Friday, May 4, 2012

Really?

There is a conversation in a favorite writing from my childhood between two characters, Cheshire Cat and Alice, that seems appropriate on this final day of General Conference.  It goes like this:

Cheshire Cat:  Oh, by the way, if you'd really like to know, he went that way.
Alice: Who did?
Cheshire Cat: The White Rabbit.
Alice:  He did?
Cheshire Cat:  He did what?
Alice:  Went that way.
Cheshire Cat:  Who did?
Alice:  The White Rabbit.
Cheshire Cat:  What rabbit?
Alice:  But didn't you just say - I mean - Oh, dear.
Cheshire Cat:  Can you stand on your head?
Alice: Oh!

As I write this, I continue to listen to General Conference via live streaming and I wonder when it was that we lost our focus as Christ's Church known as United Methodists.  When did we begin having conversations that talk "around" each other instead of "to" one another?  When did we begin skillfully switching the subject so we did not have to deal with the real subject at hand?  Like the Cheshire Cat, we have become adept at this.  As the Cheshire Cats of General Conference ask "Can you stand on your head?", the Alices, confused by the change in the direction of the conversation, simply say:  "Oh!"

This is an acceptable way for the legislative body of our church to act on our behalf?  Really? 

















Sunday, January 29, 2012

Through the Eyes of a Child

My uncle Woody died yesterday. I received the news in a text from my mother, his sister. Interesting way to receive the news about the death of a family member - even one I have had no contact with for many years. Funny how that happens! For years, I saw my Uncle annually when we made the trip to the Bluefield area where my grandparents and my mother's siblings lived. After my grandfather died and Granny moved to Delaware to live with our family, I saw him infrequently, only when a significant celebration was held for my grandmother. I guess notification by text seemed fair enough.

On this day after, here are my initial memories, all fond: Uncle Woody was always an earthy kind of guy, a coal miner, who smoked cigars. He was the first adult in my life to tease me. He loved teasing all his nieces and nephews. Some of us gave him the response he wanted, while others ignored him; but all of us knew that he loved us! As ancient as these memories are, they are still clear, even today.

By text I have learned that Uncle Woody's funeral will be held on Tuesday, most likely. With no clear idea of when the service will be, I cannot even consider attending; so between now and then, I plan on doing what I would do if I were officiating at such a service. I will reflect upon my memories of my Uncle's life, consider what scripture I would use, and write something in memory of him. Even though I am 57, it will be written through the eyes of a child, a child who loved her Uncle Woody.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Do We Expect to Hear from God?

In every daughter's life, there has to be at least one life-altering lesson she learns from her mother. I have given a great deal of thought to this lately as, in my late '50s, I have felt compelled to take a deep look at my life-long relationship with my parents and their lasting influence on me.

For some daughters, the most significant lessons they learn from their mothers have to do with gender specific roles. I did not learn how to manicure my nails from my mother, even though her nails always seem perfectly manicured to me. I did not learn how to care for my hair from my mother. I did not learn how to be a "girly-girl" from my mother, even though I suspect she is just that! Most of what I learned about clothes and makeup and hair and other such things came from my oldest sister, who had a great distain for the way I presented myself as we were growing up and always let me know; close friends in early adulthood and now who encouraged me; a daughter whose fashion sense is delightful; and a husband who has complimented me from the first day of our marriage each time I came home with a new outfit.

The major life-lesson my mother taught me goes much deeper than mere appearance and has served as a foundational value for me. My mother taught me the importance of praying, of having an intentional daily relationship with God in which there is the expectation that in the act of making myself present to the Holy, God, in return, will speak to me, will guide me, will make God's desires known to me.

My mother taught me this lesson so well that when God spoke audibly to me, calling me into ministry, in February of 1981, I recognized God's voice and answered "yes." It was not a stretch for me to believe that it was the voice of the Divine. It had been modeled for me in my parents' home as I was growing up. Little did I know that it was one of those transformative teachings.

Often I hear people debate whether God speaks in the 21st century. Because of the life-lesson taught to me by my mother, I personally have no doubts and, until I remember that everyone did not grow up with my mother, I am amazed that anyone would have such low expectations of God.

