Friday, March 21, 2014

Being Set Adrift for God

(I have taken a break from blogging for a while but several events lately led me to post this and get back into the task of blogging.)

I am not afraid to admit that I like control. I don’t like other people controlling me or telling me what to do. I never have liked it (just ask my Mom or Dad).  Despite life requiring that I allow others to lead in many situations, I enjoy having elements of control over my own life. In the midst of chaos I like to exert as much control over the situation as I can - so that the chaos begins to ease as much as possible. I don’t think that I am alone in this. Most of us like control. It’s human to want things to be fixed and static but life often does not work that way.

Trying to exert control in times of discernment and reflection can be even harder. Following where God leads us in our lives can be a scary and intimidating process. Exerting control in those circumstances is often problematic. Giving up control to God is hard for many of us, but we feel like it should be done and should be easier. It’s often not.

I work with seminary students (folks preparing for pastoral ministry in some form) and often meet with them to talk about their ministry and life discernment process. I also have the opportunity to talk with quite a few prospective students who are still trying to determine what God is calling them to do and be in their lives and any potential ministry. I have come across a number of persons who denied their call for decades because they did not or could not give in to the discernment process and acknowledge their call into pastoral ministry or some other discernment issue in their lives. Giving up control and allowing God to lead is indeed hard – despite how faithful one is.

Recently, a guest lecturer was preaching in our chapel. She shared an ancient Celtic tradition of setting sail in a rudderless boat, relying on the wind of the Holy Spirit to guide you as you discerned who God was leading you to be and where God was sending you to share that state of being. As she explained the process, I came to understand that one who is discerning their life direction embarks on a journey to see where God is directing them by being set adrift to catch the winds of the Spirit – with no way to pilot the boat themselves.

Canoe set Adrift by Poucher
The image was both refreshing and terrifying at the same time. It was a refreshing image to contemplate. Being set adrift to go where God directs us is powerful. Giving into the will of God is a profound thing that can set a person free from the bonds that are keeping them from fully being who they are called to be. Giving into the breath of God and go where the wind takes you opens up potential ministry and life experiences that no one could ever imagine on their own. Being able to launch yourself on that kind of adventure would take a lot of fortitude and guts.

That’s where the scary part comes in – letting go of your own need for control and to actually stop trying to control the boat is important. The very fact that the boat is rudderless means there is no directing the boat on your own. Of course, left to my own devices, I could probably use my hands or feet to push/pull/navigate the boat. And I would likely want to do just that. But that’s not what we are called to do in discernment.

The task is to stop trying to control things. We are called to let the Spirit lead and to go where God directs us.

And that’s tricky. The easy thing is to say to ourselves or others, “Just have faith.” But the reality is that letting go is against our human nature. That means even having faith is not all that we need to get us to let go. We have to “own up” to our reluctance to give up control and allow God to blow us where God will. And we need to acknowledge that it is not the easiest thing for us to do. We should not beat ourselves up about this when we fail and try to steer some of the way.

Discernment is tough. So is living into the will of God. But we are called to live into this anyway – to find a way. Being honest and working through the discernment process patiently is paramount. Give yourself some grace when it’s not easy. And try paddling as little as possible when you are in that rudderless boat.

It’s ok. God loves us anyway – even when we fail. And the Spirit will continue to blow to guide us even when it is harder to let it guide us.

Let’s make this promise to each other and to God – we’ll keep our hands and feet inside the rudderless vehicle as much as we can and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Everything changes as we age … even resolutions!

Over the past few months, my parents have gone to the funerals of a number of their very close friends. Recently, one of their friends was hospitalized with an unknown heart condition and it worried them greatly. When I asked how they were taking all of this – they reminded me that getting old often means going to funerals and dealing with loss – alongside all of the other things in their lives.

I remember my grandmother, as she aged, saying that calling the final decades of her life the “Golden Years” was just not right. She said that phrase was absolutely insane. “Getting old is not the most enjoyable ride,” she told me. She had great times, continued to travel, and enjoyed her family. But losing one’s independence, needing others to care for your needs, dealing with loss and illness, and spending more and more time with doctors was not much fun.

I am now in my 50s and I can honestly say that it is the best time of my personal and professional life. I am far from old – physically, emotionally or intellectually. But my knees are a bit shot – too many skiing accidents growing up – and I am on a few more prescriptions than I would like to be on.  So I am not as healthy as I wish I was – but I am working on that. And I am working hard on it – have been for months. This is a life change – not just a couple of week’s living up to some faint end of year resolution.

Growing older is inevitable and I am happy to get to do it – like they say, “the alternative to living is not much fun.” Maybe it isn’t always pretty but it is living.

Growing older is also a huge blessing. As my grandmother told me, it means we get to learn from our experiences, watch those we love grow up and become their own persons, and spend significant time enjoying our lives. Yes, we’ll have to deal with the other stuff  - and there is often “other” stuff to deal with - but getting to live, laugh and love is an amazing gift.

As we enter into 2014 tomorrow, we are often asked or even intimidated into making lists of resolutions for the New Year. I used to succumb to the pressure of resolutions to remake my life – as if it sucked before. And I made promises to myself that I knew I could not live up to. I was doomed almost as soon as I made the list. But I have learned.

This year, I’m not gonna promise anything that does not feed me spiritually and emotionally. I’m not gonna make a list of things that I am not able to do and then feel badly about failing.

