Today I heard an apple fall….

This morning, as I was close to finishing up my 2 mile walk, I heard an apple fall from a tree. I truly cannot say that I’ve ever really “heard” that. I’ve seen it. In the seeing, I must have forgotten the sound of it. But this time I didn’t see anything except the tree. But I heard the fall.

It made a soft ker-plunk as it hit the ground below. And then all was quiet again.

As I reflected on the hearing of this thing, I thought about all the things I must miss hearing because I’m so busy trying to see everything. I have to admit I’m a visual person and learn best this way. But I wonder what would happen if I began to listen more…

Could I hear the softness in the voice of the elderly who have lost their independence, rather than seeing the wheelchairs and walkers and tubes and special diets?

Could I hear the hope spoken by a congregation of passionate followers of Jesus, rather than seeing the numbers of dwindling resources?

Would I be able to hear the joy as people gather together and praise God, rather than just see the task before me to lead?

Would I be able to hear both the voices of reality AND those of future hope, rather than just seeing the disagreements?

Would I remember the sound of holiness? Could I recall the sound of God?

Today I heard an apple fall and the sound has awakened within me a yearning to listen more carefully. Perhaps it is in the sound of the falling that grace will be revealed. Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer.apple-falling-from-tree

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Numbers

Our world is almost obsessed with numbers. We measure everything! Polling numbers, statistical numbers, financial numbers, health numbers, efficiency numbers….you get the picture. And yet, are numbers the real measure of who we are?

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Right now, most mainline denominations are stressing out about the numbers – or should I say the lack of numbers in some areas. Every church supported event I attend involves ways to “turn around the numbers” or “stop the decline of the numbers.” Religion has become one more of the many numbers games in the world.

This week I went to see my doctor. I was worried about some blood work that my conference insurance had analyzed as part of our Blueprint to Wellness program. My cholesterol was a bit up from last year. My weight as well. And sometimes my blood pressure is just at the edge of what “normal” range is. I’ll admit it, I’ve been programed to use numbers as a measurement tool all of my life. And yet, those numbers just don’t show the whole picture.

I have a rare primary immunodeficiency disease (CVID) and osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. And I work full time, exercise daily, love my job, and am happier now in life than I’ve been in many years. Sure, there are bad days. But for the most part I’m doing well. My doctor affirmed this when she said, “You are doing great with all the stuff you have going on. Stop obsessing with the numbers and go live your life! Have fun! Listen to your body and rest when you need to. Eat properly and keep on exercising. You’ll be fine. I’ll see you in 6 or so months.”

I’ll admit when I left the office that day I thought, “Well that was a wasted visit! No new medications, no diet plan, nothing!” But over the past couple of days I’ve had time to soak in what she was saying to me. And because my life is so tied up in my vocation (which gives me joy most of the time!) I found so many similarities to the current state of the church.

“We are dying! Look at these numbers!” Matrixes measure our weekly attendance, giving, involvement in small groups and mission, and more. Church leadership touts the next new “pill” as the thing that will save our churches. I’ve learned the tough way that the next quick fix never works for much of anything worth doing.

I’m much more interested in longevity. Part of that however, means not becoming so obsessed and fearful of the numbers that you stop living. For example, if all I did every single day for the rest of my life was worry about how many calories I take in by counting each and every thing….what kind of a way is that to live? Or if I was so afraid of my fibromyalgia flaring that I never went for a walk or swimming? I don’t want to live in fear! I don’t want to live in obsession! Sure, I’m up for a good challenge as much as the next person, but when someone says, “Let’s go to the fair and have cotton candy and fried oreos,” I’m gonna be up for that as well. 

I read a book called “I Am a Follower” by Leonard Sweet awhile back and I cannot get the idea of “FOLLOWERSHIP” out of my head. I talk about following Jesus all the time in church. “Follow Christ into the world; Where he leads we will follow; take up your cross and follow Jesus….” Jesus is the LEADER, the head, the living stone of the church. I am a follower. I will always be a follower. No matter how many leadership conferences I attend; no matter how many statistics I am bombarded with; no matter if I serve in an “official” manner or as a volunteer, I have followed Jesus where HE led since I was 14 years old. 

So I’m gonna take my docs advice and live. Live true to the calling on my life as I follow Jesus. Live with excitement and compassion and love and grace. Live with balance and discernment and seeing God at work in the world. Live as Christ’s follower. That may not mean huge numbers of folks show up at my church on Sunday. That may not mean we get lots of money in the offering plates. But it may mean that folks are actively engaged in spiritual formation. It may mean that one person begins to share the stories of their faith. It may mean that brokenness is healed. And, I know that if I am faithful in FOLLOWING the living Christ rather than the numbers, I will truly live….and so will the Church. 