I have learned that if I am to hear from God, I have to prepare a place in me to receive what is being spoken to me. I do this through silently reflecting on the sacred stories of the Bible, by disciplined prayer, by inviting others to pray for me, through communal worship, and by growing more space in each day to listen for the voice of God. Some days I am better at this than others. Engrained deeply within my heart and soul and mind is this life-altering lesson taught to me by my mother. I cannot get away from it. It lives within me, this expectation that God will speak to me, to others, and to the world! Thank you, Mom, for teaching this lesson!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Finger Pointing

We live in a world where finger pointing is a part of the daily menu of life. One only has to tune in to the national political conversations, from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina, to hear the accusations flying, the fingers pointing. It seems to happen naturally as candidates seek to differentiate themselves, one from the other. Some could say that I am pointing the finger at these candidates as I write. Just goes to show how easily it happens!

Five days with my great-niece Margot, who is approximately a year and a half, has shown me that finger pointing can have a positive connotation. Whenever she cannot find the precise word in her vocabulary to fit the situation, or does not feel like making the effort to come up with necessary words, she simply points her finger. If she wants someone to move to a particular place in the room or upstairs or outside, she points her fingers. If she needs more water, she stands in front of the fridge, points her finger, and looks authoritatively at the adult she decides should get her drink, and the deal is sealed! If she wants to join you on the sofa, she points her finger at the place she wants to sit and someone places her there. If she wants to be read to, she points her finger at her book and someone responds. When Margot points her finger, she is not trying to be bossy; she is asking for someone to work with her, to help her do the things that she cannot yet do on her own.

I love my great-niece's concept of finger pointing! What if we embodied this concept? What if, instead of accusing others, finger pointing became about helping others do the things that they cannot do on their own? What if, when others pointed their finger at us, we viewed it as a request for us to work with them? What would happen if we let a little child lead us?

Monday, January 2, 2012

The First of Six Weddings

Yesterday afternoon and evening, our family held the first of six weddings for my great-niece Maddy. Maddy, a four year old, made the decision that she is going to have six weddings in her lifetime. The first was to be yesterday. Of course, she said with a smile, I won't have a husband at this one. I told her that was ok and that she was in luck -- that I am a pastor and could do (officiate at) her wedding. That intrigued her for a moment, especially after her great-grandmother explained what a pastor is and that I am one, really; and then she continued to make plans for the first wedding.

At first she wanted it to be downstairs in her condo; but as she talked, she decided to have it upstairs in her g'grandparents condo. Her outfit, she finally decided, for the first wedding was a pair of Fancy Nancy pjs that I had brought for her. As soon as she tried them on, she knew that was the outfit. She had a scarf on her head, her initial idea of a bridal veil; but after trying to get the slippery cloth to stay on her head, I suggested that we might fashion one for her - out of tissue paper. G'grandmother, always eager to foster creativity, hunted up tissue paper and the Virginia Beach version of Project Runway began, a low budget version. How we wished her g'mother was in town. She could have fashioned one with ease! The bride-to-be, just as Fancy Nancy would have done, created a work of art to be used in the veil. I then began to fashion the tissue paper into a veil, using tape and hair pins/clips. As strange as it looked, it was a hit with Maddy! So accepting of the gift offered!

Maddy wore the veil throughout the evening, while playing, eating dinner, and still playing. I kept wondering when the wedding would take place. At the end of the evening, when Maddy's parents gathered their children to take them home, and no ceremony had taken place, I thought that Maddy had simply moved on to something else. As she hugged me, she said, "My first wedding is done!"

Ah, I realized, the wedding was the afternoon we spent together as family, playing and eating and enjoying each other's company, creating the environment for the wedding, living out the wedding ceremony, for better or worse, as we went along! Out of the mouths of babes! I think my g'niece may have come up with the perfect idea for how a marriage should begin - low key, in the midst of established relationships, very naturally! I suspect this would take the stress out of the wedding day and might even change the divorce rate!

A little child shall lead us!

