work and not understood by most people. So, maybe we should hold back our wanting to feel good and respect the needs of our returning soldiers who may prefer small, low key gatherings with close family over parades and parties. Continue the respect by refraining to engage returning military in political or foreign policy debates.

The VA wants and needs to take care of our Vets- the VA is only a phone call or a drive away. At the same time, and since the VA has re-integration down to a science and is reticent to ask for help (what's that about?), creative churches could take a lead in offering a safe place for recovery and healing. In this, we'd be taking our lead from Lincoln, who, in his Second Inaugural Address, spoke of our responsibility "to bind up the wounds of the nation." We are that nation and we have wounds that need healing.

Advent 2020 Provides Necessary Reset

A December a few years ago, my retreat  director said to me, "Maybe this year, instead of going to Bethlehem, you need to meet Jesus at...