 

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Schism – Another Word for Divorce

I was married for almost 25 years. Sure, some of those years were rocky. There were good times and not-so-good times. But we tried. It was during those times that I believe we were modeling how to reconcile, accept, and love unconditionally. My children watched. My children learned.

And then in 2007, on a sunny Saturday morning, my husband announced that he was leaving. I truly thought he was just going to the store or something as I was totally clueless. That was the worst day of my life. When one party in a relationship refuses to continue to work through the issues at hand, there is only destruction. My children, although grown, continued to watch and to learn.

I’ve learned since that horrible time in my life that to work on the problem is probably the most difficult task you will ever be involved in. And some people just cannot handle it. Also, I think that some people grow from mistakes, some people learn how to move forward, and others, well, they just do not. But when a relationship ends, hurt is always the result. 

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I say all of this to point to the situation boiling within the United Methodist denomination. I personally do not believe that there can be an “Amicable Split.” Why? Just like every divorce that involves property, children, and assets (and this relationship in particular has LOTS of these things), one party will feel like they lost somewhere. And the hurt….I’m not sure that many of our congregants could survive the sheer pain. I’m wondering if I’m up to another divorce. 

Days after my husband left, I felt helpless and hopeless. My very soul was in such pain that I did not think I would survive or that I even wanted to. The so-called “amicable split” has not even occurred yet, and I’m already experiencing those feelings within the church that I have been a part of for 50 years. Sure, this talk of split or divorce has been brewing since before I became an ordained elder in 2009. That was partly why I felt so called to stay within the UMC – to help make things right. I believed that Christ’s followers would be able to put God first and work together for the least, the last, and the lost. I believed that by being faithful to the call on my life that maybe God would use me to make a difference. I believed and I prayed and my children watched and learned.

The struggle to remain “married” (in a covenant relationship) to the denomination has not been an easy one. I never thought that I would feel such brokenness and pain. I never thought that I’d see such abominable behaviors toward ‘the other” coming from those who proclaim Christ as Lord. I never thought that I’d be faced with divorce again. 

And all the while, my young adult children watch and learn. They hear such hatred and vile speech coming from “religious” folks. They see cultural differences of other humans being condemned. They see a failure of humanity, God’s children, to love as God loves. Perhaps that is why they have little to do with “church.”

There was no right side or wrong side in my divorce. We were both at fault. We had failed in our covenant toward one another to give 100% of ourselves to the other. We had failed in communication. We had failed in respect. We had failed. And 7 years later, the struggle to be civil toward one another when in the same room is full of tenseness. I truly think that we both would agree that we could have, and should have, done better. 

A divorce within the United Methodist Church will not be amicable or easy or without much, much pain. And know that all of God’s children are watching. What example are we setting if we, follower’s of the Christ, empowered with the love and gifts of the Spirit, cannot do better?

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Quote of the moment

Originally posted on mattdamethodist.com:

from Fred Craddock’s sermon entitled “Party Time” on Luke 15:1-3,11-32 

“The only thing, and I’m honest with you here, the only thing I can imagine that he is being taught is this: “We love you, we forgive you, we’re glad you’re home.” That’s all I can think of. Is that enough for a party?”

 

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The Dying Church or The Resurrected Church?

This is not just another article about the dying church…..or maybe it is.

This first week of Easter has been pretty sobering for me. I got some news – that I sort of knew was coming, but I didn’t want to hear. I got moved out of my comfort zone. And another health thing that I don’t need has crept into my life. I have to be honest, I had a bad day on Friday….feeling sorry for myself, dreading what I think might come true, and not really wanting any responsibility for any of it.

But as I wallowed in self-pity and despair, I remembered that It was LAST week that stuff really went wrong! I began to recall that it was LAST Friday that we entered the tomb. And that it was just this past Sunday that I was gloriously proclaiming and claiming the Resurrection. Really? I might have PROCLAIMED it, but have I really CLAIMED it?

Has the Church claimed it?

All we hear about these days is how bad things are for the Church. In the conference that I’m serving in, the small congregations are dwindling fast. Larger congregations are even starting to feel decline. But I ask, if we are truly resurrection people, if we truly claim the resurrection, then is the death of the Church in its current state a bad thing?

Sure, I’ll admit it is scary. But if we believe in the power of Jesus Christ, if we believe that we are called by him to live resurrected lives, then doesn’t something have to die first?