Monday, December 26, 2011

There's Got to Be a Morning After

It is the morning after Christmas. Memories of Christmas Eve worship and Christmas celebrations with family and friends still linger in the air. "A child is born to us!" At church, children in costumes retelling the sacred story. Candlelight caroling. A teenager portraying a shepherd reminding us of a God "made small enough" for us. A spirit of joy. At home, a quiet Christmas with Mark and Jessica, much different than any other I have experienced in my adult life. It was a leisurely Christmas, the celebration lasting much of the day. The making of angel biscuits for our traditional Christmas breakfast of sausage, angel biscuits, and grape jelly; the opening of gifts, one by one, so we can savor the moment, just as I have done all of my life. Calls and texts to and from family and friends, wishing each other a Merry Christmas! Snacking on meatballs, blue cheese bacon dip, and eggnog. Watching Christmas dvds. Baking dessert - spice cake with carmel icing, a favorite of Mark's and Jess'. Cooking a delicious dinner of beef brisket, mashed potatoes, stuffing, roasted carrots and brussel sprouts. The first Christmas in memory that we did not eat turkey/ham. I didn't know if I would like the change, but I did! I think it's a new tradition! Christmas Day wound down with the three of us together. Our day ended with Mark driving our daughter to the Amtrak station so she could return to Manhattan, her home. It was one of the most enjoyable and joyfilled Christmases I have ever experienced!

The thing about Christmas is that there's got to be a morning after! For some people, like our daughter, this means returning to work as usual! Others are hustling and bustling around town on this day known as the biggest return and exchange day of the year to take back gifts. Others are spending the day taking down Christmas decorations, making sure that, by the end of the day, there will be no sign of Christmas 2011.

I have always enjoyed the morning after Christmas. Christmas, and all the celebrations of it, are still dancing in my head! It is a day of quiet reflection, a warm, fuzzy day, as I think of a God made small enough for me. Small enough for me to wrap my heart and head around. How amazing is that?

Later today our close friends are coming to visit and our celebration of Christmas will continue. In fact, we have 12 days in which to enjoy Christmas with family and friends; to look for the ways in which the Word made flesh is transforming us.

There's got to be a morning after Christmas! Relish it! Enjoy the new possibilities it brings!

Friday, December 23, 2011

How Silently, How Silently

I'm up early this morning. Somehow can't sleep as images of Christmas dance in my head! It's the time in the season when I am pulling together all the details for church and home and, with heavenly help, hopefully remembering all I need to remember.

Interestingly enough, as I am piecing together in my mind the rehearsal for Christmas Eve that will take place later this morning, and, at the same time, going over my gift list to make certain that I have not forgotten any "special someones," a line from "O Little Town of Bethlehem" keeps playing in my head: "How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!" As Pastor Phillip Brooks penned these words, was he experiencing the same Christmas "anxiety" that I am experiencing? Was he concerned that the details of Christmas for worship and home would be so loud that he, that we, might miss God's Christmas present?

"How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!" In the midst of bombs blaring, soldiers and civilians dying, soldiers returning home, politicians posturing and losing sight of the human beings they are serving, a weakened global economy, unresolved health care concerns, churches struggling for life, God gives us the most amazing Christmas gift: One who restores the world to wholeness, the Prince of Peace!

How is it that we fail to receive it? Is the packaging too subtle? Should it have been wrapped in elegant paper and tied up with a gorgeous bow? Or in bright reds or greens with a candy cane adorning it? Are swaddling clothes too passe, too out of our experience, for us to even recognize the gift? Is God's gift, the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, doomed to be relegated to the nativity scene we have set up in our church or home?

"How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!" These words won't let me go! As I finish up coordinating the details for Christmas in church and home, I sense they will be with me, reminding me, calling me, to have "eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to receive" God's Christmas present to me, to you, to the world:
"For unto us is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!"

What we do with the gift, once we receive it, is up to us. I'm hoping that I, that we, will unwrap the gift in 2012 and do with it something significant for the transformation of a world. I'm hoping that I, that we, do not leave it gathering dust on the shelf like that candy dish shaped like a chicken Mark and I received for our wedding almost 30 years ago, not wanting to get rid of it because someone went to the trouble of giving it to us; but never quite comfortable enough with it to use it. I'm hoping that we use it to make a difference in our homes, our city, our community, our nation, and our world.

For unto us is born!