So here are my 14 for 2014 – in no particular order:

1. Love my family even more deeply and enjoy every moment I get with them (ok, I have a teenager so every moment seems too drastic). How about most of the time?
2. Support my friends and family in good times and bad.
3. Love myself – despite any perceived flaws. Because I am awesome. Seriously!
4. Never be afraid to say no when I need to (hmmm … setting myself up again?). Better?  “Try not to be afraid to say no when I need to.”
5. Try to let go of the judgment of others. Their view is not as important as mine.
6. Make the most of my life by laughing more and trying to live without regrets.
7.  Spend more time on my faith journey by reading and praying more often.
8. Do things to stay healthy – for me – not because I’m bullied by others’ perceptions of who I ought to be. 9. Work for justice and inclusion in all I do.
10. Don’t take too many selfies (ok, this is easy since I don’t do it now).
11. Have fun being true to my calling and myself.
12. Don’t say yes to too many writing assignments. Guard my time.
13. Try to laugh at Monty Python even though I don’t get it (I’ll likely fail at this one).
14. Love – just love.

That’s a list I can get behind. It’s a list that helps me age into this next year more happy and healthy. It’s a list that is about faithfulness and self-acceptance. It’s a list about love and family. It’s a list I can live with – regardless of my age.

So a happy and healthy New Year to all of you.

Live, laugh, and love your way into and through an amazing 2014.

All my love –


Saturday, November 30, 2013

All is Lost? Not hardly!

 These past few weeks many in The United Methodist Church experienced just the latest moments of pain and anguish at the hands of our church. The trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer for celebrating the wedding of his son, Tim, to his partner several years ago was held in Pennsylvania this month. It was a gut-wrenching trial, conviction, and penalty phase. It had to have been an unbelievably painful moment for Frank and his family – and was, as well, for many persons and groups working for full inclusion in the UMC.

Previous to this, the Council of Bishops asked for charges to be filed against retired UM Bishop Melvin Talbert for performing the wedding of two men in Georgia. The request to file charges was another blow to many who have felt blow after blow in the church. And there are more trials, most likely, on the horizon.
They have brought about yet more instances of anger and frustration for many in The United Methodist Church. And it has been another time of crying out in righteous indignation and “hearing” the absurd silence of too many in the church.

Also this past week, I sat in a movie theater watching the Robert Redford movie All is Lost. The movie is about a man fighting the elements after his yacht is damaged while sailing alone in the Indian Ocean. It is, in my opinion, a cinematic masterpiece. The images - both under and above the water - were stunning to the point of almost being overwhelming. The acting job by Redford is a tour de force. I sat breathless for much of the movie. It was simply incredible.

The movie is at the same time one of the loudest and the quietest movies I have seen experienced.

The crashing waves, spooling lines of rope, surging storms, spilling cargo, billowing sails, and howling wind are so loud at times that it makes the listener uncomfortable – but not because the volume was loud. It was because of the impact of the sounds.

The reason for this heightened audible impact was because the main character, Redford, only speaks three times in the entire movie. The sounds from other elements of the film are even more profound due to the absence of speaking from the only actor ever seen on screen.

Redford only speaks three times in the entire movie –

First he speaks into a radio he is trying to repair and pleads for someone to hear his SOS. He says it over and over several times asking for anyone to hear his cry of desperation. His voice is raspy and dry. The suffering he has already endured is evident.  He is pleading for help. He is asking for someone to hear his plea. But it is clear that no one hears his cry.

LGBTQ folks in the UMC have cried out for years for someone to hear their pain. Cries for help and change have gone unheard and unheeded by too many in the church.  We cannot even seem to be heard enough to agree that we disagree on the issue of homosexuality in our church. It’s as if the apparatus we are using to cry out is broken and the message is unable to get to those who need to hear. Or maybe they hear, but choose to ignore the anguish because they are so certain in their own positions on the issue.

Second he cried out in rage when his predicament becomes worse and worse – crying out in a loud voice “Fu#k” with all of the righteous indignation he could muster. We are beyond that point in the UMC. There is no way to know how many LGBTQ persons have felt our denomination, how many pastors have left over our position on sexuality, or how many person called into ministry have said way will they venture into our system. Many do so in deep pain – crying out with all of the righteous indignation they can muster. The strains are loud right now – on both sides of the debate. But the painful anguish of those excluded is pushing our church and I for one will continue to cry out with them.

The final time he speaks in the film is crying out to a passing ship, “Here! I’m here! Here! Help me!” The United Methodist Church often seems to be a gigantic passing ship not even aware of those who they have left behind. But I know many who are keenly aware. And many who are working hard to make their voices and their stories heard and known. We have Bishops, District Superintendents, pastors, laity, and leaders from all kinds of positions in the church whose hearts and minds are being changed to be receptive to the cry for full inclusion in our church.

In the end, the voices of those calling for inclusion are getting louder and louder. The media sees the UMC as a bully right now. Many are decrying the fact that despite the rules, a father celebrating the marriage of his son and his partner should not result in a church trial. Many are looking for our church – one of the last mainline Protestant denominations to embrace inclusion – to be who we say we are, United. Many are calling on our church to live out our doctrine and theology of grace. And many are pleading with rasping voices for our motto, Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, to finally come into reality.

All is not lost – justice will prevail. Because I believe that grace is bigger than exclusion and inclusion will win in the end.