Look around you. You will see signs of resurrection everywhere. The flowers blooming in the spring. The new growth at the stump of a rose bush you thought was dead. Reconciliation between people who have been angry for some past remarks or indiscretions. Strangers coming to the aid of another stranger. People serving and working beside one another to bring change to a community. My list could go on and on and these are things I’ve just been seeing THIS week. The power of resurrection is a real and viable power at work in the world.

Except sometimes, within the walls of a church building, there are very little signs of resurrection power at work. Resurrection power often gets overlooked or pushed back for the latest fad or learning curve guaranteed to “grow the church.” Even within our own denominational structure, resurrection power is often invisible.

I believe that for this power to be fully visible, things need to change….even die. We’ve all heard it right? That as Christ’s followers we die to self….put others first….that our spiritual growth is a journey that calls us to sacrifice. We’ve heard it, but do we really understand it?

Are we willing to CLAIM it even when it means that something we hold dear may change….or dare I say die? It wasn’t Peter who “saved” over 3000 people on the day of Pentecost. It was the power of the resurrection working through the Holy Spirit and through the disciples. Mr. Wesley didn’t write the Book of Discipline so we would become so rule oriented that we dismissed loving relationships. That guide was written by a man working to change the church he loved so it could live into the power of the resurrection in every community.

Life means change and change means growth and/or death. As one who keeps her eyes on the RISEN CHRIST (most of the time!) I hope to continue to grow as I claim the power of resurrection in my life, in my church, and in my community. If the church is dying, well, that may well be the START OF SOMETHING NEW AND POWERFUL…but we have to be willing to let go of the carcass.

What carcasses are you holding on to that are keeping the power of resurrection at bay? What is it that you are afraid of? How can the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ give you strength?

Keep your eyes on the risen Lord and claim the gift of the power of resurrection. And folks, let’s stop talking about the “dying church” and start believing in and working together for the “resurrected church” as we focus on the Risen One.

 

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40 bags in 40 days

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Lent has started. This year, for some reason, I’ve had a difficult time deciding what to do for Lent. I’ve given up, I’ve added, I’ve done lots of different things – all in an attempt to bring me closer to God during this 40 days of self-evaluation. 

This past year I’ve chewed on the idea of what it means to “simplify” in life. This came about after a church member gave me a simple pin that simply had the word “simplify” written on it. The thought of simplifying life is, well, not simple at all! In fact, I have found it to be a bit daunting.

But it’s been on my mind. A lot. 

As a United Methodist pastor who has moved across the country in the last 3 years, I think I have simplified a lot! I purged like crazy to get everything onto ONE U-Haul truck to come from NC to Oregon. But it is amazing how, in these past 3 years, I have managed to accumulate way too much stuff. And not only physical stuff, but emotional stuff too.

I found this idea about 40 Bags in 40 Days on Facebook and thought GREAT! This opportunity will help me start to simplify stuff and hopefully as I clean/sort/decide/purge, I can do the same in my spiritual life. I hate to clean and I’m not particularly fond of looking inward….but that’s the point, right?

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put within me a right spirit.” Psalm 51:10

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The Well-Played Life by Leonard Sweet (Book Review)

Book Review

“The Well-Played Life: Why Pleasing God Doesn’t Have to be Such Hard Work” by Leonard Sweet.

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I clearly remember the day after I had decided to follow Jesus. My mom said no one could erase the smile on my face. The joy that I felt was palpable and contagious. It was the joy of just enjoying God. In his latest work, “The Well-Played Life: Why Pleasing God Doesn’t Have to be Such Hard Work,” Len Sweet delves into how faith and pleasing God should be encompassed in play and joy.

Sweet points out that somewhere along the way, humanity forgot how to play – or at least relegated it to the life of a child. Life became about pursuing a 5-year plan rather than an eternal Promise; following rules and regulations rather than chasing relationships; avoiding learning from mistakes to striving to never make a mistake at all.  We have been so focused on successfully knowing/following God’s ‘plan’ for our lives (and in our churches) that we have forgotten how to enjoy God in every aspect of life.

This book is a refreshing look at an ethic of play in the life of a child of God. Sweet does an excellent job of explaining how play was never meant only for children and that no matter one’s age, playing in God’s playground will bring Divine joy and fulfillment. In an age where faith seems often superficial, Sweet goes deep into the roots of spiritual growth and discipleship.

An excellent resource for small group discussion, for sermon ideas, as well as for the reader who realizes that something is missing in their life with God, this book contains a lot to play with. 

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